Want to make restaurant-quality cup and char pepperoni pizza at home? In this post, you'll learn which type of pepperoni works best, what makes it curl, and how to get the most delicious results in a standard oven.
What Exactly is Cup and Char Pepperoni?
Well, it's exactly what it sounds like: pepperoni that curls up into cups and chars around the edges when it's heated. Despite what various companies want you to believe, you do not have to buy a product labeled "cup and char" in order to get 'roni cup results. In fact, labels will do you little to no good in most cases, since the different types of pepperoni are rarely labeled as such.
If you want pepperoni to cup up on your homemade pizza as it bakes, you need to choose the best-quality stick pepperoni you can find and cut it into thin (but not too thin) slices with a sharp chef's knife.
Still not sure what I mean? Here's what to look for when buying pepperoni for a cup and char pizza:
- Do not buy the super-thin pre-sliced pepperoni that's usually displayed in the deli section of your grocery store. Though delicious in its own right, this type of pepperoni will lay flat (or curl just a little) when it's baked on a pizza.
- Choose a stick of pepperoni that is brick-red in color, hard, and lumpy on the outside. These are the characteristics of what is commonly called "old world" or artisan pepperoni, which is the best cupping option because of its natural or collagen casing and smaller circumference.
- Cut the pepperoni yourself into thin-ish slices. Pizza guru J. Kenji López-Alt recommends a thickness between .1 inch (2.5 mm) and .225 (5.6 mm), but I've had the best results with slices that are roughly ⅛ inch (3.2 mm) thick.
Experiment Time: Does it Matter How You Bake the Pizza?
Out of curiosity (and because Lopez-Alt left this out of his own cup and char pepperoni study for Serious Eats), I conducted an experiment to see whether pepperoni slices cup up differently depending on how a pizza is baked. I used the same three types of pepperoni (pre-sliced, American-style stick pepperoni, and "old-world" stick pepperoni) for each of two pizzas, as well as the same sauce, cheese, and dough. I baked one of the pizzas on a pizza pan at 500°F. Then, I preheated my baking stone to 550°F for an hour, switched to Broil on high, and baked the other one directly on the stone.
Test #1: Can I get pepperoni cups on a pizza pan?
This was a pleasant surprise. The high-quality ("old-world"/artisan) pepperoni cupped up nicely on the pan pizza, and the American-style stick pepperoni curled up just a little at the edges.
Test #2: Will all three types of pepperoni cup up on a high-heat baking stone pizza?
Since I'd already made lots of cup and char pepperoni pizzas on my baking stone, I knew this method would produce delicious "old world" 'roni cups. What surprised me was the performance of the American-style versions.
While the artisanal pepperoni slices cupped up gorgeously, as expected, they weren't alone. The sliced-by-hand American-style stick pepperoni curled almost into cups, too, and even the larger pre-sliced version baked into shallow bowls.
If you want the best cup and char pepperoni, get the good stuff and slice it by hand to a uniform ⅛-inch thickness (or slightly thinner). The roni cups will be slightly more defined if you bake them at the highest heat on a baking stone, but they will also curl up nicely on a pizza pan or baking sheet at 500°F.
Nope! Your best bet is to head over to the deli area of your grocery store or, even better, the nearest cheese and/or charcuterie shop, and find a stick of pepperoni with natural or collagen casings. Then, when you're ready to make pizza, slice the pepperoni thinly (about 1/16 to ⅛ inch thick) with a big chef's knife.
Unlike the American ("new world") version, which is lower in fat, cured for shorter amounts of time, and made with a synthetic casing, "old world" pepperoni is higher in fat, has natural casings (either pork intestine or collagen), a deeper red color, and a harder, dryer, lumpier texture. This is the type that is closest to the original pepperoni, based on Italian dry-cured salami recipes.
Believe it or not, this bright-red cured meat is not Italian. It was created the early 1900s by Italian immigrants in the United States.
If you're a purist, the only other toppings you need are red sauce and cheese. However, I do love the addition of sliced green bell peppers and/or mushroom, which add a welcome hint of sweetness. (Speaking of which, have you tried my Pepperoni and Broccoli Rabe Pizza with Hot Honey? It's amazeballs.)