We Built This City on Rock and Dough: What is Detroit-Style Pizza?

Thanks to social media and the internet, Americans are waking up to the fact that there’s way more than one way to make a pizza. You may fancy yourself a connoisseur because you’ve chowed down on Neapolitan-style pies and love a Grandma slice, but unless you’ve sampled the pizza from the Midwestern town that birthed the Motown sound, you’re a pizza rookie. Detroit-style Pizza is a unique and fantastic meal too good to be confined to Michigan.

Show Me Your Blue Steel

Detroit-style pies get their signature rectangular shape and impressive depth from blue steel pans, named for the color the metal turns when heated. This is probably the most “Detroit” thing about the pizza style. Blue steel pans were once used to transport small parts like screws and bolts on the floors of the city’s automotive plants. A few years ago, the West Virginia-based blue steel pans manufacturer Dover Parkersburg moved their production to Mexico and a backlog of orders accumulated, causing a shortage of the pans—which, by the way, were never intended for baking. Stateside companies stepped in to fill in the gap, and today you can order a blue steel pan shipped right to your door.

Cheese, Cheese, Everywhere Cheese

Like cheese? Detroit is the pie for you. Another hallmark of Detroit pizza is its wall-to-wall cheese coverage. And while mozzarella is sometimes used, Wisconsin Brick cheese—a semi-hard, washed-rind and mild-flavored farmer’s cheese that has its roots in Germany—is what the original recipe calls for. The dough is traditionally baked first to form the crust before the cheese is sprinkled liberally to cover it, forming a crispy, cheesy layer on the edges once returned to the oven.

Upside Down Tastes Oh-So Right

Wondering why there’s been no talk of sauce yet? Well that’s because it’s dolloped atop the cheese in little pools before that second baking (I know, take a breath). The toppings are placed like the other pizzas you’re used to—unless, that is, it’s pepperoni. In that case, it’s slipped under the cheese and warmed in the oven between the crust and Wisconsin Brick.