A New York pizza with the American flag on the background

American Pizza Styles: A Guide to the Most Popular Pizzas in the USA

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Whether you prefer thin and crispy or thick and hearty, there’s a pizza style in the US for everyone. In this article, we will explore the origins and history of the most popular pizza styles in the US, discuss their unique characteristics, and provide general guidelines for preparation

American Pizzas: Introduction

If you thought the history of pizza ended in the previous chapter about Italian pizzas, think again. While the history of pizza in the US is shorter than its Italian counterpart, it is just as rich, diverse, and fascinating. The US has its own iconic pizzas that have become integral to American and global food culture; Some may even argue that while Italians invented pizza, the Americans perfected it (apologies to any Italians reading this, I’m just the messenger).

On a related note, while Americans didn’t invent pizza delivery (which actually existed in 19th -century Naples), they are responsible for popularizing and shaping it into what it is today.

Similar to Italy, each region in the US has its own distinct style of pizza, with unique characteristics. Given the size of the US (approximately 5.5 times larger than Italy in terms of population and 32 times larger in area), it’s no surprise that there are numerous styles of pizzas to be found. It’s worth noting that in many cases, Americans refer to pizza as “pie” rather than “pizza”; In fact, in the early days of pizza in the US, pizza makers were often called “pie men”.

Most Popular US Pizzas: General Background, History, Eating Characteristics, and Preparation

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the most popular pizza styles in the US. While I have made an effort to remain faithful to the original sources in terms of authenticity and tradition, it is worth noting that while some pizza styles have specific definitions, most styles have general guidelines without a clear and precise definition of what constitutes a “Pizza X” (unless you strictly adhere to tradition).

Also, all the pizza pictures included in this post are of my own bakes; While they effectively display each pizza style, it is important to note that they should not be considered as “representative” photos; This is because it can be challenging to find a single photo that fully captures the essence of each style, even if taken from a specialized pizzeria. If you want a better idea of what each pizza looks like beyond the pictures in this post, a quick Google search of the specific pizza style will be helpful.

American Style Pizza

A picture of American style pizza
The above could have also been a picture of Pizza Hut, Domino’s, or Papa John’s

General Background and Characteristics

American-style pizza can be described as “industrial/mass-produced pizza.” This style of pizza is commonly associated with well-known American chains like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s, as well as many ‘generic’ pizzerias around the world.

So, what sets American-style pizza apart? One key characteristic is its emphasis on quick and affordable production, without the need for highly skilled labor. In other words, it is designed to be made efficiently, even by an inexperienced 16-year-old boy with just a few hours of training. This doesn’t necessarily have any negative implications, as demonstrated by the sales success of the aforementioned chains; it simply reflects the product’s adaptation to meet business requirements.

In terms of the pizza itself, American-style pizza typically has a round shape with medium thickness, a relatively low dough hydration, and a dense and chewy texture. The dough often contains a higher percentage of vegetable oil and sugar, and it is usually baked in a conveyor oven. The tomato sauce is usually heavily seasoned, and the pizza is generously topped with standard toppings, as the relatively thick crust can easily support them. The cheese used can be mozzarella or other types, including cheese substitutes (god forbid).

Roots and History of American Style Pizza

Unlike other styles of American pizza that have deep cultural roots, American Style pizza lacks a significant cultural tradition. It is essentially the result of commercialization, with large chains prioritizing mass production. Consequently, there is not much more to elaborate on. Historically, American Style pizza emerged in the 1950s, coinciding with the establishment of Sbarro (1956), Pizza Hut (1958), Domino’s Pizza (1959), and Little Caesar’s (1960). Papa John’s later entered the scene in 1984.

Eating Characteristics of American Style Pizza

The taste is one that we are all familiar with from popular pizza chains like Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut, as well as small local pizzerias. The dough tends to be plain and lacking in flavor, while the tomato sauce is highly seasoned. Large quantities of cheese are often used to “mask” the lack of flavor in the dough. It is worth noting that major chains like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s do use high-quality mozzarella.

Preparation of American Style Pizza

A commonly used dough recipe for this style includes: 55-58% hydration, 2-6% oil, and 1-5% sugar.

New York Style Pizza

A slice of homemade New York pizza
The NY fold

General Background and Characteristics

The New York pizza holds great significance as more than just another pizza style. While Neapolitan pizza is the original in Italy, the New York pizza is considered the origin and historical starting point of pizza in the United States, and exploring all aspects of New York pizza would require an entire series of dedicated posts. Some even argue that it is the foundation of pizza as we know it today.

The history of New York pizza, though relatively short, is rich, complex, and marked by pivotal moments of evolution. If you think Neapolitans are protective of their pizza’s history and heritage, try engaging in a conversation with pizza-loving New York natives born in the 1950s/1960s about the history and evolution of the New York slice. Guaranteed, it will be a captivating and emotionally charged discussion, much like its Italian counterpart.

A classic New York pizza, also known as a “New York slice,” is a thin and chewy pizza with a diameter of 40-50cm or 16″-20″. It is cut into eight equal slices and baked in deck ovens at around 300C/570F directly on the oven’s stone for about 7 minutes. The dough is made from high-gluten flour, and grated dry mozzarella cheese (whole milk low moisture, or WMLM mozzarella) is used. It is typically sold by the slice and usually reheated when ordered for eating “on the go.”

One distinctive feature of the New York pizza, besides its large slice size, is the white cardboard plate on which it is served, which is always smaller than the slice itself. Additionally, the slice is folded in the middle; otherwise, it will flop and be difficult to pick up. This folding technique is known as “the NY fold” (see picture above).

Even within New York, it is difficult to precisely define what constitutes a New York Pizza. Many pizza enthusiasts divide New York pizza into two sub-styles:

(1) The New York slice (or “street/dollar slice”) – this type of pizza is common throughout most of New York and aligns with the definition provided in the previous paragraph. It can be considered a commercialized version of the “original” New York pizza.
(2) The New York “Elite”/Artisan – this more closely resembles the “original” New York pizza (or an artisanal variation of it), the one that started the entire pizza craze in New York and the rest of the US. It is made with high-quality ingredients and baked in deck/coal ovens at higher temperatures for a shorter duration (around 3-6 minutes). In some cases, the New York “Elite” may not be available in individual slices but only as a whole pizza, which is prepared upon order (contrary to the NY slice, which is usually sold as individual slices).

It can be argued that the NY ‘Elite’ represents the true essence of New York pizza, while the NY Slice is its commercialized and “inferior” counterpart. Of course, this does not imply that excellent NY slices are unavailable (e.g., the famous Joe’s pizza), but the chances of having a good NY slice are notably lower compared to having a good NY Elite. This is why many individuals who arrive in New York with extremely high pizza expectations are often left feeling disappointed after eating an “inferior” NY slice.

Roots and History of New York Style Pizza

Until about three years ago, the widely held belief regarding the origins of pizza in New York (and the entire US) was that it began with Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi. According to this belief, Lombardi opened a grocery store in 1887 at 53 Spring Street in New York and started selling pizzas there. In 1905, he supposedly officially registered the grocery as a “pizzeria,” although no documentation of this registration has been found to date.

Lombardi’s pizzeria at 53 Spring Street aimed to replicate and sell pizza as he knew it in Italy. However, he had to work with local ingredients and equipment – he used local flour, which differed from the flour he had in Italy, mozzarella made from cow’s milk instead of buffalo milk, and most importantly, he used a coal oven, common at the time for baking bread, rather than a wood-fired oven. The result was a Neapolitan-New York pizza that had been “adapted” to the resources available in New York at that time. Over the years, this New York-Neapolitan pizza evolved and eventually became the New York pizza we are familiar with today.

But here’s where the plot thickens.
In 2019, pizza historian Peter Regas made a discovery that sheds new light on the situation (the complete study can be found in his published book). Regas’ research reveals that Lombardi actually immigrated to the United States in November 1904, when he was just 17 years old.

This new finding challenges the previous explanation regarding the grocery store Lombardi supposedly opened and also raises doubts about his ownership of the pizzeria. After all, it seems unlikely that an 18-year-old boy who had recently immigrated to the United States would already be running his own pizzeria. According to Regas, it is more likely that Lombardi initially worked at the same pizzeria on 53 Spring Street, but as an employee rather than the owner.

Another important detail that Regas discovered is that the shop where the pizzeria operated was previously registered as a “bakery” under a man named Filippo Milone. Milone, an Italian immigrant, came to the USA around 1882 and was apparently baking pizzas in Naples before immigrating.

Regas found that Filippo Milone opened at least six pizzerias in different parts of New York. His modus operandi was to establish the pizzeria and later sell it. Three of these pizzerias, Lombardi’s, John’s, and Pop’s, became staples in the American pizza scene, with the first two still operating today.

Filippo Milone died in 1924 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Manhattan. He had no children to carry on his legacy, and nobody to tell his story as a pioneer of a $45 billion industry.Lombardi did have a significant influence on the development of pizza culture in New York and the wider United States. However, it has been discovered that he was not the sole pioneer, despite his family’s claims. It is likely that many others also contributed to shaping the pizza scene in the US.

Nearly a century later, we have come full circle with the more recent history of New York pizza, which has experienced many ups and downs.

Over the years, the original Italian immigrants who opened pizzerias throughout New York either sold or passed them on to the next generation. Unfortunately, many of these successors lacked the same experience, passion, and dedication to pizza as their predecessors. Consequently, the quality of the final product declined.

Additionally, the introduction of large pizza chains and the influence of capitalism further contributed to this decline. Inferior ingredients were used to maximize profits, the thickness of the pizza increased, and it was overloaded with toppings in an attempt to imitate the style of the big chains. Baking methods also changed, as did the overall commercialization of the industry. Thus, it is safe to say that most of the pizzas sold in New York today do not resemble the “golden age” of New York pizza from the 70s and 80s – and not for the better. In other words, they have become more “American style” and less authentically New York style.

Eating Characteristics of New York Style Pizza

The crust should be relatively thin with a chewy texture, and its level of crispiness may vary depending on the pizzeria. The crust should be properly browned, showing uneven charring (known as ‘leoparding’) or a uniformly browned bottom, although this can also vary between pizzerias. The crumb structure can range from airy (New York ‘elite’) to flat (New York slice).

The giant slice should be able to hold itself when folded in half, and it MUST be foldable. It should not be too stiff (like a cracker) or too floppy (like a Neapolitan).

The dough should have a distinct flavor resulting from a long fermentation, and it should not be bland in any way.

Preparation of New York Style Pizza

In terms of ingredients, the preparation is very similar to Neapolitan pizza dough: flour, water, yeast, and salt. Oil can be added, which impacts the taste and contributes to a softer texture, as well as sugar, which aids in browning. The suggested amount of sugar and oil is 1-2% in baker’s percentages.

To achieve the characteristic chewiness of New York pizza, it is recommended to use a strong, high-gluten flour. The dough hydration in a classic New York style is typically 58-60%, although going up to 65% is possible (going beyond that point is not really necessary or beneficial).The dough MUST be stretched by hand. NO rolling pin or dough sheeter.

The sauce is a standard pizza sauce made from canned crushed tomatoes, salt, and oregano. It is possible, and even desirable, to sprinkle Parmesan or pecorino (romano) over the sauce and/or the baked pizza.

When it comes to baking, a NY pizza is traditionally baked directly on the stone of a deck oven. For home baking, you can use a pizza stone made of cordierite, but for optimal results, it is recommended to use a baking steel – this helps “mimic” a professional pizza oven.

New Haven Pizza

A picture of homemade New Haven pizza
Yes, this is how a New Haven pizza is cut

General Background and Characteristics

The New Haven pizza originates from the city of New Haven, Connecticut. It is commonly known as “Apizza” (pronounced: Ah-beets), in reference to the dialect of Neapolitan immigrants who pronounced the word that way. This linguistic detail is now a significant part of the city’s cultural heritage. Some argue that the people of New Haven have a passion for their pizza that rivals only that of Naples.

Widely considered the best pizza in the world by pizza enthusiasts from the United States and beyond, New Haven pizza is a must-try. If you haven’t tried it yet – I highly recommend adding it to your to-do list.The New Haven pizza is renowned for its thin, crispy crust and high-quality, yet simple ingredients and toppings. However, what truly sets Apizza apart and gives it its unique appeal is the fact that it is baked in a coal oven, which is a rarity in today’s pizza-making scene. Unlike other types of ovens, the coal oven generates a dry heat and creates a moisture-free environment, resulting in a remarkably crispy crust, even with a relatively short baking time of about 5 minutes.

The New Haven pizza is known for its well-done doneness and is characterized by its flat crust and charred bottom. It is typically large, never perfectly circular, and sliced into small pieces (usually 16 slices or more, depending on the pizza’s size). Unlike the New York Slice, which is sold by the slice, the New Haven pizza is only available as a whole pizza for dine-in or delivery.

Interestingly (or ironically), there are three pizzerias on the same block in New Haven that are widely regarded as the best places to get a New Haven pizza: Sally’s, Pepe’s, and Modern Apizza. In recent years, the popularity of New Haven pizza has expanded beyond the city, with over 30 pizzerias now serving it across the US. However, it is important to note that not all of them use a coal oven to bake the pizza, and this distinction is crucial.

Roots and History of New Haven Pizza

The New Haven pizza originated from Neapolitan immigrants who arrived in New Haven and started pizzerias. Their aim was to introduce the food they were familiar with from their home country, while also adjusting it to local ingredients and equipment. Interestingly, the initial pizza establishments in New Haven were actually bakeries, with Francesco Scalzo’s and Ignazio Camposano’s bakeries being the first two to be established, dating back to around 1915.

About ten years later, in 1925, the first pizza establishment opened in New Haven: Pizzeria Napoletana by Frank Pepe (pronounced: Pep-e), who was also an immigrant from Naples. Pepe is considered one of the pioneers of New Haven Pizza and played a crucial role in the “Americanization” of pizza. He was among the first to increase the seating capacity of his pizzeria, making it more inviting to non-Italian Americans (At that time, pizza was primarily enjoyed by Italians).Historically, Pepe is credited as the first person to use a pizza box – the same delivery box that is now closely associated with the pizza we know today. Some claim that Pepe, along with Ignacio Composano (who later founded the famous Modern Apizza), is also responsible for one of the more “interesting” topping combinations known mainly in the context of New Haven pizza – the white clam pizza.

Today, Pepe’s Pizzeria, commonly known as “Pepe’s,” along with Modern Apizza and Sally’s, represents the face of New Haven pizza. It consistently ranks among the top pizza places in the USA and has held the first-place position almost continuously in recent years, with Sally’s and Modern Apizza also ranking highly. This speaks to the outstanding quality of New Haven pizza.

Eating Characteristics of New Haven Pizza

Similar to the Neapolitan pizza, the focus here is on the quality of the ingredients. The mozzarella (whole milk low moisture), or as New Have residents call it: ‘Mootz’, is paired with the finest canned tomatoes, lightly seasoned, and generously topped with ‘Romano’ cheese (pecorino) to enhance the flavor. The unique taste and texture of New Haven pizza are achieved by baking it in a coal oven, resulting in a crispy bite that is unmatched by any other style of pizza.

And, of course, at the end of the meal, it is customary to wash your hands, which may have turned black from the remnants of the oven floor sticking to the bottom of the pizza (this discoloration is not caused by coal, as the coal does not come into contact with the area where the pizzas are baked).

Preparation of New Haven Pizza

Unfortunately, recreating an authentic New Haven pizza in a home environment is nearly impossible due to the need for a coal oven. If you still want to give it a try, the dough recipe and making process are similar to that of a standard New York-style pizza. To “simulate” the New Haven experience when baking at home, the best approach is to bake the pizza at the highest possible temperature until it is almost well-done.

Sicilian Pizza

A picture of a homemade Sicilian pizza

General Background and Characteristics

Wait… Why is the Sicilian pizza included in the chapter about US pizzas?..
Allow me to clarify:

The “original” Sicilian pizza is called Sfincione; And the “Sicilian” pizza as we know it today, is actually an American adaptation of Sfincione. Interestingly, when visiting Sicily, it is rare to find a pizzeria, restaurant, or bakery offering “Sicilian pizza”; Instead, you will come across Sfincione, a traditional Sicilian dish that Sicilians do not view as “pizza,” but rather as a type of bread served as a side dish.It is debated whether the term “Sicilian pizza” was specifically coined in the US to refer to the American version of the Sfincione. The connection to the original dish from Sicily is tenuous, similar to the word hamburger, which includes a reference to Hamburg in Germany, even though the hamburger itself was not necessarily invented or exist there in its modern version as it evolved in the USA. Now, having clarified this matter, we can move on to discussing the pizza itself.

The Sicilian pizza is a type of pan pizza baked in a greased rectangular pan and served cut into squares. Typically, its dough is similar to the New York pizza dough, as many pizzerias use the same dough for both styles of pizza. The Sicilian pizza is characterized by a relatively thick crust with a crispy bottom and a soft, chewy, and relatively dense crumb, which slightly resembles bread or focaccia. The toppings on the Sicilian pizza vary, ranging from plain tomatoes and cheese to combinations of vegetables and meats.

A variation of the Sicilian pizza is the Grandma Style Pizza, named after Italian grandmothers who would prepare it for their families at home. The Grandma Style Pizza is almost identical to the Sicilian pizza, with the main difference being the thickness – generally, a Grandma pizza will be thinner than the Sicilian pizza.

Just like the New York Slice (and the Italian Al Tafglio), Sicilian pizza is sold by the square. In many cases, you can find Sicilian pizza in pizzerias that also sell “regular” round pizzas.
Two famous pizzerias in New York known for their Sicilian pizza are Di Fara and Artichoke Basille.

Roots and History of Sicilian Pizza

In the chapter discussing the origins of Neapolitan pizza, I mentioned that ancient civilizations created various types of flatbreads; This is how Sicilian pizza, specifically Sfincione, came to be. It is believed that the ancient Greeks introduced the concept of baking flatbreads in Sicily, which continued during the Roman Empire when focaccia-style flatbreads with toppings of olive oil and herbs were baked.

As we have seen with the previous pizza styles, over time these flatbreads were refined and began to resemble the pizza we know today. This is how the Sicilian Sfincione, meaning “thick sponge,” was born.

The Sfincione is a thick flatbread topped with traditional ingredients such as tomato sauce, onion, anchovies, and bread crumbs (without cheese). It originated in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, in the mid-19th century. The Sfincione is one of the oldest forms of “pizza,” and interestingly enough, it was (also) initially created as food for the less fortunate; and today, it is considered a cultural and culinary symbol of Sicily.

In the 1920s, the Sfincione migrated to the USA along with a large wave of immigrants from southern regions of Italy, including Rome, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily. The exact time when the Sfincione in the US was called “Sicilian pizza” is unclear; However, culinary researchers widely believe that this change occurred in Brooklyn, New York, most likely during the Great Depression.Variations of the Sfincione made their way from immigrant homes and started appearing on menus at famous pizzerias in Brooklyn. This is when the Sfincione likely took on its “final” form, inspired by the round pizzas that were being sold at the time, known today as New York Pizza. The Sicilian pizza consisted of tomato sauce, hard cheese (pecorino), and mozzarella. The toppings were influenced by New York (Naples), while the shape and preparation methods were influenced by Sicily. Thus, the Sicilian pizza was born, which is still considered the most popular style in the Brooklyn area and beyond.

In summary, although the Sicilian pizza is not exactly the same as the original Sfincione, it represents an important historical milestone, showcasing the evolution and diversity in the world of pizza. Oh, and it’s also delicious (and personally one of my favorite styles of pizza), which is just as important.

Eating Characteristics of Sicilian Pizza

The Sicilian pizza is famous for its thick crust, square cut, and crispy bottom. It has a unique crumb texture, chewy and sponge-like. If you enjoy thick crust pizzas with a chewy texture and a crispy outer crust, you should definitely try the Sicilian pizza.To avoid confusion between Sicilian pizza and Al Taglio pizza, it is important to understand the main differences in their preparation and the resulting product:

(1) Dough hydration: Al Taglio pizza has a higher dough hydration compared to Sicilian pizza (75% or higher for Al Taglio compared to 58-65% for Sicilian).
(2) Fermentation and dough stretching: Sicilian pizza is fermented in a pan, whereas Al Taglio pizza is fermented outside the pan and then stretched into it just before baking.

Regarding the final product, Sicilian pizza has a soft but relatively dense and chewy crust/crumb, while Al Taglio pizza has a very light and crispy crust, thanks to its higher dough hydration.

Preparation of Sicilian Pizza

As mentioned earlier, the Sicilian dough formula is very similar, if not identical, to that of New York pizza dough. The dough is fermented in a greased pan.

Typically, the Sicilian pizza is par-baked, although the specific method may vary among pizzerias. The dough is first par-baked, either with or without a small amount of sauce, then undergoes a final baking with the remaining sauce and toppings. The baking temperature is typically around 280C/530F, and the total baking time is approximately 10 minutes.

Detroit Style Pizza

A picture of a homemade Detroit style pizza

General Background and Characteristics

The Detroit pizza, originating from the city of Detroit in Michigan, is a variation of the Sicilian pizza. Similar to the Sicilian, it is baked in a rectangular pan and has a relatively thick crust with a soft crumb and a crispy bottom and outer crust.

But what sets Detroit pizza apart from Sicilian pizza? Traditionally, Detroit pizza is baked in rectangular pans made of blue steel (a steel with specific properties obtained from high heat production, giving it a blue color); The cheese, typically brick cheese, is evenly spread across the entire dough, with extra focus on the edges of the pan. This allows the cheese to caramelize while baking, resulting in crispy edges and a delicious burnt or caramelized flavor. The sauce is added to Detroit pizza only after it has been baked and is applied in thick stripes that cover the length of the pizza.

Roots and History of Detroit Style Pizza

The origins of Detroit pizza can be traced back to Buddy’s, a pizzeria that is still in operation today, and its founder Gus Guerra, who was also an Italian immigrant. In 1944, Guerra established Buddy’s Rendezvous primarily as a non-food pub/bar. It wasn’t until 1964 that Gus started selling pizzas, using a Sicilian recipe that had been passed down from his Italian mother-in-law. However, for baking, he chose to use blue steel pans that were commonly used in Detroit and originally designed for the automobile industry, as Detroit was the center of the American automobile industry at that time.

In 1964, Guerra was forced to sell Buddy’s, including the pizza recipe, to a man named Loui Tourtois, due to a business disagreement. As a result, Guerra founded a new establishment called Cloverleaf. Over time, Tourtois left Buddy’s, taking Guerra’s original recipe with him, and went on to open a pizzeria named Loui’s.

Today, Buddy’s, Loui’s, and Cloverleaf are the three pizzerias that are considered iconic in the world of Detroit pizza. Among these, Buddy’s is widely recognized as the foremost purveyor of authentic Detroit pizza.

Eating Characteristics of Detroit Style Pizza

Detroit pizza is renowned for its thick, soft crust and is typically served in large squares. What sets Detroit pizza apart from other styles is the “crown” of caramelized cheese that encircles the entire crust. Describing or comparing the taste and texture of this caramelized cheese are hard to describe or compare to any other pizza or food. When someone takes their first bite of Detroit pizza and experiences the distinctive texture and explosion of flavors in their mouth, it becomes an unforgettable moment.

A crucial aspect that distinguishes “authentic” Detroit pizza is the use of traditional brick cheese. This cheese has a robust and intense flavor, which differs significantly from mozzarella or other commonly used cheeses in pizzas. However, it should be noted that this specific type of cheese is not widely available outside the US and can even be challenging to find within the country.

In addition to the unique cheese and crust texture, the sauce in Detroit pizza is spread unevenly along the length of the pizza. This creates an intriguing combination of bites with and without sauce, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to the overall eating experience.

Preparation of Detroit Style Pizza

If you ask natives of Detroit, they will tell you that using a blue steel pan and brick cheese is crucial when making Detroit pizza. In my experience, this is a nice myth that mostly serves their sense of patriotism, and you can still make an excellent Detroit pizza using a “plain” rectangular steel pan and a combination of mozzarella and white cheddar instead of brick cheese. It is crucial, however, for the pan to be deep, well-greased, and have sloping sides – This allows the cheese to “slide” between the dough and the edges of the pan, caramelizing properly, which wouldn’t happen in a pan without sloped edges. If you don’t have access. A great alternative to a blue steel pan is to use a dedicated Detroit-style pizza pan, such as Lloyd’s.For the dough, aim for a dough hydration level of 70%, without any added sugar. The use of olive oil is optional. Similar to Sicilian pizza, the dough is fermented inside the pan.

For baking, it is recommended to directly bake the pizza (although par-baking is also an option). The Detroit pizza should be baked for approximately 15 minutes in total, at a temperature of around 260C/500F.

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

A picture of a homemade Chicago deep dish pizza

General Background and Characteristics

The Chicago Deep Dish pizza originates from Chicago, Illinois, and is a unique style of pizza. While it is widely regarded as a cultural symbol of Chicago, there is often debate among those outside the city about whether it can be classified as a pizza or if it should be considered a type of pie (it is a pizza!).

The deep dish pizza is prepared in a round pan and is characterized by a thick, fat-rich dough (traditionally a combination of olive oil and corn oil). The dough itself is not extremely thick (contrary to common belief), and has a texture that resembles a biscuit – crumbly like a pie crust. The edges of the deep dish are raised and attached to the sides of the pan (the thickness of the edges may vary depending on the pizzeria). Additionally, it is likely the only type of pizza that does not require full gluten development, resulting in a shorter and minimal kneading process.

The deep dish pizza is generously topped with a thick layer of sauce and toppings, with the sauce always placed on top of the cheese and toppings. This gives it the appearance of a pie rather than a traditional pizza. It is traditionally eaten using a knife and fork, as it is considered a dish in its own right.

The assembly of a deep dish pizza involves placing the cheese directly on the dough, followed by additional toppings if desired. On top of the toppings, a chunky-textured sauce made from crushed tomatoes is added, and grated hard cheese such as Pecorino or Parmesan can be sprinkled on top of the sauce.Another variation of deep dish pizza is the stuffed pizza. What sets it apart from the ‘original’ deep dish is its two-layered dough: a thick bottom layer and a thin top layer. Sandwiched between these layers is a generous amount of cheese and toppings, topped with tomato sauce on the upper dough.

In my view, the stuffed pizza actually more of a pie than a pizza; and given the existing divided opinions about the original deep dish, I won’t delve into it further – just know that it exists.

Roots and History of Deep Dish Pizza

Like New York pizza, the history and exact origin of Chicago deep dish pizza vary depending on who you ask. The one detail agreed upon by all parties is that Pizzeria Uno, located at 29 East Ohio Street in Chicago (which still operates in the same location today), is the pizzeria that originally invented deep dish pizza. However, from this point, things start to get more complicated.

According to the original story, which has become a Chicago legend, it all began in 1943 with a man named Ike Sewell. Sewell, a liquor salesman originally from Texas, had a dream of opening a Mexican restaurant to honor the food he missed from his homeland. To pursue this dream, he formed a partnership with Rick Riccardo, an Italian immigrant who already owned a restaurant in Chicago.

While their goal was to open a Mexican restaurant, according to the story, after Riccardo tasted the Mexican dishes that were supposed to be served at the restaurant, he experienced severe stomach trouble, and as a result – the idea of Mexican food was abandoned.

So, since Mexican food was not an option, what could they offer in their restaurant? Pizza, of course. However, unlike other pizzerias in Chicago at that time that served thin crust pizza (more about that later), Sewell had a unique vision – he aimed to create a pizza that would be a full meal, rather than just a snack or appetizer. Allegedly, this is how the concept of deep dish pizza originated, all thanks to Sewell. In 1943, “Ricardo’s Pizzeria” opened, named to take advantage of the popularity of Ricardo’s original restaurant.

In 1956, Ricardo passed away at an early age, and the ownership of the pizzeria was fully transferred to Sewell. He subsequently rebranded it as “Pizzeria Uno,” which later became a tremendous success. In 1980, Sewell began franchising Pizzeria Uno (along with its “little sister,” Pizzeria Duo) across the US, and the rest is history.

During this time, another man named Alfonso Malnati was said to have worked with Sewell at Pizzeria Uno, also playing a significant role in the invention of the Deep Dish pizza. Alfonso’s son, Lou, also worked at Pizzeria Uno but left in 1971 to open his own establishment, Lou Malnati’s.

Lou Malnati’s has also achieved great success, with over 80 branches in the Chicago and Arizona areas today.

…but now the plot thickens.
In this case as well, thanks to the work of pizza historian Peter Regas, a “slightly” different truth was discovered. Regas refuted most of Sewell’s claims and stories, revealing that Sewell apparently took advantage of Ricardo’s early death to falsely take credit for inventing the deep dish pizza. Among other things, Regas discovered that Sewell had a limited understanding of pizzas, and that it was actually Ricardo who “invented” the pizza sold at the original Pizzeria Uno. Sewell only joined as a partner at a later stage, after the pizzeria had already been operating for several years.

And if the plot isn’t complicated enough, Regas examined photos from the original Pizzeria Uno between 1943-1957; He noticed that while the pizzas in the photos were thicker than others sold at that time, they still didn’t resemble today’s deep dish pizza. Regas speculates that a woman named Alice Mae Redmond is responsible for the deep dish as we know it today. It is claimed that she “renovated” the dough of Uno’s using a biscuit recipe from her home in order to make it stretch more easily. This would mark the turning point between the “original” deep dish and the deep dish we know today.

In conclusion, similar to the story of New York pizza, it is not entirely clear who is the true mastermind behind the deep dish recipe (according to Peter Regas, it is not Ike Sewell), but one thing is certain – Sewell deserves credit for successfully managing and marketing Pizzeria Uno and Duo, and for bringing the Chicago deep dish to the American and global consciousness.

Eating Characteristics of Deep Dish Pizza

Compared to most other styles of pizza, the Chicago deep dish is a meal in itself. The thick, crumbly dough is prominent and is combined with a generous amount of toppings, even in the plain tomato sauce and cheese version. This combination creates a unique blend of flavors and makes the deep dish a satisfying dish. Typically, it is enjoyed with a knife and fork, or at least on a plate, as the large slices can be challenging to eat with your hands.

In conclusion, if you plan to indulge in deep dish, be aware that it is not a pizza for eating “on the go”. Prepare yourself for a hearty meal.

Preparation of Deep Dish Pizza

The preparation of Chicago Deep Dish pizza is different from other pizza styles. The dough used has a dough absorption of about 50% and contains a high amount of oil (around 17%). The kneading of the dough is brief, lasting no more than two to three minutes if done by hand. Before baking, the dough is stretched and placed in a specialized deep pan, ensuring that the edges are tightly sealed around the pan, creating a thin or thick crust (the thickness is up to you).

When it comes to topping assembly, the mozzarella (preferably sliced whole milk low moisture) is directly placed on the dough, followed by the desired toppings, and finally the tomato sauce. It’s important to note that the tomato sauce should be made from canned tomatoes, drained of their liquid, and have a chunky texture. Baking is usually done at around 230C/450F for about 35 minutes.

Midwest Style Pizza (Bar/Tavern Style Pizza)

A picture of a homemade Midwest style pizza
Squares, squares everywhere

General Background and Characteristics

Midwest style pizza is a popular pizza style found throughout the Midwest region of the US, and it encompasses several sub-styles that share similar characteristics. Although I have grouped them under one “main” style, it’s important to note that there may be slight variations between pizzas sold in different areas of the Midwest – some are baked in a pan, while others are not;. Some are cut into squares, known as “Party cut,” while others are cut into traditional slices;. However, the defining feature of Midwest-style pizza is its very thin, cracker-style crust.

In general, Midwest-style pizza is round and has a thin, flat crust. The sauce tends to be thick and slightly sweet, made from crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, or a combination of both. The toppings vary depending on the region and the specific type of pizza. Some well-known sub-styles of Midwest -style pizza include tavern/bar style pizza, Chicago thin crust, and St. Louis style pizza.

The Chicago thin crust and bar/tavern style pizza are very similar, often differing only in name. They are the most common style of pizza in the Midwest, especially in Chicago. Contrary to popular belief, Chicago residents actually prefer and frequently eat this type of pizza as their go-to option, rather than deep dish pizza, which is considered more of a special occasion or tourist pizza.

The dough for the bar/tavern/Chicago thin crust pizza is rolled out to a very thin thickness using a rolling pin or dough sheeter, and it is typically baked in a round pan or pizza screen/disk. The pizza itself is crispy, resembling a cracker, and is usually cut into squares. The toppings usually cover nearly the entire pizza.

Midwest style pizza can be found in almost every pizzeria in Chicago, as well as in bars throughout the Midwest region and beyond.

Roots and History of Midwest Style Pizza

Unsurprisingly, like most other American pizzas we’ve discussed, the origin of Midwest style pizza is not entirely clear. The existence of a general style of pizza that spreads across a wide area does not provide much clarity either. To simplify, let’s focus on Chicago, widely regarded as the “pizza capital” of the Midwest (and it goes without saying that each region in the Midwest will have its own variation).

The first official record of a pizzeria in Chicago dates back to 1924 (although there were allegedly undocumented pizzerias as early as 1908). The pizzeria, called Granato’s, was opened by Tom Granato, an Italian immigrant. Granato’s pizza was baked in a stone oven and closely resembled a New York-Neapolitan style pizza; Therefore, while it was the first pizzeria in Chicago, it is not the origin of the Chicago thin pizza that is now known as a Midwest-style pizza.

So, what IS the origin of Chicago’s thin crust pizza? In the years after the Prohibition era (1920-1933), pizza started becoming popular on the East Coast. At the same time, bars and taverns were appearing all across the US, like mushrooms after a rainstorm; This led to pizza becoming a common dish served in bars and taverns as a light meal or snack, often enjoyed with alcohol. Shortly after, pizza found its way to Chicago and the Midwest, especially between 1940 and 1945, as Italian immigrants started opening bars and taverns in Chicago.

The years 1946-1947 were likely the most significant period for the Chicago thin crust pizza. It was during this time that two taverns, Vito & Nick’s and Home Run Inn (which are still running today), purportedly began selling pizzas for the very first time. Soon after, many other taverns and restaurants quickly jumped on the trend, selling pizzas sliced into squares that were enjoyed as a snack alongside alcoholic beverages.

Now, you might be thinking, “If both New York pizza and Chicago thin crust were originally created by Italian immigrants, why are they so different?”

The answer lies in the fact that Italian immigrants who settled in New York primarily came from the Campania region, or were influenced by the baking culture of Campania, which includes Naples; On the other hand, Italian immigrants who made their way to Chicago and the Midwest came from various regions of Italy and had a different baking tradition. As a result, the pizza in Chicago is more reminiscent of the Tonda Romana rather than the Neapolitan style. This distinction is yet another remarkable reflection of the diversity and culinary richness that each culture and tradition brings, particularly when it comes to Italy.

Eating Characteristics of Midwest Style Pizza

The crust will be crispy, thin, and cracker-like, while the tomato sauce will be thick and rich, with sweet notes and a prominent overall flavor. The toppings will be relatively generous, especially on the Chicago thin-crust, and there will be a large amount of cheese, typically shredded whole milk low moisture mozzarella.

Typically, the pizza will be cut into squares, which, along with the thin crust, creates a light and enjoyable eating experience. This makes it perfect for serving as a snack or as a first course.

Preparation of Midwest Style Pizza

Generally, the dough is prepared with a hydration level of 45-55% and contains 2-10% fat. It is important to note that the addition of fat serves to enhance the texture and facilitate the rolling process, but it does not affect the crispiness of the dough.

Before baking, the dough should be rolled out using a rolling pin and then placed on a pizza pan or screen. Baking should be carried out at a temperature of approximately 280C/530F for around 10 minutes.

As for the sauce, it is typically made from tomato paste, which contributes to its subtly sweet flavor. Alternatively, a combination of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste may be used.

American Pizza Styles: A Summary Table

The table below provides a concise summary of the characteristics of the pizza styles discussed in this article:

ShapeThicknessCrispyLightToppings Friendly?How Easy Is It to Make?Required Equipment
American Style🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕Round pan
New York Style🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕Baking steel (recommended)
New Haven🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕Coal oven
Sicilian🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕Rectangular pan
Detroit🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕Rectangular pan with sloped edges
Chicago Deep Dish🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕Round pan (deep)
Midwest/Bar/Tavern Style🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕🍕Round pan (flat/cutter)

For more on pizza styles, check out our guide to the most popular Italian pizza styles

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