In my college days at a small liberal arts college in Kirksville, Missouri, I kicked off my culinary career at a bistro called Il Spazio (bowdlerized from the Italian lo spazio, meaning “the space”), which had a brick-fired pizza oven. We tried all kinds of culinary experiments there, some of which actually appeared on our menu, from Thai chicken pies to the “chicken Denali” pizza, which was grilled chicken, green apple, and actual caramel drizzled on top.
But the most dramatic and unexpectedly delicious concoction we served was the Spam and Dorito Pizza, which is exactly what it sounds like: a cheese pizza cooked with cubes of Spam and topped with crushed-up Doritos. Think of it as a strange cross between the salty-sweet Spam Hawaiian pizza (you can find the recipe on Spam’s official website) and the crunchy delights of the taco pizza, all rolled up into one salty sauce explosion. Spam and Dorito Pizza was disgusting in concept but delicious in practice, and true to form, the residents of our small college town couldn’t get enough.
It should be noted that, in March of 2020, a Pizza Hut branch in the Philippines premiered the Spam Supreme Cheesy Bites Pizza, which not only tops the pizza itself with Spam but throws more Spam into a stuffed crust. So no matter how crazy this pie may seem, just know that it could have gotten weirder.
In preparation for Pizza Week, I thought back on this unique pie and decided to try to figure out its origins—and then see if it still held up to a non-college-student palate.
To solve the mystery of the Spam and Dorito Pizza’s murky provenance, I reached out to Bradley Steenhoek, one of the two owners of the now-shuttered Il Spazio. Steenhoek told me that before they opened Il Spazio, he and his husband and business partner (and former mayor of Kirksville) Jeff Newton had found a book about the best pizza places in the U.S. and what made them unique. An entry that mentioned Spam and Dorito pizza stood out to them. (Alas, he couldn’t remember the title, and my cursory searches through the annals of food literature turned up bupkis.)
When it came time to conceptualize the menu, Steenhoek pitched the pizza to Newton. “He thought I was crazy, but I thought, if nothing else, it would be a great conversation item on the menu,” Steenhoek told me. “Lo and behold, it stuck and became much more popular than I could have imagined.”
It was popular for good reason, too: the meaty saltiness of the Spam and the crunchy cheesiness of the Doritos make strange but pleasing bedfellows. Yeah, it’s salt on salt on salt, but sometimes you need some salt—life is hard enough as it is.
Recipe-wise, replicating the Spam and Dorito pizza couldn’t have been easier; it’s a pizza, for Pete’s sake. But in the interests of accurate replication, I consulted the pizza sauce and dough recipes from the original Il Spazio recipe-book PDF I snatched from my fellow cooks before I left the restaurant.
Now that I’m in my 30s and have tried it again, I have to say it’s still interesting, though it hardly scratches the drunk-college-kid itch I had in my younger days. The sweet-cheesy combo still hits the spot, though, even if my modest home oven can’t come close to the temperature of the wood-fired oven that gave the original pizza its majestic crust and char.
And now, I pass this sacred culinary information onto you, dear reader, in the hopes you’ll take a chance on this deeply strange, strangely satisfying dish.
Spam and Dorito Pizza
If you dare to make this yourself, I’d advise you to go easy on both the Spam and the Doritos; too much Spam, and it’s too salty, while an overly-Dorito-ed slice of pizza will just cut the roof of your mouth like a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. You can also be less rustic than I was with the chip-crunching, which ought to help. (I also used a thicker, off-brand nacho chip in my re-creation, so the thinner Doritos should prove less of a danger to your tonsils’ structural integrity.)
- 1 round of Pizza Dough (see below)
- 2-3 Tbsp. of Pizza Sauce (see below)
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese
- 1 can Spam
- 1 cup Nacho Cheese Doritos, crushed
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and put your pizza pan or stone on a rack in the middle of the oven to preheat. On a floured work surface, turn out the dough and stretch, with a combo of rolling pin and your knuckles, until you’ve got a 10- or 12-inch disk of dough.
Meanwhile, take the Spam out of the can and dice into half-inch cubes. (For a nicer presentation, you could cut it into slices, but I think the cubes give the Spam the best chance to caramelize.)
When the oven is fully preheated, take the pan out (careful, it’s hot!) and place the round of pizza dough onto the pan. (You could also put the dough on a piece of parchment paper and then slide it directly onto the stone.) Top with a few tablespoons of sauce, sprinkle liberally with cheese, and add the Spam cubes. Cook in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the cheese is nice and bubbly. That preheated pan or pizza stone will make sure you get a nice crispy bottom, too.
Take out of the oven, and crush the Doritos in your hands, dropping from a few inches above the pie for even coverage. Slice and serve.
- 1 ¼ cup warm water (approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 1 (2¼ tsp.) packet instant yeast
- ¼ tsp. granulated sugar
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 3 cups (470 g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup olive oil
In a small bowl, mix the water, yeast, and sugar; leave to bloom for 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, salt, and the bloomed yeasty water. Mix on low to incorporate everything, then, with the mixer still on, stream in the olive oil along the side of the bowl. Make sure it distributes evenly throughout the dough.
Once you feel comfortable, turn your mixer up to medium-low (level 2 or 4, if you’re using a KitchenAid) and leave to mix for 10 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. After the dough becomes smooth and tacky, take it out of the bowl, fold the sides in your fingers until it becomes a smooth ball, and put in an oiled bowl to rise, covered, in the fridge overnight or 1-2 hours on the counter.
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus a drizzle for the pan
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes (San Marzano if you want to be fancy)
- 1½ tsp. kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar, 1 pinch red pepper flakes, and/or 3-4 leaves fresh basil (optional)
Saute the garlic in a drizzle of oil at the bottom of a medium or large saucepan for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, salt, and oil, cover the pot, and let stew on medium to medium-low for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Smash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon as you go if you prefer a chunky sauce, or blitz with a hand blender to get a smoother consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings, and add sugar, pepper flakes, and basil until you like the way it tastes.