All the Types of Pizza Every Pizza-Lover Needs to Know

published Jun 25, 2024
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Two hands reaching in and pulling two slices of pizza from the sheet pan.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Kelli Foster

Whether it’s served at a restaurant, heated up from frozen, or eaten straight from the fridge, pizza is delicious no matter what. The hardest question is often whether you want plain cheese or more toppings

As a line cook in a buzzy New York City restaurant, I worked my way onto the pizza station, where I slung individually sized pizzas into a blazing-hot brick oven before topping them with everything from wasabi cream and raw tuna to fresh herbs and prosciutto. These were creative pizzas, not tethered to a specific region or style. Once I traded my flour-dusted clogs and pizza peel for a professional test kitchen, I shifted my focus to learning about and tasting the differences between types of pizza (and not just unique ways to top a crust). During my years as a recipe developer, I’ve also researched, created, and tested countless pizza recipes. 

Here, I’ve leaned on my experience and put together this guide to 12 noteworthy types of pizza. Read on to learn more about each one; you may even discover a new favorite.

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Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

Detroit-Style Pizza

Detroit-style pizza was created at Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit in 1946. The owners pressed pizza dough into a deep, rectangular steel pan from a local auto shop, loaded it with cheese and sauce (in that order), and baked it until crisp. The result was something unexpectedly delicious and unique. The crust was light, crisp, and oily, and the cheese burnished around the rim of the pie. Although Buddy’s still uses the same steel pans, seasoned from years of use, Detroit-style pizza has become so popular that similar pans are now readily available to recreate the hefty, square pizza at home. Using a dark metal pan is the key to getting the correct bake on the pizza and containing all the cheese. 

Crust: Detroit-style pizza started as a riff on Sicilian, and they are both square pizzas with a thick crust, but that’s where the similarities end. The dough for a Detroit-style pizza should be light with plenty of air bubbles, but not too chewy or bready. This is achieved through a higher ratio of water to flour than other pizza dough styles. The oils from the heavy dose of cheese (and pepperoni, if using) help the dough lightly fry in the pan, giving it a unique crunch and the signature cheese-laced edges.  

Toppings: Pepperoni is the most common topping on a Detroit-style pizza. It can be layered on top, where it will cup and hold delicious pepperoni grease when baked, or, more traditionally, it can be placed  over the dough before the cheese or sauce. The pepperoni won’t crisp, but the flavor will soak right into the base as it bakes, which is how it’s done at Buddy’s. Of course, Detroit-style pizza can be customized like other pizzas to hold a variety of classic toppings like sausage, olives, onions, and peppers. 

Besides pepperoni, Detroit-style pizza is all about the cheese, which is layered under the sauce. Brick cheese, a soft Wisconsin cheese, is the go-to choice for Detroit-style pizza, and it is added very generously and all the way to the edge to create a frizzled, fried, crispy border. The thick, slightly sweet tomato sauce is pre-cooked and is well-seasoned with flavors like garlic and oregano. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Tom Hoerup

New York-Style Pizza

New York takes its pizza pretty seriously, and in New York City, it’s hard to walk more than two blocks without seeing a slice shop. Despite claims that the local water is the secret to great New York-style pizza, there is more to the style. Italian immigrants brought their history and recipes for Neapolitan pizza to New York in the late 1800s, but the style adapted to fit their new circumstances, including cooking the pies in a coal-fired oven and making the pizzas larger with a slightly thicker and more evenly risen crust. Lombardi’s was the first (or one of the first) pizzerias to offer New York-style pizza in 1905 in lower Manhattan, in a neighborhood we now call Little Italy. The large pies are rolled or tossed in the air until moderately thin and then topped first with sauce and then cheese and other toppings. When baked, it’s crispy and chewy with enough structure that you can pick up the large slice and fold it in half like a local to eat without it drooping dramatically or having the toppings slide off. 

Crust: The crust may have been inspired by Neapolitan dough, but New York-style dough is a big departure. New York-style dough frequently has sugar and oil in the recipe, which adds flavor, helps the crust brown, and makes it easier to stretch. The dough is sturdier than delicate Neapolitan dough, so it can be stretched and handled more roughly, even tossed in the air until around 18 inches wide without tearing. 

Toppings: A classic pie has a good spread of sauce made from canned tomatoes and seasonings that will vary from shop to shop. On top is a heap of grated low-moisture mozzarella, which melts creamy while lightly browning and is not wet like fresh mozzarella. The cheese should thoroughly cover the top, letting bits of sauce poke through but stopping before the edge so there is a defined rim. Beyond the plain slice, any topping goes for a New York-style slice. There will also be pies with the tomato sauce swapped in for creamy white sauce and ricotta. Ideally, the toppings should not be added so heavily that the slice can’t be picked up with one hand. And don’t forget about the finishing touch for New York-style pizza: the shakers of pepper flakes, oregano, and Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over each slice. 

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Neapolitan-Style Pizza

Neapolitan-style pizza is easy to pick out in a lineup. The dinner plate-size pies have a very thin center and an impressive puffed rim, which is well browned from the one- to two-minute bake time in a wood-fired brick oven. The style comes from the Campania region of Italy, which includes Naples, the birthplace. Traditionally, the yeasted dough rises at room temperature all day before being carefully stretched and shaped to retain all the air pockets built up during proofing. 

The style is simple yet very specific, which means you need to find a dedicated Neapolitan pizza restaurant to enjoy it versus popping into any regular slice shop. To understand all the nuances of a Neapolitan pizza, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, formed in 1984, created a document of international regulations that details the specifics of true Neapolitan Pizza. A few key points include the size of the pizza (no greater than 35 centimeters), the overall shape (round with a defined “cornicione,” aka the puffed rim), and the necessity of cooking the pizza in a very hot wood-fired oven.

Crust: The crust on a Neapolitan pizza is essential to its identity. There are two parts to the crust: the thin center and the thick, puffed rim, also called the cornicione. The cornicione should be light and tender, with some dark spots from the hot oven but nothing overly charred. The thin center should be well-cooked, and the bottom a similar color to the edges. The crust will have some chew to it, especially the thicker rim, but it should still be tender with large air holes throughout and easy to eat without feeling heavy afterward. 

Toppings: There are two classic types of Neapolitan pizza: margherita and marinara. Margherita features crushed San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte, and basil. Marinara skips the cheese and has a tomato base, oregano, garlic, and maybe some spicy pepper flakes. The tomatoes are not cooked before going on the pizza in either style so that everything can bake together at the same time. 

Either pizza may have the initials DOP after it. DOP stands for Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin) and is a label given by the European Union to verify that the ingredients in question come from a specific region and have been prepared according to set quality standards. For a Neapolitan pizza, that means the tomatoes and cheese must be certified from the Campania region in Italy. Although these are the most common and classic Neapolitan pizzas, the style hasn’t been immune to the explosion of pizza toppings, and you can find Neapolitan pizza with an assortment of other additions.  

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Sicilian Pizza

In a world of round pizzas, the thick square of Sicilian at the end of the counter in the pizza shop stands out. Originally hailing from Sicily, a true Sicilian, called sfincione, is markedly different than what we see now as Sicilian pizza. Sfincione, which means “sponge,” is named for the thick, airy crust it resembles. Sfincione features a tomato-based sauce cooked with onions, anchovies, and herbs, a topping of goat or sheep’s milk cheese, and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. As Sicilian pizza adapted to American ingredients and tastes, the thickness and shape of the crust stayed the same, but the toppings morphed to include a more simply seasoned tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. 

Crust: Sicilian pizza dough rises in a square or rectangular oiled pan, so the edges and bottom brown and get some crunch, but the middle of the dough stays soft and springy. The crust on a Sicilian is thick with plenty of air pockets, and coupled with the oiled bottom, it is reminiscent of focaccia bread. To achieve the thick base, the dough needs to rise for a while, with some recipes calling for an overnight rise. 

Toppings: Sfincione highlights ingredients and flavors common in Sicily, and the thick bready base offers a counterpoint to the pungent, salty ingredients. In America, a Sicilian can have any of the same toppings as a New York-style slice. It can be assembled with the sauce spread over the crust and then topped with cheese or as an upside-down pie with the cheese under the sauce. 

Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza

Is it a casserole? Is it a pie? Chicago deep-dish pizza is a unique, hefty, fork-and-knife meal like no other (it’s certainly not pizza you can pick up by the slice). Similar to other pizza styles, deep-dish pizza was created by Italian immigrants in America. But unlike New York-style or New Haven-style, deep-dish was a way to enjoy pizza in a totally new way, rather than riffing off the classic styles. Pizzeria Uno was the birthplace of deep-dish pizza in 1943 in Chicago, and it was quickly a hit, prompting other shops to open and create their take on this new type of pizza. While some liken Chicago deep-dish to Detroit-style (both baked in deep metal pans with a decadent slightly fried crust), deep-dish pizza differs in the construction and the crust. 

Crust: The rich crust eats more like a pie dough than a chewy bread. The dough is pressed into the bottom and up the sides of a round metal pan, similar to a cake pan, which allows the dough to hold in all the sauce, cheese, and filling, but also increases the surface area so it can cook through. The dough often has semolina or cornmeal, which adds a bit of texture and gives the crust a yellow hue, along with butter.

Toppings: Topping is a funny term for a deep-dish pizza because of how it’s assembled. Sliced cheese is placed on the crust in the bottom of the deep round pan, and then meats or veggies are added before finishing with a generous layer of chunky tomato sauce. Sausage is one of the most common additions to the classic cheese and sauce pie, but other ingredients can be added as well. 

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New Haven-Style Apizza

It is not a typo — it is apizza. New Haven, Connecticut, is an improbable spot for a pizza mecca, but it has become one. In the early 1900s, a large number of Italians from the Naples area settled in New Haven, and with their Italian dialect and accent, apizza was born, based on how they said the word pizza. The three most well-known pizzerias are Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Modern Apizza, and Sally’s Apizza. All three cook their pizzas in hot brick ovens. Pepe’s and Sally’s are fueled by coal, but Modern, although it originally was coke-fueled (a coal byproduct), now uses an open flame. While they create pizzas of the same style, each shop does things slightly differently. Patrons have their preferences between the three shops, and these allegiances are a heated topic of debate.

Crust: The pies are more like ovals than circles, which create asymmetrical slices. The bottoms of the pizzas are well-done but not burnt, leaving your fingers tinged with black from the char. It is a thin-crust pizza, but it is not cracker-like. The dough has a long fermentation and high hydration, which allows it to cook for several minutes at very high temperatures without burning, giving it that signature char. The long fermentation also deepens the flavor of the dough, which retains chew and structure, regardless of whether it’s slicked only with sauce or more heavily topped. 

Toppings: Cheese is not an automatic addition to apizza, but a topping you must ask for. New Haven apizza, at its most basic, is a tomato pie: tomato sauce baked into the thin, chewy crust in a very hot coal-fired oven. A white clam pizza, with plenty of garlic and fresh herbs, is another signature topping combination for apizza, with many claiming Pepe’s does it best. But other toppings include classics such as sausage, onions, and fresh tomatoes or less common options, like thinly sliced potatoes. The toppings cover almost the entire pizza, leaving just the charred edge of the pie revealed. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Kelli Foster

Grandma Pizza

Grandma pizza is another pizza baked in a large pan, but there are a few details that make it different from other styles. The origins of Grandma pizza can be traced to Long Island home kitchens and came about as a solution to a problem. The problem was that Italian immigrants had little time and little home ovens but still wanted to produce a quality pizza. By letting the dough rise on a baking sheet for a relatively short amount of time before stretching, topping, and baking, you end up with a pizza with a crust that is thinner and crispier than on a Sicilian pizza — and ready in a fraction of the time. A generous amount of oil on the baking sheet keeps the dough from sticking, browns the bottom, and adds richness. Not all pizza shops carry Grandma-style, but it is becoming more readily available. 

Crust: Grandma pizza is baked in a large rectangular pan (the same one the dough rises on) and is thinner than other pan pizzas. Although it rises twice, like traditional pizza dough, the rise time is shorter, with the first being just enough time so the dough fills the pan and the second to relax the dough after stretching. Although thin, the crust should be light and crisp, not hard or tough.

Toppings: There are no hard-and-fast rules about what belongs on a Grandma pizza, although sauce and cheese is the classic combination. Any toppings should be added sparingly, and vegetables with a lot of water, like mushrooms or onions, should be cooked first so the crust is not weighed down or at risk of becoming soggy. Additionally, when assembling the pizza, the cheese goes down first, with the sauce dotted over to preserve the crispy bottom. 

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Roman-Style Pizza

There are two popular Roman-style pizzas. Pizza al taglio translates to “pizza by the cut,” as you can walk into a shop, point at the kind of pizza you want, and they will cut you a square or rectangular piece with scissors and weigh it to determine the cost. It is baked in huge rectangular pans that can be as big as 3 to 4 feet long and features a thin, crisp crust, sturdy enough so people can eat it while walking around. Pizza tonda, also called Scrocchiarella, has a more classic look. Tonda, which means round or circular in Italian, shares a similarly thin and crispy crust to pizza al taglio but is rolled into an individually sized round pizza. The crackly thin crust is baked until charred in spots and has a light texture. 

Crust: The crust for pizza al taglio and tonda is part of the signature style. There is olive oil in the dough, which helps it crisp, and the dough rises slowly in the refrigerator to create an airy yet strong structure. Pizza al taglio does not proof in the large pan that it’s baked in, which helps it stay thin and not rise into a breadier crust. 

Toppings: Pizza al taglio has a lot of different topping options and isn’t bound by guidelines the way Neapolitan pizza is. You may find pizzas with pesto, sopressata, potato, or artichokes. A shop selling pizza al taglio will usually have plenty of different options. Similarly, pizza tonda can be as minimal as tomato sauce and a sprinkle of hard cheese, like Pecorino Romano, or hold vegetables, cheese, and meats. The toppings will not be added with a heavy hand, however, because the crust is so thin that too much would weigh it down. 

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California-Style Pizza

California-style pizza is one of the more nebulous types on this list because it’s not defined by a certain crust, topping, or construction. The style was born in the 1980s with chefs like Ed LaDou at Spago and Alice Waters at Chez Panisse who were cooking with local California ingredients and integrating them into classic dishes, like pizza. This was also the beginning of California Pizza Kitchen, which opened in 1985 with LaDou, who was responsible for developing the initial menu and their now-signature pizza, The Original BBQ Chicken Pizza

Crust: The crust on a California-style pizza is the least interesting part of the pie. There is nothing particularly unique about it, although that doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious, crisp, light, and a bit chewy. Rolled into a circle, it is on the thinner side, close to a New York-style pie, but is mostly there as a vehicle for the toppings. 

Toppings: This is where California-style pizza shines. Pulling on the diverse culture and wide array of ingredients that thrive on the West Coast, everything is welcome, from avocado, goat cheese, artichokes, or fruit to Mexican-inspired ingredients. 

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St. Louis-Style Pizza

St. Louis-style pizza spurs a lot of strong opinions. From the unique, thin, unleavened crust to the gooey cheese called Provel that goes on top, it’s a style unlike any other. Ino’s is the original spot in St. Louis credited for creating St. Louis-style pizza. The round pizza is cut vertically and then horizontally into squares, which are sturdier in holding all the heavy toppings than a long, wide triangle. 

Crust: The thin crust on a St. Louis-style pizza differs from other thin crust pizzas because it has no yeast. The lack of yeast makes the crust closer to a cracker. It is dense and sturdy, which helps it hold all the heavy toppings (a necessity, as the crust is totally covered by the sauce and toppings that are spread from edge to edge).

Toppings: All the traditional toppings are welcome on a St. Louis-style pizza, and in generous amounts. Regardless of the meat or vegetables, a St. Louis-style pizza features Provel cheese instead of mozzarella. Provel is a processed cheese that originated in St. Louis in the 1940s. Made up of cheddar, provolone, and Swiss, it melts at a lower temperature than mozzarella, adding a soft and creamy texture as well as a particular flavor, which many have a love-hate relationship with.  

Quad City-Style Pizza

The Quad Cities are a cluster of cities on the border of Southeastern Iowa and Northwestern Illinois that are home to a unique style of pizza. According to the tourist website for Quad Cities, what makes Quad Cities-style pizza unique is a combination of the cut of the pie, the assembly, and the crust ingredients, plus the fact that it’s usually cut with long scissors versus a knife or pizza wheel. Although a few different pizza shops claim the creation of the style, they all opened around the same time in the 1950s. 

Crust: The dough has a touch of sweetness from the addition of either molasses or malt syrup. It is rolled to a moderate thickness — neither bready nor thin and crisp. Although it’s baked as a classic round pizza, it’s cut into long rectangles for serving so that each slice gets some crust. 

Toppings: It’s not what goes on the pizza that is a defining characteristic, but how. A Quad City-style pizza will have the toppings underneath a thick top layer of cheese that is well-melted but not heavily browned. Crumbled sausage is a popular topping that is finely broken up and mingles with the sauce so that it feels like a unified meat sauce rather than two separate elements. The sauce is also often spiked with chili flakes for a bit of heat. In addition to classic pizza toppings, Quad Cities also claim Taco Pizza as one of their signature creations. Refried beans and taco-seasoned meat are baked on the pizza and then get a flourish of toppings like shredded lettuce, crushed chips, and taco sauce. 

Rhode Island Pizza

Do not expect to find Rhode Island pizza, also called pizza strip, outside of Rhode Island. You might not even find it at pizzerias in Rhode Island, but at bakeries. The thick, square strip features a slick of tomato sauce over fluffy dough served at room temperature. Pizza strip came about as a way around health inspection violations. By leaving the cheese off, the tomato-topped bread could be kept at room temperature significantly longer, making it easier for patrons to grab a piece to buy on their way out. 

Crust: Pizza strip features a thick, bready base baked in large rectangular pans. The crust on a Rhode Island-style pizza is closer to focaccia than pizza dough due to the height and heft. It stays soft even once cooled to room temperature.  

Toppings: The most straightforward of all the styles, the Rhode Island pizza strip has no toppings. The dough is spread with tomato sauce and maybe a sprinkle of hard cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, baked, and that’s it. The variety between different shops that sell pizza strip comes from how the sauce is flavored, with some being a little sweet and others offering a sharp, bright tomato punch.