Detroit-Style vs. Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

  • 7 min read

If there's one thing that can spark a heated debate among pizza enthusiasts, it's the classic clash of Detroit versus Chicago pizza. These two titans of the pizza world each boast a unique style that has captured the hearts (and stomachs) of many. 

While both pizzas feature a deep, hearty crust and plenty of cheese, they are very different in many ways. In this post, we'll take a look at the history of Detroit and Chicago pizza, and break down the top 5 differences that make these pizzas stand out from each other.

Origination and Style

Before we start with the origins of these two iconic pizzas, it's important to thank New York City for bringing Italian pizza flair to the United States.  The roots of New York-style pizza can be traced back to the early 20th century when Italian immigrants brought their pizza-making traditions to the US. Lombardi's, often regarded as the first pizzeria in the United States, opened in New York City in 1905 and is credited with popularizing the New York-style pizza.

Chicago pizza, particularly the deep-dish variety, has a later origin. Pizzeria Uno, located in Chicago, is often credited with creating the first deep-dish pizza in the 1940s. The deep-dish style gained popularity in Chicago during the mid-20th century.

It is believed that Chicago-style pizza was invented by a pair of Italian immigrants seeking to make a pizza that would appeal to the city's working-class population. The pizza quickly became famous for its thick, doughy crust and hearty toppings.


Chicago Style Pizza

Detroit pizza on the other hand, has a more recent origin. The style is commonly associated with the city of Detroit (Motor City) and is said to have been created in the mid-20th century.

The rectangular, deep-dish pizzas with a thick, crispy crust became popular in Detroit during the 1940s and 1950s. Legend has it that the pizza was born out of necessity, as chefs would use the deep, rectangular pans originally used to hold spare parts during assembly line construction.

The sides of the pan were then covered in butter and the crust is cooked until crispy. This creates a unique texture that is a signature of Detroit-style pizza crust.


Square pizza Detroit-style

Despite their similarities, Detroit and Chicago pizza are very different in many ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is the pan in which they are cooked - Detroit pizza is cooked in a shallow rectangular pan, while Chicago pizza is cooked in a deep-dish round pan.

Detroit-style pie is also thinner than its Chicago counterpart, and is more crispy and chewy. Chicago pizza, meanwhile, is known for its thick, doughy crust that can be up to two inches high!  Talk about the ultimate thick-crusted pizzas.

Let's look at the Top 5 Differences 

  1. Crust Wars: Deep Dish vs. Detroit-Style

    • Chicago (The Windy City Wow): The deep-dish royalty! Chicago pizza is synonymous with its thick, buttery crust that cradles a saucy, cheesy heaven. It's a veritable pizza fortress, ready to tackle your hunger with its hearty layers. The deep-dish crust in Chicago pizza is a buttery fortress of indulgence. Made with a combination of flour, cornmeal, and butter, it's a sturdy foundation for the pizza's towering toppings. Some might even argue that the crust is a separate dish on its own – a buttery canvas for culinary artistry.
    • Detroit (Motor City Magic): Enter the Detroit square pie, known for its crispy, chewy, and thicker crust that's practically a flavor sponge. The secret? It's baked in a square pan, creating those irresistibly crunchy edges. It's like a pizza and a panini had a beautiful, doughy love child. Detroit pizza crust is a unique blend of chewy and crunchy. Made with a high-hydration dough, it gets its crispy edges from the square pan in which it's baked. The result is a golden, caramelized crust that adds a delightful crunch to every bite.
  2. Cheese Chronicles: Chicago vs. Detroit Edition

    • Chicago (The Cheese Crown): IIn the Windy City deep-dish kingdom, mozzarella cheese is the undisputed crown jewel. The cheese is added before the red sauce so that it won't burn during the longer cooking times required for this pie. It's often a whole-milk mozzarella that adds a creamy texture to the already indulgent pizza.
    • Detroit (Undercover Cheese): Detroit pizza is a master of disguise. The cheese hides beneath the sauce, forming a delightful blend of flavors. It's like a pizza secret society, where the cheese works undercover to surprise your taste buds. Often a blend of Wisconsin brick cheese and provolone, it hides beneath the sauce, creating a gooey, melty layer that fuses with the crust. The provolone brings a tangy, sharp flavor that complements the overall experience of the traditional detroit-style pizza.
  3. Sauce Sensations: Chunky vs. Saucy Smooth

    • Chicago (Chunky Tomato Tango): The sauce in Chicago pizza is a celebration of chunky tomatoes, garlic, and oregano. It's robust, zesty, and often chunkier than a salsa at a summer barbecue. The tomatoes play a starring role, delivering a burst of freshness that cuts through the richness of the cheese and the hearty crust.
    • Detroit (Saucy Smooth Operator): In Detroit-style pizza, the sauce takes a smoother route, covering the pizza with a velvety layer of tomato goodness.  It's smoother, sometimes sweetened, and delicately seasoned. The sauce in Detroit pizza acts as the supporting actor, gracefully enhancing the overall flavor profile without stealing the spotlight. It's a perfect balance to the crispy crust, creating a harmony of textures in every bite. 
  4. Topping Territory: Edge-to-Edge or Center Stage?

    • Chicago (Topping Kingdom): Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is a playground for toppings. From the classic sausage and pepperoni to gourmet variations like spinach and artichoke, the Windy City knows how to load up a pizza. The toppings are a colorful array that transforms each slice of pizza into a flavor explosion.
    • Detroit (Centered Excellence): Detroit pizza takes a more measured approach to toppings. While it doesn't shy away from flavor, The toppings are often strategically placed at the center, ensuring that each bite captures the essence of the chosen ingredients. It's a lesson in simplicity and balance.
  5. Serving Style: Slices vs. Squares

    • Chicago (Slice of Skyline): Chicago pizza is often served in hefty slices that require a fork and knife to tackle. It's a meal in itself, a commitment to flavor that can't be rushed.
    • Detroit (Square Dance): Detroit pizza comes in squares, making it perfect for sharing (or not, we won't judge). The square shape slices offer a satisfying crunch and a perfect ratio of toppings to crust in every bite.


Ingredient Differences

While both Detroit and Chicago pizza share some similarities, there are also major differences between the two. The ingredients are a big part of what sets these pizzas apart. For both pizzas, the dough recipe is similar, made with flour, yeast, salt, and water.

However, Detroit pizza dough has a higher hydration level than Chicago pizza dough, giving it a more airy and light texture. The cheese used in Detroit pizza is usually Wisconsin brick cheese, while Chicago pizza uses a combination of mozzarella and provolone cheese.

Detroit pizza has a rectangular shape because its cooked in a steel or aluminum pan and has a thick crust that's crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The toppings are layered in reverse order, with cheese on the bottom and sauce on top. This pizza is known for its edges that are caramelized and crispy.

Chicago style pizza has a deep, dense crust and is cooked in a high-sided pan. It's also known as "deep dish pizza" and takes longer to bake than other pizza types. The crust is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and it's loaded with cheese, sauce, and toppings. Chicago deep dish pizza is known for its abundance of sauce and cheese, which often spills over the edges of the crust.

In terms of pizza sauce, Detroit style pizza often has a slightly sweeter sauce made with canned tomatoes, while Chicago pizza has a thicker and chunkier sauce. The toppings on Detroit pizza are typically spread in an even layer, while the Chicago pizza is known for its abundance of toppings. One popular topping for Chicago pizza is Italian sausage, which is crumbled and spread over the pizza, while Detroit pizza often features pepperoni or bacon.

The Science of Cheese Placement

In both Chicago and Detroit styles, the decision to place the cheese beneath the toppings and sauce serves a purpose. In a Chicago deep-dish pizza, it creates a protective barrier, preventing the crust from becoming overly soggy and ensuring a delightful interplay of textures. The mozzarella's creamy meltiness melds with the toppings and sauce, creating a flavor symphony.

In the Detroit-style pizza recipe, the cheese placement strategy is akin to a culinary magic trick. By hiding beneath the sauce, the blend of Wisconsin brick cheese and provolone surprises the taste buds with its unique combination of sharpness and richness. The cheese becomes an undercover agent, enhancing the overall experience without stealing the show.

In the end, whether you're savoring the mozzarella majesty of Chicago or the Wisconsin provolone prowess of Detroit, the cheese in these iconic pizza styles plays a crucial role in delivering a slice of pizza perfection. So, cheese lovers, rejoice, and take another bite into the deliciously cheesy rivalry between Chicago and Detroit pizza!

Detroit style pizza

Choosing Your Favorite Pizza Pie

As the battle of Chicago versus Detroit pizza rages on, it's clear that these cities have crafted their own unique pizza identities. Whether you're savoring the chunky tomatoes of Chicago or the undercover provolone of Detroit, one thing is certain – pizza lovers have plenty to celebrate in both these iconic styles. 

Both Detroit and Chicago pizza styles are unique and delicious in their own ways. Whether you prefer a crispy, chewy Detroit-style pizza or a hearty, doughy Chicago-style pizza crust, there's no denying that both dishes are beloved by pizza lovers all over the world. Regardless of which type of pizza you prefer, both Detroit and Chicago pizza are delicious options that are sure to satisfy your pizza cravings. 

In the end, whether you're on #TeamChicago or #TeamDetroit, one thing's for sure – the pizza scene is richer for having these two heavyweights. So, grab a slice (or square) of your favorite, take a bite, and let your taste buds decide the winner in this delicious pizza showdown!

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