What Is Chicago Style Pizza?

What Is Chicago Style Pizza? Unique Taste & Helpful Guides

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Chicago-style pizza stands as a culinary icon, embodying the rich tapestry of flavors and traditions that define the Windy City’s food scene. This deep-dish marvel, with its thick, buttery crust, generous layers of cheese, and chunky tomato sauce, has captivated the palates of food enthusiasts around the globe. But what sets Chicago-style pizza apart from its New York or Neapolitan counterparts, and how did it rise to such prominence in the pantheon of American foods?

In this comprehensive exploration titled “What Is Chicago Style Pizza,” we delve into the origins, evolution, and unique characteristics that make this dish a beloved staple of Chicago’s culinary legacy. From the meticulous construction of its crust to the debate over the best fillings and toppings, our article offers an authoritative guide that not only educates but also entices the reader to discover the depths of flavor and history baked into every slice.

As we unravel the layers of this iconic pizza, we invite readers on a flavorful journey through time and taste. Whether you’re a die-hard pizza aficionado or a curious culinary explorer, our insights will deepen your appreciation for Chicago-style pizza and perhaps inspire your next culinary adventure. Join us as we explore the craftsmanship behind the dish, the stories of its most famous purveyors, and the reasons behind its enduring appeal. Get ready to be whisked away to the heart of Chicago, one delicious bite at a time.

What Is Chicago Style Pizza?

What Is Chicago Style Pizza?

Chicago style pizza is a culinary icon known for its distinctive ingredients, cooking methods, and rich history. This style of deep-dish pizza was developed in Chicago in the early 1900s and has become a signature dish representing the city’s identity and culture. Chicago-style pizza holds major significance in the food world as an innovative regional style that expanded the possibilities of pizza. It has gained popularity across the United States and internationally as a classic, must-try American food tradition.

The Rich History of Chicago-Style Pizza

Origins and Evolution

Chicago-style pizza traces its origins to the early 20th century influx of Italian immigrants to Chicago. Some key developments in its history include:

  • 1905 – The first pizza establishment opened in Chicago, run by Italian immigrants. Basic Neapolitan-style pizza was served.
  • 1943 – Pizzeria Uno, opened by Italian immigrant Ike Sewell, invented the deep-dish pizza style.
  • 1955 – Rudy Malnati Sr. created the buttery, crispy deep-dish pizza crust still used at Lou Malnati’s pizzerias.
  • 1966 – The Uno Chicago Grill chain spreads across the United States, introducing deep-dish pizza nationwide.
  • 1970s – Gino’s East popularized the deep-dish pizza style outside Chicago by shipping pizzas nationwide.
  • 1980s – Nancy’s Pizza introduced stuffed pizza, with toppings sealed between two layers of deep-dish dough.

Over time, the pizza evolved from a basic Italian flatbread into a thicker, casserole-like dish layered with ingredients. Unique regional variations emerged within Chicago.

Geographic Spread and Global Influence

Popularized by restaurant chains based in Chicago, this style of pizza gradually spread across the United States. Americans abroad craved a taste of Chicago deep-dish pizza, fueling its international expansion.

Some key events:

  • 1970s – Deep-dish pizzerias appear in locations like Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix, and Minneapolis.
  • 1980s – International outlets open in Tokyo, Seoul, the Middle East, and Latin America.
  • 21st century – Chicago-style deep-dish and stuffed pizzas served globally from London to Sydney.

Today, travelers journey to Chicago just to taste original deep-dish pizza. The dish holds icon status in American and worldwide culinary traditions.

Anatomy of Chicago-Style Pizza

Ingredient Deep Dive: What Makes It Authentic

Authentic Chicago-style deep-dish and stuffed pizzas contain the following ingredients:

  • Thick, buttery crust – Typically uses cornmeal in dough. Can be 2-3 inches tall.
  • Cheese – Mozzarella layered first directly on crust, followed by another cheese.
  • Tomato sauce – Applied on top of cheese as final layer before toppings.
  • Toppings – Sausage, onions, peppers, mushrooms and pepperoni most common.
  • Stuffed pizza – Cheese, toppings, and extra dough layer sealed in between crust layers.

Quality ingredients, like full-fat mozzarella, and great care in preparation are vital for authentic flavor.

Cooking Techniques and Essential Equipment

Chicago-style pizza requires special equipment and methods:

  • Cast iron pizza pan or cake pan – Produces signature crispy bottom and tall crust walls.
  • Layering ingredients from crust up.
  • Longer bake time – Cooks for 45-60 minutes to thoroughly melt cheese and bake crust.
  • Served in pan then sliced – Structural integrity needed.
  • Round or square cuts – Pizza cutter or knife used.

Professional experience and the right tools are key to achieving an authentic Chicago-style pizza.

Varieties of Chicago-Style Pizza

There are three main types of Chicago-style pizza:

Pizza Type Description
Deep-dish pizza Thick, pan-baked crust with toppings in layers. Most iconic style.
Stuffed pizza Filled with cheese and toppings sealed between two crust layers. Very indulgent.
Pan pizza Thinner than deep-dish with toppings placed directly on pan-fried crust. More like traditional pizza.

Dietary variations like gluten-free or vegan versions use ingredient substitutes while maintaining distinctive construction.

Cultural and Economic Impact

Chicago-Style Pizza in the Local Economy

As a specialty food that draws tourists, Chicago-style pizza significantly impacts the city’s economy:

  • Iconic deep-dish pizzerias generate over $200 million in revenue annually.
  • About 3 million pizza lovers visit Chicago every year primarily to eat the pizza.
  • The pizza increases demand for local jobs at pizzerias and related businesses.
  • Tax revenues from pizza restaurant sales benefit Chicago public projects.

Chicago-Style Pizza in Popular Culture

References to Chicago-style pizza abound in media and entertainment:

  • Featured in blockbuster movies like Home Alone and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • Homer Simpson’s deep-dish pizza dream in The Simpsons.
  • On food TV in shows like Man v. Food and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
  • Buzz on social media from Instagram food photos tagged #ChicagoStylePizza.

The pizza’s popularity in pop culture cements its reputation as an American icon.

Crafting Chicago-Style Pizza at Home

Step-by-Step Recipe for Deep-Dish Pizza

Make authentic deep-dish pizza at home with this recipe:


  • Pizza dough
  • Cornmeal
  • Sausage
  • Sliced mozzarella
  • Tomato sauce
  • Grated Parmesan


  1. Coat pan heavily with oil. Sprinkle cornmeal over base.
  2. Press dough across bottom and partially up sides to form crust bowl.
  3. Add layer of sausage slices.
  4. Top with mozzarella cheese.
  5. Pour tomato sauce over cheese.
  6. Sprinkle Parmesan over sauce.
  7. Bake at 425°F for 45-60 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.


  • Use metal cake or pie pan. Dark metal pans work best.
  • Stretch dough well to avoid a too-thick crust.
  • Layer cheese directly on dough before sauce and toppings.
  • Bake until crust is golden brown and sauce is bubbling.

Dietary Adaptations

  • Use gluten-free dough and soy cheese for a gluten-free pizza.
  • Substitute veggie sausage and use no cheese for a vegan pizza.

Pairings and Accompaniments

Enjoy authentic Chicago-style pizza with:

  • Beer – A hoppy IPA or refreshing lager.
  • Wine – Medium-bodied reds like a Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Sides – Tossed salad, garlic bread, or chicken wings.

Complementary foods and drinks prevent the richness from becoming overwhelming.

Chicago’s Pizza Scene: Landmarks and Tours

Iconic Pizzerias and Their Histories

Must-visit Chicago pizzerias for deep-dish and stuffed pizza include:

  • Pizzeria Uno (1943) – Birthplace of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Famous for its spinach and cheese Uno’s Special.
  • Lou Malnati’s (1971) – Known for buttery, flaky signature Malnati Chicago Classic.
  • Gino’s East (1966) – Graffiti-covered walls and menus. Favorites are the Sausage Supreme and Chicago Fire pizzas.
  • Pequod’s Pizza (1970s) – Legendary for its caramelized cheese crust edge. Most popular is the Pepperoni and Sausage pan pizza.
  • Giordano’s (1974) – Specializes in stuffed pizzas like the very cheesy Farmer’s Market Veggie.

Experience Chicago Through Pizza Tours

Pizza tours and events let you dive into Chicago’s famed pizza culture:

  • Chicago Pizza Tours – Bus tours hit 3-4 iconic pizzerias for deep dish, pan, and stuffed pizza.
  • Urban Adventures – Food tour combines the city’s best pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches.
  • Chicago Pizza Party Class – Hands-on class teaching techniques for making Chicago-style pizzas.
  • Chicago Pizza Summit – Annual festival in October celebrating Chicago’s pizza heritage.

Learning the stories behind each pizza place makes the tasting experience unique.

Chicago-Style Pizza: Beyond the Dish

Health Considerations and Nutritional Info

Chicago-style pizza can fit into a balanced diet in moderation. One slice of deep-dish pizza contains:

  • 700-850 calories
  • 25-40g fat (mostly from cheese and crust)
  • 800-1200mg sodium

Enjoy deep-dish pizza occasionally as a treat, and opt for healthy toppings like vegetables without too much high-fat meat. Drink water with the meal and balance with fruits and vegetables.

Environmental Sustainability Practices

Many Chicago pizzerias focus on sustainability:

  • Lou Malnati’s sources dairy from local farmers.
  • Pequod’s uses natural cleaners and energy-efficient equipment.
  • Rosati’s offers gluten-free and cauliflower-crust pizzas with less environmental impact.
  • Union Squared uses renewable energy to power their pizzerias.

Consumers can support businesses that align with their values regarding sustainability.

Debates and Controversies Surrounding Chicago-Style Pizza

Debates and Controversies Surrounding Chicago-Style Pizza

The Deep-Dish Debate: Pizza or Casserole?

Unlike traditional thin-crust pizza, deep-dish pizza is denser and sauce-topped. This unique construction causes debate around whether it qualifies as pizza or is more of a tomato pie or casserole. While deep-dish pizza doesn’t match Neapolitan-style, it still serves as a creative interpretation on pizza.

Regional Rivalries: Chicago-Style vs. New York-Style

New York and Chicago have a long-standing rivalry around their signature pizza styles. New York-style is thin, foldable, and focused on crust and sauce. Chicago-style is thick, casserole-like, and focused on abundant cheese and toppings. Preference often depends on where someone grew up. While the pizzas are vastly different, both have earned global fame and acclaim.


With its origins in early 20th century Chicago, the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza became an American culinary icon celebrated for its buttery crust, abundant cheese and toppings, and hearty construction. This regional pizza expanded across the country and worldwide, representing Chicago and American pizza culture. While debated by some as a true pizza, the Chicago-style pie endures as a classic dish all pizza lovers should try. Its popularity will continue as new generations discover and share their enjoyment of this pizza.

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