If you’re a pizza geek (isn’t everyone?) you likely know all about cupping pepperoni, aka cup-and-char pepperoni, or ‘roni cups as their friends like to call them (wink), the curled-up-at-the-edges Instagram darlings that can be found piling up on slices, often squares, at social media savvy pizzerias across America. They’ve become famous over the past seven years perhaps most due to their use at Prince Street Pizza in New York City coinciding with the rise of Instagram. They even recently got their own profile in an article in The Wall Street Journal. But should this rapidly proliferating style of pizza actually be called “Buffalo-style”?
Ask one of the some 260,000 pizza-loving citizens of the Nickel City, and they’ll likely say, ‘Yes.’ Or just ask Buffalo’s foremost pizza expert, anonymous pizza reviewer Sexy Slices who was recently profiled by The Buffalo News. “I absolutely think it should be called ‘Buffalo-style pepperoni,’” he told The Sauce. “And apparently, Battistoni Meats does too as evidenced by their website.”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,” you’re saying. “Cupping pepperoni? Buffalo-style? Doesn’t that mean hot sauce? Battistoni?”
One thing at a time:
Cupping Pepperoni — For the uninitiated, as The Wall Street Journal laid out, cupping pepperoni is pepperoni as it was first invented. Natural casings (animal intestines) were stuffed with ground meat, fat, and flavor agents, then left on when the finished product was sliced. When the pepperoni slices cook, the casing contracts and chars, causing them to curl and cup beautiful little pools of spicy oil. But manufacturers sought production efficiencies after World War II, and purveyors switched to paper-like casings removed before slicing. While cooking, these casing-free slices remained flat.
Buffalo-style — If you’re unfamiliar with the pizza of Western New York, the term has nothing to do with wings or hot sauce. Buffalo is known for having a style of pizza that’s thick yet fluffy and airy, covered with a tomato paste-based sauce, more cheese than you can believe, and copious cup-and-char pepperoni, so much that it’s often piled on and over the crust.
Battistoni — Battistoni is one of the more well-known pepperoni brands, one that’s based in Buffalo but used by pizzerias across the country. And Sexy Slices is right, if you check out their pepperoni page, they call the cupping pepperoni that’s become popular in New York City and has been catching on across America, “Cup & Char ‘Buffalo Style’ Pepperoni.”
Prince Street, which replaced the original Ray’s Pizza when it opened in 2012, became popular, with lines down the block, to a good degree because of its cupping pepperoni. As The Wall Street Journal noted, the style got another boost in 2016, when pepperoni made by Ohio-based Ezzo Sausage Co., “a brand that carries such weight in pizza circles that it’s sometimes called out by name on menus,” became available in New York.
Now that that’s covered… as helpful as The Wall Street Journal article was in explaining the origins of this recent popular pepperoni trend, and introducing it by way of a new pizza world controversy (“lay-flat” versus “cupping”) to join the likes of round pies versus square, slice-folding versus not folding, and the ever-contentious… pineapple, it did do a disservice to both Buffalo and Detroit. The two are very passionate pizza cities the article calls “holdout markets” where cupping remained while everyone else went 2-D pepperoni.
“Whether or not it was invented in Buffalo is moot,” Sexy Slices explains. “It’s what we’ve done with it and how we’ve made it a staple of a city’s signature style that is deserving of the credit. I’m fine that New York City has popularized cup-and-char. Glad, actually. But it’s wrong to accredit New York City as the birthplace when all of Buffalo has been serving pizza with cup-and-char pepperoni since World War II.”
He has a point.
Even if you argue that Buffalo didn’t invent cup-and-char pepperoni, it has certainly been the keeper of the flame, and for at least 50 years! This is a city where pepperoni is the baseline pie, and where it’s almost always cup-and-char pepperoni.
Is it likely to happen? Will pizzerias across America start calling cup-and-char, “Buffalo cup-and-char” or “Buffalo style”? Probably not. Consider that even when it comes to Buffalo’s greatest food export, chicken wings, some people think there’s an affiliation with the animal and not Western New York. The fact that the term “Buffalo pizza,” when seen on a menu, will make most people think they’re about to get a spicy chicken slice will make it a losing battle to spread the gospel of Buffalo’s claim to cup-and-char.
Still, Buffalonians know. And after years of feeling like they’re behind on the latest food trend, maybe seeing everyone else catch up when it comes to how delicious its pepperoni style is, well, maybe that’s enough.
But next time you see Prince Street’s Spicy Spring on Instagram, consider this: it’s as close to Buffalo-style pizza as you can eat in New York City. And if you like that, well, there’s a whole world of it to explore only an hour flight away.
— Arthur Bovino is a New York City-based pizza expert and contributor to The Sauce by Slice. He’s the founder of The Daily Meal’s annual list of the 101 Best Pizzas in America and author of “Buffalo Everything: A Guide to Eating in ‘The Nickel City’”. His writing has been featured in The New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Travel + Leisure among other publications. Follow him @nycbestpizza and thepizzacowboy.com.