The winner isn’t what I thought it would be.
They say pizza is like sex: Even when it’s bad, it’s pretty darn good. Toss some pepperoni on there, and this fact is exponentially true. Or is it?
I’ll happily admit that I’m a pizza snob. A working restaurant critic, my hobbies include making pizza myself in my Ooni oven and traveling to try the best pies around the world. I realized that delivery wouldn’t come with the carnal rush of a long-fermented, hot-out-of-the-oven crust layered with craft ingredients. But I was curious to see which big national purveyor would come closest.
Like the all-American chains that flourish from sea to shining sea, pepperoni is a relatively recent innovation and one born in the United States. It first appeared in New York around 1919, though some pizza historians believe that the spicy dry sausage was first baked onto a pie a year later in New Haven, Connecticut. Now it appears on more than 30 percent of pizzas ordered around the country.
Over four nights, I eagerly awaited delivery from the big four pizza chains: Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut. I took copious notes and photos, all in an attempt to be as scientific as possible to find compare them and find out which one is the best. Here’s what I learned.
The Best Chain Pepperoni Pizzas, Ranked
#4 Papa John’s
I had never tried this chain before, but nonetheless, it conjured memories from grade school. The sweet crust with its lack of elasticity or crunch, lightly covered in equally saccharine sauce, was a doppelganger for what I was served on my second-grade pizza days.
A light lacework of cheese blanketed the sweet-on-sweet base. It didn’t stretch as I pulled apart the slices. This disappointing showing was improved by the pepperoni, the spiciest of all the pizzas I tried. Though they weren’t crisp, they further benefited from the inclusion of a single pepperoncino, which my husband and I chopped up and spread on our slices. I can’t say the same for the highly artificial garlic butter that was also in the box.
#3 Little Caesar’s
It had been decades since the single time I tried a “Hot-n-ready” pizza while living in rural Vermont. It was better than I remembered. The pepperoni were the crispiest of the bunch, with a hint of cupping that made each bite extra compelling. I also liked the heavy hand with the sauce, which wasn’t excessively sweet like Papa John’s.
The problem? The texture of the crust was the worst of the four, a bland, foamy mouthful that reminded me of biting into my extra-thick yoga mat.
My boyfriend in my early twenties worked at Domino’s. At the time, it was so bad that I wouldn’t let him bring a pizza home with him. But a few years later, in 2008, the chain completely revamped its recipe and I hadn’t tried it since. This was the order I dreaded most, but resulted in a very pleasant surprise.
The new-to-me crust was toothsome in a way that almost mimicked artisan pizza. The sauce, though lightly applied, was neither sweet nor over seasoned. The pepperoni were densely portioned and slightly crispy. The primary reason this pie didn’t place first was its base of cornmeal. The hard grains acted like nails on a blackboard to my teeth, making every bite a mild assault to my nervous system.
#1 Pizza Hut
The rivalry between Pizza Hut and Domino’s is real. Choosing between these two pies was a tough call. The thick, chewy crust, complete with bubbles, however, scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had. The pockmarked cheese was on the heavy side, but didn’t obscure the impact of the liberally applied, crisp-edged pepperoni. I could live without the heavy dose of oregano in the sauce, but appreciated the garlic.
I was surprised to realize that the winner in this experiment turned out not to be the one that most closely reminded me of a mom-and-pop pizzeria. Pizza Hut excelled at creating an experience that’s unique to the chain. In 1958, the brothers who founded Pizza Hut, Dan and Frank Carney, had never made a pizza before. But the style they pioneered appeals to me just as much as higher-end pizza in its own special way.
Read the original article on All Recipes.