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The Point of the Pizza Crust

July 14, 2015

By now the shock and horror of Pizza Hut’s Hot Dog Bites Crust Pizza must be waning. If you don’t recall, this is the pizza that’s surrounded by 28 mini hot dogs rolled up in dough and placed like a crown around the outside edge of the pie.

Not too long after this monstrosity came out, I had the chance to try it.

The best thing I can say about the beast is that it is no more disgusting than the sum of its parts. Pizza Hut pizza is Pizza Hut pizza. It’s squishy and soft and tastes more like despair than anything else. Those hot dogs on the outside of the pie were equally squishy and soft with a touch of sweetness. But the hot dogs pulled right off so they could be dunked into yellow mustard.

None of the bellyaching over this pizza innovation is really about a disgusting new flavor combination, largely because the flavors stay separate. The outcry has more to do with the health impact of throwing a lot of fatty hot dogs on top of an already fatty pizza.

My concerns are a little different. I’m worried that Pizza Hut has missed the point.

I’m not sure if Pizza Hut is actually in the pizza business or if they are in the soda business. Some of these national chains are actually in the real estate business. So perhaps I shouldn’t have any expectations for their pizza awareness.

But with a name like Pizza Hut and a marketing budget in the millions, what the chain does is going to shape the public’s idea of pizza and all of its possibilities.

So here’s the question. What’s the point of a pizza’s end crust?

You know. The puffy ring of dough that surrounds the showier center section that’s topped with sauce and melted cheese. I’m talking about the part that most children view with disgust and refuse to eat. It’s the same part that gets routinely tossed in the garbage cans of pizza shops everywhere.

Why have it? Not all pizzas do. Some have sauce and cheese that go right up to the very edge.

One school of thought is that the end crust constrains the gooier elements of the pizza. It stops the cheese from running over the edge of the pie and burning onto the oven floor. It’s a buffer zone. And with this simplistic and wrongheaded explanation, the Hot Dog Bites Crust Pizza can make plenty of sense. If the role of the end crust is functional, other tastier elements can be added which can do just as good a job of corralling the sauce and cheese.

But I’m of the belief that pizzas are all about the dough. The crust is the critical piece of the equation. Even if you have a brilliant sauce and amazing cheese, a crap crust is going to ruin a pizza. On the flip side, an amazing crust can more than compensate for a less vibrant sauce or an imbalance among the toppings.

The end crust then does two critical things.
1) It allows you to see the life within the dough. Will it rise and bubble, or will it lie flat.
2) You get the chance to taste an unadulterated version of the best part of the pie.

Pizza crust should be delicious on its own. Period. Without garlic powder. Without ranch dressing. Without whatever dipping goo Papa John’s includes in every box. Without being stuffed with cheese, or hamburgers, or bacon. The best pizzas have a plain crust that demands to  be eaten.

Sure, if you didn’t believe in these things, you could put cheeseburgers or chicken fingers or fruit loops all around the edges of the pie. But you would totally be missing the point.

Please, the next time you are out for pizza, before you treat your taste buds with the umami rich treats of tomato sauce and cheese, take a bite of the end crust first. Notice the exterior browning, the rise, and the crunch (hopefully) as you bite through it. Taste it thoughtfully. Is it more like bread, a pretzel or a cracker? It could be yeasty, salty, fruity or sour. The interior crumb could be light, dense, or elastic. How does it chew, is it tough or tender? And most importantly, does it make you want to go in for another bite?

File these observations away. Try to remember which pizza crusts you enjoy. And I guarantee you’ll be on the path to eating better pizza.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2015 10:17 am

    I agree that a crappy crust is impossible to overcome. The crunch part is open to debate though…When making pizza at home, I find the hardest pie to make well is a plain cheese. Without toppings, there’s nowhere to hide.

    I haven’t had any Pizza Hut offerings in a long time. I know they revamped their menu recently and I don’t think it was very well received. First quarter profits were down this year. I think the hot dog pie is a publicity stunt/ ad campaign.

  2. RogerK permalink
    July 14, 2015 11:49 am

    All and good, Dan. But after one bite a lot of pizza crusts will probably still end up remaining on the plate.

  3. July 15, 2015 9:31 am

    Have you had a chance to check out F&A Pizza on Rt. 4 across from Walmart in East Greenbush? They have some excellent crust, some of their slices are monstrosities but the Grandma’s slice is awesome and they don’t use screens!

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