Which Pizza Chain Is Best for Leftovers?
Pizza chains are constantly making it easier for you to order a hot, fresh pie to your door. Domino's has a zero-click app that automatically orders pizza for you, which is the laziest, most perfect bit of technology ever created. But, call me crazy, I've always preferred how pizza tastes the next day.
I wondered -- is my favorite pizza the night-of still going to be my favorite 24 hours later? There was only one way to find out. I ordered a plain pizza from the five major chains -- Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, Papa Murphy's, Domino's, and Papa John's -- and then consumed each after preparing it in three different ways: in a frying pan, in a toaster oven, and zapped in the microwave. I also ate it cold.
Here are America's biggest chains, ranked by how good they taste the next day... complete with the best preparation for getting the most out of your day-old buck.
Ranking when it's fresh: 5
The best way to eat the leftovers: Cold
I do not like this pizza hot. Not even a little. But here's the good news: it gets better overnight.
Papa Murphy's encourages you to bake its pizza for 60 minutes or fewer after purchase. I did that. What it doesn't tell you -- and it should -- is to let this newly baked pizza sit in the fridge overnight and then eat it cold. It mutes the flavors, which are already pretty muted. And the cold snap robs the crust of the chance to bum you out when you're expecting bakery-fresh pizza... which, well, if you were expecting that in the first place is kind of your bad.
Hot, fresh Papa Murphy's tastes like some slapdash pizza you throw together in your kitchen using shredded cheese, turning bread, and an aging jar of marinara the morning after you've had a few too many tequila-based drinks. That makes no sense, because you bake the pizza in your house! It should taste great! But the pizza is not my cup of tea -- it reminds me of what I used to eat at bowling alley pizza parties.
Luckily, when you eat this pizza cold, it takes the Papa Murphy essence away from the pie in a way that I like. Do yourself a favor and don't eat it out of the oven -- eat it out of the fridge 24 hours later.
Ranking when it's fresh: 3
The best way to eat the leftovers: Toaster oven
Remember back when Domino's changed its recipe and then everyone loved it? Sales skyrocketed. But that's when I abandoned Domino's. It was my favorite chain pizza growing up, and then it revamped its recipe, which caused me to revamp my opinion on it.
So while I can't say I enjoy eating this pizza hot (or cold, or heated in the microwave), eating a slice straight out of the toaster oven 24 hours later was a revelatory experience for me. I couldn't believe how good it was. Good enough that while I would never, under any circumstances, order a Domino's pizza and eat it that night, if I let it sit in my fridge overnight and then toaster it the next day? I'm down. Why don't they sell 24-hour-old pizza at half-price like they do bagels?
There's something about its buttery crust (the company says it's "garlic-seasoned") that I love eating 24 hours after it's made, and yet dislike immensely when it's fresh out of the oven. It's almost like a baked-in version of Papa John's addictive garlic dipping sauce, but not as good. Still, this toaster oven-baked leftover pizza is something I'd willingly eat, and that's saying something.
Ranking when it's fresh: 4
The best way to eat the leftovers: Zapped in the microwave
The hero of college kids and moms hosting big sleepovers on a budget, Little Caesars is a tricky beast to pin down. Get it at the right time (the photo above is the exact right time), and it's the perfect chain pizza, all bubbles and stretchy cheese and flashbacks to childhood. Get it at the wrong time, and it's a flat, dense hunk of cardboard that makes Boboli seem like Pizzeria Bianco.
Which weirdly makes the microwave the great equalizer. Due to the pizza's weird alchemy, the frying pan -- great for thin-crusted, fancy Neapolitans, but an enemy to thicker-crusted concoctions -- gives you a crackery bottom and a doughy top. The toaster oven manages to transform the cheese -- with a mix of mozz and Muenster, it's the best of the chains -- into a dangerous sheet of potential third-degree burns while morphing the crust into something far more brittle and unpleasant. Cold? Well, no. Just no.
But the microwave -- provided you don't go 10 seconds too long -- does something weirdly magical… it changes the crust into something close to the consistency of Crazy Bread. (Why Little Caesars hasn't perfected a "Crazy Bread pizza" is beyond me.) When the pizza's at its worst, the microwave actually makes it better. When it's at its best, it makes it… slightly less good. But still, this is the closest to Crazy Bread pizza you can get now, and that beats the shit out of pretzel pizza. Pro tip: throw a glass of water in when you're heating it to get a little extra texture. But you're not going to do that, because you're eating leftover $5 pizza on a Sunday.
2. Papa John's
Ranking when it's fresh: 1
The best way to eat the leftovers: Straight out of the toaster oven
It pains me to put Papa John's anywhere but No. 1. It's easily my favorite pizza chain, and that's not even considering its garlic sauce, which might be the best condiment ever created. In-N-Out's burger spread and McDonald's Big Mac sauce don't hold a candle to this stuff. But back to the pizza.
Some ways of preparing leftover pizza make what's great about the pizza shine (e.g., the toaster oven or in a pan), and some make those features disappear faster than a 100% charge on an iPhone (e.g., eating it cold, putting it in the microwave). Papa John's doesn't get better cold. It doesn't get better in a microwave. It tastes worse than it did the night before if you heat it up in a pan or a toaster oven. It doesn't taste Papa John's-y -- the delicious flavors of the cheese, sauce, and crust (all of which shined just 24 hours earlier!) die on your palate. Granted, it's still your second-best option for leftovers, but it should be No. 1!
If I can write to Papa John's for a moment: where did you go wrong the day after, Papa? Papa, can you hear me? Your best option is to get an extra garlic sauce or two for the day after and then absolutely drown your slice in it. You won't taste the pizza, but who cares about that. It tastes like that glorious garlic sauce!
1. Pizza Hut
Ranking when it's fresh: 2
The best way to eat the leftovers: Once again, the toaster oven comes through
I'll admit I stopped eating Pizza Hut regularly after I absolutely dominated its reading program, BOOK IT!, in fifth grade and got myself some free pie. And it's especially shocking because this pizza is almost inedible when eaten cold. It tastes like it's been sitting on a kitchen counter for a day, and not in a fridge. It tastes… off.
It also tastes horrible coming out of a microwave. Do not microwave this pizza. With one weirdly notable exception, it ruined every single piece of pizza I ate for this story. It turns most cheese into gum. But hold on, things are about to get better. Coming out of a pan, this tastes good! The crust is crispy. The cheese is hot and delicious. But there's a better way if you have a toaster oven. And you should -- it's completely worth the investment.
Something great happens to Pizza Hut when it's toasted 24 hours after you buy it. Its pies are a little thicker than your average pizza chain, and that works to its advantage as the sauce and cheese taste 100x better on the thick crust from when I ate it hot the night before.
Pizza Hut is one of those pies that improves with age, like a fine wine, or a Susan Sarandon. It's not my favorite chain pizza, but slide a slice in a toaster oven a day after buying it, and you're in for a revelation at dinner. Or if we're not kidding ourselves, breakfast.
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