PANdemonium: Pan Pizzas
Pan pizza is hot right now. We are seeing an influx of a variety of pan pizzas being added to menus all over the country.
There’s no better evidence of its rise than at this year’s International Pizza Challenge at Pizza Expo where the Pizza Maker of the Year Nicolas Banker of Upper Crust Pizza in Akron, Ohio, advanced from the Pan Division with his unique, cheesy edged rendition of a pan pizza.
Pan pizza is often associated with the standard American pan pizza that Pizza Hut has often been credited with creating in the 1950s. But there are several pizza styles that fall into the pan category. The booming Detroit style originated in forged-steel pans commonly used for automobile parts. Classic Sicilian and Grandma pizzas are often baked on sheet pans. Chicago Deep Dish is baked in a deep-sided (usually two inches high) round pizza pan. There are other styles and variations that pizzerias have worked to perfect a pan pizza in their own unique way.
Jeremy White, Josh Keown and Denise Greer of the Pizza Today team have traveled the country for more than a decade, two decades even, trying the best pan pizzas out there and perfecting our own in the Pizza Today Test Kitchen. We put together some of the most memorable pan pizzas we’ve eaten over the years.
Jeremy White, Editor In Chief
Though there are obviously a plethora of pan styles, Chicago often comes to mind first when thinking of pan pizza. Two Chicago-style pies that made an impression on me were found at The Art of Pizza in Chicago and Lefty’s Chicago Pizzeria in San Diego. Both were delicious and left me wanting to return the next time I’m in either city.
Then there’s Jeff Smokevitch’s Detroit-style pizza at Blue Pan Pizza in Denver. No visit to the Mile High City is complete without throwing down one of them! In fact, I love Smoke’s Detroit pie so much that every year at Pizza Expo Bill Oakley and myself beg him to use one of the International Pizza Challenge ovens to make us one.
Last but not least, perhaps the most mouthwatering pan pizza I’ve ever had comes from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. The “Burratina di Margherita” is beautiful in its simplicity. Featuring burrata (I’m a huge fan!), cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil and a balsamic reduction, this pizza won gold at an international competition in Lecce, Italy for good reason. I see this pizza in my dreams.
Denise Greer, Executive Editor
Three pan pizzas jump out to me. The first comes from a pizza institution in Brooklyn, New York, House of Pizza & Calzone. My trip to the treasured pizzeria was over six years ago, but I can still remember the taste and texture of the Upside Down. It’s a crowd favorite and with good reason. The memorable slice was a Sicilian style square with deceivingly light, airy and flavorful crust. The par-baked pizza was first layered with mozzarella then topped with a rich and vibrant tomato sauce and finished with grated Romano and olive oil. It was a simple pizza with a lasting impression.
The second pan pizza of special note was from our 2020 Independent Pizzeria of the Year, Via 313 in Austin, TX. Since Zane and Brandon Hunt hail from the Motor City, I just knew they would bring a dynamite Detroit pizza to Austin. There is one pizza on the menu that makes my mouth water to this day and that is The Cadillac. This pizza is inspired by Tony Gemignani, who has been a mentor to the brothers. The Cadillac is a Detroit-style pizza with that cheese crown edging the rectangular pizza. On top is gorgonzola, fig preserves, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmesan and a balsamic glaze.
We’ve made several pan pizzas in the Pizza Today Test Kitchen. One that really sticks out to me happens to be a breakfast or brunch pizza (or anytime, really) that I made a few years ago. It’s the Sriracha-Cha-Cha Scrambled Eggs and Bacon Pizza and it hits all the savory and spicy notes on one pizza. The dough had a slow rise and was par-baked. Then it was topped with cheesy and creamy scrambled eggs as the base; a blend of mozzarella, sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese; Applewood smoked bacon and baked. Get the recipe at
Josh Keown, Creative Director
I was never a huge fan of pan pizzas until the past few years. Maybe that’s because the industry has upped its game when it comes to the pan style. If you’re a thin and crispy guy like myself I eased into pan with Scottie Rivera’s Grandma Pie. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting it at the International Pizza Challenge as well as Scottie’s Pizza Parlor in Portland, OR. It’s called the Defino after his grandmother’s last name. The Defino begins with a naturally leavened dough made with Pacific Northwest wheat and baked twice in a high-heat electric oven. After the bake, aged mozzarella, tomato sauce-on-top, oregano, fresh basil, Pecorino and garlic oil are added. I could have that for dinner four nights a week and have zero regrets.
There have only been a handful of times that I’ve tasted a slice and immediately said out loud “Holy Sh*t, this is amazing.” That happened at the pre-Pizza Expo party at Pizza Rock when I had Tony Gemignani’s Detroit style ‘Red Top.’ Customarily I have a rule to eat light on the Sunday before the show, but that all went out the window after my first taste of Gemignani’s Detroit. It’s a traditional Detroit pizza cooked in a steel pan with white cheddar, Wisconsin brick cheese and butter toasted corners. The pizza is also topped with two stripes of marinara, garlic oil, Romano and oregano. Looking forward to March so I can throw my self-imposed pizza rule out the window again.