Frozen pizza may be the hallmark food of our chaotic modern culture. It feeds struggling students, kitchen-phobic singles, and busy families. Stocking the freezer with premade pies also saves time for the over-scheduled and saves money compared with delivery or eating out. The question is: Which are the best frozen pizzas for those late nights and dinners on the run? We shopped for top frozen pizzas costing no more than 30 cents per ounce and served up a feast of six cheese and six pepperoni pies to a panel of nine willing participants, who dished on which were the best frozen pizzas and which were the worst.
Taste Testing the Best Frozen Pizza
In the cheese pizza category, panelists in our blind taste test preferred Freschetta 4-Cheese Medley ($5.99 for 26.11 ounces, or 23 cents an ounce), gravitating toward its "nice tomato flavor" and crust with "decent firmness." In second place: Trader Giotto's Pizza 4 Formaggi ($3.99 for 13.4 ounces, or 30 cents an ounce) from the specialty supermarket Trader Joe's. It achieves a "decent balance between sauce, cheese, and dough," according to the tasters. They did not appreciate Totino's Pizza ($1 for 9.8 ounces, or 10 cents an ounce), saying it tasted "very odd," somewhat like "cardboard."
The tasting panel named Freschetta Signature Pepperoni ($5.99 for 27.35 ounces, or 22 cents an ounce) the top frozen pizza in the pepperoni bracket and gave it the highest score overall for its "flavorful sauce," "good crust," and "spicy pepperoni." DiGiorno Half & Half ($5 for 30 ounces, or 17 cents an ounce) didn't impress the panel with its cheese half but made our list on the strength of its pepperoni and "tangy sauce." Last on the scorecard again, Totino's Party Pizza ($1 for 9.8 ounces, or 10 cents an ounce) drew criticism in the pepperoni category for "stale spices" and an overall "fake" taste.
The pizzas were purchased from suburban supermarkets outside a large metro area; prices may vary elsewhere. We've included the price per ounce because some of the test products were individual pizzas and others were big enough to feed a family. Regardless they all cost less than $6, compared with closer to $10 for a full-size pizza from a specialty brand such as Amy's and more for a premium take-and-bake pie.
Each pizza was baked in a standard, non-convection oven according to the instructions on the box. The directions called for the pizzas to be placed directly on the top oven rack, rather than on a baking sheet or pizza stone. Samples were set out on plain paper plates, marked only by a reference number or letter. This was designed to ensure that tasters didn't know which brands they were eating and could form unbiased conclusions about the best frozen pizzas, although some panelists managed to identify go-to brands simply by look or smell.
Panelists graded the pizzas based on appearance, aroma, taste, and texture. Taste, of course, was the biggest determinant of how each product fared. Smell and texture can also make or break a food's appeal, while appearance seemed worth noting but didn't turn out to have much effect on the outcome.
Allowing that these are largely subjective measures, our tasters tried to be as objective as possible. Some even gave personal favorites low scores, recognizing that their preferences were based mainly on nostalgia. They rated the pizza samples on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best. They were also asked if they would buy and eat each pie again. Some panelists gave the frozen pizzas low scores across the board, expressing a general dislike for cook-at-home pies. Although none of the test brands scored higher than an average of 3.7 out of 5, the top frozen pizzas and the duds were indisputable.
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Frozen Pizza Reviews
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. 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.
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."
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.
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.
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.