A Tour of All the Pizza Styles You Can Eat in the United States (and the History Behind Your Favorite Slices)

When it comes to chili, Texas, Kansas City and Cincin­nati, will cede no quar­ter, each con­vinced that their par­tic­u­lar region­al approach is the only sane option.

Hot dogs? Put New York City and Chica­go in a pit and watch them tear each oth­er to rib­bons.

But piz­za?

There are so many geo­graph­ic vari­a­tions, even an impar­tial judge can’t see their way through to a clear vic­tor.

The play­ing field­’s thick as stuffed piz­za, a polar­iz­ing Chica­go local spe­cial­ty that’s deep­er than the deep­est dish.

Weird His­to­ry Food’s whirl­wind video tour of Every Piz­za Style We Could Find In the Unit­ed States, above, savors the ways in which var­i­ous piz­za styles evolved from the Neapoli­tan pie that Ital­ian immi­grant Gen­naro Lom­bar­di intro­duced to New York City in 1905.

Wait, though. We all have an acquain­tance who takes per­verse plea­sure in off­beat top­ping choic­es — look­ing at you, Cal­i­for­nia — but oth­er than that, isn’t piz­za just sauce, dough, and cheese?

How much room does that leave for vari­a­tion?

Plen­ty as it turns out.

Crusts, thick or thin, fluc­tu­ate wild­ly accord­ing to the type of flour used, how long the dough is proofed, the type of oven in which they’re baked, and phi­los­o­phy of sauce place­ment.

(In Buf­fa­lo, New York, piz­zas are sauced right up to their cir­cum­fer­ence, leav­ing very lit­tle crusty han­dle for eat­ing on the fly, though per­haps one could fold it down the mid­dle, as we do in the city 372 miles to the south.)

Sauce can also swing pret­ty wild­ly — sweet, spicy, pre­pared in advance, or left to the last minute — but cheese is a much hot­ter top­ic.

Detroit’s piz­za is dis­tin­guished by the inclu­sion of Wis­con­sin brick cheese.

St. Louis is loy­al to Prov­el cheese, a home­grown processed mix of ched­dar, Swiss, and pro­volone and liq­uid smoke.

Mia­mi piz­zas cater to the palates of its Cuban pop­u­la­tion by mix­ing moz­zarel­la with gou­da, a cheese that was both wide­ly avail­able and pop­u­lar before 1962’s rationing sys­tem was put in place.

Rhode Island’s apt­ly named Red Strips have no cheese at all…which might be prefer­able to the Altoona, Penn­syl­va­nia favorite that arrives topped with Amer­i­can cheese slices or — the hor­ror — Velvee­ta.

(This may be where we part ways with the old saw equat­ing piz­za with sex — even when it’s bad, it’s still pret­ty good.)

Cut and size also fac­tor in to piz­za pride.

Wash­ing­ton DC’s Jum­bo slices are pret­ty much the stan­dard issue New York-style thin crust slice, writ large.

Not only does size mat­ter here, it may be the only thing that matters…to the point where a local busi­ness improve­ment dis­trict had to inter­vene on behalf of side­walk rub­bish bins hard pressed to han­dle the vol­ume of greasy super-sized slice box­es Wash­ing­to­ni­ans were toss­ing away every evening.

In the land of oppor­tu­ni­ty, where small­er towns are under­stand­ably eager to claim their piece of pie, Weird His­to­ry Food gives the nod to Old Forge, Penn­syl­va­nia, opti­misti­cal­ly dubbed “the Piz­za Cap­i­tal of the World by Uncov­er­ing PA’s Jim Cheney, and Steubenville Ohio, home of the “over­sized Lunch­ableAtlas Obscu­ra refers to as America’s most mis­un­der­stood piz­za.

For good mea­sure, watch the PBS Idea Channel’s His­to­ry of Piz­za in 8 slices, below, then rep your favorite local pizze­ria in the com­ments.

We want to try them all!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The First Piz­za Ordered by Com­put­er, 1974

When Mikhail Gor­bachev, the Last Sovi­et Leader, Starred in a Piz­za Hut Com­mer­cial (1998)

Piz­za Box Becomes a Playable DJ Turntable Through the Mag­ic of Con­duc­tive Ink

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Mark B Hill says:

    What? No love for New Haven, CT? There are 3 piz­za places in New Haven. Frank Pepe’s, Sal­ly’s, and the Mod­ern. My wife and I had the white clam piz­za at Pepe’s on our way through Con­necti­cut. It was amaz­ing!

  • dommy says:

    I wish peo­ple would stop spread­ing the fal­la­cy that Chica­go eats only deep-dish piz­za. Deep-dish is a small per­cent­age of piz­za in Chi-town. Chica­go is, and always has been, a thin-crust town. Oh, and if any piz­za place is putting the top­pings on top of the cheese instead of under it, then they are doing it wrong. And New York is won­der­ful, incred­i­ble city, but their hot dogs don’t com­pare to the Chica­go dogs. I mean, how can you serve a dog with­out flu­o­res­cent green rel­ish? LOL!

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