America's Most Overlooked Pizza

Credit: The Hungry Dudes / Flickr

"New York has its style, Chicago has its style, Philly has its style, California has its style — you know, it's about time Detroit-style got recognized," says Wesley Pikula of Buddy's Pizza in Detroit. Pikula believes that the Motor City is a "pizza mecca," noting that big chains like Domino's Pizza and Little Caesar's got their start and are headquartered in the area. But being local to the city doesn't mean those big corporations know how to make a Detroit-style pie. On the other hand, Buddy's Pizza, a regional chain opening its 12th location in 2016, has the original claim to Detroit's iconic pizza.

Pikula grew up a mile away from the original Buddy's Pizza, at Six Mile and Conant, where Detroit-style is said to have been born. Today, Pikula is the vice president of operations for Buddy's Pizza, but back in 1975 he was washing dishes at the original location. "I was a customer first, and then I started working there as a dishwasher," says Pikula. "Buddy's had a tremendous folklore, so just getting a job there was hard."

The story behind Buddy's and Detroit-style pizza is one that is clearly connected to Detroit's history and the city's industrial roots. In 1946, Pikula says, the original location was simply a storefront connected to a house, until business expanded and they converted the home into a restaurant. It was there that a pioneering Detroit-twist on the familiar Sicilian style pie was made: their pizza was "baked in a blue steel pan that had its origins in the automotive plants and foundries and stuff like that."

The industrial pans, typically used to collect scrap metal at factories, were the perfect shape, durable, and easily re-purposed for the pizzas. Plus, says Pikula, the blue steel pans were inexpensive and the pizzas developed around them. What makes blue steel unique, however, is that you don't wash it the way you would a normal pan: you season it and care for it the way you would a cast-iron skillet. Buddy's still uses those blue steel pans today, but the company that originally produced them has relocated and ceased production.

If you want to create a Detroit-style pizza at home, you don't have to track down one of those original blue steel pans — an alternative is suggested below — but there are a few things you have to get right. Detroit-style pizza is rectangular, with a crust that's crunchy on the outside and light on the inside (think of a fresh bruschetta). Additionally, there's no oil or sugar added to the dough. Perhaps more notable is the order of assembly: the first layer is cheese (or meat) with sauce going on last. "It's basically an upside down pizza," Pikula says.

Buddy's Pizza serves about 15,000 pies a week, but they scaled down their recipe so it'll work for the home chef.

Detroit-Style Pizza 

Ingredients 

Premium Pizza Dough

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 ½ cups water (at 90 degrees)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ¼ tsp fresh yeast
Sauce and Toppings

  • 5–8 oz California fresh packed tomato sauce
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 1 package of brick cheese (alternatives can be used, but not mozzarella)
  • Pizza pan

Directions 

  1. There is a lot a of folklore attached to aluminum pans however; any square aluminum pan that is coated and approved for baking purposes would do just fine (such as these from Lloyd's Pans).
  2. Place water, salt, and fresh yeast into a stand mixer. Mix until the salt and yeast is fully dissolved. Add Flour. Mix on a slow speed for approximately 10–15 minutes or until fully incorporated and has a “tacky” texture.
  3. Remove dough, shape into round ball (approximately 14 oz) and place in a seasoned steel pan that has been slightly oiled. Ensure the dough ball has been slightly oiled as well. Let rest 10–15 minutes. Press evenly until the dough reaches all sides and corners. Add pepperoni onto the dough. Top with shredded Brick cheese. Let proof 1 ½–2 hours.
  4. Once fully proofed, add 5-8 oz pizza sauce in 3 stripes lengthwise, maintaining a ½” margin between the edges of the pan and the sauce stripes. DO NOT over-sauce.
  5. Bake for 30–45 minutes on the middle rack in a pre-heated oven at 450°. If you're oven allows, it's best if the heat source is below so that the pizza cooks from the bottom up.