Artichoke Basille's

Making a Better Meat-Topping Pizza

Three standout pizzerias share the secrets behind their winning carnivorous pies—and how their meat ingredients are paired to shine across the menu.

  • Kneadza Pizza Kneadza uses pepperoni on The Piccante, which features a red sauce spiked with Calabrian chilies and a generous drizzle of hot honey.
  • At Artichoke Basille’s, the Crab Pie is made with a creamy, bisque-like crab sauce, panko-breaded Surimi crabmeat and mozzarella cheese.

Related: Using Italian cured meats to make better artisan pizzas

By Tracy Morin

From the classic pepperoni to a “meaty” mushroom alternative, from panko-crusted crabmeat to Nashville-style hot chicken, from hamburger to Broadbent bacon, meats are helping create standout pies in some the country’s hottest pizzeria concepts. And whether they’re seeking exciting ingredient pairings for pizzas or other menu items, chefs are making the most of these carnivore-approved additions.

Kneadza Pizza chose a premium, old world-style pepperoni supplier for its oven-fired pies.

Kneadza Pizza

When it comes to meat pizzas, nothing will ever beat the classic pepperoni, says Brad Binder, executive chef at Kneadza Pizza, a Washington, D.C., concept by KNEAD Hospitality + Design. But he also emphasizes that not all pepperoni are created equal. “After trying samples from countless vendors, we landed on pepperoni from Ezzo Sausage Company in Columbus, Ohio,” Binder explains. “Not only does the product speak for itself, but their customer support is top-notch—you call, and the owner picks up!”

Kneadza uses that pepperoni on The Piccante, which also features a red sauce spiked with Calabrian chilies. This pizza is topped with a generous drizzle of hot honey for a finish that leaves customers relishing the seductive sweet note underneath the heat. “We also have a pizza called The Fun Guy, a play on the Funghi, which features hickory-smoked mushrooms (oyster, shiitake and cremini) and black truffle,” Binder adds. “The earthiness of the mushrooms gives this pizza a meaty flavor—so we can give vegetarians an experience that rivals any pizza with meat on it.”

Related: Making the most of your meat toppings

Meat toppings at Kneadza are also used across the menu to maximize these ingredients—such as in a classic Bolognese sauce. Toasted Ravioli and Arancini include both pepperoni and Italian sausage, and their fillings are switched up seasonally to keep customers interested. When selecting the right sausage, Binder prefers a classic Italian flavor that’s “heavy-handed on the fennel seed,” he says. “To bridge this flavor on our pizza [called] The Situation, we add braised fennel and fennel fronds. I believe that Italian sausage pizza also needs red and green bell peppers, so we feature them as well.”

The Artichoke Basille’s Staten Island pie pays homage to its founders’ roots with a mix of meatball and creamy ricotta.

Artichoke Basille’s Pizza

Artichoke Basille’s, the famous New York-based pizzeria known for its larger-than-life slices and pies, has ballooned to 16 locations, with another two in the works. And perhaps its most creative pizza—as well as one of its most popular—is the Crab Pie, made with a creamy, bisque-like crab sauce and topped with panko-breaded Surimi crabmeat and mozzarella cheese. 

Legend has it that the idea came about one late night/early morning when Artichoke co-founder Francis Garcia threw a bunch of ingredients from the kitchen on pizza dough, creating a unique pie that has been a menu favorite ever since. “The saltiness of the crab is balanced with the creaminess of the bisque-like sauce and melted mozzarella,” Garcia says. “Although pepperoni and sausage are the go-to meat toppings for pizza, crabmeat deserves the same level of buzz and could easily become the next big meat trend within the pizza industry. Pair it with some panko, cream sauce and cheese, and you’ve got yourself a winner!”

Related: Artichoke Basille’s: How two East Village pizza guys became Food Network stars

The Meatball serves up hearty hoagie flavors on a pizza crust for fans at Artichoke Basille’s.

The classic Pepperoni is another fan favorite at Artichoke, where pizza makers work with a custom-blend pepperoni made by Hormel especially for the brand—hand-cut into thick slices so that, when it’s cooked, the edges crisp and curl up into a cup shape. Other popular meat pies include the Staten Island, which was named in homage to cousins and co-founders Garcia and Sal Basille’s hometown roots and features meatballs, red onions and creamy ricotta cheese with tomato sauce. And the Meatball essentially combines all there is to love about a meatball hoagie, but on a pizza.

“While these ingredients can be used in other Italian recipes, we like to stick to what we do best—pizza—which has resulted in a cult-like fan base, including many A-list celebrities,” Garcia says. “Across our selection of meat pies is one common denominator: whole-milk mozzarella. We like Polly-O, and we cut it into cubes to achieve perfectly even cheese across the pie.”

A pizza topped with a local favorite, hot chicken, is a hot seller at Emmy Squared’s Nashville location.

Emmy Squared

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and now with 12 locations, Emmy Squared continues to open in new markets along the East Coast, while its Detroit-style pizzas are available to ship nationwide via Goldbelly. The Colony2 is one of its signature—and most in-demand—pies across all of those outlets, offering a twist on the classic pepperoni pizza with the addition of pickled jalapeños and a drizzle of honey.

Meanwhile, several of Emmy Squared’s locations offer meat pizzas specific to their markets, paying homage to local dishes. The Nashville Hot Chicken pizza is a white pie topped with Nashville hot chicken, ’Bama White Sauce and chopped pickles, while the Hot Brown Pizza (a favorite in Louisville, Kentucky) is a white pizza topped with turkey, Broadbent bacon, queso and cherry tomatoes. “I feel like, especially with summer burgers on everyone’s mind, burger pizza is something that has momentum right now, too,” adds Emily Hyland, co-founder and partner of Emmy Squared. “We do a deconstructed version of our famous Le Big Matt burger in pizza form—it’s a delicious way to reimagine burger meat. Otherwise, pepperoni is a tried-and-true staple and favorite among our guests. Classics are classics for a reason.”

The classic pepperoni at Emmy Squared is reworked as the Colony2, jazzed up with hot honey and pickled jalapenos.

Hyland also loves meat as an add-on—for example, heaping sausage on the mushroom and truffle cream pizza called the Angel Pie. “It takes the pie to a whole new level,” Hyland notes. “We also often have meat paired with a sweet or spicy flavor profile to amplify flavor. For instance, on the fan-favorite Colony2 pie, we add honey atop the pepperoni, which offers a nice balance to the saltiness of the meat. We also serve a lot of pies that pair spicy flavors with meat, like pepperoni with Calabrian chilies or our yummy Nashville Hot Chicken pizza, which adds dimension to a dish. Often, you will find a creamy element as well—cheddar and sour cream interplay with bacon to make our riff on potato skins in pizza form on the Twice Baked pie.”  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of PizzaVegan.com.

Sidebar: Bugging Out

Bill Broadbent, president of Entosense in Lewiston, Maine, notes that there are two (very different) reasons people choose to eat insects: novelty and health reasons. “Ask someone if they would like to try eating a cricket or mealworm, and get ready for a reaction that can range from total disgust to ‘I love it!’” Broadbent says. “Eating a cricket is a culinary experience few forget—so it creates great word-of-mouth advertising.”

As unusual as they seem for Americans, people munch down on insects like crickets and mealworms worldwide. Broadbent notes they’re a nutritious, bio-available protein that requires significantly less land and water than other meats, making them more sustainable. They’re also cheap—Broadbent sells crickets at $39.95 per pound (in 20 flavors, from Cotton Candy to Mango Habanero) and mealworms at $46.90 per pound. Each pound carries about 3,000 crickets and 4,000 mealworms, and you need only a dozen or two to top a pizza. “Using their scientific names, people can have fun offering Acheta Pizza or Tenebrio Pizza,” Broadbent says. “No one eats a piece of Tenebrio Pizza without telling everyone they know and posting online. The restaurant becomes part of the story.”