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Chicago Deep Dish vs. Detroit-Style Pizza

Alright, huddle up. Or, take a seat on the couch – whichever is more comfortable.

On Sunday, the Detroit Lions will take on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in a showdown of two longtime divisional foes. It’s been a pretty rough year for both teams, so we’re choosing to focus on more important things, like Chicago and Detroit’s unbelievably delicious pizza.

Remember: It’s not whether they win or lose, it’s how you eat the game.

For decades, deep dish has reigned supreme as the Midwest’s signature pizza style. With mountains of sauce, cheese, and internal “toppings,” it’s a belly blitz of deliciousness that is even more beloved outside of Da Bears’ territory than within.

But, lately, Detroit-style has surged in the pizza standings. Once a Motown exclusive, the gospel of its charred cheesy edges have spread from coast to coast.   

Both pies are phenomenal and worthy of a spot on your ordering roster, but they are hardly one and the same. Get the skinny on these thick, cheesy, and magnificent pizzas with our Styles Spotlight:

The Crust

At first glance, one might expect deep dish pizza to be contained by a thick and dense fortress of dough, but that’s not the case. The crust of the deep dish is surprisingly shallow, which means it’s not very sound, structurally speaking. It is, however, a brilliant contrast to the richness of all that goodness inside, making it well worth the extra effort of using a fork and knife. 

Attempting to palm a piping hot slice of deep dish pizza is a one-way ticket to the injured reserve list, so, please, use those utensils. After all, you need those hands to grab exquisite squares of Detroit-style pizza, which have a gloriously fried crust thanks to the oiled edges that are baked in direct contact with the pan. 

The Detroit crust comes out looking like a focaccia or a Sicilian slice and the final product is somewhere in between – it has smaller air bubbles than a focaccia with a bite that is crispier than your usual Sicilian.

These are the offensive linemen of pizza, so no ordinary pan could do the trick here. Instead, deep dish and Detroit-style pizzas are baked in heavy steel pans that are more reminiscent of dessert cookware than pizza pans.

The Cheese

Detroit-style pizza has a ton of cheese. 

Chicago’s deep dish has a ****ton. 

Detroit-style pizza is made with Brick cheese – a descendent of white cheddar and a cousin of limburger named for its loaf-like shape. Like limburger, well-aged brick cheeses can pack a pungent aroma and flavor that can clear a room in a hurry, but don’t worry: the Brick cheese that tops Detroit-style pizza is on the younger side, making it nearly as mellow as mozzarella. At the same time, it’s still rich in flavor, making it the ideal match for the buttery base below.

Meanwhile, there’s cheese oozing out of every slice of deep dish. Chicago’s famed pizza is usually anchored by good ol’ whole milk mozzarella, but deep dish can also be made with fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, or formed with any other type of formaggio you desire.    

The Sauce

Here, we find some common ground between Detroit-style and Chicago deep dish as both pies feature the sauce layer on top of the cheese.

On Detroit-style pizza, this usually means melty cheese melded gloriously with the crust, which creates its signature texture. 

The deep dish order of operations is flipped for a different reason: the sauce is on top to prevent the rest of the pie from burning during its lengthy cooking process. Detroit-style pizza is fired at roughly 500°F and takes less about 12-15 minutes to bake, but deep dish takes it low and slow at 350-425°F for 30 minutes or more.

The sauce of a Detroit-style pizza is as smooth and sweet with lots of aromatics. Deep dish, on the other hand, employs thick and chunky tomatoes that burst with every bite. 

The History

The history of deep dish pizza is an “enigma, wrapped in a pie crust,” Chicago-based food writer Jeff Ruby says

Some say Ike Sewell, the founder of Pizzeria Uno, was the inventor of deep dish pizza. According to that version of the tale, he aimed to create a thicker, denser, and cheesier twist on pizza that would be more filling than your average pie. 

Others credit Rudy Malnati – Lou Malnati’s father – as the real inventor of deep dish. Like the layers of the pizza itself, the stories of Sewell and Malnati are impossible to separate. Rudy was an employee of Ike’s and, according to the Malnati family, he was a behind-the-scenes partner in Ike’s restaurant. Rudy’s descendents say he created the pizza, though he did not seek credit or publicity for it.

Ultimately, there may never be a consensus on who invented deep dish pizza (“Every day, it feels a little more lost to history,” says Ruby.), but things worked out pretty well for both families. Sewell sold the franchising rights to Pizzeria Uno, which introduced the Monster Of The Midway to all different parts of the world. Meanwhile, Lou Malnati’s pizza boasts upwards of 50 locations across the country and is still considered to be one of Chicagoland’s best purveyors of deep dish.

There’s no such dispute in Detroit. In 1946, Gus Guerra invented Detroit-style pizza when he borrowed blue steel industrial pans from a friend who worked at an automotive plant. The lipped trays were the perfect vehicle for his Sicilian-style crust, which became soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside thanks to the heavy metal. After that, Gus’ restaurant – Buddy’s Rendezvous – went from 0-60. 

Where Can I Find Deep Dish and Detroit-Style Pizza near me?  

Good news: you can find authentic Chicago deep dish and Detroit-style pizza from phenomenal local shops just about everywhere these days. Order yours for football Sunday, or any day of the week, with the Slice app.

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