Not since a Georges Seurat painting had a piece of artwork stopped me cold, caused me to examine with cocked head from all angles, and made me consider the beauty of the world. This:
This is what happens when you request extra-extra-extra-extra pepperoni on your pizza, the Ron Swanson special. It goes beyond a meat lover’s relationship; this is meat stalker’s pizza. It looked so beautiful and I wanted to be inside it, and it inside me.
But seeing this pizza also inspired reflection. As I am now an old and withering man, no longer enjoying dishes that contain the word “xxxtreme,” my fantasizing also comes with a side order of restraint. I actually asked myself: Is it possible to have too much pepperoni on a pizza? Inspired, I rewatched All The President’s Men, dusted off my reporter’s notebook, and set off to win my investigative Pulitzer.
Who would help answer this? There was one man: Takeout contributor Dennis Lee, amateur internet celebrity, and a man who actually knows his shit about pizza. Lee spent many years working in I.T., but was so dissatisfied he left his lucrative job a few years back to work at a pizza shop—Paulie Gee’s Logan Square in Chicago. He seems like he’s never been happier.
Lee immediately said yes to this stupid little experiment. After some back-and-forth, it was decided that their Detroit-style pan pizza, which is leavened and had the sturdiness to support heavy weights, was the best crust to use. Our goal was to pile as much pepperoni as was structurally possible on a pizza, attempt to bake it, then determine whether the finished product was presentable.
I arrived at Paulie Gee’s right as the restaurant opened and Lee already had done some prep work. Their Detroit-style pizza had a deep dish-style crust served in an 8-by-10-inch pan, and as is their style, they added cheese where the crust and pan met to create crunchy and caramelized edges when baked. Lee added a personal touch by placing pepperoni along the side of the dough, like portholes on a ferry.
The cooks at Paulie Gee’s were curious as to what the hell was going on. When they found out our scheme, many excitedly offered suggestions. Among the biggest consideration was how much oil the pepperoni would leach out while baking and whether this would sodden the dough, or worse yet, overflow its bank and burst the levee holding back pork grease. Eventually, it was agreed that since there’d be so much pepperoni, the ones trapped in the center likely wouldn’t have the chance to render down during the quick bake. But to alleviate our fears, we decided to bake it in two batches: First with half our pepperoni supply, removed from oven to reassess, then layer on the rest of the pepperoni and finish cooking.
Lee carefully shingled the pepperoni from edge to edge, adding shredded mozzarella between layers as glue. It took about 10 full layers—roughly 300 discs of pepperoni—before Lee decided to make the first bake. There was a legitimate fear of oil boiling over in the 550 degree Fahrenheit oven, so a baking sheet was placed beneath the pan for potential overflow.
Seven minutes later, the pizza came out, and the top layer of pepperoni was singed and crispy from the high heat. The good news: no overflow. In fact, it looked as if the drippings was absorbed into the crust. This was a promising development.
More pepperoni was piled on this half-baked pizza. The consensus among the Paulie Gee’s crew was that two pounds of pepperoni—nearly 500 discs—was more than adequate; after a certain quantity it would be diminishing returns.
Back in the oven it went. Five more minutes ticked by. The alarm on Lee’s phone went off, and we brought out the pan. Humana-humana-humana: this was what greeted us:
Our fears that the pizza wouldn’t dislodge from the pan were assuaged, because the pepperoni oil that absorbed into the dough fried the crust golden. The pie lifted from the steel pan with no resistance. Those edges were a sight to behold.
When Lee tried slicing this with a mezzaluna, the crust was so thick and crunchy he had to lean with all his body weight just to get the blade through. The underside, as you could see, was perfection.
The engineering portion of the experiment wasn’t a problem. The pizza held it shape, supported the two pounds of pepperoni, and baked bee-yoo-tifully. But that wasn’t the question at the outset. It was: Is there such thing as too much pepperoni on a pizza? We gave it a taste.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Any semblance of pizza doesn’t exist here. The flavors of pepperoni, tomato sauce, and bread were present, but the ratios were blown out. But it’s not as outrageous as it sounds, because it’s essentially a hot baked Italian grinder. All those pepperoni layers created a dense mat of meat—squishy and greasy, a big mouthful of pork, garlic, and paprika flavors.
Paulie Gee’s standard Detroit-style crust rises as it bakes, creating airy and yeasty pockets with that appealing crunchy edges. With two pounds of pepperoni pressing down though, the dough doesn’t get to expand. But all that pepperoni grease frying the dough made for an obscenely delicious and crunchy pork crouton.
Eating this, my first thought was it was a bit like eating A-5 Wagyu steak—three bites and it’s divine, 30 bites and you feel death. Same theory applies here: It is not great in moderation, rather in small quantities, and a few bites are enough to check off the box and scratch that curiosity itch.
It turns out, a 96 oz. ribeye that’s free if you eat it all isn’t advisable. Nor is two pieces of deep-fried foie gras sandwiching bacon and cheese. More isn’t better, nor is less. What’s good is just right. Balance is good. One layer of pepperoni is good. Not 20. It’s fine for a Twitter post, but not your stomach. But I’m still glad we tried.
I’m told if you visit Paulie Gee’s Logan Square in Chicago, you may request this pepperoni monstrosity for $50. They suggested naming it “Pang in the Ass,” I told them I’d rather it not.