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What is Chicago-Style Pizza?

The modern concept of pizza has evolved from flatbread dishes that were created in Naples during the late 18th/ early 19th century. Since this time, the popularity of pizza has spread far and wide and it has become a staple in American cuisine.

taking a slice out of a chicago style pizza

Many restaurants have released their own versions of pizza. In the United States, New York Style pizza and Chicago Style pizza tend to be the most well-known. 

From the pan that it is cooked in, to the way that it is topped, Chicago-style pizza is quite different from the traditional style pizza that many of us have come to know and love. Despite the differences, it is an indulgent dish that is full of flavor. 

If you are yet to try Chicago-style pizza, you may be curious as to what it is and what it includes. We have provided you with a complete guide covering everything that you need to know about this great-tasting pizza. 

The History Of Chicago-Style Pizza

Chicago-style pizza, also known as deep-dish pizza, was invented in 1943 by two entrepreneurs named Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo. They gave themselves the task of creating a pizza that was different from any other style that currently existed. Together they opened a restaurant in Chicago near the North Side neighborhood. The restaurant was called Pizzeria Uno. 

pizzeria uno in chicago home of the chicago style pizza

Following on from the opening of their restaurant, they began to experiment with different creations, introducing a more American flare to the traditional Italian style pizza. The result was a substantial, deep-dish pizza with a crunchy crust and layered toppings. It soon became a huge hit in pizzerias throughout Chicago before eventually gaining popularity across the entire country. 

As a Chicago-born style of pizza, Sewell and Ricardo were successful in achieving their dreams of creating a unique pizza. 

Pizzeria Uno, the original home of the Chicago Style Pizza still exists today and there are over 100 restaurants located in areas such as Columbia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, India, and Qatar. The original restaurant, in particular, is visited by lots of tourists who want to experience walking into the birthplace of this tasty creation. 

The Characteristics Of Chicago-Style Pizza

Now that we have delved into the history of the Chicago-style pizza, it is time to take a look into its characteristics in more detail. 

The Pan

deep dish pan of chicago style pizza

Chicago-style pizza is cooked in a deep dish pan as this will give it its high edges. Often, this style of pizza is referred to as a pizza pie because it is so thick. The deepness of this pizza allows you to layer plenty of toppings. If you do not have a cake or pie pan or hand, you can use an iron skillet or a round steel pan.

The Crust

The crust is made from buttery dough. Before cooking, the dough is prepared and added to a pan that has been coated with oil. The oil will stop the dough from sticking and burning as it cooks.

After partially cooking the dough, the pan is removed from the oven and the toppings are added. It is then put back into the oven until the toppings are thoroughly cooked and the crusts are crispy and flaky. 

Chicago style deep dish cheese pizza on a wooden board.

Although Chicago-style pizza is also referred to as a deep-dish pizza, the crust itself is not that thick. In fact, it is of a thin to medium thickness. It is the toppings that are added during the latter stages which give it more depth. 

How Is Chicago-Style Pizza Made?

A pizza is typically dressed in the following order; the sauce is usually added first as a base, followed by the cheese and the toppings of choice. It is thought that adding them in this order is going to give the toppings a better chance of becoming crispy as they are more exposed to the heat.

Chicago-style pizza, on the other hand, is assembled in reverse order. This is mainly because it is cooked for longer than regular pizza so if the cheese was on top, it is likely that it would burn by the time it’s removed from the oven.

The cheese is then added directly onto the dough followed by the toppings and the tomato sauce. Furthermore, unlike regular pizza where the dough is rounded, the dough of Chicago-style pizza is pressed right to the edge of the pan to make it more pie-like. 

What Toppings Go On A Chicago-Style Pizza?

One of the great things about Chicago-style pizza is that it has a thick base that can hold a few toppings without getting soggy or breaking. Mozzarella is the cheese that is typically used, but if you are making this pizza from home, you can use any cheese of your choice.

In regards to the toppings, you can add a combination of meats and vegetables such as peppers, onions, and mushrooms, or any of your other favorites.

Because this pizza is similar to a pie, it is usually eaten using a knife and fork. As such, you needn’t worry about the base breaking or the toppings falling off and making a mess. If you visit a pizzeria, you will typically find that they have a varied selection of vegetarian-friendly toppings available too. 

What Are The Different Variations Of Chicago-Style Pizza?

Now as we have mentioned, Chicago-style pizza is also referred to as deep pan pizza, however, there are a few other styles that embody Chicago-style pizza qualities. They include pan-style pizza and stuffed pizza. We have identified the qualities of these pizzas below along with ways that they differ from traditional Chicago-style pizza.

Pan Style Pizza

A pan-style pizza is more conventional and less unique than a Chicago-style pizza, however, it still tastes delicious and is bound to satisfy all of your pizza cravings.

chicago pan style pizza

A Chicago pan pizza shares a few similarities to Detroit style and Sicilian pizza. The cheese is layered onto the soft and rather bready base. The sauce is also a lot smoother than the sauce that is used on a deep dish or a stuffed pizza.

Because the cheese is added after the sauce, the pizza should not be left to cook for as long because there is a risk of the cheese burning as it is closer to the heat. 

Stuffed Pizza

This is the second variety of Chicago-style pizza. It is commonly mistaken for a traditional deep-dish pizza as it looks quite similar. Perhaps the most noticeable differences can be identified in the width and the height of the pizza because stuffed pizza is taller than deep dish pizza but it isn’t as wide.

person taking a slice from a stuffed chicago style pizza

A stuffed pizza is unique in the sense that it has two layers of dough. The first layer forms the base whilst the second sits just beneath the layer of sauce. It is then topped with a very generous serving of cheese. It is thought that the concept of the stuffed pizza influenced the shape of the deep dish pizza.

There are many toppings that can be added to a stuffed pizza, however, sausage tends to be the most popular option. The consistency of the sauce is thicker and slightly chunkier than the sauce that is used to make a pan-style pizza. 

Deep Dish

This is the name often used to describe a Chicago-style pizza. As this is a bulkier and more substantial pizza than the previous types, it is recommended for occasions where you are feeling very hungry and capable of devouring a large, thick pizza.

a deep dish pizza

The sauce and ingredients are also quite rich. The crust of a deep-dish pizza is crunchy and sturdy. As such, it can hold the sauce and the toppings without breaking. Due to the way that a deep-dish pizza is cooked, it has a rather oily and buttery taste. This is because the pan is coated with a layer of these fats to prevent the dough from sticking.

Again, this pizza is usually topped with a lot of cheese and the size allows you to be adventurous with your ingredients because if you cannot settle on one; the largeness and thickness of the base means that it will be able to hold a few different toppings.

Just like a few other types of pizza, this variety is topped with cheese first and the sauce is then added afterward. Any additional toppings are then added last. 

Why Is Chicago-Style Pizza So Popular?

There are many reasons why Chicago-style pizza is loved by many. Of course, it’s not going to be everyone’s favorite but there are several notable reasons as to why it has gained so much popularity. 

It’s Shareable

As I’m sure we are all aware, pizza is a food that is often consumed in groups or at parties. Whilst some smaller/thinner pizzas can be enjoyed by one person, a deep-dish pizza is larger and more substantially fille, therefore it is going to be more difficult to eat alone. For this reason, it is a great pizza for sharing with others.

It Tastes Great

Perhaps the most obvious reason as to why Chicago-style pizza is so popular is because it tastes great. Even if it isn’t your favorite, you cannot dispute that the layers of toppings create a delicious pizza.

The sauce that is applied to the base adds a sweet taste with tangy undertones. Just like any other style of pizza, it is very versatile in regards to what it can be topped with. As it is so generously topped there is going to be lots of flavor in every bite. 

It Doesn’t Get Soggy

A common issue with thin-based pizzas is sogginess. If a lot of toppings are added to a thin crust, depending on what you add, as they cook they may release juices which are going to cause it to become soggy. However, this needn’t be a concern with a Chicago-style pizza because it is made with a super thick crust.

Because of this, you can add a few different toppings without having to worry about being greeted with a soggy-based pizza as you bite into it. Furthermore, because the pizza tends to be quite big, if you cannot decide on one topping, you can add a few different types. 

Making Chicago-Style Pizza At Home

Although there are lots of restaurants that serve Chicago-style pizza, it is also pretty easy to make from home. There are many recipes online that you can follow.

Making your own version isn’t only going to allow you to develop your culinary skills, it also enables you to be more adventurous with what you add to it. 

Below we have provided you with some tips that will help you to rustle up a flavorsome homemade Chicago-style pizza. 

Use The Right Dough For The Job

The dough forms the base and crust of the pizza so you must make sure that you make it correctly. The unique crust is what sets it apart from the other styles of pizza. It needs to be thick and strong enough to hold the weight of the toppings that you are going to be adding.

person making pizza dough

Ideally, you should allow the dough to rise more than once. If it rises multiple times it is going to become nice and fluffy and this is going to make it easier to work with. It is important to consider what type of pizza you intend to make.

A stuffed pizza has two layers of dough. The first layer is going to be thicker than the second layer so you will need to remember this when you are preparing and rolling out the dough. 

Take Your Time Making The Sauce

As stated, the cheese, sauce, and toppings are added in reverse order. Although the sauce may not be added first as it would be on a traditional pizza, you still need to allocate plenty of time to ensure that it is made to perfection.

It is important to remember that there are a lot of stages involved in creating a sauce. Besides stirring the sauce, you need to make sure that all of your ingredients are chopped up and seasoned ready for cooking. The sauce is going to be hugely influential on the overall taste of the pizza so it needs to be right. 

Cook It For The Right Amount of Time

wood-fired pizza oven

Cooking your pizza for an insufficient amount of time will influence the quality of the final product. You must make sure that you keep track of the time from the moment that you insert it into your oven.

This type of pizza will take a little longer to cook due to the way it is assembled and how the ingredients are layered. As the cheese is on top, it is going to take longer for the toppings below to cook through.

Ensure that you properly grease the pan before placing the pizza onto it because this will avoid any possibilities of it burning. 

It is also worth preheating the oven before you start the process of preparing and assembling your pizza because it will then be warm and ready for when you have put your pizza together. 

Famous Restaurants That Serve Chicago-Style Pizza

Many restaurants are famous for creating and serving delicious Chicago-style pizza. If you are ever near any, they are certainly worth visiting.

Of course, one of the most well-known places is Pizzeria Uno. This is the restaurant that originally introduced the concept of a Chicago-style pizza and it remains hugely popular to this day.

pizzeria uno sign

Louis Pizza and Pasta is another restaurant that is worth mentioning. All of the ingredients that they use to make their dishes are locally sourced. Since its establishment, it has become a favorite amongst residents of the small town of Crestwood in Illinois.

If you’ve never tried Chicago-Style pizza before, you’re doing your tastebuds a major disservice. Luckily, now that you’ve read this guide, you can get right to either making your own or ordering one from a pizzeria. Either way, you’re surely in for a treat!

Got any good tips or tricks for making a Chicago-style pizza? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll check it out!

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.