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Pan Pizza vs. Deep Dish – Differences? Similarities?

Pan Pizza vs. Deep Dish – Differences? Similarities?

If there is one dish in this world I will never get sick of, it is pizza. I am sure many people can relate to that. That is because pizza is so versatile!

There are so many types, countless methods of preparing it, and virtually limitless possibilities in terms of toppings. In the end, it is all up to your imagination and preferences. Where there is a will, there is a pizza.

Today, we are going to talk about two of my favorite kinds of pizza: deep-dish pizza, and pan pizza—their characteristics, their similarities, and the key differences between them. This includes a brief history of them, how they are prepared, and how one might go about making them at home!

Pan and deep-dish pizza might seem identical, but the differences may surprise you!

Pan Pizza and its Birthplace

A pan pizza is exactly what it says on the tin: it is pizza made using a pan—typically with a cast-iron skillet. That’s not the only way a pan pizza is made, however. If, for instance, you don’t have a cast-iron skillet handy, a round cake pan can be used. Both will accomplish the core mission of the pan pizza: a thicker crust.

The origin of pan pizza can be traced back to its popularization in the mid-20th century in America. A restaurant chain, Pizza Hut, brought this style of pizza to the forefront, originating in Kansas. At the very beginning of their restaurant, Pizza Hut made traditional pizzas with the typical thin crust.

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Pepperoni pizza in pan.

In 1959, the founders of pizza hut, Frank Carney and Dan Carney began making pizzas in pans to achieve a thicker, crispier crust. This different style of pizza made their restaurant explode in popularity, which caused Pizza Hut to expand into a chain of pizzerias. Since then, Pizza Hut has become a household name and now has restaurants in more than 120 countries.

Other competing restaurants eventually followed suit. In 1989, Domino’s added pan pizza to its menu, which was its first addition to the menu in its 29-year history at the time. This was an extremely expensive effort to roll out, but it ended up paying off–the pan pizza has been a staple of the Domino’s menu ever since.

Other Key Characteristics of Pan Pizza

Since the first pizzeria in America opened in 1905, the dish has been ever-evolving. This wide variety of styles means that while two pizza types might look similar on the surface, there are important differences.

Pan Pizza is thick, sure, but that is not the only distinguishing factor. Pan pizza is made using a harder dough than thinner pizza, which gives it that puffiness. This also makes the crust significantly thicker, but pan pizza needs to be baked hotter than a thin pizza.

Another feature of pan pizza is that the inner part of the crust is chewy, which combines well with the crunchier outside of it. This makes the inner part of the pizza have more “give”, and then the outer crust has that satisfying crispiness.

Deep Dish Pizza: A Brief History

Chicago deep dish pizza.

This is where I show a little bit of my bias here. I could talk about deep-dish pizza forever, but let’s start by going over its beginnings. Who invented deep-dish pizza in the first place?

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Well, the answer is that it is a complete mystery. We know that deep-dish pizza started in Chicago, that is for sure. Everything after that is up in the air like a hand-tossed pie.

Many have agreed that deep-dish began at the start of the 1940s at Pizzeria Uno, but it can’t be confirmed as totally accurate. Because of this, we don’t know the individual or individuals who invented deep-dish for certain.

All we can go on is speculation. Regardless, it is a Chicago staple, and it is magnificent. This is actually where deep-dish gets its original name: Chicago-style.

Deep Dish vs. Pan Pizza: Similarities and Differences

Chicago deep dish pizza on pizza tray.

At a quick glance, one might mistake deep-dish pizza for pan pizza. This is often because of one commonality they share, in that they are both thicker than your typical slices. Some restaurants may use the terms interchangeably, but the two styles definitely have their own unique elements.

A pan pizza is consistently thick all around, because of the hard dough mentioned before. So, when it rises up, the entire pie is thick throughout. There is a thickness in each of these two pizzas, but a pan pizza’s thickness is more evenly distributed.

Pan pizza will have a number and concentration of toppings that you would normally see on thin slices, leaving room for more of the bread. Deep-dish pizza has that thickness but it’s solely on the crust. The inner part of the crust is where everything changes.

Unlike pan pizzas, Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas place a lot more emphasis on toppings. The order of placing the toppings is also reversed from what one would typically expect. The cheese, usually placed on top of everything else on a pizza, is placed at the very bottom.

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The way the crust is made is designed specifically for what’s about to happen next: the aggressive amount of tomato sauce[10]. This is truly the rockstar of the whole dish, and a good sauce is make-or-break for a good deep-dish pizza. Then there is the Italian sausage, pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, and don’t forget the garlic!

With thickness as the core element, these pizzas execute them totally differently.

Which One to Pick?

Cheesy pizza on pan.

When it comes to these two types of pizza, they each have something special about them. If there was only an opportunity to choose one of them, which one should you pick?

At the end of the day, choosing from these two is largely a matter of preference.

With a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza, the toppings are truly the highlight of the dish, complemented by the very tall outer crust portion. The thinness of the inner part of the crust truly makes it more pie-like than a pan pizza. If you’re starving, a deep-dish pizza is going to be a wonderful choice. It is packed with a savory flavor and crunchiness.

Pan pizza, on the other hand, really caters to my true love of bread. There is a “normal” ratio of toppings one would see normally, and the entire pizza is thick and fluffy. Taking a bite out of a slice of pan pizza feels pillowy, for a lack of a better description—but I definitely mean that in the best way.

Unfortunately, pan pizza being thick all the way throughout means less room for toppings. Depending on preference, that can be a pro or a con. This is really where a deep-dish pizza has a distinct advantage. If you like large heaps of delicious tomato sauce, that is one reason to pick a deep-dish pizza over a pan-style pizza.

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However, if you prefer to have a lighter concentration of toppings and want more bread in the mix, definitely opt for a pan pizza instead. After reading this breakdown of pizza styles, it’s understandable if you’re hungry now. I know I am.

What is your favorite kind of pizza? For me, it’s Chicago-style deep-dish all the way.