Ten Things You Should Never Serve At A Dinner Party

July 24, 2014 | By | COMMENTS

Let me begin by saying that anyone who invites you over for dinner is doing you a favor. Without question, hosting dinner is hard work–the shopping, the prepping, the actual cooking, plus the cleaning–and anyone who takes it upon themselves to do all of that for you deserves your gratitude. That said, sometimes somebody invites you over for dinner and then serves a meal that feels a bit, well, punishing. Often it has nothing to do with the cooking skills involved; usually it has a lot more to do with the recipe choice. Which is why I’ve decided to compile a list of ten things you should never serve at a dinner party. Avoid these ten dishes like the plague and not only will your dinner guests swoon, they’ll even help you do the dishes.

Ten Things You Should Never Serve At A Dinner Party

1. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts.

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I’ve written about this before, and it bears repeating: there is no reason, ever, to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts*. If you’re on a diet, it’s better to buy chicken with the skin on, cook it that way, so the meat stays moist, and then remove the skin. What you get when you don’t have anything protecting the meat is dry, leathery, inedible chicken. And also, if you’re on a diet? Don’t have a dinner party. Or do and don’t make everyone else be on a diet along with you. (* There’s one acceptable way to serve boneless, skinless chicken breasts and that’s pounded into submission, coated in breadcrumbs and Parmesan, fried in oil, and topped with salad. But that’s hard to do for a crowd.)

2. Steamed Vegetables

[Image via Sodahead]

Once again, if you’re on a diet, that’s great! Steamed vegetables are a terrific idea for shedding those extra pounds. But you know what they’re not great for? Serving guests. Seriously, presenting a bunch of pale, water-logged vegetables on a plate is like slapping your dinner guests in the face. At least have some decency and pour a little melted butter on top. Or, better yet, just roast them.

3. Turkey Meatloaf

[Image via FoodNetwork.com]

Nobody likes turkey meatloaf. If they like it, they like it because it reminds them of actual meatloaf: so make actual meatloaf or don’t make it at all. To put it another way, when a dinner guest shows up at your house and asks, “Wat’s for dinner?” and you say, “Turkey meatloaf” they may be working really hard to keep the smile on their face, but deep down, they’re thinking: “Oh shit. Turkey meatloaf? Blech.”

4. Kale Salad

shredkale

This will be the most controversial entry on my list, because there’s a good chance some of you have served kale salad to dinner guests (I’ve done it once or twice). The thing is that though raw kale is good for you, it takes a lot of work to make the act of eating it pleasurable. It is possible–just barely possible–to make a raw kale salad enjoyable, but to accomplish that you’ll need to toss your raw kale with lots of garlicky bread crumbs and Pecorino cheese. But once you do that, you’re probably negating the health benefits you were seeking in the first place, so what’s the point of serving a raw kale salad at all? Exactly. Let’s face it: raw kale isn’t dinner party material.

5. Homemade Pizza

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Unless your name is Gwyneth Paltrow and you have a wood-burning oven in your backyard, chances are that the pizza you make at home isn’t as good as the pizza you can order from your local pizza joint (where the ovens go up to 800 degrees; yours can only hit 500). Which is fine if you’re looking to save money and want to serve your spouse and kids a fun, festive, resourceful dinner. I get homemade pizza for the family. But when you have people over, and you feed your homemade pizza to them, you’re basically saying, “Look, I know you can get this better somewhere else, but you’re in my house and you’re going to eat my puffy, too-bready pizza and you’re going to like it!” Exception: grilled pizza is good.

6. Gluten-Free Bread Products (To People Who Aren’t Gluten-Free)

There are two groups, now, as far as the gluten-free movement goes: those who are genuinely suffering from celiac disease, and those who follow diet fads who think of “gluten-free” as the latest version of the Atkins diet. So many gluten-free products exist now, my local grocery store just debuted a brand new “Gluten-Free” section with a big lighted display. Again, this is a boon to anyone who’s genuinely suffering; and everyone else, Godspeed. But if you’re inviting me over for dinner, and you’re looking to make a gluten-free meal, just skip the bread/pasta/cookies entirely. Go with meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, whatever. As I Tweeted the other day, gluten-free pizza is like a sex-free honeymoon. No thanks.

7. Ingredients Wildly Out of Season

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Look, there’s a level of snobbery that borders on the obnoxious. If it’s August and you’re serving strawberries, that’s cool. They’re not really in season anymore, but it’s close enough. Same with tomatoes and corn in November; or premature peaches in June. But if it’s the dead of winter, and we’re in a snow storm in North Dakota, and you break out the asparagus, wrapped in cellophane and shipped from God-knows-where, I can promise you it’s not going to taste very good. Also, who wants to eat asparagus in a snow storm? If this kind of thing intimidates you, your best bet is to visit a local farmer’s market just to get a sense of what kind of stuff is growing at the present time of year. Or buy a book by Alice Waters; she’ll show you the way.

8. Raw Oysters

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A lot can go wrong with raw oysters. From where you buy them, to how you store them, to how you shuck them, they have the potential to make your dinner guests very sick. Now if you live somewhere where oysters are plentiful, and you get them straight from the source and you know how to store them and how to shuck them properly (here’s a tutorial), more power to you. But everyone else? Skip the oysters.

9. Homemade Sushi

[Image via Gourmet.com]

If your name is Jiro, you can skip this one. Everyone else: that’s cute that you took a class on sushi-making on your honeymoon cruise, but unless you’re going to integrate it into a thoughtful, multi-course meal that makes sense (a hard thing to pull off) your homemade sushi is most likely going to leave your dinner guests hungry, disappointed, and eager to eat some real sushi from someone who really knows how to make it.

10. Sorbet

Ah, the dinner plates are cleared, the coffee is brewing, and at any moment the dessert’s going to hit the table. What’s that you say? You didn’t have time to make dessert, so you’re giving us sorbet? SORBET? Jesus Christ. This is a dinner party, not a cleanse. If you’re feeling lazy, that’s fine, but at the very least, have the decency to serve us ice cream. But sorbet? SORBET? That’s it…I’m leaving.

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Categories: Lists

  • Brenda Johnson

    Ha!! I totally agree, but I’m laughing because I attended a dinner party just yesterday where the host specifically asked that I bring sorbet for dessert.

  • Brenda Johnson

    Ha!! I totally agree, but I’m laughing because I attended a dinner party just yesterday where the host specifically asked that I bring sorbet for dessert.

  • Brenda Johnson

    Ha!! I totally agree, but I’m laughing because I attended a dinner party just yesterday where the host specifically asked that I bring sorbet for dessert.

  • Agent Strong

    I agree on all counts. However, try Melissa Clark’s method for making pizza using the oven and then turning on the broiler (Cook This Now). Works like a charm and makes excellent pizza. The reason I would not serve pizza is not because of the oven or the quality of the finished product, but logistics. It takes a lot of work and time to stretch out that dough.

  • Anonymous

    I love most of this list, but disagree strongly on the kale salad (I LOVE a well-dressed kale caesar, and not because it’s “healthy”–it isn’t!) … and not everyone in the world has easy access to great delivery pizza (plus, grilled pizza can be a work of art)! Finally, sushi can be a fun group activity (although obviously, you do want lots of other options to avoid leaving your guests hungry).

  • Agent Strong

    Kale was never intended for human consumption. God told me.

  • kopi-susu

    Re: sushi – you’re doing it wrong! Roll-your-own sushi is a fantastic dinner party, maybe more casual than what you had in mind when you made this list. And it scales up really well

    Score a side of local salmon,get more fish, uni etc, augment with both familiar (tobiko, salmon roe, shiso, etc) and less-so (mountain yam, umi paste) ingredients from Mitsuwa or other japanese market. Make the rice. You can preslice the fish, or cut it to order. Have your guests wash their hands then teach them how to make maki & handrolls. They can try nigiri, but most of them won’t get it, it’s OK, still tastes good. If you can get fresh wasabi, put that out and the powdered stuff too, put out several types of soy sauce and furikake.

    Your guests will (probably) try things they’d pass over on a restaurant menu, there’ll be lots of conversation as people share & compare, and you as the host get to be right in the middle of it, instead of spending half the time in the kitchen.

    Downside is it’s expensive (figure $50-60 per guest for ingredients and that’s not including the pantry staples). But dinner party sushi will be forever ON my top ten list!

  • Parenthetical

    For the pizza, you’re presuming that one lives in a place where good pizza is abundant. Most of us have to choose between Domino’s et al and the better but still lacklustre places like Pizza Express (in the UK) or California Pizza Kitchen or what have you. Hands down, our home made pizza is better than anything I can get within a reasonable drive out here in the provinces. So, I think one must consider locale re: pizza. (If I lived in LA, London, etc I’d totally be right there with you on this one.)

    (I have been to a dinner party where sushi was served, and it was incredible — but definitely the exception that proves the rule, I think.)

  • Parenthetical

    For the pizza, you’re presuming that one lives in a place where good pizza is abundant. Most of us have to choose between Domino’s et al and the better but still lacklustre places like Pizza Express (in the UK) or California Pizza Kitchen or what have you. Hands down, our home made pizza is better than anything I can get within a reasonable drive out here in the provinces. So, I think one must consider locale re: pizza. (If I lived in LA, London, etc I’d totally be right there with you on this one.)

    (I have been to a dinner party where sushi was served, and it was incredible — but definitely the exception that proves the rule, I think.)

  • Parenthetical

    For the pizza, you’re presuming that one lives in a place where good pizza is abundant. Most of us have to choose between Domino’s et al and the better but still lacklustre places like Pizza Express (in the UK) or California Pizza Kitchen or what have you. Hands down, our home made pizza is better than anything I can get within a reasonable drive out here in the provinces. So, I think one must consider locale re: pizza. (If I lived in LA, London, etc I’d totally be right there with you on this one.)

    (I have been to a dinner party where sushi was served, and it was incredible — but definitely the exception that proves the rule, I think.)

  • olga

    can’t agree with you on many of these… i’ve been to parties with expertly shucked oysters, fabulous pizza made in the oven, and i actually happen to love raw kale salad, so if anyone wants to serve it to me, i’m all for it. I actually like sorbet – and make it often – and by end of dinner I’m too full for ice cream (i prefer it as a separate indulgent snack), and sorbet or granita hit the spot.

  • Andi Montgomery

    I’ve attended (hosted) a number of great pizza parties! With a decent dough recipe and a judicious hand with the toppings, you can make tasty pizza in a regular oven (with a pizza stone, at least.) And everyone can get a chance to top a pie. I find pizza a little tiring when done for just 2, so pizza parties are my outlet for homemade pizza. It’s not quite as good as the wood-fired place a few miles from my house, but a lot cheaper, and a lot more fun.

  • suzie

    Then there’s the host who asks if there’s anything you don’t like, you tell her fish and that’s what she serves. Along with over cooked steamed veggies and a “lasagna” w/o cheese. Gross.

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  • http://butterpoached.wordpress.com Laura Harter

    I completely agree with all of these, even the kale and pizza entries. The one time I served a kale salad at a dinner party (and it was smothered in cheese, fruit, and nuts), the best compliment was “this is good…for kale.”

  • Lila

    As a person who loves to eat good food, I’m with you on a certain level, even though I make fabulous pizza for a crowd. There are, however, people who don’t have access to seasonal vegetables and rely on government funded overseas commissaries for grocery shopping, where only a few available items are ever really in season. Shopping on the economy (the local market) can be more expensive than some can afford. (When you make dollars yet have to spend Euros for many things the $ doesn’t go far.) So try not to judge too harshly because some don’t have the luxury of a CSA or phenomenal pizza down the street. What’s most important is spending quality time with friends, being grateful that you have a meal on the table at all. And besides, after a dozen plates of schnitzel and potatoes that out of season asparagus sounds pretty darn good!

  • chels

    hahahahaha…I laughed so hard at the end. Sorbet as the only dessert makes me so angry!

  • Alcubierre Visitor

    I am laughing my butt off. Not because I disagree, but because you are so right on every point. And it was because your choice of words to tell the story is just plain funny. Thanks, Adam. Just love your posts.

  • Emily

    Titus Andronicus at the Globe! Hah! That was the best theatre performance I’ve ever seen. And I was definitely looking for a “murderous sons” to be added to your list.

  • Emily

    Titus Andronicus at the Globe! Hah! That was the best theatre performance I’ve ever seen. And I was definitely looking for a “murderous sons” to be added to your list.

  • Emily

    Titus Andronicus at the Globe! Hah! That was the best theatre performance I’ve ever seen. And I was definitely looking for a “murderous sons” to be added to your list.

  • Demelza

    Hmm. Not sure I agree with this list. I guess if you’re not an experienced cook, boneless skinless chicken breast can be a bad choice. But where I come from, Chicken Marsala or Picatta (or any variation on this theme) are excellent choices for a dinner party. You obviously have to know how to cook them.
    Same goes for pizza. Last Saturday, we attended a party where no fewer than a dozen perfect pizzas were served throughout the day, with guests fighting over every slice. At our family dinner parties, you’ll find fresh oysters whenever they’re available. And we regularly make beautiful sorbets as a beautiful ending to the dinner. Not done in advance, but as part of the fun of the dinner experience.
    I think the suggestion really should be don’t cook anything you’re not really comfortable with.

  • emmie

    My husband brought two pounds of kale home for us to try (seriously, two pounds), we ate it raw and cooked and discovered we HATE kale. I will never ingest another piece as long as I live. We buy our oysters by the sack from a guy down the bayou, bring them home, shuck, eat some and freeze. THAT’S a good day.

  • cath

    What? Frozen oysters? Why don’t I know about this trick? How do you freeze them and what do you do with them later?

  • Posting guest:)

    Ha-luv it!

  • Anonymous

    Can’t help but wonder about all the major FAIL of this post. I would buy number 1 if you didn’t focus on diet and buying a whole chicken. That completely distracted from your point and that is a major failing of this blog post. Number 5 and number 9 is fun can be fun in groups if done together (matter of fact I’ve done this). Number 7 is only relevant if you live in LA or NY. And as someone from Minnesota – there is no such thing as Turkey Meatloaf. Period. End of Story. It simply doesn’t exist. However – real Meatloaf has been a hit with my friends.

    Please… please … say this blog post is satire?

  • tunie

    The secret to edible kale salad is that no matter how finely you cut it, it *must* be massaged with sea salt and lemon. Then dress it or add whatever else.

  • Claire p

    Am I the only one willing to defend turkey meatloaf as the delicious food it is? I LOVE it. That said, I would never serve any type of meatloaf at a dinner party.

  • Adrian Reynolds

    Sorbet ftw.

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    “If your name is Jiro, you can skip this one.” This made me laugh out loud. ^^

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  • Pamela Trefler

    I would agree except for the sorbet. Store bought, absolutely not. But home-made strawberry sorbet in the summer – I’m a happy camper.

  • Tammi

    I’m with Agent Strong on the kale front!

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    I think this is a really good idea for a very specific type of guest. If your guests are other people who enjoy food and sushi, I can see where this would be fun.

    But, quite honestly, this sounds like quite a bit of work for the guests. And a lot of people don’t really want to experiment with textures and flavors at a dinner party, they just want to talk and enjoy their dinner.

    I can see where a sushi dinner party might be a good idea, but I don’t think it is a go-to idea.

  • http://www.itsasecret.co Natalie Luffer

    Very funny and very true

  • http://www.shopdisowned.com/ dani

    Thank you SO much for posting this. I have had to deal with literally every single one of the above mentioned foods at a dinner party, and let me tell you, being grateful can be difficult. I’d even like to add one to the list: Curry or smelly fish. Not that it doesn’t taste great, but your guests do not want to stop at the dry cleaners on the way home to get the stank out of their clothes.

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  • Catherine

    I actually started eating raw kale salad because it was served to me at a dinner party and I loved it! I got the recipe from the host and have served it to other friends and family members, and it’s always been a huge hit.

  • Nick25

    #11. I read this IDIOTIC article about what not to say at a dinner party.

    What stupid piece.

  • http://Healthyroadadventures.blogspot.com Angel

    I agree. My homemade pizza party was a total disaster.
    Angel – healthyroadadventures.blogspot.com

  • http://Healthyroadadventures.blogspot.com Angel

    I agree. My homemade pizza party was a total disaster.
    Angel – healthyroadadventures.blogspot.com

  • pizzaman

    Overall, I like the list. But you definitely are wrong with regards to the pizza. even if you live in LA, you definitely can make pizza that is VERY good at home. yes, you need a pizza stone. And, preferably an oven that goes to at least 550 degrees (and, I am able jack up the default settings on my oven so it goes up to about 575). No doubt, the hotter the oven the better, but my pizzas are as good as even the best places in LA… And, no, I am not trying to replicate “authentic” Neapolitan pizzas or anything. But, they are darn tasty pizzas. (and trust me, my guests agree!!).

  • Jeff

    A friend calls himself a vegetabalist (not vegetarian, just more vegetables than meat). When they came for dinner, I put him to work massaging the kale (which he’d never heard of doing), while I prepared the rest of our dinner. He enjoyed the activity, and properly seasoned, we all enjoyed it immensely. He loved bragging about doing such a perfect job of massaging.

    Your comments about other vegetables are pretty much spot-on.

    While I mostly agree about boneless, skinless chicken breasts, there was a recipe for sauteed chicken breasts napped with scotch cream sauce in Gourmet Magazine in March 1983 that has been one of my go-to dishes ever since! Browning them lightly in clarified butter, not overcooking, and the fantastic sauce makes them perfect. It’s one of the fastest, easiest main dishes in my repertoire.

    I’m a lot more disgusted by the plethora of too-lean boneless pork chops that have taken over the meat cases in all my supermarkets. Blech!

    Sorbet can be a terrific palate-cleanser between courses – maybe preceding a nice cheese plate for dessert?

  • Declan

    Sorry, my homemade pizza – made on a pizza stone in a regular old oven – is waaaaaaay better than delivery.

  • Carin Galletta Oliver

    The photo of the meatloaf made me laugh because it reminded me of my mom’s cooking…not good. We serve oysters all the time but we live 30 minutes away from Hog Island in Marin and Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wine is our client, so we MUST have oysters!

  • Carin Galletta Oliver

    I’m curious if you have tried the propane pizza cooker that I think I saw at one of the cooking stores. I’m dying to get one.

  • Derek

    If you’re cooking dry, leathery, inedible boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then you’re doing something wrong. I would be afraid to sauté a mound of chicken breasts for a party just because there would be large gaps between portions coming out of the kitchen (I typically cook 3-4 at a time), but that’s a logistics issue, not a problem with the protein itself. With just a little practice, there are few dishes that are easier and more rewarding than a chicken breast with a simple pan sauce (heck, just a little fresh lemon juice will get the job done).

  • Derek

    If you’re cooking dry, leathery, inedible boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then you’re doing something wrong. I would be afraid to sauté a mound of chicken breasts for a party just because there would be large gaps between portions coming out of the kitchen (I typically cook 3-4 at a time), but that’s a logistics issue, not a problem with the protein itself. With just a little practice, there are few dishes that are easier and more rewarding than a chicken breast with a simple pan sauce (heck, just a little fresh lemon juice will get the job done).

  • Kristin

    Dear Amateur Gourmet,
    Allow me to introduce you to two of my close friends I call Chicken Piccata and Chicken Marsala. They are delicious when made properly, and if you think they’ll always be dry, leathery, and inedible then you apparently have not spent enough time eating in Steve Johnson’s kitchen. I don’t get this vendetta against b-less, sk-less chicken breasts, I think it’s entirely too stringent. They’re the blank canvas of the meat world! (I stole that phrase from another blogger).

  • AJ

    Please share the recipe for the chicken in cream sauce!

  • AG

    yes, yes, yes–though I would push back a little on the pizza and sorbet. I like homemade pizza and how easy it is to make for friends. Sorbet can be homemade and perfect after a meal.

  • da06488

    Just to make you jealous, you can get really good thin crust pizza in CT.

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  • Agent Strong

    No — I don’t have room for another appliance. However, my next pizza will be on my propane grill. I want to see how well it works.

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  • Parenthetical

    Every town I have lived in CA had wonderful pizza; now that I’ve moved to a less fashionable part of England I’m bereft!

  • http://foodielouie.com/ Foodie Louie

    A decent homemade pizza (even with pre baked crust) is better than delivery. How hard is it to make pizza?

  • Bornin Smounki

    Boo! This whole list stinks. Thank god the people I invite to dinner at my house are coming for good food, good company, hangout time and chilling out, not snobby cataloguing whether or not my asparagus is out of season or my sorbet is declasse. It’s about the gathering, man. Missing the point!

  • Bornin Smounki

    Boo! This whole list stinks. Thank god the people I invite to dinner at my house are coming for good food, good company, hangout time and chilling out, not snobby cataloguing whether or not my asparagus is out of season or my sorbet is declasse. It’s about the gathering, man. Missing the point!

  • Bornin Smounki

    That said, of course no B/S chicken breasts or turkey meatloaf. Just, duh, no gross food! Nothing lame!

  • Joanne

    I could not agree more – with one exception – for our (admittedly select) group of friends who love oysters, a special meal always begins with those (impeccably fresh from our excellent fishmonger) and a glass of something special (champagne, chablis, single malt scotch). In general, though, guests won’t thank you for them.

  • Judy Brown-lawson

    Some of the items are so funny (turkey meatloaf? that sounds suspiciously like something bought for dog food and the dog died). But wait! There’s more! We happen to live near the world’s best (this is authentic, biased but authentic) gelatto parlor. Their chocolate gelatto is to die, to steal and rape and plunder for. I would eat an entire dinner consisting of chocolate gelatto made by our genial Alotta Gelatto!!!

  • Anonymous

    I disagree with a few items: skinless chicken breast cooked properly (dry poached — in the oven with parchment paper covering) and shredded into my Salade Cambodgienne is wonderful.

    I make wonderful homemade pizzas, in fact — always a winner (Gwyneth Paltrow?! Are you kidding me? She has her minions operating the pizza oven!).

    Steamed veggies do not have to look like that!! Quickly steamed fresh spinach is heavenly!

    Sorbet served in homemade meringue shells, topped with berry coulis is yummy. Something to feed your gluten-free guests without bringing out that horrible gluten-free pasta!

    You’re not a real cook unless you know how to serve oysters without making your friends sick!!

    I agree about produce in season but sometimes you do see some great produce finds out of season . . . nothing to do with snobbery. (BTW — I had the most uninspiring meal of my life at Alice Water’s ‘Chez Panisse’ – bland and disappointing [and expensive!])

    Turkey meatloaf? Form into large-ish oval meatballs, invite over your Russian friends, call the dish “Coteletts,” serve with potatoes and vodka . . .

  • A Canadian

    Lol @ only serving in season ingredients. Do you know what is in season for half the year in many places? Nothing, because it’s winter.

  • Lizzie

    Here’s a thought — can I invite myself over for dinner? Your party sounds like a great mix of fun and learning. I would gladly pay the $50-60.

  • Saudia Sharkey

    With you all the way, brother. Not only are you right, you are funny as hell.

  • Mitchell

    This really gave me the giggles — I totally agree with everything, but my brother, who for 40 years has imagined he could cook, serves boneless chicken breasts at every meal for company, always, always cremated and dry as dust. I actually had him and my sister-in-law over recently in order to show that boneless chicken breasts could actually be moist and juicy, otherwise I’d never serve them. (Thighs though, I do serve.)
    The sorbet also gave me a laugh because a few years ago a friend served us a trio of beautifully spoon-molded (like quenelles) sorbets. However, her husband hadn’t refrigerated a cooked raspberry coulis to top them; it was still a bit warm and meltrd the sorbets in seconds.

  • Carin Galletta Oliver

    Did you ever have a chance to try your propane grill pizza?