Barbecued Chicken Pizza: thinking outside the (takeout) box.

Hey, look in the fridge: see that barbecued chicken in there?

Back there with the potato salad and onion dip and coleslaw from your 4th of July bash?

Man does not live by cold leftovers alone. Let’s make something tasty out of those grilled boneless thighs.

Something like Barbecued Chicken Pizza.

Remember the days when pizza meant cheese and tomato sauce – period?

OK, maybe you’re not THAT old. But trust me, it’s only within the past 50 years or so that pizza in America has taken its place up there with Big Macs and ham sandwiches as an everyday meal choice.

Before World War II, pizza was confined to Italian communities in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. But American GIs, having discovered this tasty treat while serving in Italy, came home clamoring for it.

Thus, their market established, the first pizza chains were born: Chicago’s Pizzeria Uno in 1943; Shakey’s Pizza, 1954, in Sacramento, California; and Pizza Hut, pride of Wichita, Kansas, which first opened its doors in 1958.

Between the burgeoning chains, and mom and pop shops popping up all over, competition bred innovation: tomato sauce and cheese quickly morphed into pepperoni, and mushrooms, and peppers… and ham-and-pineapple Hawaiian.

To say nothing of slow-roasted pulled pork, red onions, cilantro pesto, mozzarella and queso quesadilla cheese with spicy habanero salsa (thank you, California Pizza Kitchen).

Speaking of California Pizza Kitchen, that chain claims to have invented the first version of barbecued chicken pizza, described in their menu as “The Original BBQ Pizza, invented here in 1985. BBQ sauce, smoked Gouda, mozzarella, BBQ chicken, red onions, and cilantro.”

Our iteration skips the cilantro and Gouda, but otherwise remains true to the original: chicken, barbecue sauce, mozzarella, and red onions.

Which brings us back to where we started: that leftover chicken in your fridge. You’ll need about 1 1/2 pounds of boneless barbecued chicken for the following pizza.

Don’t have a scale? Get out a big cookie sheet or half-sheet pan (about 18″ x 13″, double the size of your 9″ x 13″ pan). Now lay the cooked chicken on top of it, as though you were topping a pizza. That’s how much you need.

If you don’t have any leftover barbecue (like, you’re reading this post in November, maybe), here’s what to do.

Buy 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Cut the pieces into 1″ to 2″ chunks.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and sauté until the edges begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped; and 1 or 2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into chunks, as pictured.

For added texture/crunch in the topping, sauté 1 onion with the chicken; and reserve the other, using it to top the pizza just before baking.

Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes over high heat.

Add ½ cup of barbecue sauce and toss to coat, continuing to cook until the sauce has thickened.

If you use a thick sauce to begin with, this will happen immediately; if the sauce is thinner, it could take 3 or 4 minutes.

Set aside to cool; refrigerate until you’re ready to top your pizza.

Next, the dough. This versatile dough can be used immediately; but I prefer to refrigerate it overnight. The long, cool rest really develops the crust’s flavor.

Place the following in a bowl:

1 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 cups semolina*
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Pizza Dough Flavor (optional, but delicious)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup + 2 tablespoons to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water

*Use 3 cups all-purpose flour OR 3 cups Perfect Pizza Blend in place of the all-purpose/semolina mixture, if desired.

Mix the ingredients until they come together.

The dough will be soft and cohesive, but not at all smooth.

Beat at high speed of your electric mixer, continuing to use the beater blade, for 2 minutes. See how the dough is beginning to smooth out? Time to switch to the dough hook.

Knead for 7 minutes.

The dough should be smooth, quite soft, and very stretchy. That’s the gluten doing its job.

See how the dough is just barely sticking to the bowl, right around the edges? LOVE this texture. It’s the best of both worlds: stiff enough to work with, sticky enough to rise nicely.

You can also make the dough in a bread machine set on the dough cycle.

Finally, if kneading by hand, mix the ingredients, then let the dough rest, covered, for about 30 minutes; this will give the flour a chance to absorb the water, which will make kneading easier.

Leave the dough right in the bowl, if you don’t need the bowl; or leave it in the bread machine, to complete its dough cycle.

I usually transfer ready-to-rise dough to an 8-cup measure, so I can track its progress.

Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 45 minutes; then refrigerate it for 4 hours (or up to 36 hours); this step will develop the crust’s flavor. It’ll continue to rise in the fridge, so make sure it’s in a big enough container. If you’re using your bread machine, transfer it to a larger container before refrigerating.

Here we are, about 14 hours later.

This is what they mean when they say “a web of gluten strands.” You’re actually seeing a web of dough, but each of those dough strands is made up of gluten strands… pretty interesting, eh?

Place the dough in a lightly greased pan – the aforementioned half-sheet pan is a good choice, size-wise.

I like to drizzle olive oil in the bottom of the pan, as well as greasing it with non-stick vegetable oil spray. I like the crispness lent by the oil, as well as that hint of deep-fried flavor. Think Pizza Hut.

Place the dough in the pan, gently stretching it to fit. If the dough fights back, cover it and walk away for 10 minutes; this will give the gluten a chance to relax. When you return, the dough should be easier to work with.

Cover the dough, and let it rise for 30 to 90 minutes, depending on how thick you want your crust.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Bake the untopped crust for 12 minutes. Remove it from the oven. You can either cool the crust and store for a couple of days, tightly wrapped, at room temperature; or continue with the pizza.

When you’re ready for pizza, spread the partially baked crust with about 1 cup barbecue sauce; more or less, to taste.

Sprinkle 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese atop the sauce.

Top with the cooked chicken mixture, warming briefly in the microwave first if it’s been refrigerated.

For a pleasantly crisp touch, here’s where you use the other red onion. Peel, cut into chunks, and scatter top the chicken mixture.

Bake the pizza for about 12 minutes…

…until the crust is browned and the topping is bubbling.

Remove from the oven, and immediately transfer the pizza to a rack, so its bottom doesn’t become soggy. Serve hot or warm.

Remember that web of gluten strands? You can still see it here, can’t you?

Am I a total bread nerd?


And that includes pizza.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Barbecued Chicken Pizza.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. wgsdkaos

    Took this idea and made a vegan version that turned out FABULOUS! I used our standard homemade pizza crust (1/2 WW bread flour, 1/2 AP, nutritional yeast, thyme, garlic, onion powder, and a healthy scoop of potato flakes), soy curls (rehydrated with BBQ sauce and hot water, baked, then tossed in more BBQ sauce), Daiya Mozzerella (a vegan mozzerella that is really quite good) and sauteed red onion.

    It turned out great, and the hubs, who is quite intolerant of messing around with the perfection of our standard at home pizza, declared it a huge success – as evidenced by the dramatic lack of leftovers.
    Sounds like everyone was happy over there. Great! Elisabeth

    Yes, the two of us ate the entire thing in one go.

  2. cathy3925

    I love this recipe!! We made it last night, using leftover grilled chicken thighs. I made the recipe as directed, except I added gouda cheese and cilantro (inspired by “The Original BBQ Pizza” recipe you mentioned in the article.) My husband, who is picky about “specialty pizzas”, gave this one a big thumbs up!

  3. "Tom M."

    I love the crust from the Now or Later Pizza recipe (aka Just-in-time pizza blog entry) here ( Regarding the dough, the recipe here is basically the same as two I listed above. Since I started doing the dough in the winter I had a little problem with the rise until I started letting it rise on top of a warm clothes dryer, but it is a great recipe. I use an 8 cup plastic picture for the rise and it works very well when covered loosely with a little plastic wrap or a flour sack towel. I started out cooking the dough on a stone but decided that for the convenience a half sheet pan with parchment paper is the best way to go.

    Thanks for the delicious recipe! Looking forward to trying it. My gf generally doesn’t like BBQ chicken pizza, but I think next time I will make one with her favorites (sauteed mushrooms, sliced garlic, and fresh mozzarella, no sauce) and slip in this one on the sly. 😉
    Thanks for sharing your pizza tips! How thoughtful to make a pizza to please your gf, and enough dough to make your favorite as well. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

  4. halleys

    Made this last night for dinner and it was a hit! So easy, so delicious. And, the leftovers are a hit in the office today…. thanks so much for the inspiration, PJ. :-]

    Glad you enjoyed it – totally easy, wasn’t it? PJH

  5. argentyne

    Hahahaha! I love the warning about the dough continuing to rise in the fridge. Once, I had underestimated the rise potential in my pizza crust dough. I had just switched to a different yeast and it was FAR FAR more aggressive than the other yeast I had been using. The old yeast would mix into the dough, and would rise very slowly in the fridge. So I would put the small dough chunks in medium zip top bags.

    The new yeast rose so aggressively that the dough exploded one of the two bags before I found out about it. The other bag had to be cut off because it was so stretched by the dough inside. But the exploded one was very impressive. The dough had tripled in size and had climbed all over everything on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Cleaning it up took 3 hours. I laugh now, but I didn’t then. Ever since, I’m far more into letting it rise in a HUGE bowl or measuring cup. (Like an 8 cup measure for a 1/2 pound wad of dough. 🙂
    OH MY! I too had a similar experience, all over my counter, and all of the cat’s paws when he jumped up to see the monstrosity and poke at it seeping out from under the linen I had covered the too-small bowl with. Lesson learned: Give that yeast some room to party! Because it demands a big enough dancin’ space! -Jessica

  6. BluebonnetBaker

    This is happening. Like, tonight. (Or tomorrow night, if I can resist and let the dough rest overnight.)
    You go for it Amber! A Texas girl like you should make a mean BBQ chicken, so I’m sure it will be a flavor blast!
    ~ MaryJane

  7. cwcdesign


    That is one son’s absolute favorite pizza! Could you use the whole wheat pizza crust from a week or so ago? I have it in the fridge right now. Also, what about dividing the crust in half and making 2 different flavors. i.e, one potato and one bbq chicken? I’m currently using an oven that’s too small for my half-sheet pans – aaargh!

    All good – pizza is just the most flexible, friendly type of dish. Mix and match crusts with toppings, make them anywhere from 3″ across to 2′ – go for it! PJH

  8. juthurst

    now THAT’s what I’m talking about!
    Forget the “cheeseburger in paradise”- this pizza is pure Heaven!
    Besides your toppings, I like mine with spinach, roasted peppers, mushrooms and colby-jack cheese…
    We happen to have leftover smoked chicken thighs so I’m thinking this is dinner tonight! Now if I can just get my 17 yo DS to make the crust while I’m at work… 😉

    Tell him it’s a no-effort crust – just stir together (no kneading), let rise 1 hour, and refrigerate for a few hours. Take it out of the fridge and shape into a crust a couple of hours before you get home, so it can warm up. Should work out just fine- PJH


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