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Frozen Pizza Reviews: Appearance

Appearance set the stage but in the end played only a minor role in our frozen pizza review. All the pizzas were round, some with thick crusts and some with thin, and the pies varied in size.

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While they all basically looked "like frozen pizza," panelists did point out variations. Visible herbs were judged to make pies such as the Freschetta 4-Cheese Medley ($5.99 for 26.11 ounces, or 23 cents an ounce) a little more appealing.

Pizzas with a "nice cheese ratio," such as Red Baron Classic Crust 4 Cheese ($5.99 for 21.06 ounces, or 28 cents an ounce) and DiGiorno Half & Half ($5 for 30 ounces, or 17 cents an ounce), were called "appetizing" and "fresh-looking." On the flip side, Trader Joe's Deep Dish Pepperoni ($3.99 for 16.5 ounces, or 24 cents an ounce), Tony's Crispy Crust ($1.19 for 7.12 ounces, or 17 cents an ounce), and Totino's Party Pizza ($1 for 9.8 ounces, or 10 cents an ounce) were dinged for "thin, grainy cheese" that "looks stringy."

Pizzas that were "nice and saucy," namely the Red Baron cheese pizza, Safeway Select Half Pepperoni & Half Cheese ($4.99 for 28.7 ounces, or 17 cents an ounce), DiGiorno's half-cheese, half-pepperoni pizza, and Freschetta Signature Pepperoni ($5.99 for 27.35 ounces, or 22 cents an ounce) garnered better reviews from tasters than "blonde" pies lighter on sauce, such as the two Totino's Party Pizzas. One panelist wondered if the Totino's cheese pizza was a "gluten-free vegan pizza" due to its "very odd" appearance. They noted that the cheese didn't melt like "real" cheese.

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Frozen Pizza Reviews: Aroma.

Smell and taste go hand-in-hand, so we anticipated that the aroma of each pizza might factor into its success. Scent turned out to matter to reviewers only when it struck a negative chord.

Our tasters' frozen pizza reviews described most of the samples, including DiGiorno Half & Half, Red Baron Classic Crust 4 Cheese, Trader Joe's Deep Dish Pepperoni, and the Freschetta Signature Pepperoni and 4-Cheese Medley pizzas, and as having a "non-distinct pizza smell." Panelists considered the aromas "nothing special" and said each smelled "like all the rest." Safeway Select Half Pepperoni & Half Cheese had a stronger aroma, although tasters reported that they could "smell the bread over the sauce or pepperoni." They had notably negative reactions to the scents of the Totino's Party Pizzas. Participants opined that the pies simply smelled "bad," and one tester remarked that the cheese version "smells like potato chips, not pizza."

Frozen Pizza Reviews: Taste.

No matter how good a pizza looked or smelled, if it failed to deliver on flavor, it was out of the running. The Red Baron pizza presented an "excellent," "golden" appearance but fell in tasters' estimation when they discovered its "mediocre," "uninteresting" flavor profile. Similarly, frozen pizza reviews described Safeway Select Half Pepperoni & Half Cheese as "thick" and "juicy"-looking, but the pizza turned off panelists with its taste of "raw dough" and "wine-flavored sauce." On the opposite end of the spectrum, Trader Giotto's Pizza 4 Formaggi didn't impress with its "uninteresting" looks, but its "flavor was better than its appearance," according to one frozen pizza review.

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Ultimately the taste of the sauce made a greater impact on each pizza's ranking than the cheese or the crust. The top pick among cheese pizzas, Freschetta 4-Cheese Medley, garnered compliments for its "nice tomato flavor" and the "nice tart-to-sweet finish of the sauce." Freschetta Signature Pepperoni, the winner in the pepperoni category, also turned heads with "flavorful sauce" that was "a little sweet" but also had "a little spice." Another crowd-pleaser in the pepperoni division, DiGiorno Half & Half, earned props for "tangy sauce" in combination with "spicy pepperoni." Tony's Crispy Crust and Totino's Party Pizzas suffered in part because tasters detected a "strange tomato flavor" or even "no tomato flavor at all."

That's not to say that other toppings played no part in our panelists' frozen pizza reviews. The second-place cheese pizza, Trader Giotto's Pizza 4 Formaggi, owed its success to a "very cheesy flavor" that one taster compared to beer-cheese bread. Totino's Party Pizzas earned miserable reviews for their "odd flavor," which was said to be "a little sweet and bitter at the same time." Panelists compared the taste to "a scratch-and-sniff sticker," "Pringles," and "cardboard." In the end several tasters dubbed the "fake," "artificial," and "cheap-tasting" pie "the worst pizza ever."

Surprisingly, though, just moments after giving the pizzas abysmal reviews, a couple of panelists enthused about how much they personally loved Totino's Party Pizzas. They had immediately identified the brand based on look and smell and went back for seconds and thirds after their samples were gone. One taster declared that she loved the processed taste of Totino's pizzas but wouldn't allow her kids to eat them. The other panelist acknowledged that the taste is "not great, but it brings back college." Totino's Party Pizzas similarly seem to enjoy a cult following online, as a veteran pizza blogger explains on Serious Eats.

Frozen Pizza Reviews: Texture.

The most notable factor here was the consistency of the frozen pizzas' crust. Some pizza lovers are thick-crust people or deep-dish, Chicago-style connoisseurs. Others prefer a thin, crisp, Neapolitan-style crust. Thus, a pizza called "doughy" by one reviewer might be judged to have "good texture" by another, as was the case with the DiGiorno Half & Half pizza our panel tested.

Allowing for differing opinions and variations in cook time and temperature, tasters considered the part texture played. They consistently gave Freschetta 4-Cheese Medley the nod on this score for having "decent firmness" and "nice evenness." Although Trader Joe's Deep Dish Pepperoni didn't do particularly well on taste or appearance, panelists said it had "great crust" and a "nice crunch."

DiGiorno Half & Half was deemed "a little doughy" and too "chewy" for several panelists' liking. Similarly, Safeway Select Half Pepperoni & Half Cheese struck tasters as "too thick" and "rubbery." The "crisp," "stiff crust" of the Totino's Party Pizzas didn't make much of an impression. Feedback was mixed on the other pizza samples, with opposite opinions essentially canceling each other out.

by Gina Briles (Google+ Profile)

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