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For starters, Detroit-style pies typically have cheese all the way out to their square edges so the melted fat gets infused into the dough (swoon).

By Molly Simms
March 09, 2021
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If you're noticing countless square, sauce-topped pizzas on your social media feed lately, there's no need to adjust your screen: Welcome to the Detroit-style pie. Similar to the Sicilian or "grandma" slices you might already have in your dinner rotation, these up-and-comers have some distinguishing characteristics that are easy to spot, once you know where to look. And though this thick, angular pizza might be very trendy right now, it's not some newfangled gimmick. Going back decades in the Motor City, these buttery pies contain all the fundamentals—red sauce, crust, cheese—but here, they come together to make something that feels totally new, and ridiculously delicious.

So what is Detroit-style pizza?

What distinguishes Detroit-style pies from the flat, round classics you can find in virtually every town in America (or in any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode)? A lot, actually.

First, while traditional slice-joint pizza is topped with mozzarella (or burrata, if you're eating somewhere fancy with actual silverware and Haim is playing over the stereo), Detroit-style pizza is usually made with Wisconsin brick cheese. This cheese has a stronger, more cheddar-y flavor than mozzarella and a higher fat content. Since Detroit-style pies typically have cheese all the way out to their square edges, the melted fat gets infused into the dough. The result is a crust that's crunchy and tender all at once, with a lacy strip of crisp cheese around the edges. 

It's also constructed in a different order from New York pizza—instead of dough as the base, then sauce, then cheese, Detroit-style pies have cheese directly on top of the dough, then sauce on the very top. Which means that depending on where you're eating them, the toppings may be underneath the sauce. I know this may be hard to wrap your head around, so please take some cleansing breaths before we keep going.

That dough-cheese-sauce order is the same way Chicago pizza is layered, but pies in the Windy City are round and baked in much deeper pans, for a result that's way heavier and denser than the stuff from Detroit. (The word "pie" is actually pretty accurate—from the side, Chicago slices have that lofty look of an old-school piece of apple pie, only with cheese and pepperoni where the apples should be.) And finally, instead of a flat, ultra-chewy crust like New York's, Detroit-style is more focaccia-esque: As light and fluffy as an episode of Bridgerton.

How did Detroit pizza get so popular?

Detroit-style pizza was invented at Buddy's, which opened in 1946 and did things differently right off the bat: Early on, it baked its pies in pans borrowed from local automotive plants. Today, Buddy's has 19 locations in Michigan. It also spawned a herd of imitators, and not just locally—in the early 2010s, the trend started spreading outside the Midwest, and in 2012, the winner of the Las Vegas International Pizza Expo world championship was a Detroit-style pie. (Side note: If you know how to become a judge for this event, please contact me immediately.) The championship winner, Shawn Randazzo, started a training course to teach chefs worldwide the secret of his winning pies, and soon he was giving lessons to students across the globe. Now Detroit-style pizza is getting so big that even Pizza Hut is rolling out its own version.

How to make Detroit-style pizza at home

If you're nowhere near Detroit, you can still make a pretty dang good facsimile of its famous pizza in your very own kitchen. The recipe for this sausage-and-peppers pie uses cheddar cheese, but you'll still be blessed with plenty of cheesy goodness, even if you can't get your hands on any Wisconsin brick. Its base is this easy, never-fail pizza dough recipe—use a stand mixer if you've got one, or put a bit of muscle into the process and knead it by hand. Or try this grandma pie recipe, which gives you Detroit-style square slices, only with a pink sauce instead of red. And speaking of red sauce, here's an all-around pizza sauce recipe you'll want to keep in your back pocket.

Can I order it online?

If you're more skilled at eating pizza than baking it, you can order authentic Detroit-style pizza on Goldbelly and have frozen pies shipped right to your mouth. (Or your house, whatever.) Order from the real-deal Buddy's, or try the award-winning Detroit Pizza Company. Or order from Emmy Squared, which opened in Brooklyn in 2016 and was persistently mobbed for months afterward, with good reason. It was also one of the major drivers in pushing Detroit-style pizza into the spotlight, at least in the NYC area.  

Given Detroit-style pizza's apparent quest for global domination, if you haven't tried it yet, it's probably only a matter of time before it's offered by a delivery service near you. And if you're a die-hard New York or Chicago pizza fanatic who's curious about dabbling in a whole new flavor world, don't worry: This can be our little secret.