Kitchn Love Letters

The 3-Ingredient Dip My Mom Has Been Making for 30 Years for Super Bowl Parties

published Feb 8, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

The invite list of every family gathering, for as long as I can remember (and I can remember pretty far back), has always included one iconic presence: my mom’s signature “pizza dip.” It’s long been earning the pride of center spot on every potluck table, whether it’s Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or the Super Bowl. 

Just as the name suggests, pizza dip is a deconstructed, saucy, cheese pizza in dip form. Best of all, it only needs three ingredients — all of which you likely have in your fridge and pantry right this very minute.

If this information alone doesn’t make you feel almost too powerful, perhaps you need to know where it fits into my family lore. Yes, pizza dip has become so popular in my family it’s created an appetizer-related sibling rivalry between my mom and her sisters. In short, all these aforementioned family gatherings often lead to one dish (ahem, pizza dip) being completely scraped clean, while some siblings’ own offerings are ignored. It’s now become a family joke that my aunts will often ”forget” where the pizza dip went so that their own dishes can get the spotlight. It’s that contentious. 

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

What’s So Great About Pizza Dip?

Maybe it’s because my mom cooking anything is a rarity (she’s a self-described bad cook and I can confirm this), or maybe it’s just because pizza dip is simply so good, but pizza dip’s beauty mostly lies in how it can truly be whatever you want.

Some people have said they’ve made their own pizza dip with mini pepperoni slices (sounds great!), or mix in their own seasoning blends in the cream cheese (I’m tempted to try ranch seasoning), or use homemade garlic knots for the dippers (not entirely sacrilege for me, but my family would think it untraditional). So much of my memories of how pizza dip should taste crystallized around 2001, so I like to keep it as classic (and minimal) as possible. 

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

What’s the Best Way to Make Pizza Dip?

Fun fact: When I was 8 years old and fully enamored of the educational kids’ program Zoom, I once submitted this recipe to the show in hopes it’d be featured on the show (foreshadowing much?). The resulting letter sent back to me made my whole entire life. Even though it was a “thanks, but no thanks” I was pumped that something I wrote was acknowledged by the Zoom Gods That Be. (I still am.) So even though the recipe never made it to air, sharing it here is the ultimate full circle.

To start, all you’ll need are my mom’s standard pizza dip ingredients. 

  • Cream cheese: You’ll need two blocks of cream cheese, softened. (Philadelphia is the Filson family gold standard, on account of its richness and versatility.) Definitely don’t use whipped cream cheese here; it just won’t have the same density or melt as well. 
  • Shredded mozzarella: Shred a log of low-moisture mozzarella. If you’re truly short on time, grab an eight-ounce bag of Kraft Shredded Mozzarella; its meltability still goes unmatched. Avoid using any balls of mozzarella that are still packed in brine. 
  • Jarred marinara sauce: I always thought she’d be Team Ragu forever, but when I asked my mom about her current recipe sauce pick, my mom simply just went, “Trader Joe’s Marinara, babyyyy!” (True story.) She especially loves that this jar of tomato basil marinara sauce has a bit more added depth with the addition of the basil. 

As you might suspect, making this appetizer is fairly simple. While your oven preheats to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, you can keep yourself busy by spreading the softened cream cheese in an even layer in an 8-by-8 inch glass baking dish. If you want to go just one volume higher, my mom now apparently mixes in a half teaspoon of Italian seasoning into the cream cheese before layering. (My ’90s memories of pizza dip do not recognize this version, but it sounds just fine to me now.)

Then, spoon two cups of marinara sauce over the cream cheese layer followed by — you guessed it — the mozzarella! Shake out that entire bag of mozzarella evenly over the other two layers and pop that dish into the oven to bake for 20 minutes, until the mozzarella cheese starts to bubble and lightly brown.

To serve, the only chips we recognize as the right vehicle for pizza dip are Fritos Scoops, both for surface area and general scoop-ability. That being said, corn tortilla chips (either triangles or even another food shovel-y kind like Tostitos Scoops) would also be a worthy companion to this dip. 

What easy appetizers has your family been making for decades? Tell us in the comments below.