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What is Detroit Style Pizza?

As a city, Detroit is known for making great-tasting pizza and many Michiganders would argue that Detroit-style pizza is the best around. This square-shaped pizza is traditionally topped with tomato sauce and a generous amount of strong brick cheese that reaches the edges.

The thick crust is made from airy dough and has a crispy texture. Toppings such as slices of pepperoni have a tendency to curl up into miniature cups as they cook. 

detroit style pan pizza with sauce on top

Detroit style pizza is a descendant of Sicilian style pizza and its origins trace back to the year of 1946. It was the creation of a man named Gus Guerra who owned the neighborhood bar known as Buddy’s Rendezvous. He wanted to introduce something new to the menu.

The pan that it is cooked in is what makes this pizza unique to other types. In recent times, many restaurants have now put their own spin on the traditional concept of Detroit style pizza. 

Below, we have covered everything that you need to know about Detroit style pizza from the terms that are used to describe it and the best places to enjoy it. 

The Dough 

The dough of Detroit style pizza shares many similar qualities to Sicilian sfincione; a focaccia that is also cooked inside a rectangular pan. The toppings are pressed into the dough of the focaccia before the sauce. 

Unlike the dough of other types of pizza, the dough of Detroit style pizza is not chewy. Instead, it is light with an airy inside and a crunchy exterior. It is created through the perfect balance of water and flour which helps to keep it hydrated and it can easily be made from home. 

The dough of this pizza is typically doubled proofed and this means that it is going to rise better and it is also going to be more versatile when it comes to stretching and shaping it. 

The Shape Of The Pizza

Also known as the ‘Detroit- style square’, this pizza is recognized for its iconic shape that sets it apart from other traditional round pizzas. Although it may appear more rectangular than square at first glance, it does in fact have a square-shaped structure.

It is often mistaken for a deep dish pizza, however, there are noticeable differences between both. The latter bears a closer resemblance to a pie rather than a pizza. This shape is achieved by cooking the pizza in a square-shaped steel pan. 

The Red Top Pizza

The toppings are added to a Detroit style pizza in a unique order. Traditionally, the pepperoni is added to the dough first followed by the cheese and then the sauce.

There are many recipes that recommend adding the sauce once the pizza has been removed from the oven because doing so gives it its red top. You can either add the sauce in stripes or you can add blotchy spoonfuls.

Any additional toppings are added after the cheese before the sauce. The meat is put directly onto the base because as it cooks, the crust will absorb its juices and this gives it more flavor. 

It is thought that adding the ingredients in reverse order will prevent the base of the pizza from becoming soggy. Because the meat is added first, it isn’t going to be as crispy as some may expect, but the mouthwateringly gooey cheese is going to make up for this. 

Add toppings to your pizza that you enjoy. Whilst some may prefer to stick with a more basic combination of cheese and tomato sauce, others may choose to add a few different types of meat.

If pepperoni doesn’t appeal to you, why not add some bacon or sausage instead. Regardless of the toppings that you choose, you can enjoy feasting on a great-tasting pizza.

A Detroit style pizza that you are served in a restaurant will usually be seasoned. The seasonings will ensure that there is a lot of flavor in every bite. 

In some cases, the cheese will be added and then the pepperoni will be added (or other toppings of your choice) before the sauce. Essentially, the order that the toppings are added will depend on the recipe that you have chosen to follow.

The Cheese

Most traditional pizza recipes call for the use of mozzarella cheese, however, Detroit style pizza is usually topped with Wisconsin brick cheese.

The existence of this cheese dates back to the 1870s but it has recently garnered more attention due to the increasing popularity of this type of pizza. Wisconsin brick cheese is semi-soft with a mild cheddar taste. It also has a higher fat content than mozzarella.

The cheese on a Detroit-style pizza will typically reach the edges. As it melts it will begin to caramelize and add to the crispiness of the crust. 

A lot of restaurants will refrain from buttering or oiling the pan before adding the dough. Instead, they will use the fat that the cheese releases as it cooks.

This is then going to give the base of the pizza a delicious, buttery texture. The taste of the tomato sauce and the brick cheese complement one another well. 

The Pan That It Is Cooked In 

The pan that you cook your pizza in is going to play a crucial role in creating the square shape and airy dough.

Many restaurants use industrial grade steel pans that are deep with angled sides. Before the dough is added, the pan should be brushed with some olive oil. This will prevent it from burning or drying out. 

Ideally, the sides should angle outwards so that the area of the top of the pan is greater than the base. The dough will then fill the base of the pan and the crusts are going to be more exposed so they will become crispy. 

If you want to make this pizza from home but cannot get your hands on an industrial grade steel pan, an aluminum pan will suffice. Detroit style pizza pans generally tend to be available in two sizes.

An 8 by 10” pan is going to create a smaller pizza with a four-slice yield. The second option is a 10 by 14” pan which will yield a pizza with 8 slices.  

How Is Detroit Style Pizza Eaten?

Although you can eat pizza using your hands, it is now becoming increasingly common for pizza to be eaten using cutlery.

As the dough of Detroit style pizza is thick and layered with toppings, using a knife and fork will make it easier to cut and will ensure that you get plenty of toppings with each bite.

Using cutlery means that you can enjoy eating your pizza without having to worry about it making a mess. Nowadays, in many restaurants, a lot more people are choosing to use a knife and fork to eat their pizza because it is a neater way of dining.

Alternatively, you may prefer to use a knife and fork to cut the pizza and then pick it up to eat with your hands. 

Where Are The Best Places To Enjoy Detroit Style Pizza?

There are numerous pizzeria restaurants and parlors scattered around the United States, many of which are located in Detroit. Some of these restaurants are more well-known than others.

For example, Buddy’s Rendezvous is recognized as the original inventor of this style of pizza. As the years passed, the founder of this restaurant along with some of the employees went on to open their own pizza restaurants.

Whilst Buddy’s will always be recognized as the original inventor of Detroit Style Pizza, many restaurants have now put their own twist on the recipe and released their own interpretations which are based on the original concept. 

Buddy’s Pizza

Founded in 1946, Buddy’s Rendezvous is home to Detroit style pizza. ‘The Detroiter’ is the restaurant’s signature pizza. It is made from Wisconsin brick cheese, pepperoni, tomato basil sauce, and parmesan.

It is then finished with Buddy’s blend of Sicilian spices. The combination of these ingredients go together very well to create a great-tasting pizza. 

Originally, Buddy’s opened as a speakeasy up until the owner decided to transform his bar into an actual restaurant. The chain now consists of eleven restaurants and employs over 700 individuals, however, the location of these restaurants is primarily focused within the metro Detroit area.

It is now highly ranked and regarded as one of the best pizzerias in the United States. The walls inside the restaurant are also lined with many of the awards that they have received since creating this pizza. 

Cloverleaf Pizza Restaurant

This pizza restaurant was founded in 1953 by the owner of Buddy’s pizza and the original creator of the Detroit style pizza; Gus Guerra.

After separating from his partners of Buddy’s Rendezvous, he went on to take over the Cloverleaf Bar and restaurant which was located in East Detroit. It appealed to families who lived in the small neighborhood and wanted to try this signature pizza. 

Impressively, the Cloverleaf menu consists of a selection of gluten-free pizza options, so there is something available for everyone to enjoy.

Along with their original recipes, this restaurant has worked hard to create pizzas that cater to individuals with special dietary requirements. The dough is still packed full of the same flavor that the original recipe is known for along with a delicious crust. 

Cloverleaf pizzas are now available at several locations where you can either dine-in or take out. 

Loui’s Pizza

Loui’s Pizza is regarded as one of the best places to visit if you would like to try some Detroit style pizza. They pride themselves on providing healthy, fresh food at an affordable price.

This restaurant was founded in 1977 by a chef that worked at Buddy’s Rendezvous for a lengthy period of time. As such, there are a few similarities between the pizzas sold at both restaurants. 

The menu here consists of much more than just pizza as they also serve fish and chips, all-day breakfasts, and salads. Just like Cloverleaf, they also have options on the menu that are gluten-free. 

This restaurant is a favorite amongst families in particular. In regards to the decor, the glass tables are covered with checkered tablecloths and the booth-style seating emulates the feeling of being in a diner.

Hundreds of empty Chianti bottles hang from the ceiling in woven baskets. During the Christmas season, the inside of the restaurant is decorated with festive lights. 

Shield’s Restaurant Bar Pizzeria

The Shield’s Pizza Bar was originally founded in 1937. Sometime after its establishment, it started serving the square, Detroit style pizza that many old pizzerias in the city had become known for.

It was taken over by the Andoni brothers in 1992 and since this time its presence has grown with three restaurants located in Metro Detroit. 

Impressively, this restaurant has been voted as one of the best creators of pizza in Detroit. The thick pizza dough is generously decorated with some great tasting toppings and they also have a varied menu consisting of appetizers, burgers, salads, sandwiches, soups, and dinners.

You also have the option to create your own pizza choosing from a range of toppings, meats, vegetables, and sauces. 

There you have it, everything you need to know about Detroit style pizza. The texture of the dough and the way that the cheese, toppings, and sauce are layered are the main factors that distinguish it from other styles of pizza.

Although it was invented at the Buddy’s Rendezvous restaurant, the popularity of this pizza is now rather widespread and since this time, it has become a popular addition to menus in many other restaurants.

Along with the four restaurants that we have listed above, there are lots of other places that you can visit to try this delicious pizza.

If you enjoy cooking, you will be pleased to know that this pizza can easily be made from home too so you don’t always have to visit a restaurant to satisfy your Detroit-style pizza cravings.  

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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.