We wanted our pepperoni to taste like it was sliced off of a pepperoni stick in an Italian market—even if it really came from a plastic bag.
How We Tested
You may think of it as a greasy flavor bomb atop a slice of pizza, but pepperoni dates back to ancient Rome, where it was a convenient food for soldiers on the march. It crossed time—and the Atlantic Ocean—to reach America with the Italian immigrants who arrived on these shores around 1900. Pepperoni met pizza in New York City, underwent a total transformation from artisanal to commercial, and the rest, as they say, is history; pepperoni is the most-ordered pizza topping in the United States, according to Jeremy White, editor in chief of Pizza Today magazine.
Pepperoni is made from cured and fermented pork with just a little beef and is seasoned with black pepper, sugar, anise, cayenne, paprika (the source of its orange color), and lots of salt. Twenty-one cooks and editors from America Test Kitchen tasted six national brands of sliced pepperoni, straight from the package as well as baked on cheese pizza. We sought spice, heat, meat, and chew. We knocked off points for pepperoni that was leathery or dried out. When the slices were room temperature, we could easily distinguish differences in flavor and spice, but the flavors became muted and the scores evened out when the pepperoni was baked on pizzas. Our winner tasted as though it had been “sliced off a pepperoni stick at an Italian market.” It also had the second-highest percentage of sodium, which doctors say is bad for us—but sure tastes good.