Who Delivers the Best, Healthiest Pizza?

For those of you who go straight to the forum section and skip the front page of this site, read on. This is a fantastic article written by J. Scott Wilson, a staff writer for ThePittsburgChannel.com:

Pizza is the second-most popular takeout food in the United States, behind chicken, and is by a wide margin the most popular delivered meal. According to the National Restaurant Association, 93 percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month.

Each man, woman and child in the country eats an average of 46 slices of pizza per year.

Pizza is not, however, health food by any stretch of a rational person’s imagination. The very things that make it so popular – the cheese, the toppings and the golden brown crust – are also the things that make that humble pie a real diet buster.

Every pizza chain offers something in the way of what could be construed as a “diet” pizza, usually one loaded with vegetables. They are consistently near the bottom of the sales frequency ratings for every chain, according to store managers.

This tells us that Americans don’t particularly want their pizzas made into health food.

With that in mind, I gathered a tasting panel and set out to test the three major delivery chains – Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Domino’s – to see where you could get the most bang for your buck – and for your calories.

From each chain, we ordered the fattest item on the pizza menu – in every case the “meaty” pie – and the leanest, a plain cheese pizza.

The tasting panel was composed of four adults, two male and two female, and three girls ages 7, 9 and 15.

The Meats

Whether you call it the Meat Lover’s, the MeatZZa Feast or the brilliantly simple All The Meats, the discerning pizza lover in search of maximum artery blockage goes for these meat-laden marvels. The only vegetables present are the tomatoes used in the sauce.

I confess to having once managed for Pizza Hut and have a marked preference for its products. Over the years, a good 80 percent or more of my delivery orders have been funneled through the famous red roof. However, after this test I may have to change my habits.

First, the nutritional info. It’s not pretty. All the figures are for one slice of a 12-inch “meaty” pizza on a regular crust.

Chain…Calories…Fat…Sat. fat…Cholesterol…Sodium…RDI*…calcium RDI* iron
Pizza Hut…340…19 g…7 g…45 mg…1,040 mg…15…15
Domino’s…310…14 g…6 g…30 mg…670 mg…15…14
Papa John’s…240…11 g…3.5 g…20 mg…640 mg…10…15
*Percentage of recommended daily allowance

The figure that really jumps out here is the whopping 1,040 milligrams of sodium in one slice of the Pizza Hut pie. That’s almost half your daily recommended ration. And just tell me you can eat only one slice.

But you’re here to find out which one tasted the best.

As it turns out, all that sodium didn’t help the Hut very much. The Meat Lover’s came in a distant third in the judging. Domino’s was the runaway winner. The Italian sausage was the most flavorful, the balance of toppings was perfect, the crust was just right and the amount of cheese was well calculated.

Papa John’s, even with the nifty pepperoncini and garlic sauce in the box, came in second. The toppings were tasty, but the cheese was a bit sparse and the crust was tough.

The Meat Lover’s was a ghost of what I remember it being in my managing days. One of the secrets of Pizza Hut success has always been that they have the best pepperoni of any of the chains, but what little of that topping was present here was nearly flavorless. All in all, while it looked good and the crust was done properly, the flavor experience was found to be sorely lacking except for – no surprise – a pronounced saltiness.

The Cheeses

The true mettle of any pizza place is shown in how it treats its simplest pie. If your pizza joint can’t make a decent cheese pizza, you have cause to doubt its ability to execute more complex operations. As you will see in the tasting results, my beliefs are not always incredibly valuable as a source of wisdom.

First, again, the tale of the nutritional tape:

Chain…Calories…Fat…Sat. fat…Cholesterol…Sodium…RDI* calciumRDI* iron
Pizza Hut…270…13 g…5 g…25 mg…570 mg…20…10
Domino’s…205…7 g…3 g…10 mg…280 mg…8…10
Papa John’s…210…8 g…2.5 g…15 mg…510 mg…10…2
*Percentage of recommended daily allowance

Once again, the Pizza Hut offering came in the heaviest for calories, fat and sodium, but this time all that excess paid dividends.

You don’t get to be the world’s biggest pizza chain on the strength of relentless marketing alone. That gets people in the door once, but they most likely won’t come back if the food’s not of good quality. The offering here was superlative.

The crust was crispy on the bottom and perfectly tender throughout, the sauce was applied with a judicious hand and the cheese was slightly toasty on top, which any pizza aficionado will tell you is the sign of a well-made cheese pie. The Pizza Hut pie was the unanimous choice as the best.

Papa John’s was the bridesmaid again, but not for lack of trying. In fact, they tried a bit too much; the cheese was so thick it gave the pizza a gummy mouth feel. There was very little sauce, but the crust was nicely done.

A pizza snob friend once referred to Domino’s pizza as “cardboard with sauce,” and sadly the cheese pie from there almost fulfilled that definition. There was an excess of sauce – or was it a paucity of cheese? In any case, the crust was slightly burnt and the taste of the whole was less than pleasant. Had this been the only pizza I purchased from Domino’s, they would not have heard from me again.

So, in the battle of the chains, the two giants fought each other to a draw, while the upstart new kid in town tied them for points with two solid second-place finishes.

What does it mean? If you want my honest opinion, it means what you really need to do is stop eating chain pizza and go find yourself a nice independent pizzeria where the owner is a name rather than a corporation and the vegetables on your pie might just possibly have come from somewhere within 100 miles of the restaurant.

Pizza is an indulgence. You’re never going to get thin on a pizza-based diet. There was less than a 110-calorie difference between the plain cheese from Domino’s, which was barely edible, and the MeatZZa, which was, as chain pizzas go, outstanding. If you’re going to treat yourself, treat yourself. Eat what you want, then spend an extra 20 minutes on the treadmill for a week as penance.

"and the vegetables on your pie might just possibly have come from somewhere within 100 miles of the restaurant. "

Doubtful. It’s not like indy’s call up the local farmers. They buy from the same veggie distributors that the big guys do. More importantly, an indy may try to cut corners by using a frozen pepper instead of fresh since they may not use enough pepper to buy by the case.

I get my veggies locally.


Most places do. From a LOCAL distributor. But are they grown locally?

Yeah, that “local” stuff doesn’t make much sense to me either.

I have no idea where the veggies I get are grown. However, they are “local” to someone for sure - just because I’m further away doesn’t change the fact that I am using the same veggies that someone who is only 1 mile away from the grower is using.

As long as they are fresh and tasty, who cares how far away you are from where they are grown.

i go to another planet to get mine
i do not trust the locals