Pizza Taste-Off: And the Best National Chain Is ...

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SAY CHEESE

Fall means football season and rounds of pizza consumed in front of the TV, so perhaps it's only fitting that October is National Pizza Month. To help fans decide where to order their next pie, Cheapism.com compared prices at the four largest pizza chains; and pitted them against one another in a blind tasting. Eleven connoisseurs sampled three types of pizza (cheese, pepperoni, and veggie) from Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza, Papa John's, and Little Caesars. When ranking the contenders, the judges sought several attributes. First was a fluffy, airy crust with a slight crispness to the outside. Next on the list was a sweet and spicy sauce -- the tasters had no tolerance for tangy and bitter -- followed by plenty of thoroughly and evenly melted cheese. The balance among the ingredients was also important, in particular the ratio of sauce to cheese to toppings. The vegetable toppings (green pepper and onion) had to be fresh and baked just right, and the pepperoni required a slightly spicy flavor and crispy bite.

PIZZA HUT

Prior to the blind tasting, Papa John's was the crowd favorite. But in a surprising upset, Pizza Hut; prevailed in all categories. The cheese pizza, priced at $10 for a large, displayed a superb crust, according to the panelists. They deemed it "crisp and delicious" and "fluffy and flavorful." The overall impression was of a "really savory" pie "with lots of cheese." Judges voiced similar conclusions about Pizza Hut's pepperoni and veggie-topped pies. The panel noted that the same superior crust complemented the "perfectly spiced pepperoni" and the toppings were "appealing to look at and taste." One judge noted a good balance between the garlic and sweet green-pepper flavors while another appreciated that "the toppings don't take over." Almost everyone observed that the vegetables seemed fresher than comparable ingredients used by the other pizza chains.

PAPA JOHN'S

The pies from Papa John's;, where a large cheese pizza was priced at $11.49, received mixed reviews. One knock against Papa John's was what panelists deemed a comparatively flavorless crust. That said, they generally found the somewhat bland crust and sweet sauce a "good mix with the spicy pepperoni." What they grumbled about was the inadequate amount of sauce on all the samples. The veggie toppings won over some tasters, with one declaring, "There is a good, sweet, onion-and-pepper flavor that isn't too overpowering." Others agreed, although some sighed about the scarcity of the toppings.

DOMINO'S PIZZA

The consensus about ;Domino's Pizza; was likewise uneven. Prices start at $11.49 for a large cheese. The samples contained "the perfect amount of sauce and cheese" as well as a "garlicky, good, salty crust," supporters concluded. As with Papa John's pizza, some judges were dismayed by the paltry amount of cheese and, in some cases, the scarce sauce. Whereas one taster enjoyed the "spicy" pepperoni, others called it "just basic." Some turned up their noses at the "overwhelming" size of the veggie toppings, while others described them as tasty and "very crunchy."

LITTLE CAESARS

Little Caesars; prices its large "Hot-n-Ready" cheese pizza at just $5 but failed to win over the tasters. They had multiple complaints, starting with the toppings. The large amount was "crazy," opined one reviewer, and the onions were "barely cooked," added another. The cheese pizza presented with "too much extra crust and very little cheese," one panelist stated. Still others groused about the "bland crust, bland sauce, and basic pepperoni." Some even likened Little Caesars pizza to the value brands available in the frozen-food aisle of any supermarket. This was not intended as a compliment.