At a rest stop somewhere in Pennsylvania, my family and I were huddled around the back of the car, passing around a Ziploc bag of leftovers from a favorite pizza place in Cleveland. We had a few more hours of driving ahead of us before we reached our home in Virginia, and we were too tired to face the holiday traffic on empty stomachs.
The problem was I had just begun the ketogenic diet, which required cutting out grains and sugars, and I was determined not to fall off the wagon. I had already made it through Thanksgiving without diving face first into the mashed potatoes and I'd be damned if I was going to lose my willpower over leftovers. I peeled off the hardened layer of cheese and threw the crust back into the bag.
I missed pizza.
Like all the other diets I'd ever done, I had spent a good 10 days or so reading up on the rules and restrictions, planning meals and prepping recipes, and eating all the food I was about to give up before starting keto. One of my "last meals" before starting the diet was a slice of Costco pizza. It was the hardest goodbye.
I quickly realized there was no way I could live without it entirely, as proved by the near-cheat that Thanksgiving. And there was no way picking off the toppings was going to see me through. On a mission to find a suitable substitute, I made a multitude of alternative variations over the past year, from vegetables to ground meat to almond meal, and here's what I learned.
1. Vegetable crust
Cauliflower is really having a moment, isn't it? Not only is it replacing rice, potatoes, and pasta on our plates, but it's also a filling alternative to meat. Restaurants around the world are serving cauliflower as the main course, sliced and grilled like steak or tossed in buffalo sauce and fried like wings. It was only a matter of time before the veggie got to our beloved pizza.
Recipes for cauliflower pizza crust abound and the methods vary, but the most important part is squeezing as much of the water out as possible before forming the crust. This has always been my downfall. I had slightly better results with broccoli, although neither plant-based version had the structural integrity I appreciate in a pizza. But with bags of riced cauliflower and broccoli now readily available in supermarkets, it's worth trying for yourselves.
Cauliflower Crust Pizza Recipes
- Cauliflower Crust Pizza from Ree Drummond
- Cauliflower-Crust Pizza with Tomatoes and Mozzarella from Epicurious
- The Best Cauliflower Pizza Crust from Damn Delicious
2. Meatza crust
Meatza is a pizza base made entirely out of the ground meat of your choice. Mix the meat with mozzarella and spices and roll out between two pieces of parchment paper before transferring to a baking pan. You could also forgo the rolling pin and press the meat mixture directly into a casserole dish. This meat version is a dinner staple — simple to put together and tastes like a decadent Italian dish. It's too messy to eat by the slice, but paired with a salad, I didn't miss the bread.
If you use a lean meat like chicken or turkey, the "pizza" is high in protein and lower in fat. Dale's chicken crust is a cherished recipe in the keto community, and reminds me of chicken Parmesan.
3. Fathead crust
Neither the name nor the ingredients — almond flour, eggs, cream cheese, and mozzarella — sound particularly diet-friendly, but Fathead pizza is a much-loved alternative for low-carbers. Not only does the dough shape, bake, and taste almost identical to the real thing, but it's also extremely filling. It's difficult to overindulge, and for that reason it's known as the "holy grail of pizza" in the low-carb world.
Bonus: The dough can be used to make a variety of other snacks and treats you'd otherwise go without when you go grain-free, such as bagels, crackers, and cinnamon rolls. You're welcome.
4. Store-bought grain-free crusts
Thankfully companies are catching on to the grain-free trend and offering readymade alternatives. Cali'flour frozen crusts are perfect for anyone following a keto diet, and buying these flatbread-style crusts are so much easier than making your own cauliflower pizza. Capello's naked pizza crusts are made with Paleo-friendly ingredients like arrowroot flour and honey, which make them a bit carb-y as far as alternative pizza crusts go, but worth it in a pinch. I'm happy to report that both brands of crusts can sufficiently support generous amounts of toppings and can be eaten without utensils. It's almost as if you're eating regular pizza. Almost.
When you're avoiding grains, you have to accept pizza is no longer an inexpensive takeout option and making your own grain-free crust will often be labor-intensive. But if you've got pizza on your mind, it's worth seeking out an alternative to satisfy the craving. My go-to homemade pizza crust is Fathead, and Cali'flour crusts are always in the freezer as backup. Life's too short to ever miss out on pizza night.