Taste Test: Pepperoni Sticks


[Photographs: Meredith Smith]

The Criteria

The Winners!


  • #1: Vermont Smoke and Cure
  • #2: Margherita Italian Style

Pizza Topping:

  • #1: Boar's Head Natural Casings
  • #2: Margherita Stick

A few months back we put six brands of sliced pepperoni head-to-head in a taste test to find the best ones for snacking and pizza-making. You can check out the results here. But pre-sliced pepperoni and stick pepperoni are different beasts. While the pre-sliced brands are very convenient, most are sliced super thin (as in around a millimeter thin) and aren't likely to morph into little pepperoni grease chalices in the heat of the oven. If you missed the science behind the pepperoni curl, get up to speed would ya—right here!

With pepperoni sticks, you can control how thick you slice your meaty little discs and consequently enhance the chance of rendering up some perfectly cupped pepperonis. Casings factor in as well, and with a stick if it's not right on the package identifying the casing as natural or collagen, you can take an educated guess by noting whether the pepperoni has a slight curve or not.* The curved sticks are most likely stuffed in natural casings, which result in more moisture loss on the exterior walls of the stick and greater moisture contrast between the edge and center, which in turn means better cupping. But in these seven brands, we'll take the guess work out of the equation and let you know what separated our favorites from the rest of the pack.

Just like in the first round of pepperoni tasting, we are looking for a good balance of heat, spice, salt, and that characteristic spike of acidity. And while slicing your own has its advantages, it can also mean rounds that ooze more than a desirable amount of orange grease. So grease release is a factor and of course the coveted power to cup.

*Discerning the casing type on sliced pepperoni usually involved a phone call. However, since the last taste test we discovered you can by natural casing sliced pepperoni by Ezzo from Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. Time for a re-match.

The Contenders


The Brands We Tested

Margherita Natural Casing


This pepperoni topped the chart on pizza for its "meaty chew" and slightly crisp texture. It's punctuated by a "burst of herbaceousness" and a well-balanced flavor. The same texture didn't impress as unilaterally in the snacking side of things, as some tasters found the round to be more "akin to dry-cured sausage" and a little "jerky like." Despite the natural casings, there wasn't a lot of cupping from these slices. One of the down sides of this unpackaged stick could be a lack of humidity control, causing the sticks to overly dry out.

Boar's Head Natural Casing


Boar's Head Natural Casing Pepperoni packs a punch. The spicy heat got high marks as really "standing up to the sauce and cheese in good measure" on pizza. One taster remarked, "If you like a little kick in your pizza, this is the pepperoni to go with." Tasted plain, "fennel notes" were more pronounced, but a couple of taster found it "super salty."

Vermont Smoke and Cure


The "perfect balance of sweet, sour, and tangy" in this flavorful brand caused it to rank first with tasters as a snacking pepperoni. As indicated in the name, a "puff of smoke" was discernible on and off the pizza. And while it "cupped nicely," the "meaty flavor got lost among the other flavors of the pizza."

Margherita Italian Style


The vacuum sealed brother to the Margherita Natural Casing pepperoni garnered a lot of praise on the pizzas for its charred edged that "crisped up nicely." Vinegary heat and herb flavor both characterized these pepperoni rounds, but as a eating pepperoni, it came in second only to Vermont Smoke and Cure. The "good balance of seasonings" and "slight smokiness" at the end set this brand apart.



Bridgford's bright red pepperoni held firmly in the middle of the pack in the pizza and non-pizzas applications. Lots of grease pooled in the cups and they threatened to runneth over. But they had a "nice give" when cooked, even if they lacked dimension in the flavor department. Un-cooked, one taster described the texture as "stringy and oily," but flavor-wise it ended with a "burst of heat and spice at the end."

Colameco's Primo Naturale


Colameco's Primo Naturale is part of the Wellshire Farms family. As such, it's uncured, all natural, nitrate and nitrite "free" (except where naturally occurring). The natural collagen casing made from beef protein, not intestine, but the drier, crumbly texture makes them almost seem like they are from natural casings. While this sausage got higher marks as a snacking pepperoni for its vinegary sharpness, others found it salty and bland. On pizza it fell short by not crisping up and being more mealy than chewy.



"SALT" was the biggest complaint against the Hormel brand pepperoni. Texturally, these 'ronis were just too fatty. They were "juicing up orange oil" and "curled up like a 'roided out body builder." Tasters noted that these tasted "commercial" and "overly processed" and weren't surprised to see "Hormel" when the answer key was revealed.