Detroit-style pizza was once locked down to the state of Michigan, but recently, thanks to chains like Jet’s, it’s slowly been trending its way around the United States. The original version was developed in 1946 at a restaurant called Buddy’s Rendezvous (now known as Buddy’s Pizza). Like so many American pizzas, it was inspired by an older version: it’s an offshoot of the puffy, bready Sicilian-style (think focaccia). It’s always baked in blue steel pans, and its one big defining characteristic is the crust.
The crusts of Detroit-style pizzas aren’t the bare pizza bones a lot of people throw away. Rather, they’re composed of the same cheese that tops the pizza. When the pizza is baked, the cheese around the edges caramelizes to a dark brown crunchy lace. If you’ve never had it before, it’s easy to assume that someone just burned it, but the edges are always the best part of a Detroit square.
(If it sounds like I’m a massive pizza geek, I have a perfectly legit reason: I’m a former full-time pizza maker, and one of the specialties of the place I worked at—and still moonlight at occasionally—is Detroit-style pizza.)
On January 26, Pizza Hut unveiled its very own version of Detroit-style pizza. This foray came as a surprise to me, since it’s been a very long time since Pizza Hut has offered a new style. Pizza Hut was my family’s go-to when I was a kid (remember Pizza Hut’s Book-It program?), but over the years, I felt like it fell off in quality, big time, so it quietly fell out of my rotation. But this week, Pizza Hut reached out with an offer to send over a sample of Detroit Double Pepperoni, a Detroit-style pizza with two types of pepperoni: the flat, softer variety and the kind that crisps up into little cups that hold that tiny pool of red grease.
It’s a little hard to tell from this photo, but Pizza Hut nailed the height on a Detroit-style pie, along with the texture. The crust is bready and soft with a touch of chew, topped with a blend of mozzarella and parmesan. It’s worth noting that the original Detroit pizza makers used brick cheese, a buttery low-moisture cheese from Wisconsin, but a lot of Detroit-style places now use mozzarella, and it’s perfectly fine.
I didn’t think I’d notice it so much, but I really do appreciate the two styles of pepperoni on this pizza. Your teeth sink into the flatter, wider kind, but the cup and char pieces have a meaty crunch with that little bit of oil as a reward. Die-hard pepperoni fans covet that oil, while other people hate it. I’m somewhere in the middle: I like it, but not in excess, so the blend of pepperoni adds a little balance. It also has a surprising spicy kick to it, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.
One thing pizza geeks look for in a pie is a consistent bake on the bottom. Different styles have different ideals: a Neapolitan pizza is considered good when there’s an even distribution of black spots (some of us call it leoparding). For a Detroit-style pizza, though, the preferred bake is a golden hue with a slightly fried texture, like the bottom of focaccia bread. Pizza Hut’s bake is pretty solid and even, without any burns or pale white areas.
While the cheese edges along the perimeter of the pizza aren’t as thick as I’d like, they have the right texture to them, with both chew and crunch. I think it’s a function of the blends of cheeses, but the edges don’t have a ton of flavor to them, and that disappoints me a bit. I prefer a little sharpness in my cheese edges, like a baked parmesan crisp, but this is my pizza nerd side nitpicking, and other people might not notice as much.
What I don’t like, unfortunately, is the sauce. Apparently there was a lot of testing involved to land on this one, but this sauce is so acidic, almost like cocktail sauce, with a lingering tingle. While some contrast is necessary, I think the choice of this tomato sauce is an extreme overcorrection of the richness of the cheese, bread, and meat. I’m curious to see what some of you think about it, because I have never had a sauce quite like it.
Overall, I’d say this is a pretty good version of a Detroit-style pepperoni pie. The sauce knocks the whole thing down a peg, but pizza is often a case of personal preferences, and that part just wasn’t for me. Otherwise, for a limited-time offer, it’s definitely worth trying. Will it kick Jet’s ass? No. The Jet’s Turbo Crust is totally safe for now, but I can say that the Detroit Double Pepperoni is the best thing I’ve had from Pizza Hut in years.