Pizza Toppings, Ranked

In Depth

You’d probably have an easier time achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East than getting a room full of Americans, selected at random, to agree on pizza toppings. Ranking them should be fun, then.

You might be asking yourself what kind of pizza are we talking about here? The relative value of toppings does change based on what regional pizza variety you’re dealing with; New York pizza isn’t going to have the same relationship with toppings as would your garden-variety deep dish. All pizzas are viable choices for a list like this (except for Chicago-style deep dish, which is not pizza), but for purposes of this post, we’re going to assume we’re dealing with coal-fired brick oven New Haven-style apizza: thin crust, relatively light on the sauce, chewy on top and crispy on the bottom. The reason we’re going with it is because it’s the best kind. Sorry, New Yorkers: Connecticut kicks your ass when it comes to pizza.*

In the interests of a level playing field, though, we’re going to split the difference and say that all of the pizza toppings below are assumed to be involved in a pizza with tomato sauce (New Haven-style is traditionally not made with tomato sauce, although it certainly can be). This is despite the fact that science has declared unequivocally that alternate sauces are objectively superior to tomato sauce on pizza. Look, I’m sorry, it’s just science facts. You can’t argue with science facts.

So without further ado, here is a petty, biased, and utterly arbitrary list of all the ranked pizza toppings I didn’t forget to include, a compilation that should nevertheless be taken as absolute gospel by everyone on the planet, the end.

24. Pineapple
Like anything else was going to take this last spot? I’m iffy on pineapple at the best of times, but the toxic mix of cooked pineapple with tomato sauce, cheese, bread, and (frequently) ham (the weakest of all true pizza meats) turns it into a nightmare from which I fear I may never wake. Hawaiian pizza is the food equivalent of an enthusiastic but incompetent birthday clown: it’s trying so hard and failing so miserably, and also it’s creepy as hell.

23. Olives

22. Any and All Peppers
I know the question you’re asking, and the answer is no. There is no difference in ranking when it comes to banana peppers, bell peppers, jalapenos, or any type of pepper being used as a pizza topping. They are all equally disgusting. Just because turds come in many varieties doesn’t make any of them less shit than any others.

21. French Fries
Oh for fuck’s sake, Pittsburgh.

20. Tomatoes
It says something about how much more I hate everything else on this list that tomatoes can’t even claim the bottom spot. They’re terrible, but they’re not Pineapple terrible. It should go without saying that I’m talking about giant tomato chunks here, not tomato sauce. This still doesn’t change the fact that virtually any other option is superior to tomato sauce, no shut up you’re wrong I’m not listening.

19. Spinach
I enjoy spinach salads; I’d venture to say that spinach might be my favorite salad green. I am not, however, on Team Cooked Spinach. I don’t know what happens to spinach when you cook it, but some dark sorcery causes an otherwise perfectly edible vegetable to turn into hot, slimy garbage. I’m not all in on garbage pizzas.

18. Arugula
I like salad. I enjoy it as a meal frequently. If I wanted a fucking pizza salad, though, I would order that. Add to that the fact that arugula generally tastes like dirt and unhappiness and you have a recipe for which I am not on board. Get your salad off my fucking pizza.

17. Crab
I swear there are places that do this; I’m not making it up just for post fodder. And I like crab, but crab is probably the easiest foodstuff in existence to fuck up (with the exception of brussels sprouts — STOP BOILING THEM, YOU MONSTERS). It does not belong on pizza, and seems entirely unwelcome. It’s like the equal protection clause in Alabama. It just doesn’t fit in with that crowd.

16. Whatever the hell chain places call “sausage”
What the fuck is this shit? I realize the definitional bar for “sausage” ranks somewhere between Hershey’s “chocolate” and quoted Comcast technician arrival times, but there are limits. You can’t just serve me possum scrotal meat and expect me not to notice.

15. Mushrooms
This is a weird ranking for me, because I unabashedly love mushrooms, but I’ve never, ever been anything but utterly disappointed with them on a pizza. They just…they don’t work. Their flavor is way too mild to stand up to everything else that goes into a pizza, and they don’t add much in the way of texture. Maybe this would work with high-end mushrooms, but it sure as hell doesn’t with the types you’ll commonly run into on pizza. They’re not terrible, exactly, they’re just kind of there — they’re like the Reese Witherspoon of pizza toppings.

14. White Onions
White onions have one and only one purpose: to be deep-fried whole and served at chain restaurants as a blessed island of edibility amidst a sea of coke binge-inspired restaurant menu adjectives like “ROCKIN” and “JAZZY” and “TRAZZDANGLIN.” They sure as hell don’t belong on pizza, where they are a cruel mockery of their far superior cousin (don’t worry, we’ll get there).**

13. Ham
I don’t hate ham. To be honest, I don’t really have much of an opinion regarding ham. It’s by far the weakest pizza meat under ideal circumstances (by which I mean not what commonly gets called “sausage”), but it’s not objectively bad on its own merits. I’m probably punishing it for its association with the monstrosity that is Hawaiian pizza. Whatever, fuck it.

12. Salami
Basically a not-as-good pepperoni, but since pepperoni is really freaking good, salami’s OK too. That’s pretty much all I’ve got here.

11. Shrimp
This would easily be 7-8 spots higher if we were talking about a pizza with white sauce. Everything is worse with tomato sauce.

10. Chicken
Dear everyone about to say “WELL IT’S NOT PIZZA IF IT HAS CHICKEN ON IT THAT DOESN’T BELONG AS A TOPPING IT’S NOT RIGHT ARGLEBLARGLEBARGL”: does chicken on pizza taste good? Oh, it does? Then shut the fuck up. This isn’t like Pittsburgh’s obsession with putting olives and cucumbers and tomatoes and onions in “caesar salads,” which is clearly a crime against nature (and sadly in character for Pittsburgh; we’re just lucky they don’t try to put fries in it). “Pizza” is a food category where experimentation is both vital and necessary. That’s the key: pizza is a category, not a singular item. If you add tomatoes and onions to a reuben sandwich, what’s the end result? Something disgusting, obviously, but aside from that, the horror you’ve wrought is, while no longer a reuben, still a sandwich. A bacon cheeseburger requires both cheese and bacon, and if you remove one of those ingredients, you no longer have a bacon cheeseburger, but you still have a burger.

The same principle applies to pizza: you can put old gym socks and motor oil on a pizza and it’s still a pizza. It’s gross, but it’s a fucking pizza. If you disagree, you should try out for the 2016 Olympics in the 100m Being Wrong. You’d definitely medal.

9. Actual Italian Sausage
Now we’re talking. This is the real shit: finest seasoned pork honks. If you live near a local place that actually uses the genuine article, count yourselves lucky.

8. Bacon
Bacon probably could’ve ranked higher here, but the quality of what you’re getting varies so widely. Bacon is a fickle mistress at the best of times; cook it too much and you’ve got a charcoal briquette that tastes like the desecrated corpse of something that once was beautiful, cook it too little and you’re attempting to choke down a slimy Lovecraftian horror. This is even trickier to pull off on pizza. But man, when it hits that sweet spot? Bacon is perfection. Unfortunately, it’s way too inconsistent in quality to rank higher here.

7. Whole Roasted Garlic Cloves
This sounds crazy, I know. I know. I thought it was insane the first time I saw it, too. And granted, whole cloves of garlic do have the unfortunate side effect of giving you the superhuman ability to kill plants and small woodland creatures at 20 paces just by opening your mouth. But frankly, fuck the chipmunks, this is worth it. These have no earthly right to be any good as a pizza topping, and yet, here we are.

6. Fried Eggplant
Ordinarily, I hate eggplant. This isn’t because of the taste, which is perfectly fine. The texture, however, puts one in mind of an unidentifiable tentacle left in a Miami gutter for a weekend during Hurricane Season. Thinly-sliced and fried, however, it becomes crispy and salty and just goddamned perfect as a pizza topping. Maybe it’s not cracking the top 5, but it’s a near-run thing.

5. Pepperoni
Look, pepperoni is fantastic. I’m not arguing with anyone who thinks pepperoni belongs higher on this list, because I always enjoy pepperoni. It’s the staple, the standard, the benchmark against which all other toppings are to be judged. It’s also not as good as my top 4. Sorry, pepperoni lovers.

4. Anchovies
Bring it on, haters. Anchovies are a criminally underutilized and disrespected foodstuff. They are used to your scorn, and they are immune to it, for they know they are far superior to your petty, childish mockery. If anything, I regret that I wasn’t able to rank them higher on this list. You don’t like anchovies? Fine. Go back to eating your Easy Mac and frozen chicken nuggets. The rest of us will be over here eating grown-up food.

3. Hamburger
I don’t dispute for a second that hamburger on pizza is trashy as hell, and I also give absolutely no fucks. It’s goddamned delicious and nothing you can say to me will ever change that. Nope. I don’t care how much you make fun of me for this, Burneko.***

2. Prosciutto
I have never met a non-vegetarian who disliked prosciutto who wasn’t secretly probably a serial killer. I mean, I’m just saying. If you don’t like prosciutto, you probably kill drifters. It’s just the only logical conclusion a sane observer could come to.

1. Red Onions
I’m as shocked as you are that a meat item didn’t claim the top spot. Originally I had prosciutto here, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that nothing could top red onions here. I have never, ever been disappointed in a pizza with red onions on it. There’s none of the textural issues that tend to turn people off of onions, and plenty of a crisp sweet/spicy combo you can’t get from any other ingredient.

* If it helps you feel any better, that state doesn’t have much else going for them. Let them have this.

** Also, I have a question for our British readers: do you guys not even have these things? A commenter recently said you don’t, and I’m having trouble believing that. They’re pretty bland and tasteless, so I figure they’d be right up your alley.

OK, that was mean and I’m sorry (no I’m not), but follow-up question: do you guys really call pizza with green onions on it “American-style?” Because while I love green onions, I have never once seen it available as a topping at any pizza place I’ve ever been to — hence why it’s not ranked on this list. I mean, it actually sounds pretty good, but…that’s not what “American” means.

*** Yes I do.

Edited to Add: Fried eggplant, because how the hell did I forget fried eggplant.

Image via Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock.

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