Frozen pizza is the bastion of people who have no other alternatives: Too broke or hungry to cough up the dough or wait the 30 minutes for delivery, lacking the ingredients or wherewithal to make their own. For me, frozen pizza conjures up babysitter nights when I was a kid; since my parents were going out, it was one of the rare nights that my mom didn’t cook, so we’d get the pizza encased in plastic. I guess it was novel enough to be exciting, so much so that I stocked my own single-girl freezer with single-serving versions in my 20s, and deluxe versions as a newlywed.
So hello old friend, frozen pizza. What do you taste like all these years later? For this taste test, I grabbed a bunch of national brands, my family and some friends, and baked up a weeknight dinner party. Being able to tell these crusts apart might be my greatest challenge yet as a food writer.
Fortunately, I had some friends along to help, as well as my family, so kids and adults alike dove into these relatively well-known pizzas from the supermarket’s freezer section. (As always, before the cries of “you missed my favorite regional brand” descend, please note we only chose frozen pizza brands with national distribution.)
Well, this one stood out obviously, due to that classic DiGiorno puffy crustiness. Some people liked this (“It’s doughy and soft!”) and some didn’t (“This isn’t pizza—it’s bread.”) Another likened it to cheese and sauce on a biscuit. The sauce kicked off what we would soon view as a frozen pizza trend of thin, watery blandness; although the pepperoni had “a nice bite” it was still “a bit of a mess.” Basically, unless you love crust, this is not the frozen pizza or you. Or anyone.
Alllllll riiiiiiight—this was my single-girl jam. So maybe it’s the nostalgia factor that led me to like this one most of all (like other people might feel about Jack’s). Home Run Inn has that buttery crust that I just find super-satisfying in a frozen pizza. Excellent cheese coverage, and a significantly seasoned sauce.
My tasters didn’t see my side of it, though, except for the hard-to-resist buttery crust part, which “seemed like a pastry.” Others offered descriptions like “kids birthday party pizza” and “I wouldn’t use this as a door stop.” Even my daughter’s friend noted that it was so greasy, “if you can hold it in the light, you can see the reflection.” Whatever. They weren’t there with me all those Sunday nights with Sex And The City, Home Run Inn pizza, and Walgreens chardonnay.
Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, Jack’s is the children’s choice. I believe this might have been, if not my babysitter pizza, very similar, and like me as a kid, my offspring and their friends totally gravitated toward it. They threw out words like “nice,” “perfect,” and, significantly on this low-bar scale: “fine.” Whereas the adults offered words like “disappointing,” bland,” and “wimpy.” I called it the pizza equivalent of water, possibly akin to ketchup on a cracker. The only zest at all came from the pepperoni, which had a slight bite to it, but not enough to elevate this frisbee disc into actual flavor.
Classic for a reason, Tombstone showed its mettle with a crunchy, not soggy crust, and nicely stretchy, melty cheese. With my group, it came close to running away with the whole thing, holding up rather well against something like Jack’s. But while the crust was significant, the sauce was still unimpressive, veering on an unappetizing sweetness (“Doesn’t anyone know how to use seasoning?” pondered a taster). And the kids were flummoxed by what they called “odd chunks of meat” throughout the sauce.
Believe me, I tried to get these all in the same flavor (pepperoni) but Red Baron only had sausage. Maybe because everybody else had already figured out what my tasting crew did: Red Baron is the best frozen pizza—even removing the sausage novelty aside. The cracker-like crust was flaky, with a nice crunch and a crispy mouthfeel. This slightly thicker sauce had a forward hint of actual seasoning that featured oregano and garlic (my son said it had a “nice, flavorful tang”) that pulled the pizza together. My friend said it reminded her of a Pizza Hut sausage slice from 1981, which might have been the highest form of praise any pizza got all evening.
But really, if you want pizza, may we suggest making it at home? I spent a few weeks this summer learning how to make dough, how to make great sauce, and putting it all together—and it’s all easier than you think. Still, there’s a time and place for frozen, and in those instances, may we nudge you towards Red Baron. Or maybe these leading brands are not the best versions available—please feel free to add your favorites in the comments!