Manufacturers of barbecues and their many accessories can sell the average, power-tool obsessed backyard chef just about anything this time of year. And they do: from miniature rotisseries built to handle a single ear of sweet corn to digital meat thermometers that broadcast wirelessly to a receptor in the hot tub and $10,000 grills with power outputs fierce enough to convert the family pet into pure carbon in eight seconds flat.
But now and then one of them actually comes up with something new that is useful too—and I have seldom encountered anything filling that description that captures the culinary taste of the day quite so tidily as the new KettlePizza, a device for converting your basic kettle barbecue into something so much more.
“Imagine authentic wood-fired pizza from your kettle grill,” their website taunts. The insert is a stainless steel sleeve that sits between the kettle grill and the lid, and at the front, along with a helpful thermometer, it features a mouth-like opening wide enough to accommodate a pizza paddle. Which is to say that in theory—and after a little practice—you would be free to invite friends to gather, awestruck, as you slip pies in and out of the thing as effortlessly as the tattooed and over-ogled Neapolitan at the parlour down the street.
Obviously I was going to have to give it a try. So I ordered the $270 Super Deluxe kit and got to work.
Assembly proved to be quick and easy (all you need is a screwdriver, pliers, and a teenage son). And the pizza dough and sauce were ready in a flash. While the dough rested, I got the charcoal going, added wood, and waited for the temperature to come up to where we needed it. I was optimistic of previously unrealized success.
This is why. To make proper pizza you need high temperatures—ideally, something close to the 485° C attained in a Neapolitan-style, wood-fired, brick oven. This will not happen in your home oven, which likely tops out at 285° C. But it will in a good charcoal-fired barbecue. For example I can attain it easily with my Big Green Egg ceramic cooker.
But it cannot deliver even heat, so a pizza will always burn on the underside long before it is cooked on top—unless you put the dough on the pizza stone undressed and then flip it before you dress it, which always struck me as silly.
But the KettlePizza looked poised to eliminate this problem by venting the heat directly over the pizza on its route to escape via the front opening. So with the barbecue at a lesser temperature of 400° C, I was thinking positively as I sent my paddle through the opening. And then thought to myself, “Now what?”
For this is the thing: the opening on the KettlePizza is just nine centimetres high. That is plenty if you slip a pizza in on the standard round baking sheet. But if you upgrade to a pizza stone, which is recommended, getting a pizza onto it is nearly impossible because there is no room to tilt the paddle. And if you lift the lid to drop the pizza in, all your heat escapes. The best approach I could manage was a very well floured and slippery pizza peel, and a lot of shaking and jiggling from side to side. Two out of three worked fine. But alas, there was still not enough heat to prevent the crust from drying out and getting excessively crisp before all is cooked through.
If I were in charge of designing the insert I would redo it with a taller mouth and a lid of its own to direct heat flow closer to the pizza on the stone. But I am not; so instead, I invited Weber Canada’s resident chef Naz Cavallaro to demonstrate recipes from Weber’s new cookbook, Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill.
We shelved the pizza insert, stopped down the vents, and prepared the Weber for the way it cooks best—slowly. Naz is an affable man who very evidently enjoys his job. And why not? The marinades and rubs outlined in the book for pork back ribs, spicy wings and planked salmon take no more than 10 minutes to prepare. And once happily ensconced on the low-temperature grill they can be all but ignored while you have a drink. This is what summer cooking is really about.