What Truly Sets Stuffed Pizza Apart From The Classic Deep Dish?

Love it or hate it, deep dish pizza is a Chicago staple. Of course, it isn't The Windy City's only claim to pizza fame. Many lifelong Chicagoans will argue that the city's "true" municipal pizza is the relatively thin-crust, square-cut pies popular at South Side taverns. But even among the panoply of thick pizzas, there is much variation. 

Though bearing a striking resemblance, stuffed pizzas, which are slung by chains such as the venerable Giordano's, are structurally distinct from deep dish pizza, a style that national brand Uno's claims to have invented. Round, deep, and covered in sauce, a Chicago stuffed pizza is just as much of a gustatory undertaking as a deep dish pie. But dig beneath the surface and you'll see that this style is constructed a bit differently. 

The flaky crust is first laid in a pan with towering sides. Into this crust goes no small amount of toppings — sausage, onions, peppers, and mushrooms is a classic combination — along with Mozzarella cheese. This "stuffing" is sealed up with another, albeit thin, layer of crust, which is then topped with a tangy tomato sauce before being baked. The added layer of crust keeps the sauce and toppings from mingling before the pizza is cut and adds that much more starchy heft. 

More subtle differences between these pizzas

The deep dish eschews the added layer of crust but is still built a bit backward compared to other pizzas. The same style of pan is used and the crust is molded around every inch of the interior surface. In go the toppings and cheese with the sauce added last. This causes the sauce to caramelize and intensify a bit as the toppings and cheese melt and meld below. While at first glance it seems that the thin flap of crust on a stuffed tomato pie is all that sets it apart from a deep dish, purists will argue there are more subtleties than that. 

Each style features a rich crust that has as much in common with pastry as it does pizza dough and both have a tangy sauce that counteracts the richness of the crust and filling. Both also go heavy on the toppings and cheese, but this is where they start to diverge, according to some. Stuffed pizza is actually the deeper of the two and that added room is used to pack in gobs more cheese, veggies, and meat.

Deep dish, supposedly, has a lighter dose of cheese and toppings, and an argument can be made that this brings it more in balance with the crust and sauce. Likely this depends on where you're ordering from and the size of the pans. One thing is certain though — if you're looking for balance in Chicago's famous pizzas, look somewhere else.