Pizza

How to Make Detroit-Style Pizza: The Crust- (and Cheese-) Lover's Dream

November 17, 2017

I have long been intrigued by Detroit-style pan pizza. It is the platypus of pizza: seemingly composed of disparate parts of other regional pizzas, but, in the end, its own distinct breed. It takes the spongy, honeycombed crust of a Sicilian grandma slice, and pairs with the cheese-toppings-sauce Chicago layering method and a ton of cheese from Wisconsin. And guess what—it works. Cheese fanatics and lasagna corner-lovers, you have just met your ideal pizza.

Under that blanket of sauce? So, so much crispy bread & cheese. Photo by Mark Weinberg

In researching Detroit-style pan pizza recipes, I started, as I often do, with one from the ever-thorough culinary Science Guy himself, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. He, I think accurately, categorizes it as (and I'm paraphrasing here): "not an everyday pizza, not an every-week pizza, and maybe not even an every-month pizza, but damn, is it a good pizza".

After reading this intro, I became a bit anxious; did this mean that the recipe was going to be painstaking or difficult or call for overly-obscure ingredients? Upon making it, I discovered, to my relief, that Detroit-style pan pizza is actually quite easy to put together: the dough takes a few hours, but most of that is hands-off rising time, and while some of the ingredients (Brick cheese, I'm looking at you) are tricky to find, the recipe has a generous amount of wiggle room for substitutions.

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Overall, it is a damn good pizza—one that's almost more like the cheesy bread of your dreams than pizza. Not that I'm complaining. It's also a pizza that I argue you should make this weekend. Because winter, because dark, early evenings, because just scroll back up and look at those bronzed, chewy corners. No one doesn't need those in their life.


the pan(s)

Most recipes calls for pizza to be baked in the traditional Detroit-style anodized pizza pan, a modern version of the industrial blue steel ones originally used as utility trays in Motory City factories. If you don't want to purchase a specialty piece of equipment, you can easily use a 9x13-inch baking pan or spread the dough between two 8x8-inch square baking dishes; try to select ones with dark surfaces, which increases heat conduction and helps form that crispy, bronzed crust we all so covet.


the cheese(s)

If you want to be traditional with your Detroit-style pizza, you've got to track down the elusive Wisconsin Brick Cheese. Fatty, creamy, and relatively mild, this cheese melts very well, spreading out to coat the whole pizza in a crispy, golden crust. Wisconsin Brick cheese is also surprisingly difficult to find, at least outside of the Midwest. I had to call four supermarkets and two cheese shops before finally striking gold. It's not cheap either; my 7-ounce block cost me almost $7. If you don't live in an area with good cheese selection and still want to stick to tradition, ordering Brick cheese online might be your best bet.

Fortunately, if you don't have the time or energy to search for hard-to-find dairy products, you can easily fashion a substitute by combining two cheeses common to every grocery store: cheddar (mild, preferably from Wisconsin) and low-moisture shredded Mozzarella. The flavor will not be the same, but it is still pretty darn great. Some chefs also choose to cover the whole thing with an additional sprinkling of Parmesan before it goes in the oven, to which I am certainly not opposed.

Pepperoni and cheese: the classic pairing. Photo by Mark Weinberg

the toppings

To top or not to top? That was... the question that I asked myself as I made this pizza. Most Detroit-style pan pizzas I found called for either no toppings or pepperoni, typically smoked, with the occasional mushrooms, peppers, jalapenos, or sausage. If you want to get a little wild, you could also add wilted greens, caramelized onions, or sliced olives. For my inaugural venture into the world of Detroit-style pizza, I kept things simple and nixed the toppings.

If you want to add some, you have another decision to make: placement. Some places put their toppings underneath the cheese, Chicago deep-dish-style, which flavors the crust, while others place their add-ins on top of the cheese so that they get nicely charred. Still others say yolo and do both. I'll leave the decision up to you, but remember: this pizza is chiefly about the cheese blanket and chewy, bronzed crust, so don't go overboard in the toppings department.


the sauce

The sauce was my biggest issue with Detroit-style pizza. Most recipes I researched called for crushed or food milled tomatoes combined with some combination of garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, sugar, and spice. A proponent of simple, uncooked tomato sauces on pizza, I had to put my prejudices aside on this one and just trust that Detroit knows best. I did, however, make some tweaks to the sauce recipes I found to reduce the sugar, put in real garlic instead of garlic powder, and balance the whole thing with a hefty shake of red pepper flakes. Sacrilege? Maybe. Mea culpa.

There are also varying instructions on how and when the sauce should be applied to the pizza: Before it's cooked or after? In two lines or three? On the side for dipping? (Okay, that last one was just me, but I think it would be good.) I opted to dollop the sauce in two rows onto the pizza after it was done cooking, to promote maximum cheese bronzing. However you apply your sauce, make sure to slice your pizza so that each piece gets some.

All sauced up, ready to go. Photo by Mark Weinberg

go forth and pizza

Now that you've done your homework, you're ready to dive headfirst into the thick-crust, chewy-cheese experience that is Detroit-style pan pizza. Invite some friends over, toss together a lemony salad, and open up some wine—a pizza this good deserves to be shared.

Are you loyal to a particular regional style of pizza? New York? Chicago? Detroit? Tell us in the comments!

1 Comment

inpatskitchen November 19, 2017
Love Detroit style pizza and make it frequently. When I can't find Brick Cheese I sub Mozz with either Munster or Monterey Jack.