I grew up nowhere near an important pizza city, not New York, Detroit, New Haven, nor Chicago. I spent my grade school years in Toronto, where my pizza education took place through a restaurant called Pizza Hut. Maybe you've heard of it?
I can’t think of a more perfectly constructed food for a 7-year-old.
Pizza by itself is already ideal for young kids: tomato sauce, salty pepperoni, melty cheese—nothing disagreeable there. Where Pizza Hut diverges from the competition is its crust. There are shades of Roman and Detroit styles in Pizza Hut’s pan pizza—crunchy, golden, vaguely buttery. It’s ostensibly pizza atop fried bread.
Years later my pizza horizons would widen (pretty hard to beat Neapolitan). But Pizza Hut remains an indelible taste memory of my childhood. And now, my 5-year-old’s childhood, too.
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I’m lucky to work at a place where our test cooks spend dozens of hours meticulously re-creating those taste memories for our benefit. When the latest episode of America’s Test Kitchen At Home featured an homage to Pizza Hut pan pizza, I knew it would be my next cooking project.
Here’s where I went rogue: In the original version, recipe developer Lan Lam makes the pizza with a simple tomato and cheese sauce. To me, fully commiting to Pizza Hut means Meat Lover’s. So I followed the recipe as prescribed, but on top of the tomato sauce I added bacon, sausage, ham . . . pepperoni plus ground beef. (Sorry, so much meat in that last line I had to take a breath mid-sentence.)
Want to follow along? Watch the video below, which shows you step-by-step how to make the recipe.
What makes this pan pizza recipe different from others?
- The homemade dough couldn’t be easier. There are no rolling pins, heavy kneading, or acrobatic throws in the air required. You just need a bowl, wooden spoon, five fingers, and time. Thanks to the high hydration ratio and long ferment in the fridge, the dough is nearly a hands-off endeavor. The result? As Lan writes: "Crispy, golden, rich-tasting edge and [a] tender, plush, airy interior."
- To give the perimeter extra crunch, we circled the edge crust with Monterey Jack cheese. This creates the frico, the lacy fried cheese edge. Lan calls the technique "building a cheese wall."
- It’s cooked in a cast-iron skillet, first inside an oven and then finished on a stovetop. The direct heat helps give the underside that gorgeous golden hue.
I followed the recipe to the T. Before the cheese was sprinkled on, I dolloped uncooked knobs of sausage and ground beef, then cooked bacon, diced ham, and pepperoni slices. Be careful here: You want to be a modest meat lover, not an overbearing meat obsessive. Too much of the toppings and it’ll alter the finished product. You don’t want the top of the dough to be soggy and undercooked. A half pound of meat, in total, sounds about right.
Another big takeaway is the importance of cooking in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. This skillet size is intentional: The amount of dough called for is optimal for the thickness of this crust. If you’re using a smaller cast-iron skillet, you’ll still have that crunchy underside, but may end up with a finished pie that's slightly too thick.
My last suggestion: Don’t skip letting the pizza rest for 10 minutes on a wire rack. The best part of this pie is that golden crust, and you don’t want to compromise this by letting it lose its texture. It’s also no fun if you burn the roof of your mouth with molten cheese.
The result? Let these pictures say it better than a thousand words:
The golden bottom crust? Check. The fried cheesy edges? Check? The alchemy of five meats? It’s why they call it Meat Lover, not Meat Fighter.
I was delighted by how faithfully this recipe tasted like the Pizza Hut of my youth. Yes, you could pick up your phone and have it arrive at your doorsteps in 30 minutes. But the satisfaction of making it yourself—cause and effect—is the pleasure. In that sense, Pizza Hut is still fueling my pizza education, all these years later.