Three completely rad, completely separate events all took place in 1985.The first is that time when I arrived on earth. October 26th, to be specific (or, if you feel like sending me a present…).
The second is the premiere of my all-time favorite movie, Back to the Future.
And the third is the invention of the barbecue chicken pizza.
Though unrelated, all three instances are of equal importance to me. Well, Back to the Future is probably at the top of the list. Let’s be honest.
Although this zesty pie is found on infinite menus across America today, when it dropped over three decades ago, it was considered an outlandish combo of bizarre toppings.
In the ‘80s, celebrated chef Ed LaDou became notorious for his untraditional pizza creations at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Spago.
Right around the time Marty McFly was being zipped into the past, LaDou connected with Larry Flax, co-founder of California Pizza Kitchen. Before long, his barbecue chicken masterpiece showed its face on CPK’s very first menu.
The rest is history. Very, very delicious history.
If you’ve ever sampled this delectable delight made fresh at its signature spot, you can probably close your eyes and taste it. Tangy barbecue sauce, chicken, melty cheese, crunchy onions, and fragrant cilantro.
I’m not drooling, you’re drooling.
You can find hundreds of replicas. But the novel ingredients work so well together, there’s a reason most restaurants don’t stray too far from the OG. If it ain’t broke, don’t forget the red onions.
Or something like that.
I’ve always been a sucker for this pizza. Actually, I’m a sucker for most pizzas (just had a steak and potato version the other week!), but any dish that has taught me how to balance flavors and textures is something that’s stuck with me.
I’d be lying if I said I remembered my first BCP at CPK. What I can recall is that when I began tinkering around more seriously in the kitchen in my teenage years, I couldn’t wait to whip it up at home.
Growing up, homemade pizza night was a staple in our house. I remember presenting my dad with the idea that we throw our leftover barbecue chicken, which he had lovingly prepared on our charcoal grill the night before, into the mix.
He was no stranger to intertwining surprising ingredients, and had probably also tasted barbecue chicken pizza many times before. He complied. I gave it my Fanny flair by adding a few sweet pops of roasted corn, and he tossed on a fistful of smoked mozzarella followed by a tangle of shallots.
It wasn’t an “aha” moment, but the rich cheeses blended with the tangy chicken and sweet, crunchy veggies was pure pizza bliss.
When I’m craving a classic slice, it’s hard to pass up hearty pepperoni and red sauce, or a basil-strewn margherita. But in those moments when pungent, smoky, sweet, and juicy flavors are on my brain, barbecue chicken pizza is the only answer.
In this recipe, I keep it mostly old-school as an homage to ’85. Since the sauce and dough are store-bought shortcuts, I put extra love into the chicken by braising boneless dark meat in a beer-and-barbecue medley, and then shredding it in its cooking liquid.
CPK’s version calls for nutty fontina, but I take a tip from my dad and keep the smoke flavor going strong with buttery gouda. Add the sweetness from slivered red onions and the floral, fresh notes of cilantro, and you’ve got yourself one glorious pie.
I think Doc Brown could get down that with that. Don’t you?Print
Smothered in barbecue sauce and stacked with smoky cheese and zesty shredded chicken, this pizza is a tangy tornado of flavor.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (approximately 1 lb)
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked ground paprika
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as vegetable, sunflower, or grapeseed oil)
- 6 fluid ounces beer (like a light lager)
- 3/4 cup barbecue sauce, divided
- 4 pizza dough balls (about 8 ounces each)
- Flour, for dusting
- 1 cup shredded Jack cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese
- 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup rough chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Season the chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, and paprika. In a large heavy-bottomed, oven-proof skillet (like cast iron), heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken until a golden brown crust forms, about 2 minutes per side.
- Remove the chicken and deglaze the pan with the beer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Return the chicken to the pan and bake in the oven until cooked through, about 20 minutes.
- Using two forks, shred the chicken, tossing it with the juices in the pan. Add 4 tablespoons o barbecue sauce and toss to coat. Return pan to the oven and cook for an additional 5 minutes to incorporate all of the flavors.
- Turn oven up to 500°F.
- Dust 4 separate pieces of parchment paper with flour, and then place a dough ball on each one. Use your hands to stretch the dough into 4 rough circles about 8 inches in diameter, sprinkling with flour if the dough is sticky. Slide each piece of parchment paper onto a baking tray.
- Spread each dough round with even amounts of the remaining barbecue sauce, and then top with the Jack, Gouda, shredded chicken, and red onion. Sprinkle each pizza with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and the olive oil.
- Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the red onions are lightly charred, about 8-10 minutes. Garnish each with a pinch of salt and pepper and the cilantro before slicing and serving.
- Prep Time: 35 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Pizza
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: barbecue chicken, barbecue chicken pizza, barbecue sauce
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Preheat Oven and Prep Protein
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Season the chicken on both sides with the salt, pepper, and paprika.
In a large heavy-bottomed, oven-proof skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of neutral oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken until a golden brown crust forms, about 2 minutes per side.
Step 2 – Deglaze the Pan
Remove the chicken and set it aside on a plate. Deglaze the pan with the beer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. This is known as the fond, and it’s super flavorful and really contributes a lot to a pan sauce.
Step 3 –Bake
Return the chicken to the pan and bake in the oven until it is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
The internal temperature of the meat should reach 165-170°F, as indicated on a meat thermometer.
Step 4 – Shred and Add Barbecue Sauce
Using two forks, shred the chicken, tossing it with the juices in the pan as you shred.
Add 4 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce to the shredded chicken, and toss to coat is completely in the sauce.
Now is the time to season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
Already have some leftover chicken the fridge? Maybe some leftover Crock-Pot Chicken? Easily use that instead! Just shred and mix with barbecue sauce.
Step 5 – Return to the Oven
Return the pan to the oven and cook for an additional 5 minutes, to heat the barbecue sauce through and incorporate all of the flavors.
Step 6 – Turn up the Oven and Prepare the Pizza Dough
Turn the oven up to 500°F.
Dust 4 separate pieces of parchment paper with flour, and then place the dough balls on each one. Use your hands to stretch the dough into 4 rough circles, sprinkling with flour if the dough is sticky, to about 8 inches in diameter.
The thinner you make the dough, the more surface area you’ll have to cover your creations with toppings.
Slide each piece of parchment paper onto a baking tray, and assemble the pizzas on there.
If you want something even easier (lazier?) than using raw dough, consider using pre-made naan flatbread instead. It’s what I like to use for my Grilled Caprese Naan recipe.
Step 7 – Assemble and Bake
Spread each dough round with even amounts of the remaining barbecue sauce.
Top with the Jack, Gouda, shredded chicken, and red onion.
Sprinkle with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and the olive oil.
Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the red onions are lightly charred, about 8-10 minutes. Garnish the pizzas with a pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and the cilantro.
Give Pizza Night a Tangy Twist
Time to retire the sausage and mushrooms. Turn up the volume on your homemade pizza night by stacking the bold toppings high and never looking back.
The creator of the barbecue chicken pie let his freaky pizza flag fly, and you can too.
If you’ve got avid cilantro haters in your house (raises hand), no worries. Italian parsley will still provide an herbaceous note without the harshness of cilantro’s anise-like bite.
If you’re looking for a more lightened up option, check out this gluten-free cauliflower pizza crust with a recipe that mentions a barbecue chicken option.
For other inventive dough alternatives, check out these sassy crusts:
- Easy-to-Make Honey Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
- The Best Chewy and Crunchy Homemade Hand Tossed Pizza Dough
- Crispy Einkorn Pizza Crust with Kefir
What vehicle will you decide to use for your zesty ‘za? Lead us down your pizza path in the comments below. And don’t forget to show us and others how much you loved this recipe by giving it a rating!
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on January 24, 2011. Last updated: October 7, 2020 at 15:35 pm.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”