This sandwich blog post is about a pizza melt. I made a version of these last year during my month of Meltuary celebration. Pizza melts are a copycat recipe of a handheld-sandwich-type thing that Pizza Hut released in October 2022. These melts pretty much consist of pizza dough, folded over pizza toppings and melty cheese. They are then pan-fried to crisp up the outside of the dough and warm through the insides. Finally, a pizza melt is topped with a savory parmesan breadstick seasoning for an extra flavor punch. If you’d like to read more about the first pizza melts I made, go for it. But come back and read this one too because I have a couple of extra tips I’ve learned along the way.
Last year I out pizza’d (melt’d) the Hut.
Now that we know we’re making pizza melts, let’s talk about the “toppings” or fillings for the melt I’m making today. It’s BBQ chicken!
History of BBQ chicken pizza
Some people say that the invention of BBQ chicken pizza seems to lie with Ed LaDou, a pizza chef working at a well-known restaurant in Los Angeles called Spago in 1985. Spago was owned by Wolfgang Puck and LaDou was known for making out-of-the-box pizzas that became popular and were a big success for the restaurant.
At the same time, a pizza concept called California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) was about to open and LaDou was recruited to help design the menu. One of the first pizzas that LaDou created for CPK was the original BBQ chicken pizza and almost 40 years later it is still on the menu.
Other sources on the internet attribute the barbecue pizza (with pork, not chicken) to being invented elsewhere at an earlier time, but it seems clear that the particular combination of ingredients and flavors that we’re chasing today can be traced back to the early days of the California Pizza Kitchen.
What is a California Pizza Kitchen BBQ chicken pizza?
Well, there’s chicken of course, and barbecue sauce and a few other things. BBQ sauce is used as the base layer for the pizza where you would normally find marinara. On top of the sauce is white meat chicken, red onion, and cilantro with mozzarella and smoked gouda cheeses melted on top of everything.
I have had a slice of California Pizza Kitchen BBQ chicken pizza at an actual California Pizza Kitchen, but it’s been quite a few years. Luckily, they also sell these in the frozen food section of many major grocery stores (I went out and got this one at my local Target).
400 F and 16 minutes later I was sampling pizza.
Is the frozen version any good?
I’m not going to do a full review because that’s not really what this blog is about, but I do think the California Pizza Kitchen BBQ Chicken Pizza is pretty good for a frozen pizza if you like a thin cracker-like crust. The BBQ sauce shines through and there’s a pretty good amount of cheese in each bite. The smoked gouda adds very mild smokiness and for those of you who hate cilantro, while it’s visible all over the pizza, it isn’t an overwhelming flavor. I think the firm pieces of chicken were the weak point of this frozen pizza but once you got past that, this was a perfectly fine frozen BBQ chicken pizza experience on a super crispy cracker crust.
Now that we’ve revisited the flavors of the original BBQ chicken pizza, I want to turn it into a melty handheld sandwich experience. First, as is typical, we need the bread. In this case, we’re making flatbread.
This flatbread is thicker than a tortilla and closer to a naan or a pita. It’s a yeasted dough, but you end up griddling it on a hot surface like you would when making flour tortillas. The original Pizza Hut melt uses pizza dough and to be honest, this is close to the pizza dough recipe that I typically use.
If you don’t want to make your own flatbread, you can buy store-bought pizza dough and fry it in a dry skillet the same way I make mine. You can also buy and use already cooked flatbreads like pita or naan. Just make sure the flatbread you buy will fit in your skillet and make sure it’s big enough that it can be folded over with ingredients inside.
Here’s my puffy flatbread recipe. The same ingredients and description are also in the full California Pizza Hut Kitchen BBQ chicken pizza melt down below as well.
Parmesan breadstick seasoning
I shared my Pizza Hut-style breadstick recipe last year and have made it a few more times since. It produces a dough and a resulting bread that is very similar to focaccia with a buttery, crunchy bottom, and an extra flavorful and savory Parmesan seasoned top. The recipe below is simply for the Parmesan seasoning or topping that I’ve extracted from the main breadstick recipe because this seasoning does have application elsewhere.
You can add this seasoning on top of pasta or pizza for extra seasoning and you can also mix it in with softened butter to create a very flavorful compound butter that will work well on things like a steak or even corn on the cob.
This seasoning is so easy to put together, all you’ll need is a whisk. I even worked up this wonderful graphic for you so that you won’t even need a recipe.
The chicken in this recipe can be rotisserie, breast pieces, or thighs, basically whatever you want. If you are using rotisserie chicken, I would make sure you chop it into quarter or half-inch bite-size pieces instead of pulling or shredding it. I just prefer the texture of chunks of chicken instead of pulled chicken in this sandwich.
I simply put a few salted and peppered chicken thighs in a cast iron skillet for 12 to 14 minutes and chopped them after they rested.
My chicken thigh pan cooking technique has changed over the past couple of years, but for the most part, I get the pan relatively hot (above 350 F [175 C] surface temperature) with just a teaspoon or two of oil in the pan. Then I sear for 7 minutes on the flattest side and leave the chicken alone in the pan, without touching the thighs at all. Then I flip and cook for another 6 minutes or so.
Usually, I will check the chicken thigh temperature with a quick read thermometer, and I shoot for around 155 or 160 F (70 C) internal temperature. The chicken temperature should rise 5 to 10 degrees while it rests.
A little behind-the-scenes information about the creation of this sandwich is that I made two extra batches of test barbecue sauce for a recent sandwich and found the need to come up with another recipe to put the extra sauce to use in. This is my favorite barbecue sauce recipe, but you can feel free to use your favorite in this recipe. You just need a sweet and tangy one. Don’t use a super thin sauce or it might just run out of the pizza melt.
Red onion and cilantro
These two ingredients seem to be polarizing. They’re both strong flavors and many people seem to have negative responses to one or both of them. Fortunately for me, I’m a fan of both in most applications and they seem to work well on a barbecue chicken pizza or pizza melt. I slice the raw red onion very thin and roughly chop just the cilantro leaves for this sandwich which makes preparation easy.
If you hate one or both ingredients, leave them out. No big deal the pizza melt will still be just as good.
California Pizza Kitchen’s menu currently says they use smoked gouda and mozzarella on this pizza, so I went with what was pretty much a 50/50 blend of both. I shredded the two cheese blocks and ended up using around 1.5 to 2 ounces of each in each melt, which SPOILER ALERT was enough to make the resulting sandwich melty.
In my experience of tasting the actual frozen CPK pizza and trying my own BBQ chicken pizza melt, the smoked gouda gets pretty lost in the other flavors. I would say that maybe in the restaurant they use more but I think you’d be ok just using mozzarella if you can’t find smoked gouda.
The California Pizza Hut Kitchen BBQ chicken flatbread pizza melt recipe
Here are a bunch of photos of flatbread pizza melts and the full recipe is just a bit further down the page. Give this recipe a try and let me know how it goes down in the comments.
One quick tip for the cooking process is to make sure you add the flatbread to a dry, hot skillet and cook for 1 to 2 minutes before flipping. Then you add the pizza toppings/fillings to the flipped flatbread meaning that all the cheese and other ingredients will be lying on a warmed-up piece of flatbread. This kicks off the melting process.
Then when all the fillings are laid on one side of the flatbread you fold it over and it is now time to crisp up the outside. At this point, you can add some neutral oil to the pan, or you can add butter. Once the oil/butter has been added, you move the folded flatbread on top and use that hot fat to help crisp up the exterior of the bread.
In my old version of these pizza melts, I used oil, but I started using butter during the process this time and I think I like it better. First off, it seems to be easier to tell when the butter is browning which indicates when it is probably time to flip the pizza melt. Secondly, it seems to me that the breadstick seasoning sticks better to a buttered flatbread than an oiled flatbread. Either way, the goal is to crisp up the exterior bread and make sure that the breadstick seasoning has a slightly tacky surface to grip onto.
Just like other melty sandwiches that are cooked or seared on a hot surface, these pizza melts really benefit from three or four minutes of resting on a cooling rack. If you transfer this BBQ pizza melt straight to a plate or cutting board, the bottom of the melt—which is still very hot—will simply steam itself and become soggy on the plate. Let the sandwich rest for a bit while you get your drink ready and grab a napkin. Give this BBQ pizza melt time to rest and stretch its legs.
This is a BBQ chicken-focused cheesy flatbread melt topped with a savory Parmesan topping. This is an attempt at a copycat version of a Pizza Hut pizza melt inspired by California Pizza Kitchen's BBQ chicken pizza.
- 305 grams all-purpose flour (2 1/2 cups)
- 4 grams instant yeast (1 teaspoon)
- 7 grams salt (1 teaspoon)
- 15 grams olive oil (1 tablespoon)
- 227 grams warm water (1 cup - 100 F or so)
- 2 tablespoons finely ground parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried onion flakes
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1⁄4 teaspoon or small pinch of MSG (optional)
- 1 8 to 10-inch flatbread (from above)
- 1 to 2 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 to 2 ounces smoked gouda cheese, shredded
- 3 to 4 ounces chicken pieces (3oz is roughly half of a breast - can also use thigh or rotisserie)
- 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
- red onion, thinly sliced
- cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 to 2 tablespoons butter (or neutral oil like vegetable oil)
- 1 tablespoon breadstick seasoning (from above)
Puffy flatbread: Add all the puffy flatbread ingredients to a large bowl.
Mix everything thoroughly with a spoon until there's no dry flour in the bowl. This dough should be pretty wet and shaggy.
You will want to knead with your hands at this point, but you should add as little extra flour as possible. I suggest oiling your fingers and possibly adding a little extra oil to the bottom of the bowl before kneading, which should help a little with the sticking problems. Knead as much as you can, about 2 or 3 minutes.
Work the dough into roughly a ball shape and let it rest in the bowl (covered) in a warm spot in your kitchen for one hour.
After one hour, flour a flat surface and dump out your proofed dough. At this point, you will want to divide the dough into 4 or 5 pieces. If you have a scale, I shot for 115 to 125 grams each for an 8 to 10-inch round pastry.
Roll each portioned dough piece out into balls.
Place a large skillet or griddle over medium-low heat.
While the pan is pre-heating, start shaping each dough ball one at a time into a disk. You will need to sprinkle flour on the dough and the flat counter if the dough is really sticky. Press or roll (with a rolling pin) the dough into flatter and wider disks. Flatbread will puff up, but it will not puff out, so the diameter of the disk you have pre-cook is what you will end up with after cooking.
Once you have an 8 to 10-inch diameter disk, transfer it carefully to the hot skillet or griddle. Cook for 2 minutes on the first side and flip. Continue cooking for around 2 minutes on each side until you start seeing brown spots on the dough. The flatbread may puff up during this process and that is a good thing. Press it down with a spatula to keep it consistently cooking.
Once your flatbread is spotted on the outside and puffy, add it to a plate or pan covered with a clean towel. The towel allows the flatbreads to steam themselves a little which makes them even more pliable.
Continue this process for all your dough balls until they are all turned into flatbreads.
Breadstick seasoning: add all the breadstick seasoning ingredients into a small bowl. Stir well to combine. Store in a sealed container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator. This mixture will clump up, but you can shake or stir it well to break up the clumps.
Melt assembly: add your 8 to 10-inch flatbread to a dry skillet over medium heat. After a couple of minutes on the hot pan, the flatbread should be warm and more pliable.
Flip the flatbread over and immediately start adding half of your cheese over one-half of the exposed flatbread. Remember, we're going to be folding this over on itself very soon.
Scatter the small pieces of chicken evenly on top of the cheese and then drizzle on 1 to 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce. Then scatter sliced red onion and chopped cilantro on top of the barbecue sauce. Top everything with the rest of the cheese and fold the flatbread in half, covering the cheese, meat, and sauce.
Slide the folded flatbread to the side of the pan and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter (or oil) directly to the pan. Allow the butter to heat up for 30 to 45 seconds or until it's melty and bubbly and then slide the folded flatbread on top of the bubbly butter. The butter will help fry and crisp up the outside of the flatbread melt. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.
After a couple of minutes, flip the flatbread and check to make sure it's turning golden brown. Let the second side cook for another 1 to 2 minutes and flip again. Keep cooking and flipping until both sides of your melt are golden brown and crispy.
Remove the BBQ chicken melt to a cooling rack or a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle the top with breadstick seasoning.
Allow the melt to cool for 2 minutes and serve.
See you next week
I’m not even sure what sandwich is coming. My Patreon community will know first though. Join up to get insider information about what I’m working on and maybe I’ll make your suggested sandwich next!