How Detroit-Style Pizza Got Its Iconic Shape

a close up of detroit-style cheese pizza
Detroit-style cheese pizza from Iron Born Pizza in Pittsburgh, PA.
Source: Hayley Sugg

Chicago, New York, and Neapolitan, the pizza styles attributed to these regions are all well-known. But there’s one rising star in the pizza world that has been flying under the radar for quite some time: Detroit-style pizza. Despite being a staple in the North-Eastern United States, the average American likely doesn’t know the hallmarks of Detroit-style pizza, from its “square” shape to the unusual topping order, and the history behind these unique attributes.

It All Started With a Pan and Plan

Detroit-style pizza had its humble beginnings in 1946 at a bar owned by August “Gus” Guerra, eventually transforming into the iconic Buddy’s Pizza franchise.1 Soldiers returning from World War II raved about the pizza served to them in Italy, which inspired Guerra to begin selling his own variation on Sicilian-style pie. The only road block was finding a pan to fit the thick and fluffy dough.

Through a bit of ingenuity, and access to manufacturing products due to Detroit’s booming automotive industry, Guerra settled on a steel rectangular pan that had similar characteristics to cast-iron. “They were typically used as drip trays and very inexpensive when purchased. Somehow it got into the kitchen here and the rest is history,” says Wesley Pikula, chief brand officer at Buddy’s Pizza. “They didn’t have rectangular sizes for pizza, they might have had some for breads, but there was no square pizza back then.”

four men work in a Rolls Royce factory to assemble an engine
Men working in a Detroit Rolls Royce factory during 1943.
Source: Picryl / Arthur S. Siegel

The Building Blocks of a Classic Detroit-Style Pizza

Most pizzas follow the same order: dough, sauce, cheese, and toppings. But Detroit-style bucks tradition in a way that creates an extra satisfying slice.

Everything starts with the dough being placed into the rectangular (but locally referred to as “square”) steel pan. “[The pan] has its own life,” says Pikula, “It kind of imparts a flavor onto the dough that’s unique” If pepperoni is being used, it goes straight on the dough to season it throughout. Next is Wisconsin-style brick cheese, generously placed over the top and edges to melt down and create a lacy, crispy crust against the pan’s dark edges. Lastly, a few stripes of red sauce are ladled on. The end result is a chewy pizza with crunchy edges, gooey cheese, and no sogginess from the sauce.

Variations on this formula exist, whether it’s adding a dash of sugar to the dough or choosing a different cheese, each Detroit-style pizza maker creates their own nuances and furthers its ever-growing popularity. But as Pikula says, “Buddy’s will always be the original and authentic.”

  1. “History of Detroit-Style Pizza” Buddy’s Pizza. Accessed October 9, 2022.

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