I Taste Tested Seven Packs of Pepperoni and Now These Are the Only Brands I’ll Buy

updated Jan 25, 2021
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Close up of pepperoni
Credit: Joe Lingeman

About a month ago, I started getting my lunches — five at a time — from a reasonably healthy meal-prep company. I’m a freelancer, so my schedule is completely unpredictable, with deadlines that tend to pop-up out of nowhere like that haunted doll from those horror movies. Before I went all-in with this place, it seemed like I was either working straight through the afternoon and skipping lunch entirely, or standing over the kitchen sink, frantically emptying a package of shredded cheese into my mouth. (And come on, that’s totally supposed to be my dinner). 

I could meal-prep for myself, but the idea of making one giant helping and eating the same thing for four or five days straight is unappealing. So I let someone else do it for me. ANYWAY, one of their recurring menu items is a pepperoni chicken bake: a pepperoni-smothered chicken breast served with rice and veggies. It’s delicious — and that’s largely because of the pepperoni. I’ve asked the company what brand they use, and have never gotten an answer, because apparently they think I’m trying to steal the recipe, one piece of cured meat at a time. 

ANYWAY AGAIN, those pep slices were my benchmark when I started testing packages of supermarket pepperoni. What makes good pepperoni? It’s a combination of the right amount of spice and spiciness, fat, and that signature acidic tang. (It also needs to involve enough paprika so it’ll have that familiar red hue). I sampled seven different kinds of pepperoni (two came from the same brand, Boar’s Head) and I taste tested them for snacking purposes AND baked on a pizza. (I’m nothing if not a diligent taster.)

Credit: Jelisa Castrodale

I had no expectations going into the taste test, but was immediately struck by the differences between the brands; one widely-available brand tasted less like pepperoni and more like one of those bland summer sausages that your dad puts in gift baskets. And another was, to me, so acidic, it got to the point of being off-putting. “This would pair well with a package of Tums,” my boyfriend said after downing a couple of pieces. 

Credit: Jelisa Castrodale

Our faves were both varieties from Boar’s Head, and the oversized slices from Vincenza’s Crafted Charcuterie (which is sold exclusively at Whole Foods, a detail I learned after the fact). All three were satisfying for snacking and for stacking on crackers, while Vincenza’s has a complex flavor combination that would make it a perfect option for an antipasto platter or charcuterie board. And all three of them cooked perfectly on pizza, too.

Credit: Jelisa Castrodale

It’s worth noting that these brands were so good that yeah, I may even try to make my own version of pepperoni chicken — or I’ll at least eat a couple of slices the next time I’m eating half a bag of sink cheese. 

Do you have a favorite pepperoni brand? Discuss in the comments below.