Deep Dish 101 – Lesson 2: The Basics


Welcome to Deep Dish 101 – Lesson Two: The Basics.

Webster Poppadopoulous DictionaryWebster’s dictionary defines pizza as:

   a dish made typically of flattened bread dough spread with a savory mixture, usually including tomatoes and cheese and often other toppings and baked.

Deep dish pizza is also made like this, except for a few differences.

1) While most pizzas are baked directly on the stone floor or deck of a pizza oven, a deep dish pizza is baked in a pan. The original Chicago deep dish pizzas were made in round pans, very similar (possibly identical) to cake pans. (never start a sentence with…) Because Deep Dish was intended to be a more substantial version of pizza, it is made in a pan and constructed to have a high outer wall to contain the generous amount of ingredients put inside.

2) With a few exceptions (Jersey, I’m talking to you!), most modern pizzas are made with the dough on the bottom, then the sauce on top of that, and then cheese goes on the very top, along with any additional toppings.

Deep dish pizza is assembled in a very similar way to a New Jersey “Tomato Pie”.
Cheese goes down first, then toppings, and tomato sauce goes on top. For deep dish pizza, this is essential, because if you don’t put the sauce on top, the cheese and toppings will burn due to the longer baking time.

 Anatomy of a Deep Dish Pizza:

You may have seen this chart before:

Chart - Anatomy of a Deep Dish PizzaThis is a chart of a typical Chicago style deep dish pizza with sausage.

As the chart above shows (and translates into latin),
Well, not the very bottom – that’s where the crust is!

Let’s talk about Deep Dish Crust:

First, let’s make a few distinctions.
All Chicago Style Deep Dish pizzas are pan pizzas, but not all pan pizzas are Chicago Style Deep Dish.
Also, not all Chicago pizzas are Chicago Style Deep Dish (we’ll get to that later)

WHATCHYOOTALKINBOUTWILLISTOWER?!?!? Well, Arnold, it’s like this:

If you make a pizza in a pan, it’s called a “pan pizza”. This is not rocket science.
Chicago Deep Dish is a style of pan pizza.
Sicilian style pizza is also made in a pan.
Pizza Hut Pan Pizza is also made in a pan.
All three are pan pizzas. Not all three are Chicago Deep Dish.

If you go to Pizza Hut and order a “pan pizza”, it is not a Chicago Deep Dish pizza.
Well, to start off… THE CHEESE IS ON THE TOP!
This is the single easiest way to spot a non-authentic Chicago Style Deep Dish.
Is it good? That’s a matter of opinion. I think most pizzas are pretty good, but vary in quality, texture, and taste.
It’s very hard to screw up pizza, but very easy to make it wrong.
(The company that now owns the Uno’s pizza chain is proving that today (2010).)
* UPDATE 2-8-2023 – Pizzeria Uno has been making efforts to redeem itself by opening new locations of “Pizzeria Uno” (not the grill) using the original recipe.

Back to the Subject – CRUST:
As mentioned above (and in the previous lesson), Deep Dish pizza was intended to be a more substantial version of pizza. It is made in a pan and constructed to have a high outer wall to contain the generous amount of ingredients put inside. Due to the longer baking time and the need for a less stretchy, more sturdy crust, a few modifications needed to be made.  Deep Dish dough is made with more oil and kneaded less than a typical pizza dough; this results in a crust similar to the kind you might get from a biscuit or pie dough.
One misconception about deep dish crust:
Many incorrectly describe Chicago Deep Dish as having a “thick” crust. Yes, the entire pizza is typically thicker than a normal pizza, but most of that is due to the toppings – not the crust.
With minor exceptions and variations in dough consistency, deep dish crust is not a thick crust. At least, it’s not supposed to be substantially thicker than a typical pizza. Many home cooks and restaurants have inadvertently helped to spread that bit of mis-information by making any number of mistakes.

Minor missteps that very likely will give you the wrong result for your deep dish crust:

You could be making or using the wrong kind of pizza dough to make deep dish. The amount of kneading required for a typical pizza dough is way too much kneading for deep dish. If you over-knead deep dish dough, you can end up with a much more bready or chewy result, which can also give you a thicker crust as a result. Large amounts of stretchy gluten may be great for bread or NY style pizza, but not so much for deep dish. For a single batch of dough, you should not be mixing/kneading for more than 2 minutes total, just long enough to work the dough into a ball.

The method in which you create the outer lip for your deep dish crust can also create the unintended effect of a thick outer crust. That outer lip is there to contain the ingredients put in the middle, so it can be understandable that you might want to have a substantially thick outer ring of dough up against the wall of your pizza pan. Resist this urgeIf you spread out your dough to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, it should be an even layer that comes out to the edge of the pan with just barely enough dough to pinch up a paper thin outer lip with your fingers – about 1 and 1/2 inches high – all around the inside of the outer wall of the pan. If you have so much dough left that you have a thick outer lip of dough, you are using too much dough (or you are making Gino’s East).

The General Method For Pressing Out Deep Dish Dough:

If you pressed your dough out correctly, it should look something like this.
Don’t worry about getting a perfectly even outer crust.
Just make sure it’s super thin, and try to keep the top edge of the dough
about a 1/2 inch below the top of the pizza pan so it doesn’t burn.

OK, now you’re all probably thinking, “That’s all well and good, but… HOW DO I MAKE THE DOUGH!?!?”
Well, I’m glad you asked, but that’s going to have to wait until the next lesson:

Come back soon for…
Deep Dish 101 – LESSON 3 : The Search For Curly’s Gold (or whatever the title is)

Click here to go back to LESSON 1

3 thoughts on “Deep Dish 101 – Lesson 2: The Basics”

  1. This is great info. Glad I finally found this website. I am from Illinois and always look foward to going to chicago for their pizza, particularly chicago style stuffed pizza. But I hardly get a chance to get up there. I’m about 3 1/2 hours away. Been searching for a Giordano’so crust and sauce recipe for ever. I love there stuffed pizza and would really like to make one from home

  2. Hi. So glad I found this website and cannot wait to try this recipe as my girlfriend and I have been dying to try the deep dish for ourselves since coming back from Chicago. We tried the deep dish at Pizano’s on North State Street we think?? From the deep dishes we have tried in the past which were allegedly ‘Chicago style pizza pies’, Pizano’s was by far the best. Was just wondering what your thoughts on Pizano’s are? Hopefully we didn’t fall into a massive tourist trap.
    Chris and Ali
    Newcastle, England

    1. Pizano’s has great deep dish! It’s no surprise, as Pizano’s is owned by Rudy Malnati Jr., brother of the late great Lou Malnati and son of Rudy Malnati. Thanks for visiting the site.

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