Taste Test: Delivery Pepperoni Pizza

Chain Pizza

Reviews of pizza at chain restaurants.

"There were definitely two winners, and two that would require a lot more beer-drinking."


Clockwise from top left: Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Domino's, Little Caesars. [Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Since pizza is right up there with wings and guacamole as far as Super Bowl cuisine goes, we ordered pepperoni pizzas from the four big nationwide chains (Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, Papa John's and Domino's) to find the tastiest. Why pepperoni? Because most people order pizza with at least one topping and pepperoni is the most popular one in the U.S.

Pizza Hut


20100201-ph-comp.jpgPepperoni: Whoa, they did not hold back. There's sure enough of pepperoni but, gack, it's pretty bland. Though it does get points for having nice, crisp edges.
Sauce: Opposite from the pepperoni situation. There's very little sauce and what's there is too herby.
Cheese: "Wished this was lighter on the cheese," said one taster. (That's probably not a compliment to the cheese.)
Crust: Doughy and heavy without much flavor. Maybe a hint of garlic (maybe).

Papa John's


20100201-pjs-comp.jpgPepperoni: Good—spicy, meaty, crisp around the edges, and it kind of dissolves in your mouth. Plenty of it too.
Sauce: Sweet, but for some reason people seem to get behind the Papa John's sweetness. Thankfully it doesn't taste like ketchup or fake herbs, and it actually has a hint of a buttery undertone.
Cheese: A little tangy; tastes like real cheese.
Crust: A bit more done than the others (decent browning and crunch on bottom) and nice hole structure (those network of air bubbles). Not too thick, which is good—the others can be a chewing party. "Weird, weird crust...not a horrible crust but it sure had a weird aftertaste," a few testers agreed.

Little Caesars


20100201-lc-comp.jpgPepperoni: Underseasoned (not quite spicy or salty enough) and undercooked (not browned at all).
Sauce: Not as candy-sweet as the others, but the problem was all the herbs. Or shall we say "herbs." It had that shaked-on dry spice taste.
Cheese: More like greasy rubber. No real flavor, except maybe chemical.
Crust: Doughy and crunchless, this barely passes as cooked. Actually, one taster felt like it was cooked in a toaster, comparing it to Ellio's frozen pizzas. "If you like toaster pizza, this is for you," said one taster.



20100201-dominos-comp.jpgPepperoni: More of a dark red (like real meat) than the disappointing, fake-looking orange. Nice meaty texture with a good amount layered per slice.
Sauce: Still has that delivery pizza sweetness, but with a slight kick.
Cheese: The best cheese of the four: tangy, well-seasoned, and actually tastes like mozzarella.
Crust: Breadier than the Papa John's crust but still had the same nice browning underneath. Intensely garlicky. There were food scientists hard at work here, but whatever you guys did, nice job. We'd eat another slice of this.

Final Thoughts

There were definitely two winners, and two that would require a lot more beer-drinking. We'd recommend ordering Papa John's and Domino's. While Papa John's would be easy to graze on all game long, Domino's was the most aggressively flavored, so you might actually be good after a couple slices. Pizza Hut and Little Caesars, on the other hand, oh boy.

Special Thanks

A big hug and spoonful of Pepto-Bismol goes out to The Food Lab's J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Brownie of Blondie & Brownie, and Doug Quint of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck for putting their stomachs on the line to help the Serious Eats team get through a pile of pizza boxes. Naturally, there was pie (as in pie-pie, as in "Elvis" pie baked by Brownie involving bananas, peanut butter, and bacon—basically the pie version of this) for dessert.