Far too many people these days want to put pizza in a box – figuratively speaking.
They find it difficult to imagine pizza anything other than the round, flat, foldable pepperoni pie with triangular slices and melty mozzarella cheese.
This isn’t a failure of imagination, per se, because that image is delicious, but pizza has taken on a flexible identity in the world of food and culture.
The classic conception of pizza, while still relevant today, no longer reigns supreme as the end-all-be-all style.
Different Types of Pizza Styles
Below you’ll find an assortment of different types of pizza across the spectrum of traditional and innovative, all of which are more than capable of satisfying your pizza needs.
1. New York-style pizza.
This is the archetype from which a staggering majority of delivery pizzas are formed. This is also the style of pizza most commonly depicted in film and television that Americans recognize.
A New York Style is characterized by its round shape, a foldable thin crust pizza, that is exclusively cut into traditional triangular slices. People enjoy the classic cheese pizza or toppings like pepperoni.
It’s the “default” pizza style that is the one most commonly delivered door-to-door throughout all chain pizza stores. New York style pizza is regarded by many to be the definitive and most structurally perfect pizza there is.
The secret to an authentic NYC style pie is using locally sourced mineral water as an ingredient to form the dough, which is then slow-fermented for up to 48 hours.
2. Chicago pizza.
Chicago has been battling NYC for the title of best pizza city in the US for decades. Battling might be a harsh word, as it’s hard to imagine a pizza competition harboring any ill-will or animosity between its competitors. Though there are prideful New Yorkers like John Stewart and the late Anthony Bourdain who relish(ed) at taking Chicago style pizza down.
When you take in the Chicago deep-dish style pizza and its massive volumes of sauce and cheese it’s easy to see what winds New York City pizza-truists up. Where a New York style pie is light and elegant in its simplicity, a deep-dish pizza pie, is a monument to decadence and reckless abandonment (two very good qualities when it comes to pizza).
A Chicago deep-dish actually has an ingenuous design when you break it down. It starts with the dough, spread in a deep, round pan. The crust is then topped with cheese, delicious pizza toppings, and then topped with sauce. The tomato sauce on top shields the cheese from burning as it bakes for 45-60 minutes as is required for a pizza of this size.
In addition, as the cheese melts, the fats and oils release and seep into the crust, which is what helps give it it’s crispy, flaky, golden-brown bottom. This allows for a structurally sound pizza that can withstand the immense amount ingredients contained within.
3. Neapolitan pizza.
One can think of a Neapolitan pizza as the granddaddy for nearly all popular pizza styles in the US. This can certainly be said for New York style pizzas, who owe their existence to the Neapolitan pizza and its pizza makers who immigrated from Italy to Ellis Island.
A Neapolitan is similar to a NYC pie but much more elegant and delicate, sporting a significantly thinner and softer crust. An authentic Neapolitan pizza is in fact so structurally delicate that many prefer to eat it with a knife and fork.
There are a number of different rules in the pizza making process to determine what makes an “authentic” Neapolitan style pizza. The tomatoes used in the sauce must made from San Marzano tomatoes, the cheese made from the milk of a water buffalo, and the dough formed using authentic high-protein Italian wheat flour. The pizza must be cooked no longer than 90 seconds in a real-deal wood-fire oven.
4. Sicilian pizza.
A Sicilian style pizza’s origin go back farther than any other style of pizza on this list. It is the definitive and archetypal rectangular pan pizza. As you may have guessed, the pizza was created in Sicily, and it was originally referred to as sfincione, which literally translates to “thick sponge.” The crust of the pizza is essentially a reconstituted recipe for focaccia bread, whose indelibly soft, fluffy chew is the reason this style of pizza so aptly references a sponge.
A Sicilian pizza crust also tends to soak in a lot of the olive oil that is used to coat the pan it’s baked in, which is another demonstration of its sponginess and the retains its light, chewy texture instead of crisping up in the oven. T
he Sicilian is a direct descendant of the Detroit-Style pizza, which is slowly sweeping across the US as a dominant pizza trend.
5. Greek pizza.
This pizza style is not seen everywhere throughout the US, but it is particularly popular on the east coast, especially around New England.
A Greek style pizza is distinguished primarily by its crust and its sauce, which while making use of traditional ingredients, are prepared in unique and interesting ways. The crust is baked in a shallow dish or pan instead of a round pizza stone, and it is positively floating on top of the generous amount of olive oil that is spread across the pan (this is the Greek-iest part of the preparation). This results in an unsurprisingly oily but nonetheless puffy and crackling crust that also has a soft, bready interior.
What sets the sauce apart is the way it is slow cooked over a stovetop unattended. It’s important for the sauce not to be stirred to allow for caramelization (and a hint of burning) along the sides of the pot. The fond that forms surrounding the sauce provides depth to the sauce as it is scraped off and mixed in.
While many pizzas are the result of diligent hands-on execution, sometimes a hands off approach works wonders as well.
6. California pizza.
California pizza is known for its eccentricity. The eponymous California Pizza Kitchen gave birth to such strangely beautiful concoctions such as the buffalo chicken pizza and the jerk chicken pizza. They’re the connoisseurs of chicken on pizza.
California pizza, like many styles before it, is framed from the NYC mold. Where it gets interesting is the application of different ingredients and various Californian culinary trends.
Consequently, you can look to California for leading all things vegan and health-conscious when it comes to pizza. If you’re health conscious with pizza, when planning your meals, eat smaller portions less often. Instead of eating 4 slices at once, eat 1-2 over time.
If you ever experimented with goat cheese, artichoke hearts, or fancy fresh herbs other than basil, you can thank California as well.
7. Detroit-style pizza.
We’ve written about this iconic pizza style extensively before, but it bares repeating its prominence throughout the US as well as its sumptuousness.
A Detroit-style pizza is modeled after the Sicilian – thick, spongey crust, and rectangular shaped. What Detroit decided to do differently was reconstruct the traditional Sicilian to their liking by putting the cheese on first, spreading it evenly across the entire crust edge-to-edge, and then pouring the sauce over top.
Interestingly, the first Detroit style pizza was baked in a blue-steel pan used for retaining spare nuts and bolts in an auto factory, making this pizza thematically tied to its city’s former status as an automotive juggernaut.
It’s also worth mentioning that regionally sourced Wisconsin brick cheese is employed instead of mozzarella, which is sharper and tangier while offering a higher fat content. This fat is important as it helps to crisp the outer edges of the crust, which allows for the signature golden-brown to black color spectrum along the sides of the pie.
8. New Haven-style pizza.
New Haven-style pizza, also referred to as “apizza,” eschews centuries of pizza tradition by boldly omitting cheese. Other than pecorino romano sprinkled liberally on top of the pizza, a standard apizza does not have any melty cheese to speak of, so there’s no glorious, steamy cheese pull to capture and upload to Instagram. However, this is not to say that a New Haven pizza is anything other than a sight to behold.
Like a New York or Neapolitan style pizza, a New Haven apizza has a chewy thin crust but the crust is notably darker and crispier due to being baked in a coal-fired oven. Probably the most unusual and famous pizza that is considered to be of the New Haven apizza style is the White Clam pizza, which – as it sounds – is a pizza featuring littleneck clams on a garlic and olive oil crust.
9. St. Louis style pizza.
A St. Louis pie also eschews pizza tradition by using unleavened ingredients to form their crust. This means that you are unlikely to want to fold your pizza in half before you eat it less you happen to love breaking your pizza in two (hey, to each their own). This crust is the antithesis of floppiness and is often referred to as cracker like. A St. Louis pizza will exclusively be thin and cut square for structural integrity.
What also sets St. Louis apart is the cheese they employ on top of their signature crust. They use Provel cheese, which is a processed blend of swiss, cheddar, and provolone. One of the best things about processed cheeses as it pertains to pizza is their low melting point – a Provel loaded St. Louis pie will likely to be one of the gooiest (in a good way) sites you’ll lay your eyes on. In terms of taste, the notes of swiss adds a layer of nuttiness that creates a wholly original flavor experience.
10. Pizza Margherita.
The pizza Margherita, it can be argued, is the reason so many Italian immigrants who traveled to the US in the early 20th century had such extensive pizza knowledge. The pizza Margherita is named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, who was served the pizza in 1889 in celebration of the reunification of Italy. The pizza was designed to represent the colors of the Italian flag – red (sauce), white (cheese), and green (fresh torn basil leaves). This moment kicked off a ravenous demand for pizza that has lasted for centuries.
This is type of Neapolitan pizza, which was previously discussed, but it deserves its own mention given that is undoubtedly the most popular version of the Neapolitan pizza and is the pizza that kickstarted the type of pizza making in Italy that found its way to the US. This is also the pizza that popularized the trend of putting fresh torn basil on pizza, which is also worth a shout out.
Common Reasons Pizza Is Delicious (Regardless of Style)
All great pizzas bring a little something extra to the table. Sometimes this extra something is nothing more than extraordinary preparation and quality ingredients, even if everything else is conventional.
But then there are also times where lavishness and excess is the factor that floats the most boats. With pizza, there is beauty to find in both simplicity and multiplicity.
Regardless, all aspiring chefs and restaurateurs should utilize the following checklist for determining quality pizza making.
1. Fresh ingredients.
There is a reason Papa Johns locked in their “better ingredients, better pizza” slogan. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but fresh ingredients really are key to a quality pie.
This can be essential to the quality of the sauce, which we’ll address in a moment, but even the most acclaimed pizzerias utilize canned tomatoes if its quality is up to par. Fresh ingredients are extremely important when it comes to the cheese being used, as processed or pre-shredded mozzarella typically doesn’t melt like the fresh stuff and is often coated in powdered cellulose (which come from wood shavings).
2. A delicious sauce.
A sauceless pizza is just an uncut vestibule for fancy breadsticks.
For an overwhelming majority of pizzas, we’re talking about a tomato-based, marinara-adjacent sauce. We’re looking for a smooth consistency as well as strong – but not overpowering – notes of tomato, oregano, onion, and garlic. Of course, you could throw in basil if you like, and other Italian seasonings, it’s completely up to the chef. A balance of acidity and sweetness is important in order to work in harmony with the cheese and toppings.
Now, it should be said, you can choose from a wide variety of other styles of sauces as well. Popular alternatives include a pesto sauce, BBQ sauce, garlic and oil sauce, ricotta sauce, and a chimichurri sauce.
We could also point to the increasingly popular Thai red-curry sauce that works wonders with chicken, or the Indian curry variant which is great for veggie and vegan pizzas. Whatever you decide, it’s easy to see that all tastes and diets gain a ton of mileage from the sauce.
3. A well-made crust.
It’s been documented elsewhere that crusts are what matters most to people when it comes to evaluating their pizza. Crusts form the literal base of a pizza – they are what give the cheese, sauce, and toppings form, structure, and purpose.
Crusts are also the most finicky element to get just right – thin crusts can be perilous for beginners if they’re working with the scorching hot heat of a coal or wood fired oven. Not to mention, there are so many variables to consider when you’re working with the dough – low-hydration vs. high-hydration, less vs. more gluten development, protein enrichment, fermentation time, etc. It can be a run of the mill dough formed from a simple knead job or it can be a staggering 48-hour labor!
Regardless of the type of pizza you’re working with, the dough/crust takes highest priority from the get-go.
4. The perfect amount of cheese.
The second most popular topping in the US behind pepperoni is extra cheese. Yes, cheese is its own topping – it is in fact the most important layer of toppings on a pizza!
How much cheese you wish to use is going to depend not only your preference for cheesiness, but also the type of cheese you enjoy. While you might be used to mozzarella, as you may have read previously some styles omit it entirely, or blend it with different cheeses to create the best melting experience.
The perfect amount of cheese for some pizzas, like the New Haven style pizza for instance, is just a sprinkling of pecorino. While the most photogenic slices out there feature long, stringy cheese pulls, that needn’t always be the amount of cheese you require or want on a pizza. The converse is also true, where the perfect amount of cheese could be a mountain of mozzarella.
5. Being perfectly cooked.
After bringing everything together you have to have the wherewithal to cook it up proper. Depending on the style of pizza you’re working with, your heat source, and other factors, the difference in cooking time could quite literally be anywhere between one minute (for a Neapolitan style pizza) to one hour (deep-dish and stuffed pizzas).
That’s a lot of variance! It takes multiple efforts and patience to perfect the cooking time for your perfect pizza, but it is well worth the effort.
At The End Of The Day All Pizza Is Delicious
There aren’t really any wrong choices when it comes to pizza (yes, that even includes oreo pizza). While arguments over which style of pizza is superior are unfortunately all too common throughout the US, it’s ultimately never a good use of one’s time to denigrate one less favored type of pizza over another.
One (wo)man’s idea of pizza heaven could be another (wo)man’s idea of pizza hell, or pizza purgatory (which is probably still good pizza, to be honest).The point is, we should all appreciate the immense diversity, history, and creativity involved with producing our favorite pizzas.
You may have strong convictions about what true pizza is, and are inclined to dismiss other styles not fitting into your mold, but the truth is pizza making has always been about breaking the mold.