It’s no secret Americans love their pizza. In fact, the cheesy, crusty delight consistently ranks as one of the most popular foods in the U.S.
While there’s nothing wrong with a classic cheese or pepperoni pizza, don’t overlook the whole flavorful world of potential pizza toppings beyond those staples. You’ll be rewarded with a truly mouthwatering experience.
We asked Friedman and other chefs to share their favorite pizza toppings. Keep scrolling for some exciting options and combinations to inspire your next pizza party or spice up a regular weeknight dinner at home.
Spicy Pork And Pickled Peppers
“For my money, you can’t go wrong with some fatty, spicy pork ― be it pepperoni or sausage ― and pickled peppers,” said Joseph Bliffen, chef de cuisine at Silver Apricot in New York City.
His favorite pickled peppers are Mama Lil’s from Portland, Oregon.
“They’re a little spicy, a little sweet, and pickled in a super flavorful vinaigrette,” Bliffen said. “My opinion is that if you like it, it will probably be good on a pizza, as long as the dough, sauce and cheese are good. It’s your pizza after all!”
Teriyaki Chicken With Wasabi Mayo
“I grew up in Japan, and my favorite pizza topping there is teriyaki chicken with wasabi mayo, which is very popular,” said Yuu Shimano, executive chef and owner of Restaurant Yuu in Brooklyn. “The teriyaki sauce matches very well with wasabi mayo. The combination is creamy and savory, and the spiciness of the wasabi cuts through the richness, while the chicken adds texture to the pizza.”
While in New York City, however, he prefers a plain pizza. He believes its simplicity offers the best way to taste a quality pizza.
Mushrooms And Truffles
Mark Bolchoz, executive chef and culinary director of Italian Concepts at the Indigo Road Hospitality Group, prefers a white pie topped with seasonal mushrooms and truffles.
“The toppings’ cook time and moisture content should always be considered versus the whole pizza’s cook time and oven temperature,” he noted. “For instance, too many raw mushrooms could yield a watery, soggy pizza. But, cook them in a pan with some herbs and then top off the pizza with them, and you are sure to get a crispy roasted mushroom on top of your pie.”
“[A favorite combination] is using some of the cheeses, adding fontina, assorted raw mushrooms, bacon and baking it off, and letting the mushrooms cook on the pizza,” he said. “They end up being just perfectly cooked through, charred some areas and not at all wet like you would expect.”
Spicy Cured Meat With Honey
Bolchoz is also a fan of spicy cured meat from King Salumi in Asheville, North Carolina, finished with a drizzle of local honey. He again emphasized taking the toppings’ cook time and moisture content into consideration.
“For cured meats, if the fat content is too high, things could become too greasy or oily,” he said. “It’s all relevant to the time and temperature of the cook, and the structure of the dough! Pizza is fun and always can be experimental, but should never be taken for granted.”
Diana Manalang, chef and owner of Little Chef Little Café in New York City, enjoys a classic cheese and sauce on a crispy crust option, but endorsed the meat and honey combo as well.
“Venturing out to places like Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint, you can’t help but enjoy a specialty slice like a Hellboy with pepperoni and hot honey,” she said.
“I tend to love seasonal vegetables on our pies,” Friedman said. “I love asparagus and ramps in spring; cherry tomatoes, pickled peppers and zucchini in the heat of summer; sweet autumn squashes when fall arrives; and various varieties of onions when winter makes its way to the mid-Atlantic.”
When it comes to pizza toppings, Friedman focuses on flavor and how to capture the most of it, water weight to avoid sogginess and texture ― striking the right balance between softness, chewiness and crunch.
“When I’m feeling more playful, I like to use the pizza dough as a vehicle for seasonal ingredients,” echoed Kluger. “One of my favorite combinations is bacon, dates and radicchio tossed in balsamic dressing. And, of course, the summer wouldn’t be right without a pizza topped with squash blossoms, fresh Sungold tomatoes, chilies, honey and aromatic herbs.”
“The quality and seasonality of the ingredients is the most important part to topping our pizza,” he said. “We always have a few fun pizzas depending on what’s at the market ― for example: corn, corn juice, aji dulce peppers, onion blossoms.”
Greg Baxtrom, the chef and owner behind Olmsted, 5 Acres, and Petite Patate, and Patti Ann’s in New York City, enjoys Chicago tavern-style pizza and flavors. His favorite topping is fennel sausage, which he combines with green and red peppers and red onion.
“That’s classic Chicago,” he said. “We make the sausage ourselves so it’s supper tasty and fennel-y, and adds a ton of flavor to the pizza.”
Christina McKeough, executive chef at High Street in Philadelphia, is also a fan of this sausage topping.
“The thickness of your crust should dictate both the quantity of toppings on your pie, as well as the textures,” she said. “For a crisp, thin-crust pizza like we make at High Street, opt for a simple spattering of tender fennel sausage and a few dollops of stracciatella when the pizza comes out of the oven.”
A Mix Of Local Alliums
“Some of our favorite toppings at High Street include a mix of local alliums ― shallots, scallions, ramps, cippolini onions ― with creamy stracciatella, chives, and lemon zest,” McKeough said.
When choosing a topping, she emphasized considering what’s in season, the type of crust you’re working with, which ingredients are best cooked vs. raw, and most importantly, what you’re craving.
“What will taste best in my opinion, is topping a pizza with what you love,” McKeough said. “Be creative, but learn the fundamentals. Pizza can be highly technical, but it should still be fun!”
“First off, I think the most important topping and ingredient in pizza is of course the parmigiano reggiano,” said James Beard Award-winning chef Ken Oringer. “A lot of pizzas feature mediocre parmesan, and it never has the depth of flavor that a pizza should have because of this choice in cheese.”
He believes a good parmigiano makes the difference between a great and mediocre pizza.
“One more topping I love to include is andouille sausage, it elevates a normal mozzarella pizza into a great one, making it more unique than just another pepperoni pizza,” Oringer added.
“I think the most spectacular toppings for pizza are ones that fall outside the category of run-of-the-mill toppings you’d see at any pizza joint ― and the ones that add texture and pizzazz,” said chef and digital culinary educator Micole Rondinone. “A fun combination that comes to mind is a simple crunchy marinara with sweet, umami caramelized onions and chevre.”
She suggested combining soft toppings with those that create more depth of texture without weighing the pizza down too much and creating a mess.
“Think about creating flavor and texture contrast,” Rondinone said. “It's the harmonizing flavors and varying textures that make a dish sing, and this is easy to accomplish at home. Get to be creative and discover new combinations you love!”
Smoked Salmon, Capers And Pickled Onions
“Toppings are the most critical part of building a quality pizza,” said Mohamed Wahiba, head chef at Nicoletta Italian Kitchen in Washington, D.C. “Incorporating both sweet and sour ingredients, along with the saltiness from the cheese makes the perfect combination.”
He likes topping pizza with smoked salmon to bring a “smoky vibe” and rich seafood flavor on a ricotta base that blends well with other ingredients without overpowering them.
“Capers work great with fish because of the saltiness, and with the plain flavor from the ricotta base, it heightens the smokiness from the salmon,” he added. “Pickled red onions as a final touch adds the acidity and sweetness, and blends all flavors together and adds a kick to the pizza.”
“On a doughier thick crust, you can go a little more heavy-handed with onions, mushrooms, black olives, and dare I say, anchovies,” McKeough said.
The latter ingredient is in keeping with the tinned fish trend that’s been taking the culinary world by storm in recent years. McKeough noted that High Street’s menu currently includes an anchovy pizza.
“Some of our favorite toppings include Cantabrian anchovies on a simple red sauce with sliced fresh garlic,” she said.
“Great pizza is easy really,” said Armando Bisceglia, owner and chef at Bacco Vino & Contorni in Providence, Rhode Island. “Start with making a fresh pistachio pesto ― romano cheese, olive oil, stir and blend until you get a beautiful green sauce. Use that as your pizza sauce.”
He likes to add sliced mortadella, a dollop of fresh ricotta and black truffle carpaccio to that pistachio pesto.
Rondinone is a fan of pesto on pizza as well.
“If you have a pizza with a crunchy, thin crust, go for pillow-y smooth toppings like fresh mozzarella, pesto and a drizzle of fig balsamic,” she suggested. “I’m all about drizzling sauce on my pizza: pesto, fig balsamic, hot honey ― maybe a hint of maple syrup. I always tell the students I teach cooking to, that keeping excellent sauces and condiments on hand is the secret to adding big flavor at home.”