How to Make Homemade Detroit-Style Pizza
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If you love pan pizza with an irresistible cheese frico crust, you will love this Detroit-style pizza recipe. The base is very similar to focaccia, light and airy, and thanks to a parbake, it’s sturdy enough to sustain a blanket of cheese, sauce, pickled jalapeños, and cup-and-char pepperoni. Below you will find step-by-step instructions for how to make excellent Detroit-style pizza at home and the secret to creating a tall and lacy cheese frico crust.
My introduction to Detroit-style pizza came not by way of Detroit’s legendary Buddy’s Pizza, but rather from Matt and Emily Hyland, the couple behind Pizza Loves Emily, whose New Haven-style pizzas are near and dear to my heart, and whose Emmy Squared slices now follow close behind.
It all began one Friday evening at the height of the lockdown last year. Longing to eat something from beyond my 5-mile radius, I splurged on a trio of pizzas from Emmy Squared via GoldBelly. The small rectangular pies topped variously with everything from pickled jalapeños and banana peppers to Calabrian chilies and smoked gouda each accompanied with little tubs of side sauces, squeeze bottles of dressings, and tiny tubes of honey transported us to what felt like a faraway land.
It was a blast.
After this Emmy Squared takeout dinner, I found myself determined to make this style of pizza at home for two reasons: one because it was delicious, but two because it seemed easy: I loved the idea of making one large pizza in one vessel, presenting it to the family, and then: turning the oven off! (I’ve gotten used to never sitting on pizza night.)
Friends, guess what? Having Detroit-style pizza in the dinner rotation is as dreamy as imagined. Making one and only one pizza that feeds my entire family is life-changing. (Turns out: I like sitting!)
But can I tell you my favorite part about making this style of pizza? You can assemble it days in advance. I have mixed up the dough on a Wednesday, transferred it to its baking pan, and tucked it in the fridge until Friday! On baking day, I simply remove the pan, top it, and throw it in the oven. It feels like a miracle.
The recipe below includes both a yeast-leavened and a sourdough-leavened Detroit-style pizza dough with two topping options: one with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, the other with the addition of pickled jalapeños and honey, inspired by “The Colony” served at Emmy Squared.
Of course, you can top your pizzas as you wish. The key to finding success with Detroit-style pizza at home, as with so many things, is balance. For me, finding the right balance meant topping the pizzas a little more minimally than many of the recipes I found on the web. And finding ultimate success with this style of pizza came down to borrowing techniques from various sources, most notably from Matt and Emily Hyland (both from their book and a virtual cooking class I attended) and Wes Pikula of Buddy’s in Detroit (from this Pizza City USA podcast episode).
This is a long post, jump ahead if you wish:
- What is Detroit Style Pizza?
- The Dough
- The Secret to a Light and Airy Dough?
- The Cheese
- The Sauce
- The Pan
- How to Create A Cheese Frico Crust
- Why Parbake Your Detroit-Style Pizza
- Detroit-Inspired Pizza
- My Ideal Detroit-Style Pizza
- How to Make Yeast-Leavened Detroit-style pizza
- How to Make Sourdough Detroit-Style pizza
What is Detroit-style pizza?
Detroit-style pizza is often described as “pan pizza” and it is not unlike a cheesed- and sauced-focaccia. But there are some defining characteristics of true Detroit-style pizza. Let’s explore:
- The dough of Detroit-style pizza should be high hydration (typically this means over 65%), and the baked dough should be light and airy, similar, as noted, to focaccia.
- In the picture below of the crumb shot, you’ll see lots of nice air pockets — this is partially thanks to the 76% hydration dough, which, as of 2/10/2023 is now an 87% hydration dough.
The Secret to a Light and Airy Dough?
As with focaccia, a long, cold proof will make for a lighter, airier dough. Matt and Emily Hyland bulk ferment their Detroit pizza dough in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours; then proof their dough in the pan in the fridge for 2 to 36 hours before using.
Detroit’s Buddy’s Pizza also employs a cold proof. After the dough’s first rise, it gets pressed into the pan, topped with both cheese and pepperoni, and transferred to the fridge to proof again.
I get the best results when I bulk ferment in the fridge for 48 hours before transferring the dough to the pan. Once it’s in the pan, I’ll return it to the fridge for 3 hours at a minimum but often for 24 hours more.
As noted above, this is great for convenience — it’s so nice having a nearly assembled pizza waiting in the fridge — but it’s also beneficial for the dough: the longer dough ferments, the more gas bubbles are produced, and when those gas bubbles hit the hot oven, they expand, creating a light, porous crust.
Update 2/10/2023: After many experiments, I find I can get a light, airy dough when I do a room-temperature overnight rise, followed by a room-temperature proof.
- Wisconsin Brick Cheese, which is derived from white American cheddar, but has a higher fat content, is traditional.
- In Detroit-style pizzas, cheese goes on the dough before the sauce and is spread all the way to the edge of the pan. This method allows the cheese’s fat to pool at the pan’s edges and fry the dough, creating a cheese frico crust (see below).
- Note: In Upstate New York, brick cheese is hard to find. During my experiments, I ordered lots of Wisconsin Brick Cheese (and it truly is a great pizza cheese: very melty and tasty), but for ease, I now use a combination of Cheddar or Monterey Jack and low-moisture, whole milk mozzarella:
I like to cube or shred the above cheeses, but when I’m feeling lazy, these two bags work great:
- Detroit-style pizzas use a cooked tomato sauce (as opposed to an uncooked sauce, which is what Neapolitan-style pizzas and others traditionally call for.)
- The sauce is applied last (over the cheese and pepperoni) in dollops or in two or three “racing” stripes. Detroit-style pizza is not super saucy. Here are two sauce recipes (one made from canned tomatoes, one from fresh) that I love for pizza.
- The story of Detroit’s Buddy’s Pizza, the “original” Detroit-style pizza, is that the owner used his mom’s Sicilian pizza recipe, but placed the dough in rectangular blue steel pans — these were “scrap” pans from the nearby auto plants.
- Lloyd Pans is a company that makes, among many things, Detroit-style pizzas pans — they arrive already seasoned, and they truly make a beautiful crust. I have two. I also recommend baking the pizzas on a Baking Steel for optimal crispness.
- A tip from Emily Hyland: grease the pan with butter because the milk solids in the butter encourage a deeper browning in the crust than oil. I like to use both butter and oil.
Cheese Frico Crust
If you have spent any time on Instagram or TikTok, you may have come across some striking images of Detroit-style pizza. My favorite are those from Apollonia’s Pizzeria in Los Angeles. Justin De Leon, the owner, will be first to say, however, his pizza is not true Detroit-style, but rather what he calls “Los Angeles” style.
Though I have never been to Detroit, from what I gather, the frico crust of a true Detroit-style pizza is less wild than the images filling our social media feeds, but caramelized and pronounced nonetheless, something more like this:
But the dramatic cheese frico crusts are fun, right? So how do we create these magical crusts? …
… with a parbake and pre-grated cheese. Read on for the details. I have two pizza makers I met through Instagram, Christy Alia of Real Clever Food and Jimmy Hank of Jimmy Hank Pizza, to thank for sharing their wisdom on this matter.
Why Parbake Your Detroit-Style Pizza?
For two reasons:
Most important: If you have struggled to get your bottom crust to cook completely before your toppings burn, a parbake is the solution. I have found 8 minutes at 500ºF to be perfect. After the 8 minutes, I let the dough cool, then I top it and return it to the oven for 10 minutes at 475ºF.
Second: if you’re looking to create a dramatic cheese frico crust, the parbake is essential. During the parbake, the dough will shrink from the sides of the pan ever so slightly, creating a space for cheese to wedge itself into and ultimately build into a tall, lacy cheese crust.
Another essential piece — unfortunately — is to use pre-shredded cheese, the starches in which prevent the cheese from clumping and melting too quickly. These cheeses do not taste nearly as good as block cheese you grate yourself, and one solution, smartly suggested by Christy Alia is to use pre-shredded cheese along the perimeter and the good stuff in the interior. These are the two pre-shredded cheeses I have been using for the perimeter of DSP:
The recipe below is inspired by the Detroit canon: the dough is high hydration, like a focaccia, and it’s cheesier and greasier (hey pepperoni!) than the pizzas I’ve grown to love over the years. That said, compared to many Detroit pizza recipes out there, some of which call for 24 ounces of cheese and 12 ounces of pepperoni, this one is not quite so excessive.
If you want more of deep dive into true Detroit-style pizza this episode of Pizza City USA is great.
My Ideal Detroit-Style Pizza
- At least 75% dough hydration. Update: New dough is 87% hydration.
- Butter + olive oil in the pan. As noted above, the milk solids in butter help better brown the bottom of the pizza. I grease the pan with 1 tablespoon of butter; then coat the dough ball in 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
- Fermentation: Two Options:
- Long cold ferment: There are several ways to do this: You can mix the dough and stick it in the fridge for 48 hours. Or you can mix the dough, let it rise at room temperature, pan it, then stick the pan in the fridge for 48 to 72 hours.
- Long room-temperature proof works well, too: Recently (2/10/2023) I’ve been mixing the dough in the evening using cold water and 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, letting it rise overnight, then following the initial rise with a room-temperature proof in the pan.
- Parbake: To allow the dough to cook and prevent the toppings from burning.
- Sauce on top, but not last. In true Detroit-style pizza, the sauce goes on last. I tried this a few times, and it’s not my preferred way of assembly because when the sauce goes on top, the toppings can’t brown/crisp/char as nicely. I like to proof the dough with the cheese spread across it, spoon sauce over the cheese once it comes out of the fridge; then top the pizza with any other toppings I am using.
- 12 to 14 ounces of cheese total. As noted above, I use a mix of whole milk, low-moisture mozzarella and Cheddar. Monterey Jack works nicely, too.
- 1/2 cup of sauce — it won’t feel like enough, but it is. I love a vodka sauce on pizza. This is the simple vodka sauce recipe I’ve been making most often.
- 1/4 cup pickled jalapeños: Matt and Emily Hyland include pickled jalapeños on one of their pizzas, The Colony, which has become one of my favorites to make at home. It’s finished with a honey drizzle out of the oven, and the spicy-sweet combination is irresistible.
- 3 to 4 ounces of pepperoni. I love this Vermont Smoke and Cure:
Detroit-Style Pizza, Yeast Leavened, Pepperoni
Gather your ingredients: bread flour, salt, cold water, and instant yeast, SAF is my preference.
Whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast:
Add cold water.
And stir to form a sticky dough ball. Cover the dough with a teaspoon of olive oil. Cover with an airtight lid or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight or for 10 to 12 hours.
The following morning, remove the lid.
Deflate the dough. I like to use a flexible dough scraper for this:
Place it in your prepared pan: a buttered Detroit-style pizza pan with 1 teaspoon of oil in the center:
Let the dough rise for 3 to 4 hours.
Then dimple and stretch the dough to the edges.
Let it rise for another hour, then parbake it for 8 minutes at 500ºF:
Remove the parbaked crust from the pan and let it cool upside down on the rack — this is another tip from Christy Alia, which she learned from her grandfather.
Return the dough to the pan and begin by adding your cheese, using pre-shredded cheese on the perimeter (if you’re going for that dramatic, tall frico crust) and hand-grated cheese on the interior. Note: Here I am using all hand-grated cheese, which I prefer for its flavor. You will see at the end that the crust is not tall and dramatic, but it sure is tasty.
Next, add sauce and toppings for choice.
Return to the oven at 475ºF for 10 minutes.
Let cool for 5 minutes in pan, then transfer to a board to cut and serve.
This a frico crust made with hand-grated cheese:
This is a frico crust made with pre-shredded cheese:
Detroit-Style Pizza, Sourdough Edition, Pepperoni + Pickled Jalapeños
Combine 100 grams of active, bubbly starter with 185 grams water.
Add 6 grams of salt:
Stir to combine.
Add 255 grams flour.
Stir to form a sticky dough ball.
Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Then perform a set of stretches and folds or slap and folds (see video for guidance). Do two sets of these stretches and folds total at 30-minute intervals.
The dough will feel smooth and elastic after the second set. Transfer to a straight-sided vessel and let rise until doubled in volume.
When the dough has doubled or nearly doubled, you can transfer it to the fridge for 48 hours or proceed with the recipe.
From here, the process is the same as outlined above with the yeast-leavened dough. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape it into a ball. Transfer to a prepared pan (see yeast-leavened process photos above). UPDATE 2/10/2023: I now add a parbake. I have not updated the sourdough step-by-step photos yet, but will do so soon. Stay tuned!
Out of the oven, drizzle lightly with honey.
In closing, this is a nice tool to add to your arsenal of pizza-making gear: a mezzaluna. I love this one:
7 Secrets to Mastering Pizza at Home
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If you love pan pizza with an irresistible cheese frico crust, you will love this Detroit-style pizza recipe. The base is very similar to focaccia, light and airy in texture but sturdy enough to sustain a blanket of cheese, sauce, pickled jalapeños, and cup-and-char pepperoni. A parbake will ensure everything bakes evenly and will help create a dramatic cheese frico crust.
UPDATE 2/10/2023: I have updated the original yeast-leavened recipe by increasing the hydration and eliminating the stretches and folds. I’ve also added a parbake. Find the original recipe here.
As always, for best results, please use a digital scale to measure everything. Volume cups simply are not accurate.
Flour: I have had success using all-purpose flour, but if you can get your hands on bread flour, that is ideal, especially if you live in Canada or abroad. Moreover, if you live in Canada or abroad, you may need to reduce the water amount. Consider holding back some of the water (25 grams or so) during the mixing process to ensure you don’t end up with a soupy mess. You can always add it back in slowly if the dough is too dry.
Cheese: Wisconsin Brick cheese is traditional but it can be hard to come by if you live in the Northeast. A mix of whole milk mozzarella and Cheddar or Monterey Jack works great for the interior surface. Pre-shredded cheese is essential for creating a dramatic cheese frico crust on the perimeter.
Sauce: I love a vodka sauce on pizza, such as this one or this one. This is my favorite fresh tomato sauce recipe. Of course, use your favorite tomato sauce here. I love all of the Rao’s brand sauces.
Pan: I hate to encourage spending money on yet another piece of equipment, but a Lloyd Detroit-Style pizza pan does make a difference. I love my 9×13-inch USA pan, but a Lloyd Pan truly creates a crisper, more golden bottom. Furthermore, if you have a Baking Steel or pizza stone, baking the pizza on it will encourage even better browning, and if you don’t have a Lloyd pan, I suggest using the Baking Steel, which will help crisp up the bottom.
Timeline: Plan ahead. I like to mix the dough in the evening, let it rise overnight, then bake it the following day.
The toppings: The pickled jalapeño and pepperoni pizza below is inspired by “The Colony” served at several of the Matt and Emily Hyland pizza restaurants, the recipe for which also can be found in their book, EMILY: The Cookbook.
For the yeast-leavened pizza dough:
- 280 grams (2 heaping cups) bread flour
- 6 grams (1.5 teaspoons) kosher salt
- 2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) instant yeast, SAF is my preference
- 240 grams (about 1 cup) cold water
For the sourdough pizza dough:
- 255 grams (1.75 cups + 1 tablespoon) bread flour
- 6 grams (1.5 teaspoons) kosher salt
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) active, bubbly sourdough starter
- 185 grams (3/4 cup) water
For each pizza:
- 1 tablespoon (14 g) softened butter
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) olive oil
- 6 ounces pre-shredded Cheddar (for the cheese frico crust)
- 4 ounces pre-shredded low-moisture, whole-milk mozzarella (for the cheese frico crust)
- 6 ounces hand-grated low-moisture, whole-milk mozzarella for the interior surface
- 3 to 4 ounces (85 – 113 grams) pepperoni, I love Vermont Smoke & Cure, sliced as thinly as possible
- 1/4 cup pickled jalapeños, to taste, optional
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce, such as this one or this one, or your favorite jarred sauce
- light drizzle honey, optional
To make the yeast-leavened pizza dough:
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Add the water. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball. Slick the dough with a teaspoon of olive oil. Cover the bowl with an airtight lid. Let rise overnight or for 10 to 12 hours at room temperature.
- Using lightly oiled hands or a flexible bowl scraper, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it towards the center. Shape it into a rough ball. Skip to preparing the pan.
To make the sourdough pizza dough:
- Place the water in a large bowl. Add the starter and stir with a spatula to combine. Add the salt and stir again; then add the flour. Mix again until the flour is mostly incorporated. Use your hands if necessary to briefly knead in the last bits of flour. Cover vessel with a tea towel or cloth bowl cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes have passed, reach into the vessel and pull the dough up and into the center. Turn the vessel quarter turns and continue this pulling 8 to 10 times. Let the dough rest for another 30 minutes; then repeat the stretching and folding. After these two sets of stretches and folds, you should see a difference in the texture of the dough: it will be smoother, stronger, and more elastic.
- If you have a straight-sided vessel, transfer the dough to it; then cover it with a tea towel or bowl cover and set aside to rise at room temperature (70ºF/21ºC) for 4 to 8 hours (the time will vary depending on the time of year, the strength of your starter, and the temperature of your kitchen) or until the dough has roughly doubled in volume. (A straight-sided vessel makes monitoring the bulk fermentation especially easy because it allows you to see when your dough has truly doubled.)
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape into a rough ball. I like to do this without flour, but use flour as needed — the dough will be sticky. Use the pinkie-edges of your hands to pinch the dough underneath to create a ball. Skip to preparing the pan.
Prepare the pan:
- Grease the pan with the tablespoon of softened butter. Pour 1 teaspoon of olive oil into the center. Place the dough ball in the pan and turn to coat. Let rest for 3 to 4 hours. With lightly oiled hands, stretch the dough to fit the pan. Let the dough rest again for 1 hour.
Parbake the dough:
- Preheat the oven to 500ºF.
- Dimple the dough one last time with lightly oiled hands taking care not to dimple the perimeter. Transfer the pan to the oven for 8 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and carefully transfer the dough to a cooling rack. Let it cool upside down on the rack for 20 minutes. Do not wash the pan.
- Once the dough is cooled, you can transfer it to an airtight storage bag for 1 to 2 days at room temperature or up to 3 months in the freezer.
Top the pizza:
- Preheat the oven to 475ºF. If you do not have a Detroit-style pizza pan, place a Baking Steel or pizza stone in the oven while it preheats.
- Return the parbaked crust to its pan.
- Combine the two pre-shredded cheeses for the frico crust in a medium bowl. Spread this cheese around the perimeter of the dough pressing it into the sides of the pan.
- Sprinkle the hand-grated mozzarella over the interior surface of the dough.
- Finish topping the pizza: spread the 1/2 cup of tomato sauce evenly over the top. Spread the pepperoni evenly over the surface. If you are using pickled jalapeños, scatter them evenly over the pizza, keeping in mind heat tolerance — they make the pizza very spicy.
Bake the pizza:
- Transfer pizza to the oven for 10 minutes or until the edges are caramelized to your liking. Remove the pan from the oven and let the pizza rest for 5 minutes in the pan. Carefully run a paring knife or spatula around the pan’s edges. Then, carefully remove the entire pizza from the pan, transferring it to a cutting board. If you are using the honey, drizzle it over top. Cut the pizza into 12 pieces and serve.
- Prep Time: 24 hours
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Detroit, style, pizza, pepperoni,