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America’s Best Pepperoni Pizzas

America’s Best Pepperoni Pizzas



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When you think about it, few dishes are more American than a pepperoni pizza. Both pepperoni and pizza are versions of Italian specialties that we as a nation have made our own. (In fact, there's no such thing as "pepperoni" in Italy, and American visitors who order it there are often surprised and disappointed when what they end up with is peperone — bell pepper.) Few other cuisines are as widely popular as pizza, and pepperoni is one of the most widely popular toppings, no matter the regional style of pie they are decorating.

America’s Best Pepperoni Pizzas (Slideshow)

In our most recent ranking of the 101 best pizzas in America, more than 700 pizzas were considered by 78 pizza experts, who selected a wide variety of pies from all over the United States. There were a few pies that incorporated pepperoni, but it was usually not the starring ingredient. Take Eddie’s special at Eddie’s in New Hyde Park, New York — sausage, meatball, pepperoni, pepper, mushroom, and onion — or the deep dish with sausage and pepperoni at Pequod's in Chicago, Illinois. There were many pies on our list, however, that featured little else but sauce and cheese as their bases before being topped off with pepperoni. To us, this is the correct definition of a true pepperoni pizza, and here are the ones that made our list of the 101 best in the country:

#7 The Backspace, Austin, Texas


With a pedigree that includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and stops at the French Laundry and Café Boulud, it’s not a huge surprise that chef Shawn Cirkiel has found huge success with his restaurant Parkside — but culinary degrees and high-falutin’ restaurant experience don’t necessarily mean that you can make a great pizza. Luckily for Austin, Cirkiel does, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at a temperature of 900 degrees. There are six pies on the menu at The Backspace, featuring toppings like fennel sausage, roasted peppers, and roasted mushrooms, but the one that garnered our enough of our experts’ votes to come in at #92 is the Pepperoni Americano: picante salame, tomato, mozzarella, and basil. Pair it with an aranciata, just like in Naples, or enjoy it Texas -style with a glass bottle of Mexican Coke.

#6 Pizza Brain, Philadelphia, Pa.


“Increase the piece!” It’s the world’s first pizza museum, for heaven’s sake, and those in the know know that when you’re craving great pizza in Philly, you need go no further than this nineteenth-century brick building in Kensington. There, you’ll eat thin-crust pizza cooked in the double-deck gas-fired oven at the cash-only joint Kickstarted in 2012 by Ryan Anderson, Joseph Hunter, Brian Dwyer, and Michael Carter. As you wait for the crew to cook your pie, bask in Pizza Brain's unique ambience, check out their pizza memorabilia museum (featuring what the Guinness Book of World Records called the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world), or rummage through their pizza tattoo book for a few laughs. Pizza Brain’s "Jane" is their version of a Margherita — a cheesy trifecta of mozzarella, aged provolone, and grana padano blended with basil — and that’s a good place to begin. The salty and satisfying Forbes Waggensense is the one that was ranked #80 by our panel: it features mozzarella, fontina, Grana Padano, basil, smoked pepperoni, and tomato sauce.


Instructions for Basic Pizza sauce:
* Cook oil and garlic in medium saucepan over low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, increase heat to medium, and cook until slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

* 1. To make the dough: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 200 degrees. When oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. Lightly grease large bowl with cooking spray. Coat each of two 9-inch cake pans with 3 tablespoons oil.
* 2. Mix milk, sugar, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in measuring cup. Mix flour, yeast, and salt in standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add milk mixture. After dough comes together, increase speed to medium-low and mix until dough is shiny and smooth, about 5 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured counter, gently shape into ball, and place in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm oven until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
* 3. To shape and top the dough: Transfer dough to lightly floured counter, divide in half, and lightly roll each half into ball. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, roll and shape dough into 9 1/2-inch round and press into oiled pan. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm spot (not in oven) until puffy and slightly risen, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees.
* 4. While dough rises, put half of pepperoni in single layer on microwave-safe plate lined with 2 paper towels. Cover with 2 more paper towels and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Discard towels and set pepperoni aside repeat with new paper towels and remaining pepperoni.
* 5. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Ladle 2/3 cup sauce on each round, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges. Sprinkle each with 1 1/2 cups cheese and top with pepperoni. Bake until cheese is melted and pepperoni is browning around edges, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven let pizzas rest in pans for 1 minute. Using spatula, transfer pizzas to cutting board and cut each into 8 wedges. Serve.


Buddy’s Detroit-Style Pepperoni Pizza

Buddy’s Pizza, a family-owned chain in Michigan, is said to be the home of Detroit-style pizza. Originally baked in square, steel pans used to hold spare parts at a local manufacturing plant, Buddy’s pie is shaped like Sicilian, but there’s a twist: pepperoni goes directly on the dough before it rises, so it absorbs the meat’s spicy oils. Cheese goes on next, and it’s all topped by sauce. Vegetarians can forget the pepperoni, but make sure to layer the cheese on before adding sauce.

  • 1 teaspoon fresh or active dry yeast
  • 2½ cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Vegetable or soybean oil
  • 35 slices spicy Margherita-style pepperoni
  • 12 ounces Wisconsin Brick cheese or mild Cheddar, shredded
  • 1-1¼ cup pizza sauce

In bowl of stand mixer with dough hook attachment, combine yeast and 1 cup warm water (85˚–90˚F) until fully incorporated, then add flour and salt. Mix on low until fully combined. Knead on medium speed for 6–8 minutes, or until dough starts to pull away from bowl. It should be firm, but still tacky.

Place dough ball in a 9 x 13 dark metal baking pan. Dip fingers from both hands in oil up to first knuckle. Coat dough ball with oil and press flat. Flip ball over and stretch out in rounded football shape toward edges, making sure it’s flat and even. Let dough rest 10–15 minutes. Push dough to pan edges, making sure it’s flat without raised sides. Using thumb, press dough into corners.

Place pepperoni slices in rows atop dough. Move topped dough to warm area and cover with dry towel for 1½–2 hours, or until it doubles in size.

Add cheese evenly to reach sides and corners. Add any additional toppings, if desired. Top with three even stripes of sauce. Keep sauce approximately ½ inch from edges.

Bake approximately 15–17 minutes, or until crust is browned and cheese is melted. Cooking time can vary depending upon your oven. Serves 4–6.

  • Meat Deluxe: spicy Italian sausage, ground beef, bacon and ham
  • Artichokes, capers, roasted tomatoes and spinach cream sauce
  • Red onion, bacon and blue cheese
  • Kalamata olives and roasted red peppers
  • Basil

Wes Pikula, chief brand officer of Buddy’s Pizza, recommends Louis M. Martini 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, especially with the Meat Deluxe pizza. This firm red has currant, blackberry and cherry flavors that will stand up well to the meat and cheese. Its rich fruitiness and acidity work well with the bold tomato sauce.

For something more luxurious, try Tenuta La Fuga 2014 Brunello di Montalcino. Its lush cherry and spice flavors will not be overpowered by rich meat toppings. Supple tannins and bold acidity will hold their own against the fattiness of the Meat Deluxe pie.


Pepperoni: On Top

ACROSS the United States, artisanal pizza joints are opening faster than Natalie Portman movies. But inside those imported ovens, pepperoni — by far America’s most popular pizza topping — is as rare as a black swan.

In these rarefied, wood-fired precincts, pizzas are draped with hot soppressata and salami piccante, and spicy pizza alla diavola is popular. At Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland, Calif., there is local-leek-and-potato pizza. At Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn, dried cherry and orange blossom honey pizza. At Motorino in the East Village, brussels sprouts and pancetta. But pepperoni pizza? Geddoutahere!

What, exactly, is pepperoni? It is an air-dried spicy sausage with a few distinctive characteristics: it is fine-grained, lightly smoky, bright red and relatively soft. But one thing it is not: Italian.

“Purely an Italian-American creation, like chicken Parmesan,” said John Mariani, a food writer and historian who has just published a book with the modest title: “How Italian Food Conquered the World.” “Peperoni” is the Italian word for large peppers, as in bell peppers, and there is no Italian salami called by that name, though some salamis from Calabria and Apulia are similarly spicy and flushed red with dried chilies. The first reference to pepperoni in print is from 1919, Mr. Mariani said, the period when pizzerias and Italian butcher shops began to flourish here.

Image

Pepperoni certainly has conquered the United States. Hormel is the biggest-selling brand, and in the run-up to the Super Bowl this Sunday, the company has sold enough pepperoni (40 million feet) to tunnel all the way through the planet Earth, said Holly Drennan, a product manager.

Michael Ruhlman, an expert in meat curing who is writing a book on Italian salumi, doesn’t flinch from calling pepperoni pizza a “bastard” dish, a distorted reflection of wholesome tradition. “Bread, cheese and salami is a good idea,” he said. “But America has a way of taking a good idea, mass-producing it to the point of profound mediocrity, then losing our sense of where the idea comes from.” He prefers lardo or a fine-grained salami, very thinly sliced, then laid over pizza as it comes out of the oven rather than cooked in the oven.

But some of the most respected meatheads in the country are beginning to take pepperoni seriously.

“I can’t make salami fast enough as it is, and now the pizza chefs are begging me for pepperoni,” said Paul Bertolli, founder and self-proclaimed “curemaster” of Fra’ Mani, the salumi specialist in Oakland. Mr. Bertolli is in a research-and-development phase on a pepperoni, because of demand from expert pizzaiolos like Chris Bianco of Bianco in Phoenix and Craig Stoll of Delfina in San Francisco. “There’s nothing quite like that spicy, smoky taste with pizza,” he said.

Mr. Bertolli believes that pepperoni’s smokiness, beef content and fine grind are more characteristic of German sausages like Thüringer, suggesting a possible Midwestern connection. “I’ve never seen a smoked sausage anywhere in Italy,” he said.

Normally, Mr. Bertolli confines himself to products and processes that are almost painfully traditional, and a nose-to-tail ethos that he applies to the pasture-raised, antibiotic-free pigs he buys. (Except the ears Mr. Bertolli says they have too much crunch even to be used in headcheese.) For Mr. Bertolli’s pepperoni, he will avoid the nitrites used by commercial producers in favor of celery juice, an effective and natural preservative, though it does not produce the same appetizing color in the finished product as the chemical versions.

No one is claiming that pepperoni is difficult to find. Large producers like Volpi, Patrick Cudahy (makers of the No-Char line used by many pizzerias in the Northeast), Columbus and Ezzo are considered top-of-the-line among pizzeria owners. Opinion is divided on whether a slice of the stuff should curl when cooked, or lie flat. Some say that the little cups of cooked pepperoni perform an important job: confining the spicy, molten fat from pouring out over the surface of the pizza.

But a pepperoni that lives up to the handmade, high-quality standards of the artisanal-food movement and also replicates the soft, chewy, smoky-hot-sweetness of the commercial product? That’s the grail.

Otto, the Greenwich Village pizzeria opened by Mario Batali in 2003, cures its own pepperoni, in a small subterranean chamber now overseen by Dan Drohan, the restaurant’s chef. In 2007, following a crackdown on illicit cured meats by the New York City Health Department, Otto became the first restaurant in the city to receive formal permission to air-cure its own meats, a process that must take place within a specific range of humidity and temperature in order to be safe and effective.

Pepperoni is the most popular topping at Otto, said Mr. Drohan, and the restaurant goes through more than 100 pounds a week of red-wine-colored pepperoni, made from Berkshire pork shoulder and flavored with fennel pollen (rather than the usual fennel seed), paprika and cayenne.

Outside the pizza universe, it’s rare to see pepperoni in a restaurant kitchen. Chorizo is everywhere soppressata, with its pearly grains of fat, all the rage. But only at Torrisi Italian Specialties, the small Mulberry Street restaurant dedicated to upgrading Italian-American flavors, is there evidence of true pepperoni creativity. It serves pepperoni vinaigrette, pepperoni snow, and minced pepperoni mixed into warm crushed potatoes with oregano and vinegar to make the potato salad of dreams.

“We buy three different kinds for different culinary purposes,” said Mario Carbone, a co-owner and chef. Alps brand is good for cooking, he said, “Pepperoni just wants to give out that wonderful orange grease.” Salumeria Biellese is best for slices, he added, and a super-salty-smoky version from Vermont Smoke and Cure makes an intensely flavorful garnish for raw seafood. For the snow, Mr. Carbone briefly freezes the whole sausage, then grates it on a Microplane into feathery shreds that melt when they come to rest atop a hot soup, like potato or bean.

A block farther along Mulberry Street, on a stretch that is suddenly reclaiming its Italian-American culinary heritage, is a pizzeria called Rubirosa that opened in November. There’s no more noble lineage in American pizza than Rubirosa’s: the chef and co-owner Angelo Pappalardo (always called A. J.) grew up on Staten Island working in his father Giuseppe’s pizzeria, Joe and Pat’s, where the crusts are thin, ethereal and legendary.

The pizzas at Rubirosa are almost identical, with sauce spread almost all the way to the edge and a sauce lightly balanced between tangy and sweet. The pepperoni pieces, no bigger than a nickel, are sliced each day (many pizzerias now buy pre-cut pepperoni, which toughens quickly).

When Albert Di Meglio, a born-and-raised Staten Islander, came on board at Rubirosa as co-chef, he said he had big plans for the pepperoni pie. “I thought we’d do some kind of local salumi, something from Little Italy down the street.” He was wrong. Although Mr. Pappalardo has cooked at high-end Italian restaurants like Esca and Osteria da Circo, and all the pasta at Rubirosa is made by hand, the pepperoni is Hormel. Its familiar texture and taste, Mr. Di Meglio said, won out.

“A. J. said ‘Give the people what they want,’ ” Mr. Di Meglio said. “And he was right.”


With its famous White Clam Pizza, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana tops The Daily Meal's highly subjective list of the 101 best pizzas in the U.S.

The Daily Meal website went out on a limb (again) to identify the 101 best pizzas in America, and you might not agree with them—unless your restaurant made the list.

The list is sure to stir up some controversy, which is exactly why media companies create such highly subjective lists in the first place. And we’re not saying we agree or disagree with their findings, although many of our favorites are featured. But we’re not going to name names—we’re not looking for trouble here.

Topping the survey is one of the country’s most renowned pizza companies, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana—with locations in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts—and its coal-fired White Clam Pizza topped with freshly shucked littleneck clams, pecorino romano, garlic, oregano and olive oil. Frank Pepe put New Haven, Connecticut, on the pizza map when he opened his shop in 1925, and his crispy, thin-crust pies gave rise to what became known as New Haven-style pizza. For the record, the White Clam Pizza topped Daily Meal’s list for the best pizza in America last year, too.

Pequod’s Pizza in Chicago came in at No. 2 on this year’s list for its deep-dish pepperoni and sausage pie, made in a cast-iron pan and noted for its caramelized-crust edge.

Two New York pizzerias ranked in the top 10, including the venerable John’s of Bleecker Street, whose pepperoni, sausage and mushroom pizza helped them earn the No. 3 spot, and Brooklyn’s Lucali, which finished in eighth place on the strength of its Margherita.

Jersey City’s Razza Pizza Artigianale scored fourth place with its own Margherita, while a relative newcomer, Nashville-based Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria, took fifth for pizzas like the Got 5 On It (featuring a house cheese blend, fresh mozzarella and red sauce) and the Cee No Green (cheese blend, ground beef, pepperoni, hickory-smoked bacon, Canadian bacon and Italian sausage.

Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit ranked sixth in the listing, while Santarpio’s in Boston came in at No. 7. Sally’s Apizza, another New Haven landmark, won praise for a specialty pie topped with potatoes, onion, mozzarella, Parmesan and rosemary and took ninth place. Rounding out the top 10 was Piece in Chicago, recognized for its “red pizza” with tomato sauce, mozz, pecorino romano and pepperoni.

Barely missing the top 10 was eleventh-ranked Smiling With Hope in Reno, Nevada, where owners Walter and Judy Gloshinski create jobs for people with developmental disabilities and train them to make some of America’s best New York-style pizzas.

Choosing the best pizzas in the country is obviously a subjective business. So how did the Daily Meal’s staff come up with this year’s list? The story’s introduction notes that the staff “focused on smaller establishments and local favorites that have found success branching out to a few locations.” They “used internal expertise, scoured Yelp and other review sites, looked at coverage by local journalists and gathered suggestions from readers.” They also paid attention to women-owned and black-owned pizza shops.


The Best Pepperoni Roll in West Virginia

For those who have never experienced the joy of biting into a piping hot West Virginia pepperoni roll, let me start by saying you need to change this, like now. There’s a catch, however. You can’t score a real deal pepperoni roll just anywhere. You need to get your pepperoni rolls from West Virginia, whether it’s by traveling to a local bakery or having them shipped to your hometown. While there are other bakeries and restaurants outside of West Virginia that create versions of the pepperoni roll, true pepperoni rolls can only be found within the Mountain State.

In fact, pepperoni rolls are so beloved in West Virginia they have been declared the unofficial state food. As a native who has eaten her fair share, I can say, it is a most deserved honor, and I am delighted to guide you to the best pepperoni roll in West Virginia.

So, what’s so great about the West Virginia pepperoni roll? To start, thick, spicy, sticks of greasy pepperoni are enrobed in a slightly sweet, dense, yeasty bread dough that’s baked until golden, chewy and just a bit soft on the inside. Enjoy a pepperoni roll fresh from the oven just as it is and it’s a pure delight, especially the ubiquitous red/orange grease stain where the oil from the pepperoni seeps into the dough, or go a step further and split open your roll and stuff it with an array of fillings ranging from mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce to sweet peppers topped with pepper jack cheese.

You can also do as many Mountaineers do, which is to split open a pepperoni roll and fill it with hot dog chili sauce (we West Virginians are damn proud of our hot dog chili) creating a decadent double-meat filling. While seemingly an odd mixture, I can vouch that this combo is perfectly swoon-inducing, especially when it’s topped with mozzarella cheese.

Pepperoni rolls can be found all over the state, in gas stations, mini marts, grocery stores, on restaurant menus, and of course, in local bakeries. Arguably, the best pepperoni rolls can be found in the northernmost parts of the state where they originated, specifically in the counties of Marion, Harrison, and Monongalia.

Born out of necessity and straight from the coalfields, the pepperoni roll has a rich immigrant history. Created by an Italian immigrant miner, Giuseppe “Joseph” Agiro at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, the pepperoni roll was designed to be a portable miner’s lunch, one that could easily be popped into one’s pants pocket or carried unrefrigerated in a lunch pail. While the state’s coal mining industry has struggled, the pepperoni roll has, in turn, continued on, and in my opinion, the best pepperoni rolls in West Virginia come from the original source, Country Club Bakery.

Country Club Bakery, now owned by Fairmont native Chris Pallotta, still makes their pepperoni rolls according to the original recipe. The rolls, which are roughly five to six inches in length are soft, but also dense, making them perfect for stuffing with all kinds of goodies like hot dog chili or peppers in tomato sauce. There’s a hint of sweetness to the dough, but it’s not in any way pronounced as the spiciness of the pepperoni sticks offset it beautifully. Most important to note, is that this dough is not like pizza dough or any other airy, light crispy dough, but rather it’s dense, yeast-risen bread dough. Pepperoni rolls made with pizza dough are stromboli, which we reserve for our fine neighbors up the road in Pennsylvania.

Also, for a proper pepperoni roll, you gotta use stick pepperoni versus sliced, and if you want to make them the Country Club way, you’ve got to roll up at least 4 good-sized spicy sticks of pepperoni before baking. Chintzing on pepperoni is a big no-no since biting into a pep roll only to get a mouthful of nothing but bread is a pepperoni roll travesty.

If you&rsquore in the know, you&rsquoll be outside waiting just before 7 a.m. in order to nab the freshest ones straight from the oven.

Country Club Bakery is no frills joint set off the road in downtown Fairmont. Here you can buy single rolls, rolls by the dozen or by the half dozen. There are other breads and baked goods for sale as well, but it’s the pepperoni rolls that everyone lines up for, and if you’re in the know, you’ll be outside waiting just before 7 a.m. in order to nab the freshest ones straight from the oven.

Country Club churns out hundreds of dozens of rolls daily and if you can’t make the trip to the bakery, you’re still in luck because they now ship anywhere in the country. However, I highly encourage you to drive to Fairmont and visit Country Club in person if you can. Not only because Fairmont is a wonderfully charming town, but because everyone knows Country Club’s pepperoni rolls taste best when you’re biting into one while walking from the bakery to your car.

Country Club Bakery, 1211 Country Club Rd., Fairmont, WV 304-363-5690Kendra Bailey Morris is a cookbook author, culinary instructor, recipe developer, speaker and food writer.


Once again, Marco's signature sauce was a highlight for me. I seriously considered using the cheese bread as a spoon for the sauce. I was very grateful I'd asked for a second cup of sauce to take home with me — it was that good.

It was now time for Marco's signature cinnamon-loaded dessert — the Cinnasquares. Fortunately, they were still warm even after I took my time to eat my pizza.

Marco's Pizza's menu describes its Cinnasquares as "f resh-baked, buttery pastry topped with cinnamon and sugar, served with a side of vanilla icing." They reminded me of a more elegant version of cinnamon-sugar toast I used to eat for breakfast when I was a kid.


Everything at Home Industry Bakery is made from scratch daily in their Clarksburg kitchen, including their popular pepperoni rolls.
Photo courtesy of Home Industry Bakery

Terra Cafe, one of Morgantown's top spots for pepperoni rolls, makes their award-winning variation from scratch daily.
Photo courtesy of Terra Cafe

The sandwich was first crafted by Giuseppe Argiro, who came from Italy to work in the West Virginia coal mines near Clarksburg. Giuseppe noticed that many immigrant miners would eat a slice of bread with some pepperoni on top for a quick lunch, and he decided to try baking the pepperoni right into the bread. A legend was born.

10Best and Sandwich America set out to find the best pepperoni rolls in the state, and to do so, 10Best editors joined forces with a local West Virginia food writer with a passion for pepperoni rolls and The Food Channel to nominate 20 worthy shops across the state. For the past four weeks, our readers have been voting for their favorites. The results are in.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Pepperoni Roll in West Virginia are as follows:

  1. The Donut Shop - Buckhannon
  2. Dragon Mart - Cameron
  3. Boggs Pizza and Grill - Middlebourne
  4. Pasco's Pizza - New Martinsville
  5. Tomaro's Bakery - Clarksburg
  6. Colasessano's Pizza - Fairmont
  7. Country Club Bakery - Fairmont
  8. D'annunzio's - Clarksburg
  9. Home Industry Bakery - Clarksburg
  10. Terra Cafe - Morgantown

Congratulations to all our winning pepperoni roll bakeries!

Editors' Note: The list of winners was corrected on March 7, 2017 after a nominee was removed for violation of the Official Rules.


Pizza Trends: The Big Dance

“Are you guys trying to scam me young man? Let me ask you this: If a plain pizza has cheese on it, it would be called a ‘cheese pizza.’ So why didn’t the order taker say ‘cheese pizza’ when he read the order back?”

“I don’t know ma’am,” I acquiesced. “I guess you’re right, we do in fact call plain pizzas ‘cheese pizzas’ most of the time. How ’bout I send you out a small pepperoni pizza for your trouble ma’am?”

“Well, that’s okay, but I still don’t know anyone who would order a pizza without pepperoni on it.”

Later that night, I realized that I had taught the woman that not every pizza had pepperoni on it. She taught me that pepperoni is so popular in America that a lot of folks think it should be on every pizza!

The history of pepperoni is vague. There is no cured meat called “pepperoni” in Italy. It is thought that the millions of Italian immigrants who landed here created this semi-spicy salami out of new-world ingredients. It could have been modeled on the Salame di Napoli, which is made with garlic, wine and chili. Or perhaps it’s based on the Salsiccia di Calabria, which has fennel, chilies, wine and garlic.

Here are some other sausages that seem very much like pepperoni:

  • Spanish Chistorra: This air-dried or fresh sausage is very thin and mixed with copious amounts of paprika.
  • Italian ‘Nduja’: This spreadable, soft Calabrian sausage is made from pork off-cuts and very spicy chilies.
  • Merguez: This spicy French sausage from the North African colonies contains lamb or beef and lots of paprika.
  • Austrian Debreziner: Made from mixed pork and beef with plenty of paprika. It is filled in sheep’s casing and boiled, then smoked.
  • Brazilian Linguica: Originally from Portugal, it is made with plenty of paprika and garlic. It is cured but is usually not dried.

While pepperoni is like a lot of salami, its beauty lies in the depth of flavor released when it is heated. The fat and spice content, along with the small circumference of each slice in modern pepperoni, react to heat unlike any larger salami. Almost all dry-cured, medium-fat salumi like soppressata, lonza, coppa, Calabrese, Prosciutto di Parma and cotechino tend to release more fat and flavor when you lay a thin slice on an oven-warmed pizza, but not under direct heat. Pepperoni’s inherent flavor concentration releases copious amounts of fatty flavor in high temperatures without burning the whole slice. There are some advantages that certain pepperoni types have above the others. Like all foods you buy for your customers, it all depends upon the price you are willing pay for quality.

There is a wide selection of pepperoni out there and I would rather stab a sharpened stick in my eye before I name names of good or bad pepperoni companies. Besides, it all depends upon the heating elements and your customers. Some fine natural casing pepperoni that looks gorgeous on a finished pie may turn some dieting customers off with the fat and may flame-up in a conveyor oven, leaving little carbonized cups guaranteed to get you that complaint call. On the other hand, a flacid, pink circle that has barely released any flavor is a giant “tell” that you, the operator, wanted a leaner pepperoni and less flavor enhancement.

I am not a salumi expert. But after 15 years in business, and many different pepperoni products, here are some deciding factors I’ve had to delve into before choosing a pepperoni:

  • Size. Pepperoni is measured by millimeters, with most traditional rounds ranging from 35 to 45 mm (although there are some memorable pepperoni like the small sliced “meatstick” chunks or the giant “sandwich pepperoni.”)
  • Weight equals price. This has recently eclipsed the millimeter measurement as the go-to way to find your food cost. It is very easy when your purveyor says, “This product is exactly 16 slices per ounce.” So now all you need to do is find out how many pepperonis per pizza you will allow. Below is an example:

It takes 50 to 55 38-millimeter slices to populate one of your 14-inch, large pizzas shoulder to shoulder. These slices weigh 3.25 ounces. Because this pepperoni is 16 cents an ounce, your food cost for the pepperoni alone is 52 cents. Let’s now broaden this costing to the whole pie: (Note: this is just a sample.)

Pepperoni = 52 cents

½ pound of cheese = $1.50

Dough = 20 cents

Sauce = 20 cents

Pizza box = 40 cents

Total cost to you = $1.90

If your pepperoni pizza costs $1.90 and you sell it for $8, your food cost percentage is 24 percent. This leaves you $6.10 to pay for labor, taxes, rent, insurance, marketing, fees –– and did I mention taxes?

  • Quality. This is by far the turning point for most pizzeria owners. After you get past the marketing hooks like “old-world flavor” and “authentic Italian flavor,” you’ll find the best information like the “fat content” “no-fillers” statement, (if you don’t see this, beware). The amount of beef contained in the mix usually denotes leanness, which means it will not shrink or “cup.” Is it designed to cup and char, which shrinks each slice, creating a nice pool of greasy flavor.
  • Other factors. When you are menu engineering your core pizza toppings, feel free to contact your purveyors and “negotiate” a price, a rebate or even to just open the lines of communication to show that you are knowledgeable about the product they are selling you. Finding out how the pepperoni product is packaged is also important. Does it arrive in one bag? Multiple bags? Does it come frozen or fresh?

The Stromboli-Conda

In my pizzeria, the staff has an ongoing beauty contest — not for people, but for calzone and rolled pizza products. We’ve made this really cool variant of a stromboli and bread.

John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, and is an award-winning pizzaiolo, baker, teacher, speaker and author.


Old Forge Pizza

Old Forge is yet another example of a pizza style that’s really locked into its home territory . It’s served at pizza cafes (as the locals call them) in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, a town of about 8,000 people. These are sheet pan concoctions that come in rectangles, and instead of being referred to as a pie, entire pizzas are called “trays” as a reference to the pans they’re baked in. Unlike New York’s predilection for the term “slice,” a single piece is called a “cut.”

These pies come in red and white varieties, and each pizza cafe has its own secret blend of cheeses—there are no specific rules about what kind of cheese belongs on a tray, which makes each cafe’s recipe so unique. The crumb is tighter than, say, focaccia, resulting in a denser, chewier bite. The white version of Old Forge pizza might as well be its own style, as it’s stuffed, with a layer of dough on the bottom and on top, and it’s filled with plenty of cheese and whichever fillings you’re in the mood for.

Fun fact: Old Forge is known as the “pizza capital of the United States.” It’s a self-awarded title, much like Michael Jackson calling himself “The King of Pop.” But it’s a superlative that people use proudly, and we have no reason to dispute it.


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