Eating pizza seems like the simplest of propositions. There’s no wrong way to do it; however, there’s some nuance to taking down slices to maximize your enjoyment. We talked to a pair of pizza experts, James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schlow, owner of a number of restaurants with primo pizza programs, including Alta Strada in Washington, D.C., and Jeff Michaud, owner of Osteria in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for their tips on how to pizza like a pro.
Don’t overdo it with toppings
“I’m a believer that less is more,” says Schlow, who recommends no more than three toppings. “I don’t want my pizza to fall apart or have everything slide off. What you put on top should never take over the fact you’re eating pizza.”
Check its structural soundness
“The pizza can’t be soggy,” says Michaud. “The crust has to stand straight; no drooping.” If it flops down when held, you either have an undercooked crust or one that is too wet. If you find yourself facing this predicament, flag down a server to see if you can have the kitchen flash it in the oven for a more solid slice.
Shake on the seasoning
If they’re available, feel free to add on some red pepper flakes, garlic salt, dried oregano, and grated parmesan cheese – as long as you evenly distribute it and don’t overwhelm the slice’s natural flavors. But consider tasting it as is before you start to use seasonings. You may be surprised to find you don’t need anything at all.
Some diners like to remove excess grease from their pizza by sopping it up with paper napkins. However, this can process can leave little bits of paper or impart an undesirable paper flavor. It’s also a little awkward if we’re being honest.
Use your hands
Both chefs take a hands-on approach to pizza. “Our slices are reasonably sized, so I only use one hand,” says Michaud. “But if it’s a New York slice, you may need to use both hands.”
This makes it easier to hold and eat. “Plus, you can let the oil drip out,” says Schlow, thus elegantly circumventing the need for the aforementioned napkin dab.
Forget the fork and knife (unless you’re in Italy or you’re Italian)
With all the holding and folding suggestions, you may be wondering about slicing and dicing with some cutlery. Truth: In Italy, pizza is not usually cut into slices when it’s served. “And it’s not something you share,” says Michaud. “It’s a personal thing. You never see Italians pass around pieces of their pizza. So, Italians will use a fork and knife to cut up their pizza and eat it.”
There’s only one other time it’s okay to use cutlery
And that is when you’re eating a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
Know the sign of a great pizza
“It’s when you want to devour the crust,” says Schlow. If you need further convincing to eat the edges, ask for a side of warm marinara sauce and treat them like breadsticks.
“Pizza is a very personal thing,” says Michaud. “Everyone has their own traditions and approach. At the end of the day, it’s about enjoying your meal and the experience.”
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Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.