Better Pizza Through Science: The Frozen Pizza Experiment

Stubble: What’s your background with pizza? How much would you say you like pizza?
Matt: I’ve been a pizza enthusiast since a very young age. I was “allergic to milk” as a kid but that didn’t prevent us from eating pizza. My mom would dress my brother, sister and I up in red t-shirts (to hide any stains) and take us to the local pizza place, then order cheese-less pizza and put her own soy cheese that she had brought with her on top. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

Stubble: What was the impetus for the pizza experiment?
Matt: My friend Luke and I had talked about doing frozen pizza reviews, and sharing the results online, but sadly he and his GF Liz are moving to Albequerque, New Mexico. 😭 So, as a lust hurrah, we decided to do a pizza tasting so we could try a bunch all at once. And he’s a scientist so it was only fitting that we made it a very scientific experiment.

Stubble: How did you organize the test?
Matt: To set a level playing field, and because some people (read: Luke) are vegetarians, we opted to limit the scope to thin crust, cheese pizzas. To make sure this was a true blind tasting, I numbered the pizzas and took them all out of their respective boxes so no brands would be accidentally revealed. These are the six we tried:
Red Baron – Classic Crust, 4 Cheese / Bellatoria Ultra Thin Crust, Ultimate 5 Cheese /
Screamin’ Sicilian – Bessie’s Revenge Cheese / Jack’s – Original Thin Crust Cheese / Brew Pub Pizza – Lottza Motzza Cheese / Connie’s – Classic Thin Crust, Cheese

Ideally, we’d cook all the pizzas in separate ovens, following the instructions on the box to a T, but who the heck has 6 ovens at their disposal? We had two ovens available, and so we cut each pizza in half while they were still frozen, and cooked 3 halves per oven at the same time. To avoid cheese spillage, we cooked each one on sheets of foil. It was logistically challenging, but we made it work.

Once cooked, we cut each half-pizza into 8ths. Then, each judge (7 total), tried each pizza and jotted down notes on flavor, texture, and giving an overall rating on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being high). After that, we shared our notes and ratings, did the big brand reveal, and calculated the scores.

Stubble: Did anything surprise you?
Matt: Oh yeah, there were a couple surprises that were totally independent of the results:
1. Heggie’s cheese pizzas are surprisingly hard to find. I went to 3 different Holiday gas stations and they only carried Heggies’ meat pizzas, so that’s why Heggie’s was missing from this experiment.
2. Frozen pizzas are really expensive! Prior to this experiment, I almost exclusively bought Red Baron pizzas from Target, because they’re a great value. But for the sake of science, I bought all of these pizzas (except one), from the Cub Foods at the Quarry in NE Mpls, and most of them cost $8 or more! Maybe I’m a cheapskate, but I figure if I’m going to spend that much on a pizza, it might as well be fresh.
3. Cooking pizza on foil makes for a soggy crust. Big mistake. This totally affected the quality of the pizza-eating experience!

And now for the results!
(full tabulation available here)

  1. Connie’s was the winner, with an average overall rating of 3.6 out of 5
    “tasted fancy” “is that from the coop?” “good crisp cheese, very nice” “I didn’t like the graininess”
  2. Lottza Mottza got second place, with an average rating of 3.4
    “soggy underbutt” “papery” “cardboardy smell” “good taste, nice chew, good consistency”
  3. Screamin’ Sicilian got third place, with an average rating of 3.2
    “Milky and greasy” “It was more of a cheesy bread taste” “fancy cheese, too much sauce – maybe not well distributed?” “three giant pieces of cheese, plopped randomly on the pizza” “good cheese and good crunch” “had actual mozzarella”
  4. Jack’s tied for fourth place, both with an average rating of 2.6
    “tastest cheap” “soggy bottom crust” “too thin” “WTF, :(” “I appreciate the sharpness of the cheese, not wild about the rubbery chewiness” “tasted like ketchup instead of tomato sauce, very sweet” “nice cheesy smell” “good firm chew with a bit of crunch, maybe to do with being cooked better”
  5. Red Baron also tied for fourth place, with an average rating of 2.6
    “OK” “airier and crispier crust” “too peppery” “too doughy, not enough sauce” “more like a cheesy bread than a pizza” “the cheese has a lot of weird herb crap on top of it” “very crusty – maybe a good thing if you’re into that?”
  6. Bellatoria finished last, with an average rating of 2.1
    “gross” “tasted like ranch dressing and old basil” “you could tell they were trying to be fancy” “it reminded me of Italy and I hate Italy” “very herb, not terrible” “BASIL”

Stubble: What a finish! Connie’s gets top dog.
Matt: I thought it was interesting that Jack’s and Red Baron, both “budget” frozen pizzas, tied. I was hoping to give out a “Best Value” award, but because the prices were clustered around either $3.50 or $8-9, there wasn’t enough variation to draw a serious conclusion. Now that I’ve seen how much better a Connie’s pizza is as compared to Red Baron, I may splurge and opt for Connie’s when it’s on sale.

Stubble: If you ran the experiment again, what food would you investigate and how would you run it differently?
Matt: Chips and salsa would be fun, and a lot easier than anything that has to be cooked. Tacos would also be good. If I were doing frozen pizza again, like maybe a pepperoni edition, I’d risk a mess and skip the foil so the crusts stayed crispy.

Stubble: What is the very best pizza you have ever had?
Matt: Pequod’s in Chicago or Kylie’s in Seattle for deep dish. Pizzeria Lola or Punch for local thin crust, but Pizzeria da Michele in Naples really is the mecca of pizza.

Stubble: Anything else to add?
Matt: A wise man once said “Always keep an ace in the hole”, and by “ace”, he meant frozen pizza, and by “hole”, he meant freezer. That wise man was Luke Taylor. I’d like to dedicate this interview to him.

Matt Decuir is a thought leader and pizza researcher in Minneapolis.

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