Chicago's Deep-Dish Pizza: Exploring Flavours Beyond The Crust

A classic deep-dish pizza crust, often described as buttery and flaky, strikes the perfect balance between a crispy exterior and a soft, doughy interior. This substantial crust is essential for supporting the weight of the abundant toppings. The sauce is robust and tangy yet made from simple and flavourful ingredients like tomatoes, herbs, and garlic. The toppings are plentiful, allowing for a symphony of flavours from savoury sausage to tangy peppers. The cheese, typically whole-milk mozzarella, melts and melds with the other ingredients, creating a gooey layer that binds everything together.

 Deep-dish pizza is a product of Chicago's vibrant culinary scene. The creation of this pizza style is attributed to two renowned pizzerias, Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. In 1943, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo sought to introduce a pizza that departed from the traditional thin-crust Neapolitan style. They wanted to offer a more substantial and satisfying experience to their customers. Sewell and Riccardo developed a pizza with a high-edge crust capable of containing ample amounts of cheese, toppings, and sauce. This innovative approach marked the birth of deep-dish pizza and set it on the path to becoming a Chicago institution. 

The cooking process for deep-dish pizza is a labour of love. It starts with a special dough that incorporates cornmeal for a slightly gritty texture and olive oil for added richness. The dough is pressed into a deep, round pan, ensuring an even distribution across the bottom and up the sides. This pan acts as a vessel, allowing the pizza to rise and take shape during baking. 

Once the crust is prepared, a generous layer of cheese, typically mozzarella, is added, forming a molten base. Various toppings, such as sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms, or pepperoni, are then layered on top. Finally, a robust tomato sauce, often made from canned tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and basil, is poured over the top, completing the creation. The pizza is then baked to perfection, resulting in a crispy golden crust, melted cheese, and a harmonious combination of flavours. 

Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza Popularity 

As word spread, locals and visitors to Chicago sought out this iconic dish, making it a must-try item on their culinary itineraries. The media played a significant role in spreading the fame of deep-dish pizza beyond Chicago. Movies and television shows often feature scenes set in Chicago that highlight the city's love affair with deep-dish pizza. 

Deep-dish pizza, known for its thick crust and generous toppings, has been featured in various movies and TV shows, contributing to its popularity. One notable example is the iconic film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), where the characters indulge in a mouth-watering deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Chicago. Another influential movie is "The Blues Brothers" (1980), showcasing a scene at a fictional pizzeria named "Shakey's," featuring deep-dish pizza. TV shows like "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago P.D." frequently showcase characters enjoying deep-dish pizza, highlighting its association with the city. These depictions have played a significant role in introducing and popularizing deep-dish pizza to a wider audience. 

Celebrities and food personalities, such as Oprah Winfrey and Anthony Bourdain, have also given glowing endorsements, further bolstering its popularity. The influence of social media platforms, with food bloggers and influencers showcasing their deep-dish pizza experiences, has also contributed to the widespread recognition of this iconic pizza style.  

Variations on Deep-Dish Pizza in the Modern World 

A deep-dish pizza is a style of pizza characterized by its thick and deep crust, which forms a sturdy base to hold a plethora of toppings. Unlike its thinner counterparts, deep-dish pizza is more akin to a pie or a casserole. The crust is typically made from a high-gluten flour and is layered with cheese, toppings, and sauce, often in reverse order compared to traditional pizzas. The term "deep dish" refers to the deep, well-defined shape of the pizza, with its high sides and ample space for ingredients. This unique structure allows for a satisfying and hearty pizza experience. 

While the classic deep-dish pizza remains a favourite, there have been interesting variations that have emerged over time. 

Regional influences within the United States have led to different styles of deep-dish pizza. For example, in Detroit, a rectangular deep-dish pizza known as Detroit-style pizza has gained popularity. It features a thick, square-shaped crust with a caramelised cheese edge. In other parts of the country, variations may include different cheese blends or unique combinations of toppings. 

 Beyond the United States, deep-dish pizza has inspired international adaptations and creative twists. In Japan, for instance, a pizza style known as "Chicago Pizza" incorporates elements of deep-dish pizza, often with Japanese ingredients like seaweed or miso-infused crusts. In Australia, deep-dish pizza is sometimes referred to as "Chicago-style pizza" and can feature toppings such as Australian beef or kangaroo meat, showcasing the local culinary flair. 

 Deep-dish pizza has its own distinct serving style. Once the pizza is baked to perfection, it is typically sliced into small, square-shaped pieces, referred to as "squares" or "pie slices." This method ensures that each portion has a perfect balance of crust, cheese, toppings, and sauce. The thickness of the crust and the generous layers of ingredients make each bite substantial and satisfying. 

 Accompaniments such as garlic bread, marinara sauce for dipping, or a tangy Giardiniera add additional dimensions of flavour and enhance the overall experience. Deep-dish pizza is often enjoyed with family and friends, fostering a sense of communal dining and shared enjoyment. 

 Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza  

For those who want to recreate the magic of deep-dish pizza at home, here's a detailed recipe:  


For the crust: 

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour 

½ cup cornmeal 

2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast 

2 tablespoons of olive oil 

1 ¼ cups warm water 

1 teaspoon salt 

For the sauce: 

1 can (28 ounces) of crushed tomatoes 

2 cloves of garlic (minced) 

1 teaspoon dried oregano 

1 teaspoon dried basil 

½ teaspoon salt 

¼ teaspoon black pepper  

For the toppings: 

2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese 

1 cup sliced Italian sausage 

1 bell pepper (sliced) 

1 small onion (sliced)  


    In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, yeast, olive oil, warm water, and salt. Stir the ingredients until a dough starts to form. 

    Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead for about 8–10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  

    Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a clean kitchen towel, and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.  

    Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by combining the crushed tomatoes, minced garlic, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, and black pepper in a saucepan. Simmer the sauce over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

    Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). Grease a deep-dish pizza pan or a round cake pan with olive oil.  

    Once the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to the greased pan. Press the dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  

    Sprinkle half of the shredded mozzarella cheese on the bottom of the crust. Layer the sliced Italian sausage, bell pepper, and onion on top of the cheese.  

    Pour the prepared sauce over the toppings, spreading it evenly.  

    Sprinkle the remaining shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce.  

    Place the pizza in the preheated oven and bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.  

    Allow the pizza to cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving.