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Think You Know How to Top a Pizza? Detroit’s Famous Pies Disagree

Detroit pizza is known for the pan it’s made in and its unusual arrangement of sauce and cheese.
By Published Sept. 30, 2022

I am a huge fan of pizza. Sauce, dough, cheese . . . what’s not to love? I’ve tasted and cooked so many different kinds—and I think it’s pretty amazing how many different ways those three simple components can come together.

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I grew up near New Haven, Connecticut, which shaped my love of that style of pizza. My husband grew up with bar-style pizza—admittedly it took me a few tries to get into it, but now I get actual cravings for it. When we honeymooned in Italy, we made sure to try a pie from every city or region we stayed in, from Venice to Bologna to the Amalfi Coast. 

I’ve made Cook’s Country’s recipes for Fried Pizza Montanara, Chicago Thin-Crust Pizza, Pepperoni Shee-Pan Pizza, and even Philly Tomato Pie (which doesn’t have any cheese). But up until a couple weeks ago, I had never tried or made Detroit-Style Pizza.

Bryan and Julia make Detroit-Style Pizza

Detroit-style pizza was created in Michigan by Connie Piccinato in 1946. Connie was a waitress at Buddy’s in Detroit. She missed the squares of focaccia from her childhood in Sicily and was inspired to use the discarded “blue steel” pans from the automobile factories to make a rectangular pie with Buddy’s owner August “Gus” Guerrera. Over time the pans became seasoned, imparting extra flavor and lacy, crusty edges to the pies, which were (and still are) a hit.

Cook’s Country’s editorial director, Bryan Roof, visited Detroit to get the story behind its style of pizza and brought what he learned back to the test kitchen, where one of our test cooks developed a recipe for the pie so we could all make it at home.

Which brings me to cooking up this pizza in my own kitchen recently. As I made this pie, I learned a few important things.

  • There are Detroit-style pizza pans out there, but you can replicate this pie pretty well in a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan.
  • You need to make a very rich, hydrated dough to get the tender, buttery, almost fluffy crust Detroit pizza is known for.
  • The pizza is traditionally made with shredded brick cheese, but since it’s hard to find outside Michigan, Monterey Jack is a good stand-in.
  • Detroit pizza flips the pizza-making process on its head. After the dough comes not the sauce but the cheese. The sauce is laid down in strips over the cheese.
  • This topsy-turvy pie is totally worth making.