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Frozen Pepperoni Pizza

Frozen pizza has a bad rep, but a slew of new “artisanal” options promise pizzeria quality from the freezer aisle. Can any product deliver?

Published Aug. 1, 2014. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 8: American Classics with a Twist

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What You Need To Know

Associated with cash-strapped college students and undiscerning children, frozen pizza doesn’t exactly have a reputation for quality. Still, it’s not hard to see why more than 1.3 billion frozen pies were sold in the United States last year: It’s a cheap and convenient meal that comes in an endless array of options. We’ve noticed a trend of manufacturers trying to cash in on the current “artisanal” pizza craze by offering “brick oven” or “fire baked” frozen products that promise a more gourmet, pizzeria-style pie. We wondered: Does this mean there’s better frozen pizza out there?

We’ve tasted frozen cheese pizza before, but recently we learned that pepperoni is equally, if not more, popular. So for this tasting, we focused on pepperoni and assembled a lineup of seven pizzas—three artisanal-style pies, three national best sellers, and the pepperoni version of a cheese pizza from a brand we’ve liked in the past.

To find out why we liked what we did, we analyzed the pizzas from the top down, starting with the pepperoni, which was almost a nonissue: Every product had sufficiently plentiful and flavorful pepperoni for our tasters.

Cheese, though, was a bit more contentious. Tasters liked clean, traditional, milky mozzarellas, and four of the seven products delivered. Of the three that we didn’t like, one product tasted sooty from the addition of smoked gouda. Worse, another product’s cheese was so waxen that some tasters called it “prison pizza.” The label showed that it’s not even real cheese but a substitute made from palm and soybean oils—yuck.

When we got to the sauce, the gap between good and bad was even wider. Our tasters preferred herby sauces with strong tomato flavor and balanced tang. Overly sweet sauces earned low marks for tasting “cheap” and processed. We also wanted a moderate amount of sauce; some pizzas were so saucy that the sauce soaked right through the crust, making the dough “gummy.”

Pizza aficionados will tell you that great pizza is all about the crust, so it’s not surprising that this was the most important element to our tasters. And newer artisanal-style crusts won by a landslide. Tasters thought that they held the weight of the toppings better and actually resembled “real” pizza.

What does “real” pizza look like? First, a crust we could hold on to. Nearly all our bottom-ranked pizzas were covered from edge to edge with sauce and cheese, while artisanal-style pizzas gave us a solid rim of crust to wrap our hands around. Second, artisanal crusts were thicker. When we measured their crusts, our preferred pizzas were 14 to 20 millimeters at their thickest edge, while bottom-ranked pies were a paltry 5 to 10 ...

Everything We Tested

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