13 Pizza Terms And Styles To Sauce Up Your Pizza Lingo

Pizza is one of the most beloved dishes in the world. Yet ask 10 people from 10 different places what pizza is and you’re likely to get more than a couple different answers. Look back on the history of pizza as a term, and you can see why there’s more than a little ambiguity.

At its heart, pizza has crust, a sauce of some kind, cheese, and maybe other toppings. From there, it’s an old-fashioned food fight over regional differences. Thin crust or deep dish? Cheese on top or sauce on top? The list of territorial variance goes on. Here are some of the major types to know, as well as some of the defining words that any true pizza connoisseur should be aware of.

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Once you’ve savored all the delicious terms below, return here to take our tempting and tasty pizza quiz. You won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure.

cornicione

Cornicione is Italian for the cornice, or ornamental molding on the edge of a building. When it comes to pizza, it refers to the outer edge. Cornicione is a great word for English speakers who are looking to talk about the crust in a fancier way. The True Neapolitan Pizza Association (Associazione Verace Pizza napoletana, or AVPN) has just as strict rules about the cornicione as it does about every other part of a Neapolitan pizza: it must be about half an inch to an inch tall. Bonus points if the cornicione has small air pockets.

margherita

The margherita is the point of reference for pizza for many people. This is primarily because the ingredients and construction are simple: a thin dough topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and basil. The story goes that it was invented in 1889 by Raffaele Esposito at Pizzeria Brandi for the visiting queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil were chosen to represent the colors—red, white, and green—of the newly united Italy. Whether or not the story is true is up for debate (it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to throw those readily available ingredients on a pizza, after all). The margherita is a simple standard-bearer of Italian pizza.

How well do you know your pasta names? Grab your fork and find out!

Neapolitan

Neapolitan pizza, which started in Naples, is the most clearly defined pizza thanks to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. The dough has to be made with solely 0 or 00 Tipo flour (a type of finely milled flour considered ideal for pizza dough), water, yeast, and salt. The Neapolitan pizza is a type of margherita, though topped with very specific ingredients: buffalo mozzarella (see the next item on our list), San Marzano tomatoes, and basil. Finally, it can only be cooked in a wood-burning oven for 90 seconds max. This is a “roundish” pizza (per the regulations!), and yes, the people who care about true Neapolitan pizza also care about the cornicione.

mozzarella

This fresh, unaged Italian cheese traditionally is made with milk from water buffalos in Italy and Bulgaria. The taste is mild and the texture semisoft. Strictly water buffalo mozzarella is what true Neapolitan pizzas use—and yes, that’s mozzarella made from the milk of a breed of Italian water buffalo. However, the mozzarella you find in the grocery store is most likely (unless labeled otherwise) a fresh and unaged cow’s milk cheese.

pizza al taglio

One of the common slices that you’ll find in pizza shops in Rome, the name for pizza al taglio comes from how it’s served: al taglio means "by the cut." The pizza has a thicker crust and bottom than what you’ll find in a Neapolitan pizza, and it’s rectangular instead of ovular. The toppings are wide ranging, and there’s a good chance that there’s a set of toppings that fits your liking if you find yourself in a well-stocked shop. When you find that perfect pie, you order by the square slice, similar to New York-style pizza (see below).

pizza alla pala

This is another style of Italian pizza with a straightforward name. Alla pala is Italian for “on the paddle,” and sure enough this ovular pizza is served on a paddle. It’s different from some of the other Italian styles in that it requires an electric oven that gets to just under 600 degrees Fahrenheit versus a scorching hot wood-fire oven. The thick crust is topped with ingredients after it spends time in the oven as opposed to the crispy cooked toppings you’re likely to find with pizza al taglio. The most surefire way to know it’s alla pala, however, is to look for the paddle.

pizza al padellino

What’s known as pizza al padellino in Italy is what people in the US know as pan pizza (padellino translates to "pan"). The style is typical to Torino, Italy, where it’s made in a round pan that allows for a thick crust that can be loaded with any variety of toppings.

Grandma pie

Grandma pie is sort of like a twist on a Sicilian pizza with a homey, nostalgia-inducing name. The rectangular, pan-baked pizza’s main difference is a thinner crust that doesn’t have as much time to rise. It’s also typically made without a dedicated pizza oven (neither wood-fired nor a specialty electric oven), and the sauce often goes over the cheese instead of having the cheese on top.

We all enjoy pizza pies, but how do you feel about pie vs. cake?

New York

Few, if any, pizza styles from the US are as famous as New York-style pizza. The thin-crust pieces are routinely served by the slice (never by the “piece”), which is kept behind a glass deli-style counter and is reheated in a brick oven when pointed at by the next customer in line. The toppings can be simple or complex, and the slice is always pliable enough to be foldable yet strong enough to hold its own until you have time to finish it—while walking if needed.

Detroit

Detroit-style pizza is similar to Sicilian and grandma style. It’s rectangular and cooked in a pan, and the pieces are square. The dough is fluffy like a Sicilian sfincione, and the sauce goes on top of the toppings and cheese like some grandma pies.

St. Louis

If the thick Detroit and Sicilian style pizzas had an opposite, it would be St. Louis-style pizza. The most defining pizza style from Missouri is immediately recognizable by its unleavened crust that has toppings so evenly distributed there’s no crust to hold onto. It also has what’s deemed Provel cheese, which is a stringy blend of cheddar, provolone, and Swiss cheeses.

Sicilian

Sicilian pizza, as you might imagine, describes the style from Sicily. Only there, it’s called sfincione, which means “thick sponge.” It’s pretty clear what the pizza is going to be like based on that name, even for people who haven’t had a square before. The focaccia-like base is topped with tomato sauce, veggies, anchovies, or whatever else you prefer. Instead of mozzarella or another soft or melty cheese, sfincione gets a hard cheese.

Has all this pizza talk made you hungry? Learn about "elevenses" and other terms for snack time!

apizza

No, this is not a typo. Apizza (pronounced "abeets”) hails from New Haven, Connecticut, and is a thin-crust pizza that’s made similarly to Neapolitan-style pizza. The dough, however, is a high-gluten and high-water dough. To work it into shape, pizza makers use potassium bromate flour and let the dough go through a long and slow rise time. The resulting pizza is hand shaped, given a few toppings, and then thrown in a hot coal-fired brick oven. The name apizza is based on the Italian a pizza, meaning “the pizza.”

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