Pepperoni pizza aficionados know that there are multiple types of pepperoni one can put on top of a pizza. There are large, flat, sandwich-style salami slices, and the smaller flat discs that get a little more generously portioned atop the pie. But then there’s the variety that many consider the holy grail of pepperoni: cupping pepperoni, sometimes known as “cup and char” or “cup and crisp.” If you like meat on your pizza, you know that this is, hands down, the best pepperoni of all.
Cupping pepperoni is remarkable for one specific reason: It curls up into a small bowl shape when it’s baked. The round edges become crisp and audibly crunchy while the bottom and center remain a little chewy, creating an overall bacon-like effect. Most notably, a tiny pool of grease gathers in the basin of each little cup.
When you’re digging into a slice of pizza, you’ll notice there are multiple textures present in every individual pepperoni, which makes them fun as hell to eat. The crispy part, which is my favorite, adds a contrast of tiny crunch to each bite of a chewy, melty slice. The thicker portion of the pep is meaty, and when you feel the tiny pool of flavorful oil coat your mouth, you’ll realize that this tiny little piece of cured meat is suddenly capable of so much, all at once. It’s pretty remarkable.
As with any excellent ingredient, there’s a lot of science at play when it comes to how certain types of pepperoni curl up. J. Kenji López-Alt wrote an exhaustive piece about the subject at Serious Eats, and it’s pretty complicated. When the meat is manufactured, cupping pepperoni must be stuffed into a non-expandable casing of some sort, such as collagen. Because the casing doesn’t expand, the meat (which acts essentially as a fluid at the time of stuffing) creates sort of an internal U-shape within the pepperoni tube, which lends itself to cooking in that very same shape once heat is applied to each slice.
Regardless of whether you understand the science or not, just know that it’s really damn good.
I am a former pizzamaker, and as such, I’ve amassed a hilarious amount of knowledge regarding the subject. In my experience, cupping pepperoni shrinks quite a bit when it’s cooked. Toss a massive handful of the stuff on a pizza, fire it off, and you’ll find that the end result isn’t as dramatically pepperoni-drenched as you thought it’d be. (Still delicious, however.)
The Takeout’s Kevin Pang and I documented what happens when you put two whole pounds of cup and char pepperoni on a single Detroit-style pizza. Thanks to those experiments, I can confirm that you can, in fact, have too much pepperoni on a pizza, and that all that cured meat can be awfully hard to slice into when you’re a tiny guy like me.
In my opinion, a consistent yet generous amount of pepperoni on a pizza is perfect. If you’re using cup and char pepperoni, go ahead, put a little more on the pizza than you think you want, and when it comes out, it’ll be perfect.
It used to be that this specific type of pepperoni was only available through specialty purveyors, such as Ezzo Sausage Company, which manufactures some of the best pep out there. But you can now get this pepperoni at the supermarket, in multiple forms. Whole Boar’s Head sticks of pepperoni will work well for this purpose—you’ll just have to hand-slice them yourself. Another company, Vermont Smoke and Cure, also sells entire pepperoni sticks that need to be hand-sliced but do a beautiful job of curling up when baked.
Hormel sells a product called Cup N’ Crisp, which does come pre-sliced and is available at lots of supermarkets. Remember, you absolutely have to get that variety; Hormel’s standard pepperoni (or anyone else’s) just won’t cut it.
This all used to be insider pizza knowledge, a well-kept trade secret. But perhaps the best thing about pizza is that it’s built to share, not only as in doling out slices from a pie but also swapping tips and information among enthusiasts. You’re in on a big open secret, so cup some pepperoni and enjoy those little meaty bowls on your next homemade pizza.