Bar Pizza—It’s What You Crave

There has never been a more one-of-a-kind pizza like the bar pizza.  For the most part they are never good,  many times they are awful, but that has never stopped anybody from ordering one. Patrons order them because they are drinking.  Combine it with hunger and it makes these pizzas far better then they would ever be if a shot of better judgement was in hand.  Without exception a bar pizza reigns over the pink pickled eggs languishing in the murky liquid of the large glass jar back by the whisky.  Bar pizzas are also infinitely better then the microwavable cups of Spaghetti-Os or the burritos ensconced in a cardboard tortilla.  Even so, that doesn’t make them good.

Here is the catch, in Indiana this food exists and maintains a life all its own because in Indiana if a bar sells liquor by the drink it has to be able to serve food to a minimum of 25 people at all times.  On top of that many bars(mostly working class bars) don’t have room for a kitchen much less the money for one.   To get around this law most bar fly  type establishments bring in a microwave, a toaster oven labeled as a pizza oven, or a snack rack where pork rinds rule.   Sporks and disposable tableware abide, as do paper towels used as napkins.  It is less then the bare minimum and ordering anything while the bartender is busy is likely to make him/her hate you.

In the moment though, when hunger and alcohol meet, a bar pizza is the best pizza ever.  It doesn’t happen often but it does happen enough that people continue to order them.   If  all things aline, it hits the sweet spot—that meaty place on the bat that makes hitting a home run feel effortless.  In food speak it is the moment when something is at its best, it is perfectly ripe for eating, and waiting longer is to watch perfection in its decline.

Here is the problem, why would I want to make one of these awful pizzas at home?  If I do make them at home it doesn’t mean I am drinking at home, well not often anyway.   It means I have kids, kids that want pizza—all the time.  I make a great pizza dough.  I make great pizza but then there are those nights where I don’t want too.  It is readily apparent to me why I need to perfect this pizza.  Make it a dinner everyone requests on any given night.

The point is, this is a great pizza to have in your back pocket and I never would have thought much about it until  I read an article at Serious Eats.  At that moment I knew I was going to start making bar pizzas, I was diving in deep and going for it, and I did.  Like lots of recipes though, and maybe even more so,  this one takes practice.   Myself, I always make a recipe three times before I give up on it and in this case it took all three times.  It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with eating your mistakes when it comes to food.

Besides it is not a lot of work and here is why.   My kids love spaghetti and there is rarely a day I don’t have a homemade tomato sauce of some kind in the fridge.  Bacon, ham, salami, or even pepperoni are always in the deli drawer.  I almost always have some sort of mozzarella too, either fresh or grated.   I have taken too keeping tortillas in the freezer for quesadillas, so adding tortillas as pizza crusts to the list of uses is a plus. .  Even so, if you had none of these specific ingredients you have something, say eggs, ham, and gruyere.   If not you won’t make this pizza anyway.

But as I said,  I am looking for the sweet spot, with practice I found it, and ever since making bar pizzas is like effortlessly hitting one out of the park.

  1. ©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights ReservedWhen it is time to sauce the tortilla put a dollop of sauce in the middle of the tortilla and using the back of the spoon spiral your way to the outer edge.  If this were a regular pizza I would tell you to stop short of the edge by about 1/2-inch but with this kind of pizza take the ingredients to the edge.  It keeps the tortilla from being charred beyond recognition.
  2. I have used all kinds of pans to make this pizza, stainless steel, enamel, cast iron and a camol (pictured).  I like the camol best but I also know not everyone has a camol.  I made these in a 12-inch cast iron skillet for a long time before I started using  the camol.  I use a camol simply for ease of access to the tortilla.  I makes the pizza easier to assemble.
  3. Turn on the broiler before taking anything out of the fridge or putting a pan on the stove.  It needs time to get hot.
  4. Keep all the ingredients at pans edge.  These go fast and you have to be ready with the ingredients.
  5. It is important to brown the the tortilla deeply before turning it.  If it isn’t brown enough the pizza will lack the crunch that makes it so good.
  6. Place the top oven rack 7 to 8 inches from the broiler.  This prevents the pizza from cooking to fast and keeps the edges from burning.

The Bar Pizza

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 traditional 10-inch flour tortilla per person

2 to 3 tablespoons pizza sauce

mozzarella cheese, both fresh and grated

8 pepperoni, or any other cooked meat topping you desire, prosciutto and pancetta are good choices

1 hot pepper, thinly sliced

flat leaf parsley, minced

  1. Place the top rack approximately 7 to 8-inches from the broiler.  Heat the broiler.
  2. Organize all you ingredients and place them within arms reach from the stove.
  3. Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Add olive oil and swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom surface.  The oil should be very hot.
  4. Place a tortilla into the pan.  Let the tortilla brown deeply but not burn.  Using a pair of grill tongs, turn the tortilla so the cooked side is up.
  5. Place a healthy dollop of pizza sauce into the middle of the tortilla.  Using a spoon spiral the sauce outward.  If you don’t have enough sauce dollop on a small amount and continue spreading.
  6. Sprinkle the pizza with grated mozzarella, spread out the pepperoni evenly, and top with torn pieces of fresh mozzarella.
  7. Place the skillet into the oven.  Turn on the oven light and keep and eye on the pizza.  It will melt quickly and begin to brown just as fast.  When it is bubbling and brown, using an oven mit,  remove it from the oven.  Tilt the pan at about a 45 degree angle and using the tongs, pinch the very edge closest to the cutting board and gently slide the pizza out and onto the board. Sprinkle with parsley and pepper,   slice and serve.
©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights Reserved
©2016 Tom Hirschfeld All Rights Reserved

Barbecue Chicken Pizza (+ How You Should Think About Prep)


This recipe is a throwback. It was extremely popular in the 1990s — along with duck confit and tuna steaks, seared rare. I still see it now and again on menus, but it has largely disappeared due to overexposure; we became bored with it simply because it was everywhere.

But, it’s been long enough. Let’s dust off the recipe for barbecue chicken pizza and give it another taste. I can practically make this pizza in my sleep — it was a bar special at a restaurant I worked in, and I made so many of them that I still have dreams about it.

I also realize that I no longer cook like I did at the restaurant. I only have four mouths to feed at home, and the prep for any given dish needs to be relatively quick.

As such, I’m a firm believer in this theory: If you are going to take the time to make one of something, you might as well make two or more. This belief holds water especially when it comes to baked potatoes, doughs, and most of all, whole chickens.

To save time, it also helps to organize and think like a chef — this involves weekly menu planning and daily ingredient prep.These simple steps help me to run an efficient home kitchen, reduce overall waste, and improve time management. Before I adopted this philosophy, I wasted an awful lot of time.

I still cook what I want, but I make those decisions on Monday when I menu plan. Ultimately, I aim to complete the prep work for five meals while cooking the first three dinners of the week. That means that planning ahead can be a lesson in patience: If I want to eat this pizza, I have to wait until the end of the week when most of the prep is done. But once you are in the habit of planning ahead, you’ll find yourself with more time — and better dinners.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

Author Notes: I make my own pizza dough, and I always make enough for two to three pizzas. I divide the dough into portions after the first rise and freeze what I don’t want to use immediately. When I want to use the frozen dough, I simply thaw it (this counts as the second rise), roll it out, and assemble the pizza. This particular dough is based on Alice Waters’ recipe from “Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, and Calzone”. It is the same dough I always use and trust.

Makes one 10 x 12-inch pizza

3/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups mixed onions, sliced
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cup Gouda (some people like smoked Gouda but I find it too strong)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 to 2 serrano peppers, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 cup Memphis-style barbecue sauce
Olive oil, for sautéing the onions
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1. Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer or mixing bowl. Let the yeast dissolve, then add the rest of the ingredients. Use the dough attachment on a stand mixer (or a heavy-duty wooden spoon) and mix the dough until smooth; add more flour if the dough seems too wet, but don’t add more than a 1/4 cup at a time. Place the dough on the counter and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough into a bowl, cover it with a damp, warm towel, and let it rise for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

2. Punch the dough down and knead it for a minute. Divide the dough in two, place one half in a plastic bag, and freeze it. Place the remaining piece back into the bowl, cover with the damp towel, and let it rise for another hour.

3. While the dough is rising for the second time, place a sauté pan over medium heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil to the pan and then add the onions. Let the onions wilt, get gooey, and caramelize slowly. Remove them from the heat.

4. After the second rise, remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it out into a small disk. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

5. Heat your oven to 500° F. This is a good time to use your pizza stone; if you don’t have one, use a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.

6. Roll the dough into a 12- by 10-inch square, place it onto a piece of parchment paper, then put it onto a peel or sheet tray. Pour 1/3 cup of BBQ sauce onto the center of the dough. Working from the middle and, using the back of a spoon, spread it in a spiral motion until the sauce reaches the edges of the dough.

7. Combine the remaining BBQ sauce with the shredded chicken and stir until the chicken is evenly coated.

8. Spread a layer of red onions onto the pizza, followed by the chicken, Gouda, mozzarella, and finally, the serranos. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and salt over everything, then slide the pizza onto the stone.

9. Reduce the heat to 450° F. Bake for 15 minutes. Once it has browned to your liking, remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before cutting. Top with cilantro and parsley and serve.