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Kenji López-Alt spent 5 months studying Chicago thin-crust pizza (nytimes.com)
241 points by jwcooper 76 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 237 comments

Native Chicagoan here. Not totally a snob, but getting there.

I didn't usually encounter really crispy crust growing up, but I'm not saying it's wrong. He does a lot of things here I've never tried, but now I'm going to.

I had an Ooni, and after 5 or 6 meh attempts, I sold it. I also exited the r/ooni subreddit. I'm also out of love with the Neapolitan style baked at 700F+. Come at me.

I think a pizza steel preheated in a kitchen oven at 500F gives you a perfectly good pizza, and the fact that you can slide out the oven rack and use gravity to launch the pizza off the peel makes it a total win.

  (On r/ooni, they advise turning the heat down or off when you actually launch. I'm going to try blowtorching my pizza steel to 700F, just to simulate this process. Stay tuned.)
On the intersection with computers: the early Apple people used to go for lunch at Cicero's Pizza. It's still around and Steve Wozniak still goes there.

The best way to make pizza better is to drink more.

I’ve eaten some fantastic artisan sourdough wonders here in London but nothing compares to being wasted as fuck and finding the one place that’s open at some ungodly hour after a heavy night of eating fuck all and getting your teeth into some greasy monster made of the worst possible ingredients.

My impression is that in Europe we quite often tend to go for a kebab in such circumstances:)

Kebabs are alright but the Europeans need to find out about burritos, they don't even know.

I've lived in California for almost ten years, had many a drunk burrito and missed kebabs every time :(

Yeah, kebabs really aren't a Thing here, for the most part. Nor is poutine, or "curry." You can find all of those, but they're not on every corner.

What's drunk food in China, I wonder. Anyone?

I'd vote for roadside BBQ mystery meat on a stick (烧烤 shaokao), but street food in China is quite regional. For me, a Shandong-style steamed big bao (savoury, not sweet dough) stuffed with all the things hits the spot.

Good mexican food is hard to come by, particularly texmex, and you can't find any texas style queso at all. People in the bay area have never heard of the stuff, even though it's on the menu at even non-mexican resturaunts and pubs in texas. I've seen it on the menu in seattle, idaho, north carolina, but the bay area is an absolute queso desert for some odd reason.

Perhaps because everyone here thinks, as I do, “who needs Tex Mex when you have real Mexican food?”

easy there. I'm not Texan and never even spent much time there. But texmex is its own thing.

If you look up "queso recipe" it often begins "take a pound of Velveeta."

Yeah and I get that, but I just don’t think TexMex is good, and I grew up in a part of the south where people fully believed it was real Mexican food.

Americanized Mexican food should be distinguished from formerly-Mexican food. The southwest has it's own food traditions which are often similar, but distinct, from contemporary Mexico-Mexican food. Dismissing those traditions as "TexMex", like they were made up by Anglos is both offensive and inaccurate.

Go easy on your parent, they're just parroting the 2005 version of Mexican food snobbery

And therein lies the problem...

Sonoran hot dogs my dude!

On my list now. Along with Korean hot dogs.

I have fond memories at midnight barbeques.

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaokao

Depends on where you're at - in Metro Detroit you can usually find shawarma, Indian, Pakistani, or Thai curry, pizza, taquerias, and a Coney Island within a mile of any random place, and poutine is just a drive across the bridge.

In Beijing, in '96, it was Weiwuerzu (Uighur) rouchuanr. Cheap-ass fatty lamb on sticks, fast grilled over charcoal. Seasoned w/ chilli, cumin, and salt I think. Buy 'em by the fistfull.

Burritos are too healthy and too filling.

If you’re eating healthy burritos you’re doing it wrong

Burritos are.... healthy??? Those must be some sad burritos

I know the reputation burritos have but if you compare classic burrito to classic kebab or pizza. Nutritionally burritos are a lot better. I am not saying they don't have calories. They have lots of calories but that's because they are filled so much and are heavy.

Burrito has a lot smaller portion of meat then kebab because of the filling. It probably has fresh vegetables (great), beans (good), rice (ok). Sauces are less fatty too often being fresh hot salsas. Guacamole is good too.

Kebabs served in bread (doner, shawarma, gyros, shish) are grilled meat dripping in fat. The vegetables might be fresh but often are pickled and (usually mix of acid/salt pickles) making whole thing saltier. There are no fillers so you have more meat. Because of the meat fat proper kebab might not even use sauces but it often does and they are based around something very fatty too.

Kebab per weight is less balanced and less healthy than burrito.

Pizza is generally even worse its just thin bread with mountain of cheese and some tomatoes.

So what you're saying is: kebabs are perfect drunk food?

We can learn from our European brothers.

For me, I don't really care for burritos because they're generally dominated by so much filler.

how condescending of you to think that "europeans" need to find you about burritos (of all things)

I’m in London so fried chicken is the one

Except in the UK, where it's curry (AFAIK).

Depends if you are going for portability. If you want something for the walk home it’s got to be a kebab really. But if it’s the middle of the evening sit down meal before getting a taxi home then it might well be a curry.

The best way is to sit at the dining table with a glass of cheap wine, watching pizza being made in the kitchen, as I happen to be doing at this very moment.

Ah, the cycle of pizza.

               Broke, Single, Drunk, $1 Slices, Diarrhea, Regrets 

            ↗                                                    ↘

  Divorced, SVBed/FTXed, Weight gain       Gym, Steak & Eggs, Productivity, Redemption Arc                                  
              ↖                                                 ↙
                       Vested, Married, Primo Pizza, Carbs

I feel hacked.

Interesting comment from an interesting username. Antihero, a somewhat strong IPA, from Revolution Brewing in Chicago is my favorite beer. I’ve definitely craved pizza after downing one too many antiheros.

That’s fitting because John Carruthers, who founded Crust Fund Pizza in Chicago works for Revolution Brewing as his day job.

Well put.

That being said, the Chicago version is still better.

NYC pizza is a bad joke. As long as you're only paying $1 it's not that bad for the price. That price point and the places that offered it are going extinct unfortunately. The "slice" is dead.

Imagine having to fold your "pizza" because it's just a nasty mess of sauce and cheese.

It’s ironic because those $1 slice places that popped up in the mid 2000s are what actually destroyed decent NY slices which couldn’t compete because transplants and students would rather pay $1 for garbage than $1.50-$2.50 for a true classic NY slice. Very few of them remain now.

Instead there’s this divide with crappy $1 joints (that are now a little more expensive) and good $4-5 slice joints that had to differentiate themselves. The workingman’s NY slice might not have long to live.

All that said, it sounds like maybe you’ve not had good NY pizza the way you’re describing it. The sauce and cheese should not be messy, it should be minimal. The fold is so you can walk down the street while eating it in one hand.

Just want to say that I love your videos on YT, thanks for all the hard work you put into everything. You've really helped me and my family learn to cook better. My SO has a few dietary issues [0] that limits the ingredients we can use down to ~1 side of a double spaced page. So really learning how to cook and prepare those few ingredients in a LOT of ways has been super important to keeping the simple diet workable. You helped us do that. Your super welcoming tone, words, and just down to Earth demeanor have made a world of difference to us. Thanks for all the hard work you put into it all. You've made our lives better through more than just your recipes.

[0] Interstitial Cystitis + a lot of allergies

Thanks for this note. It’s always nice to know you’ve made a positive impact.

I'd like to add my own thank you here as well - thanks!


Have your books, watch your YT. Love the science behind the food aspect of it. My whole family does. I am proud to say my daughter, now in college, cooks a few nights a week because she grew up in a family that cooks. I have a challenge for you. In my 40s they figured out my heath issues turn out to be Celiacs. Fun. So do you think you could come up with a closes as possible recipe for NYC style pizza that is gluten free?


Oh geez that’s a tall order!

Well, how could I pass up the opportunity to ask someone that has the required skill to figure this out?

This place in Portland comes pretty close to getting it correct.



Sadly, I think this is true about a lot of the food in Manhattan: the middle got squeezed. There's low end, high volume and high-end, low volume. I'm always amazed Manhattan can support so many on the low end with the economics on the rent, but I think they end up with just truly amazing foot traffic and volume that other cities can't touch.

Manhattan is an absolute wasteland for authentic, cheap food. Queens and Brooklyn are much better. Some of the best food in the country there.

Yep. Take the 7 train to queens and have your pick of great international food for like 30-50% of the price of Manhattan food.

Mostly, I wasn't comfortable saying NYC when people mostly mean Manhattan and fancy parts of Brooklyn for this comparison :).

Agreed. Manhattan and north Brooklyn are very different from the rest of the city.

The Chinese food in Flushing or Sunset Park is incredible, for example.

I appreciate the context you're adding here. I lived in NYC for the better part of a decade. I feel I got a good sampling of the pizza scene. This was in the 2010s though so I can't speak to how it was before that.

I still haven't found anything that beats a Lou's pan pizza.

The secret of course is the best pizza in the NYC area is in Northern New Jersey.

> the best pizza in the NYC area is in Northern New Jersey

Keep going: the pies around central Jersey are a celebration of tomatoes. That said, not a New York slice (north shore included.)

That's a Tomato Pie. Which is of course a pizza; the name was to avoid scaring off Italo-phobes in the early 20th century. But that particular pizza is its own distinct thing and it does deserve its own name.

I have not tried the New Jersey version but grew up with pizza stops which is a style in Rhode Island that sounds similar to tomato pie.

Where, in your opinion, can I get the ideal New York slice?

> where…can I get the ideal New York slice?

Scott’s pizza tour [1]! (No affiliation.)

Coal-fired slices are rare, now. I tend to like a charred, crisp crust and simple toppings that can be bitten through. This is a city that cares about its pizza. We don’t run impostors out of town. But the pizza is great, and there is no single ideal. Buy it, fold it, and enjoy.

(Grimaldi’s and Joe’s. Di Fara and Lucali rub me like Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona. Pizza isn’t a food for lines.)

[1] https://www.scottspizzatours.com/

These are all Neopolitan style. I've had Grimaldi's and Lucali and enjoyed them.

I asked about a New York slice, which is a style of pizza that people rave on and on about, and has been cargo-culted across the U.S., but one I've never been particularly impressed with. Especially when compared to Chicago tavern style or deep dish.

> are all Neopolitan style

They’re more New York than Naples.

> asked about a New York slice, which is a style of pizza that people rave on and on about, and has been cargo-culted across the U.S.

You’re being snotty about people trying to answer your questions.

Coal-fired pizza by the slice is a New York City invention. The crust is firmer than what’s served on the Gulf of Napoli, allowing it to be confidently held with one hand (folded).

> when compared to Chicago tavern style or deep dish

Try a New Jersey tomato pie. (They’re good.)

In my experience, a lot of Chicago pizza is more properly pie. Freshness of ingredients plays second fiddle to texture and presentation. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. But I want a crisp crust, not a bready one, and a slice, not a whole pie, and that’s an innovation of New York City.

(As others have mentioned, there is a definite atmosphere element to the experience. You don’t buy a slice to soberly cut up with a knife and fork for solo Wednesday weeknight dinner.)

Chicago tavern style (or really any of the tavern style pizzas I’ve had) aren’t bready, they are almost to cracker.

I am ignorant of the tavern (versus not) style. Suggestion?

The place in the article Vito & Nicks has a good example, but frankly you can find it in lots of places.

There is a place near Midway called Palermo’s that I like.

Italian Fiesta is probably my favorite but the service is atrocious.

The other thing to do here is to just get out here and look us up.

I’m putting a no steakhouses (soft) rule on my next Chicago visit. The steaks are great. But I miss so much of the other cuisine.

One problem with tavern style pizza is that you are going to be hard pressed to find someone who really knows the whole city and can really say what the best one to go out of your way to is. Because at the end of the day it’s just what your local pizza spot has. It’s like what you get at a kids birthday party or when you go out after a softball game.

I don’t know even if the spots I picked are standouts. They just are the ones near where I am when it’s appropriate to eat pizza.

Unlike say Chicago bbq a topic on which I have opinions.

I mostly have a no steakhouses rule generally (except when required for business purposes). Sure, there are good ones. But I can get way closer to what a steakhouse can do at home than any number of other recipes.

> You’re being snotty about people trying to answer your questions

One of many bad habits I picked up from the locals in NYC. Working on it.


In Buffalo

central jersey does alright too but the best I've had was a bar called Mario's in clifton.

Folding pizza is insane to me. I'll eat it with 2 hands if I have to. Even a fork and knife is preferable.

Before Apple, Old Tymers [1] like me went to Cicero's in the early 1970s when it was still called Coppola's [2] [3], in its original location on Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road before that was called De Anza Blvd.

The pizza came on a typical aluminum pan, and you didn't get a plate for your slice. You would just put a napkin or two on the table. Messy but good!

The Cali Brothers Mill and Feed Store [4] was just around the corner on Stevens Creek. It had a drive-thru where you would drive inside the building to pick up your farm supplies. Different times!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tymshare

[2] http://www.cicerospizza.com/CicerosMenu.pdf

[3] http://www.cicerospizza.com/pub_html/Restaurant%20Cicero's%2...

[4] https://historysanjose.pastperfectonline.com/photo/41B3BE66-...

Shameless self promotion:

Cali and Cicero's both mentioned in my book The Big Bucks.

> I think a pizza steel preheated in a kitchen oven at 500F gives you a perfectly good pizza, and the fact that you can slide out the oven rack and use gravity to launch the pizza off the peel makes it a total win.

For me, the pizza steel is also plenty good compared to the portable gas ovens. Some other tricks I use are adding diastatic malt powder to the dough, and par-baking the crust before adding the toppings, to let the middle get crisp.

The one minute par-bake also makes it so much easier and stress free to slide a fully loaded pizza onto the stone. I don’t even use cornmeal just lightly dusted whole wheat flour for the raw dough. The par-baked crust needs nothing.

We used to cornmeal lightly but then discovered parchment paper. It's super easy to slide off with a spatula underneath.

When you par-bake, how long does it take you to then add the ingredients? Do you have to rush? Or is it better to take a few minutes, so the oven can re-heat itself?

I’ve gotten much better at load the pizza into my pizza oven stress-free. I’ve moved away from cornmeal; it works great, but I never liked the gritty texture it gives the pizza.

My technique is to use a wooden pizza peel and liberally flour it before starting to form the dough-ball into a pie shape. I form the pie using my fists, so I have a chance to shake the extra flour off the crust before I start putting the sauce and toppings on it. I’ll also give the peel a good shake before I start saucing, just to make sure the dough isn’t sticking.

Doing all of the above, I haven’t accidentally turned a pizza into a ripped-up calzone for at least a few years.

i made a peel from hot roll steel. doesn't need anything.

Semolina's better than cornmeal, but yeah: parbaking or parchment paper sounds much better.

One issue with parchment paper is the max temperature rating is 425-450 and I've gotten best pizza crust results with temperature of 500 with my oven and that scorches the none food covered parts of parchment paper when I tried it. I don't know if it's toxic when overheated and burned like that but it is super convenient for lower temperature usages.

At my house we routinely scorch parchment paper (the edges away from food) and use it for all sorts of purposes. It should be perfectly safe because the coating is just silicone. However, white parchment paper has some amount of dioxin in it (I'm not sure how much), which is bad stuff; possibly also fluorine. I've also heard that some parchment may add plastics for extra non-stick, exposing you to PFAs and the like.

Probably a good idea to stick with the hippie-looking brands / made in Western countries like If You Care, which use unbleached paper and silicone and presumably don't douse the paper in other chemicals.

Haven't tried either of those. Thanks

A couple years ago, when I was on a pizza kick, the thing that worked best for me was to start cooking the dough on the stovetop on a very hot cast iron skillet. I would cook it long enough for the dough to start to change color and bubble a bit (45-60 seconds), and then make sure it was releasing from the pan. Then, I would sprinkle on oil, tomato sauce and toppings and move it from the skillet to the preheated stone, and leave it under the broiler for another couple minutes.

The initial cook on the pan got the crust going, and so the oven time was mostly focused on the toppings.

Kenji has a recipe [0] for this method but using a tortilla instead of pizza dough. At first glance I was skeptical it would be any good, but it's turned out to be a fantastic low-effort way to make a "pizza" when you are craving it!

[0] https://www.seriouseats.com/extra-crispy-bar-style-tortilla-...

i use naan bread for "pizza", it's decent

Yeah. I may explore other options one of these days but using the store-bought naan breads for flatbread pizzas using a pizza stone is a pretty decent and simple store-bought option to assemble a pizza.

I use store-bought pitas, sliced in half (thickness-wise, takes some practice). Very easy, and gets nicely crispy.

I do similar but not particularly purposefully - I always top the dough with it already on my (pre-heated) cast iron 'stone'. (Otherwise trying to transfer it is a disaster that I've been known to pretend was an intentional calzone - I don't have a peel.)

I do so as quickly as I can, but of course it starts to cook the dough as I do; I've never seen that as a bad thing. If there's any holes where it stretched too thin, it holds it still allowing you to fix them too.

pizza ovens rely on a chain of different skills that all must be done well or the pizza comes out poorly. correctly making the dough, correctly topping it, getting it to slide off the peel correctly, putting it in the right place in the oven, rotating it correctly, and probably several things i'm missing. it leads to an enormous amount of frustration; i haven't gotten something i would consider "good" even once yet.

This thin crust recipe is time consuming but actually solves a lot of those problems. Rolling witb a pin and letting it dry out overnight actually makes it really easy to slide off the peel.

I will try this but as a native New Yorker I just want to get the style I am most comfortable with working first. I have never even had the Chicago thin-style pizza, actually.

Someone got me a “super peel” which has a cloth gadget to drop the pizza. I wonder if it will work or incinerate.

(PS I am one of the people that matched your donation on twitter a few years ago. I miss you there but in retrospect leaving was a good idea.)

I’m a New Yorker as well. For NY style I strongly recommend getting a wooden peel and a metal peel. Wood to launch and metal to turn and retrieve. You also need to top and launch fast to keep the dough from sticking.

superpeels work wonders. I've had mine for about 6 years.

The owner of Cicero's actually told me they use a rolling pin.

Native Chicagoan here as well. When I was growing up we called this "party" style pizza, while deep dish was just called pizza. After living in Austin for last 8 years, I still desperately miss good deep dish pizza, but thin crust is easy to find outside of Chicago...

What's your opinion of Conan's? That used to be the deep dish pizza place in Austin but I haven't eaten there in many years.

Growing up in Springfield, IL (3 hours south of Chicago), most of the pizza served ourside of chains was the ultra thin crunchy square-cut pizza mentioned in the article (or NY-esque Neapolitan slices).

Vic's (rip) Sam's (rip) Gabatoni's Joe's JT Costello's (more recently)

all served delicious crunchy thin crust with heavily spiced sauce cut thin and usually sent out covered in paper. Any bar that didnt serve frozen pizzas served a variation of this thin crust pie.

Notably, Gallina's Pizza and Lucca Pizza were both Neapolitan style.

I use the oven method with a pizza steel exclusively but the recent spike in natural gas costs in SoCal had me cut back considerably on making pizzas. I was looking into alternatives like the Ooni and the Breville countertop pizza oven, but the reviews on the Breville aren’t inspiring. Kenji’s multi-day method for making his thin crusts seems absurd but after testing same-day and “cured” crusts, it’s worth it.

> but the recent spike in natural gas costs in SoCal had me cut back considerably on making pizzas

How much in gas cost can making a couple of pizzas a week take?

Mmm. Cicero’s is my favorite pizza spot atm. My kid recently started making pizzas w/ a cast iron skillet in oven at 550, not quite the crispy crust that Cicero’s has, but not entirely bad.

Good to hear about your take on the Ooni—-I think I had started buying into the hype and was starting to eye one in next year or two. Your comment gave a nice reminder to work through some other approaches first.

if you get on r/ooni, all you'll see if Food Porn and lots of advice on how to do it right.

After reading all that, I would notice that my kitchen oven pizza was excellent, while the Ooni had all sorts of issues.

We make amazing pizzas on a 3/8 inch baking steel in a 550 degree oven with convect bake and a 1 hour preheat. Switch to convect broil right before putting the pizza in. My friend said it was the best pizza he’d ever had. We make all styles of pizzas (Chicago deep dish, Detroit pizza, NY style, all sorts of stuff). I’ve made hundreds of pizzas and doughs.

We bought an ooni and I made probably 10-15 garbage pizzas. I read all the advice before, tried several recipes, tried metering the heat different ways and different rotation strategies. We returned it and I’m convinced now that it’s mostly hype. The pizzas never came out as good as the steel pizzas, and if you look at the pictures for the pizzas most people churn out, they’re overly burnt on top and the crust is barely done, even if you make it super windowpane to a ridiculous point.

Hear, hear.

I also tried naan, as a last-ditch attempt to save the Ooni. It was also lousy.

I know this isn't directly related, but what's your recommended baking for a deep dish pizza? I get Giordano's shipped a few times a year as there's nothing remotely close locally (also open to other shipping options!). I tend to burn the crust before the toppings are done.

I’ve never tried their mail-order pizza, but Pequods is very tasty.


> the early Apple people used to go for lunch at Cicero's Pizza

Didn’t know! We’d go there after little league and for Boy Scouts white elephant, the latter where, without exception, someone would pick a gorgeously-wrapped (once spray painted!) rock.

Most tavern style places in Chicago don’t really have a cracker crust. Rosatis thin crust (which isn’t very good) is the type most independent shops sell.

Pats in lake view has great cracker crust.

Vito and Nick's has the best crust IMO

What do you mean by pizza steel?

I’m looking to get a cast iron pizza pan but would love to know there’s a better option.

Something like this[1]. It's easier to use than a pizza stone and yields better results.

1: https://bakingsteel.com/products/baking-steel

I have one of these and haven’t used my pizza oven since.

I turn the oven on as high as it goes and put the steel in and prep all the pizza toppings, then I switch the oven to the grill mode (or broiler in the US) then make the pizzas. It takes about 5 mins per pizza, so it’s a bit slower than the pizza oven but I can make the next pizza while the first is cooking so it’s fine.

My family say they prefer this to pizza made in the Ooni, I think they are both on par with each other but this is less hassle, cheaper than running the Ooni and less stressful because things don’t catch fire as fast.

Jesus, $120? Does it knead, stretch, and top the dough itself too?

Seriously, is it really supposedly that much better than my £15 cast iron 'stone'? (I put a lovely seasoning on it initially, but didn't look after it very well and it's all cracked and flaking off, so I need to start again really I think - I suppose it does save that maintenance work... but still, I could just buy a new one and start again several times for $120!)

I agree it's expensive and it's probably not 5 times better than you cast iron pizza pan. It's lower maintenance, even if it still needs a coat of oil from time time, but that doesn't mean you should just go out and buy one now, especially if you already have something that gives you good results.

yeah. thats silly. my 'stone' is a piece of scrap 6mm steel. even new it shouldn't cost more than $8 or something

Maybe, but have you bought anything like that recently? Probably if you know the right place to shop or the right people it wouldn't be much more, but I needed a bit of metal pipe to use as a lever and spent $40 on 3ft of 1.5in diameter pipe at Lowe's. I don't think I paid much more than that for the ratchet set I was using it with.

I buy steel all the time. certainly not at Lowes. its about $.90/lb for hotroll now.

edit: the issue is they only sell 'wholesale' quantities. 20' sticks, 4'x8' sheets

OK, that makes sense. I didn't want to have to deal with cutting the pipe myself and so I didn't even consider buying a larger size or anything like that.

Yes. Weighs a lot, but it'll never crack like a stone will.

Ditch the giardiniera and put the sausage under the cheese instead of on top, and add a splash of red wine to the sauce and you'd have something more in common in the local pizza spots. Also can't forget the corn meal to keep the crust from sticking to the pan, which is just a part of the experience when you eat it.

Personally the crust looks wrong. It's not a saltine, it's slightly thicker than that. There are pizza places that do that style, but try ordering the pizza from local Italian places and pizza spots that aren't "famous" (or for lack of a better way of saying it - trying too hard). That ultra crispy style is not the norm.

"Ultra-crispy" is definitely the style at Fox's, on the southwest side, which I grew up with. And Fox's isn't famous; it's just neighborhood Chicago pizza.

Giardiniera is definitely a modern innovation, though; growing up, I'd be surprised to see anything other than green peppers on a pizza.

No pizza is as good as my memories of Fox’s - sausage and peppers under the cheese, herbaceous profile sliced into borderline bite size squares that you can eat a dozen of

Hey Austin, long time no see!

Giardineria is the world's most underrated condiment. It belongs at the top of list next to kimchi and sauerkraut.

Yes! Thank you. Banana peppers are about as giardiniera as it gets most places.

Though I will debate you on the sausage location.

It upsets me this is called "Chicago" when clearly it came from further east - these "working class pizza taverns" being common across Indiana, Ohio, and PA as well. There are plenty of examples of these types of "no I started thin crust and square cut" pizza tavern places everywhere.

And even worse is that I am no historian and I'm probably wrong. But my direct experience contradicts a lot of the Chicago-washing of this article. For example Donato's in Columbus obviously made this style popular across the country far more than Chicago, and they weren't inspired by Vito & Nick's or something.

I bet someone right now is writing an article about how the pizza sandwich served at crappy pizza/bar places in the midwest was invented in Chicago too - even though it was probably independently invented in many locations.

I actually talked with Jim Ellison who is a historian of Columbus style pizza. He also confirmed the style started in taverns on the south side of Chicago and spread from there, including to Columbus where it took on its own regional differences (particularly swapping sausage for a ton of pepperoni, and using a different style of pan).

We had to cut some bits from the article for length.

Kenji, I noticed you show up once every few years on HN when your article is posted. How does that happen? Do you set up alerts? Does your publisher let you know or ask you to engage with the comments? Do you read HN any other time? Thanks.

I have a lot of friends (mostly from college) on here who inevitably tell me when something of mine shows up.

Love your YouTube. Need more late night snack povs!

Unrelated, but thank you for your excellent articles and YT videos. I'm a big fan and even though my ability to execute these recipes is limited, I learn a lot of techniques from your work that I am able to apply.

Thanks for correcting me! I will hold in my heart that this is chicago-washing, regardless of evidence to the contrary. And Jim Ellison is definitely more knowledgeable than me.

They’re different. Columbus pizzas aren’t as dry in the crusts. Chicago tavern cut crusty edges crumble in one’s mouth. I prefer Columbus’ style, and I think it would do well in Chicago.

I didn't grow up in Chicago but in my experience visiting relatives in the southwest suburbs the thin-crust pizza I ate there (usually Aurelio's) was pretty distinct from other kinds I've eaten in the Great Lakes states. The description other commenters have given of a "cracker" crust is apt. A pizza parlor where I worked in Michigan, for example, had thin pies cut "party-style" but with a much chewier crust.

When I first moved Chicago, I found it weird to run into natives that considered tavern style pizza as also Chicago’s style. In Iowa we just generally consider that the Midwest style pizza but that’s definitely the style preferred by locals for many decades.

Chicago is the Big Apple of the Midwest so I guess they think everything originated from there. But I’m pretty sure tavern style either came from back east, or where I’m from along the Mississippi River.

There are stylistic differences on these tavern thin crust styles across the upper midwest region. When I hear "chicago thin crust" I don't expect it to be 1:1 equivalent w/ columbus style pizza, st louis style pizza, etc. I assume Kenji knows this as well, as for instance I know he's talked about st louis style in the past.

Granted the non-paywall link hasn't loaded for me yet, so for all I know he claims the entire broad-country style was invented in Chicago. In which case, yes I agree with you.

My father was addicted to Totino’s frozen pizza. Originally from Minneapolis in 1950, it was a thin crispy cracker-crust pizza sold widely thru the Midwest. I don’t where it started but it has since spread widely.

If you want to explore food science, it's hard to go wrong with the OG author, Harold McGee:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_McGee

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Food_and_Cooking

The fortieth anniversary of his On Food is coming up in 2024.

Can't argue that Harold is the OG. It would be nice if he'd release a new edition of On Food and Cooking though. But as I understand it, it still holds up really well after all this time.

Alton Brown is certainly another name I'd add to the mix. Good Eats was brilliant, and his I'm Only Here For The Food / More Food books are really good.

I just am about halfway thru. Absolutely stands up, doesnt even feel dated almost 20 years after the revised edition.

I actually talked to Harold a couple times when he came to Google. He is a very, very nice person; very down-to-earth.

I love Kenji, his youtube channel and his cookbooks - I wonder if he is working on a new pizza cookbook.

I was always a huge fan of Serious Eats, but Kenji's head-mounted camera setup makes most of his videos unwatchable for me.

I do love the POV setup, but I tend to close his videos 30 seconds early: He closes the videos by tasting the meal, understandably, but that means that the (for me disgusting) chewing noises are extremely amplified on accord of the chewing happening close to the GoPro.

Yes, I find the camera work unwatchable. He should use a steady cam. I always search the serious eats website first when looking for a recipe.

Dang, that's a bummer to hear! Is it a motion sickness thing? I absolutely love his POV videos and find them so much more watchable than studio setups, partially just because of the intimacy and casualness of them, but also because they're more true to the cooking process.

I’m not the OP but yea for me it’s motion sickness. I would t mind if he did a two camera set up, one stationary and had that on an alt channel, I wouldn’t need to see everything, just hear it and if I really needed to I could check out that scene on the POV video. But those POV shots give me serious motion sickness.

Yes, motion sickness. Huge bummer I have tried many times since seriouseats is the best food website since chowhound in my opinion.

He has a kids book about pizza (Every Night is Pizza Night), so I suspect he did some serious research for that.

Reminds me of Flammkuchen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flammekueche

Anyone who hasn't actually lived in the Great Lakes area might be confused by the title. As the article states:

"I'm talking thinner-than-a-saltine thin, with a shatteringly crisp crackle and just enough structure to hold its own weight against a heavily seasoned sauce and a caramelized layer of mozzarella. It’s probably topped with hand-torn nubs of sausage, maybe a sprinkle of hot giardiniera. Forget the puffy, handlebarlike crust of a New York pie: Thin crust has sauce and cheese all the way to the edge — an edge that comes out extra crisp with a frizzle of nearly blackened cheese overhanging it."

It's a great side to beer, and a real treat I like to point out to visitors.

How does Chicago thin-crust pizza compare to restaraunt-made pizza found in Italy and (to certain extent) elsewhere in Europe?

The photos in the article look just like normal pizza to me (maybe the topping looks a bit drier than usual).

EDIT: I don't see mozzarella on the photos. Not having it is not uncommon, for instance in France, but it's a must in an Italian restaraunt except for pizzas that don't have mozzarella by design e.g. marinara.

I’d say the biggest difference is there’s no loyalty to Italian styles. It’s very much made in a way with local ingredients that make sense to the people who make it.

Bread flour instead of 00. Different crusts and shapes. Different cheese (dry instead of fresh mozzarella. Cow instead of Buffalo. Alternative cheeses like Wisconsin Brick cheese in Detroit style) and sauces.

I love a great Neapolitan or Roman style too. But I’m grateful for the distinct regional styles here and arguing about what’s better rather than what’s more authentic.

I love cooking but often it can be a project. When I’m too lazy or don’t want to cook (like during a Bears game) I don’t mind a frozen pizza. HomeRun Inn makes a very good thin crust. When cooked in a toaster over air fryer it gets very crispy. Topped with giardineria and cut into squares it’s a great snack.


Why this recipe doesn’t mention 00 Flour. You can’t just make a pizza dough with normal flour, I feel like many people will be disappointed without this minor detail.

00 pizza flour is great for Neapolitan pizza baked at very high temps. At lower temps it doesn’t brown or char very well because it’s unmalted. It’s not a good choice for most American pizza styles.

It seems so odd to me that I can't ever find 00 flour in any of the grocery stores around me (in Chicago). Every neopolitan pizza recipe I read stresses use of 00 flour, but I have to buy it from King Arthur's site. Do people not know how easy it is to make pizza at home?

Anywhere to get this kind of pie in Manhattan?

(also, Kenji is great!)


The Pizza Show: From Deep Dish to Thin Crust


As an Aussie I find the American pizza scene so interesting - so many regional variations, I’d never heard of this thin style crust pizza until I saw Kenji posting on his Insta about it a while back. Looking forward to making it sometime.

I think it has become a bit line brew where people thought American versions were bad until they started to dig into it more and the craft scene started to take off. Similar with pizza. You have regional styles that no one really wrote about but in more modern times people are looking under more rocks. Locals always loved it hence why d sad one of these joints have been open so long. And a craft scene around those styles grows from it.

In short the upper middle class got tired ordering Pizza Hut and has co-opted the working class styles (New Haven, Detroit, tavern style, etc).

As someone who grew up in the upper midwest, we ate tavern pizza at family dinners. Dominoes was the pizza for school events. Back then it wasn't really "craft pizza". What Kenji is doing definitely elevates the style with better ingredients and in general more effort, but its the same thing.

Besides tasting good, the main service this pizza performs is getting New Yorkers who whine about “it’s not pizza” w/r to deep dish to shut up.

As a midwest native, I've got to say that this is my favorite kind of pizza. And honestly, there's not really any rules as to how exactly it's made or what goes on it. Get the crust thin and crisp, and put on it whatever toppings make you happy. The key is that it's meant to be delicious, not fit a standard mold.

I mean it's basically akin to nachos at this point and who doesn't love loaded nachos?

Kenji is awesome. I learned much of what I know about cooking from his site (Serious Eats).

+1. Recently tried some recipes from his cookbook The Wok. +=1

I'm from the Chicago area. Thin crust? He's a heretic.

I grew up in Beverly and didn't have deep dish pizza once until I moved out of my parents house. The style of pizza Kenji is writing about here is "Chicago pizza" for me.


I'll put the thin crust of Home Run Inn up against any Chicago deep dish soup any day ... :)

I'm being intentionally provocative, but people really underestimate how many things need to work together to get GOOD pizza, even if you get the ingredients right--that's why I love articles like this from J. Kenji López-Alt.

Home Run Inn literally invented the style, FYI.

I'm older, and before they were big I think I had moved out of the area.

anyone ever made a Kenji pizza?

I've made a handful...from when he originally repurposed the Jim Lahey recipe and then after when he abandoned that, I genuinely don't understand his popularity, somehow he has everyone convinced he is worth listening to.

Yes, I use his recipe for Detroit style pizza quite regularly and it’s great! His in-depth articles and the rationale behind what he tests and tries really help explain the process for home cooks. Excited to try this new tavern style pizza recipe.

if you can stump the cash Modernist Pizza will change your life.

does anyone have a link to the actual recipe? I subscribe to nyt but not to the food section

One bite everybody knows the rules

+1 for Kenji

I, for one, would like to state that I’m not impressed by the five month study period.


It’s a story about Chicago’s much lesser known (and superior) style of pizza.

> (and superior)

Hey hey hey! waves hands in the air wildly

If it doesn't come from New Haven I ain't interested.

Besides, who wants to eat a saucy saltine. I like my gluten hydrated.

Seriously though, pizza science has such a weird intersection with computer-types. Why don't computer-types get all fired up about lasagna, or ice cream sundaes, or stir fry? Why only things like pizza, cast iron, and espresso?

I've never seen this intersection of computers and pizza before.

There's stir fry enthusiasts though. Or at least wok users. You need wok hei and super hot burners, electric won't cut it etc...

I've also seen some intense breakdowns of pad Thai, like it wasn't a recent invention for tourism

Rice cookers, too. Lots of techie opinions about those, e.g. is induction worth the extra money.

I’m in the market - any advice?

I have an ancient Panasonic that’s still doing the job for me. I hear all the cool kids get a Zojirushi these days. My friend bought the super expensive induction/ pressure cooker one. He said it’s good, but he’s not sure it was worth spending $400… for rice.

What's with all the buttons? My rice maker is about to die, and I've had it since 2007. It has one button: cook. I looked at a Zoji and there are so many settings. Plus every type of rice has different ratios of water, which vary with quantity, so how do those settings do anything useful. I'm not too proud to admit I'm intimidated and don't want an overpriced "jack of all master of none".

In fact, Kenji just released a book about Wok cooking!

Has Uncle Roger reviewed it?

Have you ever tried a Chicago neighborhood-style pizza? Or are you just dismissing it on spec?

(I think they misinterpreted the parent comment as saying that Chicago thin crust is superior to New Haven, instead of that it's better than the more well-known-outside-of-Chicago pizza style, which is what I think the parent comment was saying.

(If they _were_ actually saying that Chicago thin crust is in fact better than New Haven thin crust, well then I don't need to try this pizza either to know that it's not. /s))

I lived in Chicago for 15 years. Tavern-style pizza in Chicago can be good, but Piece's pizza (New Haven style) is better than most Chicago-style pizza. My go-to before I left the city was Crushed Pizzeria, which is Neapolitan-influenced. The only place I can ever remember eating decent tavern-style pizza is at dive bars. The thin crust from places like Giordano's and Rosati's is a soggy disgusting mess.

As you'd expect, since Giordanos and Rosatis are deep-dish spots. Malnatis will sell you a thin-crust pizza, too, and it's cut into squares --- but it's not Chicago neighborhood-style pizza.

Yes. I don't like any of it. The texture. The seasoning. The cheese. The bake. Awful IMHO.

I am not even a native Chicagoan, though I lived there for many years, and I am personally offended anyone could have such a stance. I want each slice to be a meal.

Most Chicagoans I know do not eat deep dish often, nor do they even really like it. But...as someone else said, this isn't really the alternative. The crust is just plain wrong.

To be fair, an awful lot of upper-middle class esp. North Side Chicagoans aren't from Chicago. The inner suburbs are far more Chicago than a lot of neighborhoods in the city that are filled with various Midwestern emigrants (who didn't think they were good enough for NY, and didn't think they were good looking enough for California, so ended up in the second city.) The inner suburbs are filled with the descendants of white flight from the 50s-70s, who had been in the city for generations when most of its cultural touchstones were established.

I'm from Chicago and I like deep dish, but these big thin slices are also good. It's obvious what the default is: when I was a kid "pizza" meant Giordano's or Eduardo's or Lou Malnati's or The Medici, or Unos or Dues, etc. Thin crust was called "thin crust." This article uses the same convention.

edit: I think there was an exception for Reggio's. Maybe we thought of it as "pizza" because it's so dense and advertised as a "butter crust."

> Midwestern emigrants (who didn't think they were good enough for NY, and didn't think they were good looking enough for California, so ended up in the second city.)

Or because it's close to home and way more affordable? Also, while winter sucks, I'll take a Chicago summer over both those places every single year.

I grew up here as well. No one thinks deep dish immediately when talking about getting pizza. It feels more like a once or twice a year delicacy than anyone's go-to pizza.

Yep. Of the several native chicago friends in my extended friend circle, all but one has a strong preference for the tavern square cut style

Tavern pizza is pretty common throughout Chicagoland—most non chains specialize in it. But it’s not always cracker thin.

You can take your lasagna and have it.

Exactly. It has everything I want: meat, cheese, and the bread all pre-packed for consumption.

Right, but it's not pizza.

I think GP means pizza. The 'bread' really confused me (I even commented on it) until I realised (and deleted) - that's not how I make my lasagnes!

Yeah, sorry. Common complaint about a Chicago deep dish is that it is a lasagna or bread bowl and not a pizza. Different strokes for different folks but on the scale of New York thin crust to Chicago deep dish, I will veer towards the more hearty option every time.

I'm even more confused now, I thought the lasagne up-thread referred to ...lasagne, the pasta dish, but people call US/Chicago style deep pan pizza 'lasagne' too? I've never had one, maybe that would make more sense if I did!

Fans of the deep dish style call it pizza. It is the critics who will refer to it as a lasagna in a derogatory sense (eg "It's not real pizza"). Here is an infamous clip of Jon Stewart liking it to a casserole[0].

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCgYMFtxUUw

I was mocking Chicago style deep dish "pizza". My favorite American style is New Haven style.


People love to be riled up. It's clearly pizza but folks just love to argue.

I prefer the thin crust style as well. If I wanted tomato soup, I'd have ordered that, not pizza!

Proper tavern-style pizza is cut into squares, not slices. Slices are for tourists.

Detroit style doesn't get enough love. I feel like it's the perfect balance of pillowy thick but not filling you up. Laying stripes of sauce on top gives you a different flavor in every bite too.

Kenji's Detroit-style is my go-to home pizza:


(It would be this Chicago recipe, but if you live in Chicago you're never more than 20 minutes out from someone delivering a better version of it than you can make).

That article mentions Pequod’s as a Chicago deep dish with the kind of burnt cheese crustiness of Detroit style. I absolutely agree. If you visit Chicago and think you are supposed to try deep dish to complete your tourist checklist, go over there - you will not be disappointed.

I live in Chicago and went to that place once. I actually wasn’t very impressed. If I have to eat deep dish, I will go to Lou Malnati‘s. Otherwise give me a good Midwest style thin crust. Something similar to D’Agostino‘s.

Lou Malnati's was my go-to for the year I lived in Chicago. God I miss that place.

After trying the delicious Detroit style pizza found in Costco's frozen food section, I've been wanting to go to Detroit to try the real thing. It's my favorite frozen pizza.

Check out Kenji's recipe, it is really easy and forgiving to make Detroit style at home. Don't worry about getting the perfect rectangular steel pan either, a cast iron skillet works great. I use regular supermarket cheese too instead of ordering the more authentic brick cheese.

Currently my favorite pizza style. If you live near a Jet's, you should be eating it. Their Stromboli's/boats are great too.

I’ll second Jet’s for Detroit-style, get the 8-corner or large deep dish. Tall, crispy edges. Little Caesar’s gets a pass on their Detroit-style, but Pizza Hut’s recent take was just disrespectful.

I think it is highly respected. There’s good joints all over the country that make them today. Even with real Brick Cheese.

Detroit-style is widely available in Chicago. Fat Chris's is decent. The chain Jet's is everywhere too.

Looks like a pretty close facsimile with less effort could be made using a tortilla as the crust.

Is this similar to St Louis 's square beyond compare thin pizza or pretty similar? Mmm imos

I’ve only had St Louis pizza in St Louis once, and the big difference is the cheese. I didn’t like it, but certainly a lot of people do like it or it wouldn’t survive as a style of pizza.

Edit - Wikipedia says that St Louis pizza crust doesn’t have yeast in it. Chicago thin crust definitely uses yeast.

Provel isn't worthy of using the word "cheese" to describe it. (said lovingly as someone who worked in STL and was often handed pies of "office pizza" from Imo's.)

Each Imo’s franchise is independently owned, and uses either Provel or cheaper “Zesty Pizza Loaf” depending on location.

Now that I think about it, it’s like a white, grainy, Velveeta. One of the biggest problems with a cracker-thin crust is that you need to eat twice as much (or more) to get full, and it’s not any cheaper, but Imo’s does lay strips of bacon across their Deluxe and I’m a basic bitch.

He's not a mommy blogger, usually his stuff is worth reading. This one is a bit more of a story though, rather than an investigation.

This seems to be the way with all online recipes. SEO crap.

Pages about pizza, especially crap like "top 10 pizza joints in Chicago!" are a guaranteed way to generate clicks in the midwest. People will argue about that shit for days.

I've had Fox's, I've had a lot of Vito and Nicks (or Nick and Vitos, they listed in the phone book both ways), when really the best pizza is whatever is local and your parents bought you all the time as a kid. Which means Pinocchio's in Niles IL before it burned down the first time.

In the 80's in Arlington Heights the pizza of choice was either Dondi's or Wayne's. Sadly, Dondi's changed ownership about 15 years ago and went seriously downhill. They finally went out of business last year. I have heard that Wayne's is still in business and is still great.

I moved back to the NW suburbs after being in the city for 15 years, and good pizza is exceedingly hard to find out here.

Try the Kahala Koa tiki bar on Rand Rd. No, I'm not kidding.

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