Detroit Style Steel Pan Pizza

I’m not sure how the rest of the country views pizza but even as a lifelong Michigander I find it odd that Detroit, just a hop, skip and a jump from my culinary compound holds a unique place in our nation’s pizza history.

Want some proof? Consider this my friends, two of the top four pizza chains in the nation (Dominos and Little Caesars) were spawned in or immediately around the “D” and if you want to go by the sales numbers, four of the top 20 pizza chains in the nation originated in the Metro-Detroit area. This pizzaPalooza probably came about due to Detroit’s automotive dominance back in the day. All of those hungry autoworkers needed to eat and pizza was tasty, filling, inexpensive, available for pick up or home delivery was the culinary comestible second to none.

Not only is Motown considered the pizza-chain capital, it created something 70 years ago that only now is beginning to break outside the mitten state, its own, unique, regional style of pizza.

Not the deep dish beloved by so many from across the lake in the Windy City of Chicago or the more Neapolitan style that emigrated from Italy to NYC and beyond. No, this Detroit style seemingly fits in-between the two and took its cue from Sicily but yet once again the automotive monster that was Detroit gave it a Motor City makeover.

The popular theory of its origins are not all that hard to trace like some other gastronomic gems. Most culinary eggheads point to 1946 and Gus Guerra. His restaurant, Buddy’s Rendezvous, is considered by many to be the birthplace of Detroit pie. With his wife at his side and her Sicilian mother’s dough recipe they unknowingly created something truly special.

None of the ingredients really differ from other styles of pizza but what makes Detroit’s version unique is the way it’s assembled, or mass produced - automotive pun intended. The key ingredient in a proper Detroit-style pizza, I believe, is the pan. The culinary characteristics of the pizza – the soft and airy rectangular crust perfumed with olive oil, the crunchy, cheese infused caramelized edges – are all due to the high sided steel pizza pans. Originally, the pans, constructed of thick blue steel were commonly found in the automotive and manufacturing industries used as utility pans to hold spare parts or as an oil drain pan and were perfect for Guerra’s new vision.


Then, there are the toppings or rather, where the toppings are positioned. It’s the cheese that goes on first and when adding, special attention is paid to the edges. The shredded cheese is mounded up along the sides of the pan first, which makes sure that during baking the cheese will melt down the sides of the crust, caramelizing against the sizzling industrial metal. The sauce in many instances doesn’t even see the heat of the oven rather warmed independently and spooned on (stay clear of the edges!) right before serving. This makes sure that every pie has the distinctive crunchy crust in every bite.
Speaking of sauce, I have offered a great sous vide version of the classic marinara. Not like your gMa’s sauce, this version cooks at a much lower temperature in the SV1 and consequently doesn’t pick up the more jammy notes from a conventionally simmered tomato sauce and even though it’s cooked the tomatoes still retain a bit of their fresh, vine ripened characteristics. The result is a much brighter sauce bursting with fresh basil flavor folded in at the end. Not meant to replace your gMa’s version but a perfect addition to your culinary repertoire and matches beautifully with this pie.

bite of pizza

As far as other toppings, like other styles of pizza, it’s totally your choice and Detroit does offer a wide variety but it’s the cheese and the cheese with pepperoni that came first. Speaking of pepperoni most pizzaiola’s place the pepperoni underneath the cheese, yet another reason that Detroit Style Pizza is like no other.

Detroit Style Pizza Dough


• 1 tablespoon active dry yeast

• 10 ounces’ water

• 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

• 1 tablespoon brown sugar

• 2 1/4 cups bread flour

• 1 tablespoon diastatic malt powder

 2 teaspoons kosher salt, fine grind 

Detroit Style Pizza


• 1 recipe Detroit Style Steel Pan Pizza Dough, see recipe below, cold fermented method or freshly made

• 3 tablespoons or as needed extra virgin olive oil, or as needed

For the pizza toppings 

• 10 ounces’ brick cheese or mozzarella, whole milk, low moisture, grated

• 10 ounces’ white cheddar cheese, mild, grated

• 4 ounces’ fresh cow’s milk mozzarella, optional, drained well and torn

• pepperoni, high quality, sliced thin

• 1 cup plum tomato marinara, see recipe, or as needed

• 1/4 cup Parmesan Reggiano, optional, or as needed, freshly grated  

pizza dough ingredients

in water bath

mixing pizza dough

Detroit Style Pizza Dough


1. Preheat the VacMaster SV1 to 100F/38C

2. Using the VacMaster Bag Filler and an appropriate sized VacMaster bag add the water, oil, sugar and yeast.

3. Using a VacMaster chamber machine vacuum seal the mixture

4. Gently place the bag in the water bath of the SV1 and heat for 15-20 minutes

5. Combine the flour and malt powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.

6. Remove the yeast mixture from the water bath and the mixer running on the lowest speed, pour in the yeast mixture

7. Mix the dough at the lowest speed for about 1 minute until most of the dough comes together around the hook.

8. Add the salt and mix the dough for 7-8 minutes

9. Remove the dough from the bowl and using your hands knead the dough lightly making sure all ingredients are incorporated a few times and form into a ball.


Cover the dough with a damp dish towel and let rest at room temperature for 60 minutes


Place the dough into a suitable sized bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Bring the dough back to room temperature before continuing.

Detroit Style Pizza


 If using cold fermented dough:

1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to return to room temperature, about one hour.

2. Liberally brush the inside of a 10-by-14-inch metal baking pan with the olive oil.

3. Press the dough into the pan until it's consistently even throughout. If the dough shows resistance and pulls back from the edges, cover it loosely with a kitchen towel and let it sit for 15 minutes to relax, then go back and finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pan.

4. Allow the dough to rise in the pan for about one or two hours, until about doubled in volume.

If using freshly made:

1. Liberally brush the inside of a 10-by-14-inch metal baking pan liberally with the olive oil.

2. Press the dough into the pan until it's consistently even throughout. If the dough keeps pulling back from the edges, cover it loosely with a kitchen towel and let it sit for 15 minutes, then go back and finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pan.

3. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 or 3 hours, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size and bubbles begin to form across its top.

4. Preheat the oven to 450F

Assembling the Pizza:

1. Thoroughly combine the shredded brick and cheddar cheeses

2. Starting at the sides where the dough meets the pan sprinkle the cheese blend liberally around the circumference of the pan then spread the remaining evenly across the surface of the dough.

3. Add the pepperoni and top with the optional fresh mozzarella, place in the middle center of the preheated oven

4. Bake the pizza for 15 to 20 minutes or until the bottom crust is golden brown with caramelized cheese all along the edges and the cheese is bubbling.

5. Gently reheat the marinara sauce, reserve warm

6. Remove from the oven and let rest a minute or two

7. Using a small thin bladed spatula or similar loosed the pizza from the pan by gently sliding between the pan sides and pizza

8. Using large spatulas to loosen the whole pizza from the pan and transfer it to a cutting board

9. Let it rest for a few minutes, for cheese to firm up just a bit then cut it into squares and spoon the marinara sauce on top keeping away from the edges and dust with the optional parmesan.

10. Serve immediately 

oil pizza pan

spread the dough

add the cheese

add the pepperoni

add the marinara


Looking for the much ballyhooed Detroit pizza pan? My friends over at Lloyds are the premium pizza pan purveyor of the Detroit style!