At its very core, pizza consists of three main items: sauce, toppings, and dough (or four, if you're like me and put cheese in its own category).
Amazingly, this simple mix of ingredients has mutated into hundreds of variations and created a $30 billion industry worldwide along with a cadre of pizza makers and chefs who have made perfecting this single dish their life's mission.
While there may be an estimated 30 types of pizza, below is a list of the most popular varieties.
This is the pizza that first migrated from Italy to the United States. It is also the dish that launched pizza fanaticism in the US. In fact, Italy has asked UNESCO for heritage protection of this tasty pie. Made from Tipo 00 wheat flour, the dough bakes up into a thin, crunchy crust. This is a minimalist pizza with very few toppings — sauce, cheese, and basil — so that the crust doesn't become soggy.
The dough base of the California-style pizza is similar to that of the Neapolitan or New York-style, but that's where the similarities ends. California-style adds a twist with uncommon ingredients such as smoked salmon and duck sausage.
This pizza style is attributed to Chef Ed LaDou, who created a pizza with red peppers, mustard, ricotta, and pate that caught the attention and taste buds of Chef Wolfgang Puck. Chef Puck hired LaDou to work at his then-new restaurant Spago, and the rest is history. Chef LaDou also created the BBQ chicken pizza for the first California Pizza Kitchen menu, bringing California-style pizza to the rest of the nation.
Chicago Deep Dish
As you might guess just from the name, deep-dish pizza originated in Chicago. In the deep-dish pizza, the crust lines a deep dish that is similar to a metal cake pan. The pizza has a medium-thick crust and a thick layer of toppings.
Because the resulting pie is so thick, it needs a longer baking time, meaning that if the cheese was added on top it would burn. So, the pizza is assembled upside down, with the cheese, meats, and vegetables directly on the crust and uncooked tomato sauce as the final layer. Thus, the vegetables and meats cook through without burning the cheese.
A twist on deep-dish pizza is stuffed pizza. This is an even deeper pizza with a greater topping density than any other style of pizza. To keep this plethora of toppings and cheese under control, a thin layer of dough is placed above the tomato sauce with vents in the crust to let the steam escape, just like a pie, and then additional tomato sauce is added on top. The options are endless, from meat stuffed to Hawaiian pizza, veggies or the works.
Chicago Thin Crust
A Chicago Thin Crust Pizza is crunchier and crispier than New York-style and usually cut into squares instead of diagonal slices—just to be different. Some variations of this style use a spicier sauce, copious amounts of meat, and are cut into squares or strips.
An up-and-comer on the popularity list, Detroit-style pizza is a deep-dish pizza baked in a square pan, in much the same way as Sicilian pizza, with marinara sauce often served on top. The pan is well-oiled so that the crust develops its crunchy caramelized edges.
New England Greek
The Greek pizza crust is somewhere between crunchy New York and thick Sicilian. It is baked in a heavily greased cast iron pan which creates a golden, thick, crunchy crust. The pizza is often covered in typical Greek ingredients including feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and artichokes, although a simple pie with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce is also common.
New York Thin
Created in the early 1900s, the New York-style pizza is the variation closest to the Neapolitan pizza. It has a thin, crunchy crust with the perfect balance of grated mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. This balance is key, because the crust can easily be overloaded and become soggy. This pizza is traditionally eaten folded over.
St. Louis-style is a further variation of the New York pizza. Its thin, cracker-like crust is made without yeast and it is topped with Provel cheese. Provel cheese is a combination of mozzarella, cheddar, and provolone cheeses popular in the St. Louis area.
New Jersey-Style Tomato Pie
Created in the early 1900s in Philadelphia, (not to be confused with the Philly cheese steak pizza,) this pie differs from New York-style in the placement of its toppings. The cheese and toppings are under the sauce, and because of this, the dominant flavor is the sweet and tart tomatoes that sit on top of the pie.