feasting with friends

Michigan Monday: Detroit Style Pizza

detroit style pizzaGlenn and I both grew up in the greater Detroit area…Glenn in the City of Detroit, and me in the suburbs. Though we grew up in different parts of the city, we both grew up on Buddy’s Pizza. In the spirit of carrying on traditions, our kids have also grown up on this pizza. Legend says that Detroit-style pizza, a descendent of Sicilian-style pizza, can be traced back to Gus Guerra. In 1946, Gus owned what was then a neighborhood bar (some say a blind pig), Buddy’s Rendezvous. Soldiers were returning from World War II with a “taste” for the pizza they enjoyed while overseas. Gus enlisted the help of his wife, Anna, who started making a dough recipe from her Sicilian mother. The Sicilian dough, topped with cheese then the tomato sauce (yes, the cheese is under the sauce), would become the “standard” for Detroit style pizza.

detroit style pizza

The original location was (and still is) in the city limits and there are additional locations in the suburbs. Eventually, Gus sold Buddy’s Rendezvous and subsequently opened Cloverleaf Bar and Pizzeria not far away. Thankfully, he and his wife continued their tradition of Sicilian/Detroit Style pizza. Shield’s Pizza offers a very similar pizza in style and taste…though different too. Even the larger chain pizzerias in our area (Jets, Hungry Howie’s) have added Detroit Style, or deep dish, pizza to their menus. But personally, I prefer Buddy’s.

detroit style pizza

The key ingredient in a Detroit-style pizza is the pan. The components that “make” Detroit pizza…the soft and airy square crust, the crunchy exterior, the caramelized cheese that edges the pizza…are thanks to the pans in which the pizzas are baked. The pans are a thick steel, more similar to a cast iron skillet than a cake pan. The story goes that Gus got his initial batch of pans from a friend who worked in a factory. The pans were used to collect spare parts on the assembly line. Let me add, that thanks to these pans, the corner slice has always been the “most wanted” in our family of four.

detroit style pizza   detroit style pizza

At Buddy’s, you don’t (and can’t) order your pizza in small, medium or large. You order either a 4-square or an 8-square. The “assembly” of the pizza is crucial. One needs to use the heaviest pan (preferably steel) in their arsenal. The pan is oiled, and the dough is stretched to fit the bottom and sides at about 1/2-inch thickness. The pepperoni is placed on top of the dough, topped by a generous helping of shredded Wisconsin brick cheese. Any toppings used (other than pepperoni) go on top of the cheese. Finally, the sauce is dolloped on top of the cheese. The pizza is then baked to perfection.

the anatomy of detroit style pizza

Though we can get a Buddy’s pizza easily Monday-Friday of any week (the university Travis commutes to is directly across the street from a location of the restaurant), I just had to see if we could come close in flavor and texture at home. And close we came.

detroit style pizza

I don’t own a steel pan, so I chose the heaviest one(s) in my kitchen. The resulting crust didn’t have the looks of Buddy’s, but it sure tasted pretty darn close. I found a copycat recipe, here. I found the dough was a bit too dry (to truly taste like Buddy’s) and not quite crisp enough. Other information I found, including a magazine article about this style of pizza and TV news segments, stated “start with a wet dough”. Through experimentation of my own, and of my blogging buddy Ronit of Tasty Eats, I incorporated both spelt flour and fine semolina. Voila…that was much closer to the “real” thing. As you can see below, after the initial mixing, the dough should remain quite sticky.

detroit style pizza - the dough   detroit style pizza - the dough

Buddy’s pizza sauce has a tomato and basil base.  I used the “bones” of the sauce I found here. After the first round of pizza, we decided the sauce needed to be a bit sweeter. So I added a bit more sugar and a bit of red wine. It worked and tasted extremely close to the original. Note: The sauce recipe below will yield enough for 4 large pizzas. The recipe can be cut in half and will be sufficient for 2 pizzas. It also freezes very well and will cut down on your pizza making time for the second round.

detroit style pizza - basil tomato saucedetroit style pizza assembly   detroit style pizza assembly   detroit style pizza assembly  detroit style pizza

Detroit Style Pepperoni Pizza

  • Servings: 2 - 8 square pizzas
  • Time: 3 hr
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

detroit style pizza
What you’ll need:

For the pizza dough:

  • 1½ cups warm water (about 110° F)
  • 1 package fast-acting yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup fine semolina, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Oil, for greasing bowl

For the pizza sauce:

For the pizza:

  • Oil or shortening for the pan(s)
  • dough recipe
  • sauce recipe
  • 8 ounces Wisconsin brick cheese, shredded (approximate per pizza)
  • 4 ounces pepperoni (approximate per pizza)
  • toppings of choice if venturing outside of pepperoni

How it’s made:

For the pizza dough:

Pour 1/2 cup warm water (110-115°F, use a thermometer) in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast and sugar; stir to dissolve. Let sit until foaming, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the remaining water. Add the flours, semolina and salt all at once and mix on low speed until the mixture comes together. Increase to medium speed and mix for about 8 minutes, stopping the mixer to feel the texture of the dough periodically. The dough should be forming a ball around the dough hook, yet still sticky and not real “tight”.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly fine semolina coated surface and knead a few times until slightly elastic. The dough should hold together for a few seconds before spreading slightly. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the sauce…

For the sauce:

In a large saucepan or a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook 1-2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, basil, dried herbs, sugar, salt, pepper and wine.

Once heated through and bubbly, reduce heat to low and simmer. Sauce will thicken and reduce. Keep warm.

For assembly:

Grease a rectangular pan (8×10 works nicely for a 8-square pizza) with oil. If using a 8×10 pan, split the dough into 2 sections. Adjust dough amount accordingly for larger/smaller pans. Gently push the dough into the pan bottom and up about 1-inch on the side; the dough will be about 1/2″ thick.

Once the dough is in the pan, cover the dough with pepperoni (don’t be stingy, I used about twice the amount than I showed in the photo above). Top the pepperoni with 1/2 of the shredded cheese. Spread the cheese all the way to the edge of the pan and the dough. (Allowing the edges to crisp perfectly when baking.)  Cover the pan loosely with a damp towel and allow to rest at least 1 hour, or up to 2 hours.

For baking:

Preheat oven to 450°F.

After the 1-2 hour rest time for the dough, “adjust” the dough in the pan if needed. Make sure the bottom is completely covered and the dough is about 1-inch up the sides of the pan.

Dollop the warm sauce randomly onto the pizza, staying away from the edges. Bake in the top third of the oven about 20 minutes, or until crust is browned and crispy.

Bake the remaining crust with additional sauce and toppings.

Serve pizza with additional, warm sauce on the side as desired.

Dough and sauce recipe adapted from, here.

Coming in 2 weeks…my next Michigan Monday post will be a sweet treat beloved by many Michiganders.

48 comments

  1. Jojo

    I can’t wait to try this, please help me with more info about the pans if you can. I know they make a big difference from using different kinds over the years. Steel…. Is that what they are labelled typically or is stainless steel the same thing? Bedbath&beyond has a stainless steel aluminum pizza pan, lol. I’m sooo confused. Thx Nancy, jojo.

    • Hi Jojo! The pans used in the restaurant are steel. I’ve yet to find one in any retail store. Stainless steel would be different. I recommend the absolute heaviest pan (weight wise) you can find. I’ve achieved the best results using the bottom portion of my broiler pan…hope that helps! Good luck 😀

      • Jojo

        Found an assortment of proper steel pans at commercial restaurant store! Very reasonably priced. Pizzas turned out wonderful mmmmm yummy! Happiness.

  2. Joy Stachura

    Made this the other day for my hubby who is a Buddy’s pizza lover – he loved it! So glad I can now give him a taste of his home town even if we are in California. Thanks Nancy!!

    • Yay!!! I am SO happy to hear this homemade version can fill a void…at least until the next visit home to Detroit! Thanks for sharing your great, and successful, news. ❤

  3. Joy

    Omg – if I can create this at home you have just made Paul a very happy man!!! He is a Buddy’s Pizza loyal patron every time we visit Detroit and he swears pizza here in California just doesn’t compare. Wish me luck as I try to make this for him.

  4. Oh wow, I had never even heard of Detroit pizza before. I’ve had pizza in Naples, and Rome, and both were quite different and both were delicious, but this is something else! I love that it goes against all the rules I had learned so far: thick crust, cheese before sauce, etc. I love it all, and am bookmarking this to try it out some day. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thank you, Judi. 😀 Ahh…the versatility of a pizza can be appreciated any time of day or at any temperature! You may not have a Buddy’s in your area, but you do have Cottage Inn…a frequented pizzeria by us when our daughter attended U of M. So many varieties of pizza and so little time!

    • Thank you, Suzanne. I can’t begin to count the times gatherings among family and friends have been shared with pizza like this…now I can make it at home too. 🙂

  5. What the…?! How could you do this to us so early in the morning, Nancy? Now I’ll have pizza in my head all day long. Not just any pizza, this thick crusty Detroit Pizza. Cruel, cruel woman! 😄 It looks out of this world! Just so appetizing. I love the hand drawn illustrations, too! Very nicely done, Nancy! 😍

    • Hah..thanks, Angie! Just consider this my suggestion for lunch today. 🙂 As much as I love a good, thin crust Neapolitan style pizza…I love Detroit style too!
      Now the world knows what a great artist I am…hehe.

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