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Secrets of Chicago-Style Pizza

Posted By Suzanne McMinn On August 18, 2010 @ 1:05 am In Breads,Grandmother Bread,Main Dishes,The Farmhouse Table | 22 Comments

While I was in Great Lakes for Ross’s boot camp graduation, I got the chance to sample Chicago-style pizza at the pool party the division moms threw for the boys. Wow. Pizza in Chicago is ridiculous. But I mean that in a good way. I was able to try a piece of both stuffed and deep dish, which almost killed me because the slices were so big, you could live for a week on just one. I came home determined to unlock Chicago’s pizza secrets. (I also wanted to unlock Denny’s pancake puppies secrets, just because they looked so cute on the menu, until we ordered a batch to try and my kids didn’t like them. Never mind.)

What is unique about Chicago-style pizza is the way the dough is baked in high-sided pans with an ingredient order that is opposite to most pizza styles–the sauce goes on top. These are very thick, tall pizzas that can feed an army. Traditionally, the ingredients include mozzarella and Parmesan, a well-pureed tomato sauce, and “toppings” (which aren’t on top!) such as Italian sausage, pepperoni, onions, green peppers, and so on, but you can order them with anything you like–and when you make them at home, make them your way (including vegetarian).

This is not so much a recipe post as a method post, so I won’t be including a recipe for the sauce–use whatever sauce you prefer. I have an Italian tomato sauce recipe that I use for pizza here. You can also use a store-bought sauce (if you must), and while Chicago-style pizza traditionally uses a well-pureed sauce, if you like it chunky, make it chunky. It’s your pizza.

For the dough, I’m using the one-loaf recipe for Grandmother Bread, with add-ins of 1/2 cup cornmeal and 1/3 cup olive oil. (Find everything you need to know about Grandmother Bread here.)

Here is the basic breakdown of what makes two of Chicago’s famous pizza styles so famous.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza:

Chicago’s famed deep dish pizza is made with a thick, heavy crust that includes olive oil and cornmeal. The dough is placed in a deep, round pan, with dough pulled up the sides, and partially baked before toppings are added. The pan is liberally oiled (olive oil) to keep a “fried” effect to the bottom of the pizza. After the partial bake, load in the cheese and all the ingredients you can fit–topped with tomato sauce–then finish baking.

Chicago-Style Stuffed Pizza:

Stuffed pizzas, Chicago-style, can be even taller than deep dish, and are made in a similar order of ingredients except that there is a second layer of dough before the sauce is added on top. To build a Chicago-style stuffed pizza, start with placing the dough in a high-sided pan, pulling the dough up the sides. Load in the cheese and meats then add a second layer of dough over top the ingredients. Roll and pinch the edges together to seal then spread the tomato sauce over the top and bake. (Cut a slit in the top layer of dough to allow steam to escape.)

Left, stuffed pizza. Right, deep dish.

If you have special high-sided deep dish pizza pans, that’s fabulous! I’ve found that iron skillets work perfectly.

The one-loaf dough for Grandmother Bread works out just right for one stuffed pizza in a 10-inch iron skillet or one deep dish pizza in a 14-inch iron skillet.

The dough–

1 1/2 cups water, divided
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
3 1/2 cups flour

*Flour measure is approximate–you may need slightly more or less. Use what you need to get a good, pliable ball of dough.

Place cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup very hot water. (Hotter than you usually would use in breadmaking–not boiling, just hot.) Let sit 10 minutes for the cornmeal to soften. Now continue on with the usual Grandmother Bread recipe instructions, adding the remaining water, yeast, sugar, and salt. Let sit five minutes. Stir in the first couple of cups of flour with a heavy spoon. Continue adding flour a little at a time, stirring until dough becomes too stiff to stir easily. Add a little more flour and begin kneading. The amount of flour is approximate–your mileage may vary! Continue adding flour and kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. Let dough rise in a greased, covered bowl until doubled. (Usually, about an hour.) Uncover bowl; sprinkle in a little more flour and knead again.

The method–

Deep Dish

Punch down dough. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough in a circle larger than the pan you’re using (about 3 inches wider all the way around).

Using oil spray, grease the bottom and sides of an iron skillet (or high-sided deep dish pizza pan) then drizzle olive oil across the bottom.

Transfer the dough to the skillet, pressing the dough up the sides. Bake on the lower oven rack at 450-degrees for 10 minutes.

Load in the cheese like there’s no tomorrow.

Add the other ingredients–meats, veggies, etc. I was making a “meat lovers” pizza here.

Add a little more cheese. Go ahead.

Spread the sauce on top and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake another 20 minutes at 450-degrees. (Top oven rack.)


Punch down down. Divide dough into two parts–one part being 1/3 of the dough, the other part being 2/3 of the dough. On a well-floured surface, roll out the larger ball of dough in a circle larger than the skillet or pan you’ll be using. Transfer dough to the pan, pressing it up as high as the sides. Add cheese then meat and veggies. I was using ground beef, Italian sausage, and mixed peppers.

Using the smaller ball of dough, roll out to a circle about the size of the skillet or pan. Place atop the cheese/meat/veggies and roll the edges of the lower circle of dough together with the edges of the upper circle of dough to seal.

Make a few slits across the top to let steam escape. Partial-bake at 450-degrees for 15 minutes–5 minutes on the lower rack, 10 minutes on the upper rack. Remove from oven. Spread sauce on top and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 25-30 more minutes on the lower oven rack at 450-degrees.

No need to go to Chicago for great pizza–you can make it at home!

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