What Is Detroit-Style Pizza, and Why Is It *Everywhere* Right Now?



If you’ve noticed tons of square sauce pizzas on your social media feed lately, no need to adjust your screen: welcome to the Detroit-style pie. Much like the Sicilian or “grandma” slices you may already have in your food rotation, these offspring have some distinguishing features that are easy to spot once you know where to look. And while this thick, square pizza may be very trendy right now, it’s not a new gimmick. Hailing from decades in Motor City, these butter cakes have all the basics – red sauce, crust, cheese – but here they come together to create something that feels completely new and ridiculously delicious.

What is Detroit Style Pizza?

What makes Detroit-style cakes different from the flat, round classics found in virtually every city in America (or in every episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)? Actually a lot.

First, while traditional pizza is topped with mozzarella (or burrata, if you’re eating in a place that fancy cutlery and Haim is playing on the stereo), Detroit-style pizza is usually made with Wisconsin brick cheese. This cheese has a stronger cheddar flavor than mozzarella and has a higher fat content. Since Detroit-style pies usually have cheese to the brim, the melted fat is poured into the batter. The result is a crust that is both crispy and tender at the same time, with a lace strip of crispy cheese around the edges.

It’s also made in a different order from New York pizza – instead of using batter as the base, then sauce, then cheese, Detroit-style cakes have cheese right on top of the batter, then sauce on top. That said, depending on where you eat them, the toppings may be under the sauce. I know that wrapping your head around can be difficult. So please take a few cleansing breaths before we move on.

This order of batter and cheese sauce is the same as layering Chicago pizza, but cakes in the Windy City are round and baked in much deeper pans, resulting in a result that is much heavier and denser than the stuff from Detroit. (The word “cake” is actually pretty accurate – from the side, Chicago slices have the raised look of an old-school slice of apple pie, just with cheese and hot peppers where the apples should be.) And finally, instead of an apartment, an ultra-chewy one Crust like New York’s Detroit-style crust is more focaccia-like: as light and fluffy as an episode of Bridgerton.

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How did Detroit pizza get so popular?

Detroit-style pizza was invented at Buddy’s, which opened in 1946 and immediately made things different: early on, it baked its cakes in pans borrowed from local auto factories. Today Buddy’s has 19 locations in Michigan. It also spawned a herd of copycats, and not just locally – the trend spread outside of the Midwest in the early 2010s, and the 2012 Las Vegas International Pizza Expo world championship winner was a Detroit-style cake. (Side note: if you know how to become a judge for this event please contact me immediately.) Championship winner Shawn Randazzo started a training course teaching chefs worldwide the secret of his winning pies, and soon he gave classes to students all over the world. Now, Detroit-style pizza is getting so big that even Pizza Hut is bringing out its own version.

How to Make Detroit Style Pizza at Home

When you’re not near Detroit, you can still turn the famous pizza into a damn good facsimile in your own kitchen. The recipe for this sausage and pepper tart uses cheddar cheese, but you’ll still be blessed with plenty of cheesy goodness even if you can’t get your hands on a Wisconsin brick. The basis is this simple, never-failing pizza dough recipe – use a stand mixer if you have one or add a little muscle to the process and knead by hand. Or try this grandma cake recipe that gives you Detroit-style square slices, just with a pink sauce instead of red. And speaking of red sauce, here’s an all-round pizza sauce recipe that you’ll want to keep in your back pocket.

Can i order it online?

If you know how to eat pizza better than bake it, Goldbelly can order authentic Detroit style pizza and have frozen cakes put right in your mouth. (Or your house, whatever.) Order from the real Buddy’s or try the award-winning Detroit Pizza Company. Or order from Emmy Squared, which opened in Brooklyn in 2016 and has been persistently bullied for months for good reason. It was also one of the main reasons for putting Detroit-style pizza in the spotlight, at least in the NYC area.

With the obvious quest for global domination for Detroit-style pizza, it’s probably only a matter of time before a delivery service near you has it if you haven’t tried it already. And if you’re a die-hard New York or Chicago pizza fan curious about a whole new world of flavors, don’t worry: this can be our little secret.


Dusty Kennedy