No matter how different we are as people, no matter how much conflict we find in the world, if a person eats frozen pizzas, then on some level I can relate to them. How different can I be from a person who eats Jacks? Totinos? DiGiorno?
Very few people are out of the pizza Stratosphere. Most of us walk through those frozen isles looking for the perfect sale. We consider toppings, brands, and ultimately satisfaction. We dream of the warmth of not just the pizza, but of a recliner and a family and a dog. The American dream was never the picket fence, it was the smell of grease and cheese wafting into the living room. I feel if you think about that, it simply makes more sense.
There are so very few things that are truly American and fewer still that are positive. Our country was a product of globalization and through rapid industrialization found ourselves within a shared homogenous global market of largely our own creation. We are a Frankenstein monster of shared culture and dreams birthed by conquest and blood on stolen land. The identity of being an American is often just being a simulacrum composite of a dozen other things. We are a country of immigrants after all.
When we think of culture we can often think about food. Food isn’t just simply what individuals cooked or what crops were great for their climate, but how they ate and shared meals. How they shared experiences. The joy they had in cooking and teaching that to kids as generations continued. Where did that leave second and third generation settlers to a new land? What identity did they have between the trade coming in from around the world or the staples of indigenous cuisine at home?
Industrial globalization is very much an American identity. Through that effort we created access to freezers that made commercial sale of frozen products a new possibility. And in 1950, we saw the frozen pizza hit the market.
The history of frozen pizza-how a frozen food staple became a multibillion-dollar business
For weeks, Americans have been coping with the uncertainty surrounding the widespread coronavirus pandemic by…
The 1950s post war era had promises of flying cars and technology sailing straight to the Jetsons. Our country was going places and in the world of the future you just had to work 9 hours a week and you’d get a morally dubious robot servant and exist in luxury far above the clouds.
We didn’t get any of that, ha ha, not even close. But we got frozen pizza. And pizza is obviously not an American thing nor was it invented here. Yet, frozen pizza is another story. And it may not seem that important, right? By this logic shouldn’t every frozen item come with an American flag? How about TV dinners or peas?
The reason is American cultural identity is frozen pizza. Not just because it is a product of industrial globalization coming to fruition, it is not just an easy frozen staple to give overworked housewives a break for the night, it is something you intrinsically shared together. You all pulled from the same pie and that used to mean something, dammit.
Families shared and bounded over frozen pizza, creating memories that rippled through generations. Memories of warmth that you could smell, memories that you want to make and share with your kids. I eat frozen pizza and I feel connected to those memories and that culture in a way nothing else does for me as a third generation immigrant mutt from Germany, Poland, Russia, and probably half a dozen other places.
I think understanding this lack of a real core cultural identity is instrumental in understanding why Americans cling to things like politics, sports, or charismatic leaders. It is the feeling you belong to something and lacking main culture, subcultures become sovereign and fight for the loudest voice. Me? I don’t belong in those arenas. I belong with frozen pizza eaters as the true pizza patriot. Don’t you dare question my loyalty or commitment to our great frozen pizza nation.
I have put more thought into frozen pizza than maybe anyone alive. That is a bold claim and I wouldn’t fight someone who challenged me, but I’m in the top 1% of elite frozen pizza thinkers. I am the frozen pizza queen of my region and today I’m going to teach you everything I know.
Tiers of Pizza: Every Frozen Pizza is Beautiful
You’re probably innocent. Sitting there with a stoic expression. Currently becoming more uncomfortable as I describe you. Especially that black shirt you’re wearing. But let’s move on from describing you in detail and whisk you away seamlessly to the frozen pizza Isle. Can you visualize it? Do you know what you’re doing there? How confident are you in making the right choice between 15 different brands and dozens of permeating topping choices? Do you want to spend two dollars? Fifteen? Five? Do you want to like your life in two hours? Do you want to live with regrets and a fat wallet? How long are you going to keep the freezer door open, the condensation is building up, people are getting mad!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?
You panic. You run away. But it’s okay. This was just a test.
The fact is most people have no idea what they’re doing. They find a brand and topping that works and typically just do that. They treat the frozen pizza isle like men passing the feminine hygiene section. But the hard truth is you want to linger. You have real important choices to make that dictate the course of your life and ultimately what goes in your mouth. And think about that for a hot second. When you’re sitting down and thinking about the future and the cascading cause and effect of the decisions you make, I believe you’ll take them more seriously when they end with something in your mouth. I do.
While every store is going to be different, pizza tends to be arranged directionally from low to high quality. I’m going to use Wal-Mart as the baseline for pizza products, because there are hundreds of unique brands in regions that I’m not going to know. But I have great news. If you understand frozen pizza science, you can dissect the value of any new pizza on sight.
We’re going to work our way up from the bottom, starting with the Ace of Frozen Pizza: Totino’s. Coming in at time of writing at $1.88 for 700 calories or 3.72 calories per penny.
This is typically going to be your cheapest pizza option and it comes absolutely loaded. Totino’s is pound for pound the most valuable pizza on the market. It is the absolute best pizza. It is the Mario for which all other pizza must be judged. And if you’re thinking that this pizza is crackers topped with plastic and whatever burnt stuff is on the bottom of the oven then you’re failing to realize that for approximately two dollars you’re getting 700 calories worth of pizza.
I don’t even think Totino’s is bad. I think it’s a tasty treat and a perfect single serving meal. It’s like eating the idea of a pizza. You don’t need to emotionally or spiritually commit to a Totino’s. You won’t risk grease overload or feel like you need to take a shower. You can’t be disappointed, because what did you expect for two dollars of frozen pizza?
It is the platonic ideal of pizza given form. It is what angels of a thousand eyes rotating within four dimensional halos sing about without mouths. Totino’s is not always the right choice, but it is never the wrong choice, and there is nothing on the market quite like it. A lot of pizzas have clones or competitors within the same level, but Totino’s is holding the base by itself. Totino’s is the Atlas from which the weight of the entire pizza world rests.
You can eat it as a solid giant block and feel like a child getting served brick shaped pizza in the cafeteria. You can cut it diagonally and get two massive triangles that make you feel powerful. I once cut a Totino’s and the cutting board it was on in half. I never felt more powerful in my life. Obviously the cutting board was cheap and worn out, but for that split second I thought I was a superhero.
If you want to get fancy with Totino’s then cut into 8 triangles, top with red pepper and basil. Spread the pieces out like fallen dominoes on a long rectangular plate. It is really no different than a high quality flatbread pizza at a nice restaurant.
Roma is your next tier of pizza (Tier-1), coming in at time of writing at $2.50 for 960 calories — 3.84 calories per penny. Roma is the worst quality pizza on the market by far, with barely a hint of flavor on what is clearly cardboard. If you’re eating Roma straight from the package you’re no different a monster than eating Ramen noodles uncooked. Roma is not intended to be eaten like a traditional pizza, it is a pizza mixer and through that you can find real beauty.
There are no bad frozen pizzas and Roma Creations™ are some of the tastiest shit on the market. This does increase their cost, but you have literally nothing to lose. My favorite is to use lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers with southwest ranch. You cook the pizza, put those toppings on one side, fold the pizza over, cut down the middle. I don’t even know what to call what I just did, but police have told me it isn’t a crime.
Alternatively you can put two on top of each other and melt a ton of cheese on them to create a pizza style lasagna. You can do a teriyaki and pickled ginger pizza. I can’t stress this enough, you can do fucking anything. In terms of cost you can either get a large fancy coffee or two and half Roma pizza. Roma is your life directly out of college — it doesn’t matter that much and it’s the time to experiment and make mistakes.
If you’re looking to kill a man by chucking frozen pizza disks at him from the top of a building like in Home Alone, Roma is your best friend. This pizza can do ANYTHING, except be good by itself. But it is still beautiful.
Jack’s is your next tier of pizza (Tier-2), coming in at time of writing at $3.62 for 1020 calories — 2.8 calories per penny.
This is the first pizza that really tastes anything like you imagine a pizza is supposed to taste like. The crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings are all B-grade. They are not good. They are not bad. They’re basically the intern grade level of ingredients there to be warm bodies, get some experience, and not be paid. That last one is important.
And some ways this makes the Jack’s Tier the worst. Because it’s getting a little pricey for not any real benefit. I think when you see them on sale they’re worth picking up. But it’s rare you’re happy to buy a Jacks for full price. They are kind of your first roommate after college, before anyone has their shit together, but man splitting rent down the middle means you can actually eat.
Jacks can be improved with added toppings and the easiest way to instantly improve any frozen pizza is with adding cheese, black olives, or mushrooms. I mean add what extra topping you want, but sometimes just one extra novel topping that wouldn’t work on frozen pizza, but is great when put on fresh can make a Jack’s pizza taste like life has hope.
And Jacks isn’t a terrible experience. You can definitely have a good time with it, but it’s that awkward level where eating the entire thing is too many calories for one meal, but eating half is too light. So, it can pair with a pick-up salad fairly easily. If I was hard pressed, with a gun to my head, I’d offer that it’s kind of like the duct-tape of pizza and good for a quick fix.
Tombstone is your next tier of pizza (Tier-3), coming in at time of writing at $4.58 for 1440 calories — 3.14 calories per penny. Tombstone starts the realm of real pizza diversity and serves as the Luigi base-level for any pizza within the 4–6 dollar range. The reason is if you’re going to have your own pizza company, you’re not going to outcompete Jacks, Roma, or Tostino. You’re often going to sell more specialized pizza for a more premium price.
Tombstone is the first pizza that can actually hold its own as a pizza. The cheese and meat actually taste real and the toppings feel generous enough you start to feel like you matter. The calories are significantly higher as you’re not just eating grease and cheese bubbles but something of substance. This is still lower quality, so it’s more likely to just sit in your stomach and make you feel like you ate a brick. Soloing a Tombstone is a lowkey accomplishment in self destruction.
It isn’t bad for a pizza though and if you can get it around or under $4 dollars than it has a lot of value. It’s a pretty good pizza to eat with adults who may still want to be your friend. The only way to lose friends quicker than laying down a Jacks or unedited Roma on the table is to play Monopoly for a few minutes.
Jacks is a pretty good freezer pizza. A pizza you have as protection against the allure of ordering fast food pizza. Most Americans have some level of pizza lust and it’s not shameful to admit this. We all have to keep it under control and Jacks is cheap and innocuous enough to keep in a freezer next to your panties and copy of the Shining.
In this tier of pizza, we also have Red Baron, a fitting name for a pizza hellbent on killing you. I loath Red Baron. I see no appeal what-so-ever. The sauce is strangely sweet, the bread feels like if a lunchable was really big and gets soggy under the sauce. The cheese doesn’t actually melt, it just returns to milk, as pockets of grease denote where the too seasoned pepperoni is.
When looking at pizza, you’re often looking at how their pepperoni performs. Not every pizza does pepperoni, but for the low cost staples it is often their flagship pizza and if they can’t get that right, than fucking get out of here. This is my own bias. Every pizza expert and lover is allowed one pizza they hate to balance the equation. It’s in the ancient rules.
Tombstone? Now Tombstone’s pepperoni has little cubes of pep under their cheese step if you get what I mean. Tombstone’s pepperoni is a flavor explosion within your mouth with nowhere to escape and you’re in danger. Tombstone’s pepperoni eats you as much as you eat it. Am I being clear here?
I wouldn’t rather starve than eat a Red Baron, but man, I’d think about it. I would wait. I wouldn’t just eat that shit day one. I would really consider my options heavily before eventually and reluctantly eating it. You would have to pay me at least fifty dollars to eat one. I am not joking. Not a cent less. One of the few pizzas that hides shamelessly within its box as it is too ashamed for you to see what it actually looks like.
Bellatoria is your next tier of pizza (Tier-4), coming in at time of writing at $6.73 for 960 calories — 1.42 calories per penny. This is your first line of fancy ass pizza for fancy ass people. This is your hipsters stonefire wannabe brand. You notice a severe reduction in calories per penny, because you’re buying flavor and taste here. You’re not just getting thicc on this pizza, you’re really making a statement about your life and probably the friends you have.
You pop open a Bellatoria like you pop open wine. You eat this pizza to stay light and think good during your board game nights or lady boss parties. You feel special and hippy and happy on this and shit girl, you really do not need to worry about those calories. Sail right into the night, lady.
And joking aside, Bellatoria is good. It is a fine pizza for approximately six dollars, but I recommend waiting for $4.50 sale — that’s where it really shines. My local grocery store is selling this shit for $10.00 and I’m losing my shit over it. That aside, this is also typically your general price range for gluten free pizza or cauli-crust pizza. This is what you’re usually looking for if you have special dietary restrictions and they actually have options that are awesome and don’t involve meat.
Their Margherita pizza is just fantastic and highly recommend it. And I think having those more personalized options for individuals who can’t eat other frozen pizza for a number of reasons is great. So your $6 to $8 dollar pizza tends to be higher quality in general and a really satisfying pizza by itself. It also is typically those alternative options.
You also find DiGiorno(non-stuffed) within this category. Digiorno is typically the most solid frozen pizza experience. Every ingredient within the pizza is A-tier and it typically just tastes like a pizza really should. It really does taste like delivery.
The problem is DiGiorno actually tastes a little too good. It doesn’t taste enough like a frozen pizza, so as you eat it you don’t think about how much better it is than a Jacks. You think about how much worse it is than that little family pizza place downtown. And by eating this, you’re not supporting local business, so cancelled loser. It really makes you long for truly decadent pizza experiences outside of the frozen realm and within that space it can just be disappointing by contrast.
Lotzza Motzza is your next tier of pizza (Tier-5), coming in at time of writing at $8.58 for 1750 calories — 2.09 calories per penny. You’ll immediately see the relationship between prices and calories on pizza is not unlike the difference between productivity and wages. This tier of pizza sometimes gets a little silly, because you could just order a pizza with a coupon for this price.
We’re looking at Pizza Corner, Lotzza Motzza, Stuff-crusted Digiorno, and most high end local/regional brands.
I will say Pizza corner used to be something real special, but they changed their packaging, they didn’t air seal it tight, and now it’s a pale imitation of its glory days. At this price point, each pizza better be a fucking power ranger and it all needs to play important role. This pizza cost people more than an hour of their life. We’re dealing in real eldritch trades for this shit. An 8+ dollar pizza cannot be fucking around.
Pizza corner is a bar pizza, it is a pizza that pairs well with drinking. It is the perfect pizza for bowling. Even with its shitty rebranding, it still sits at the top for something to soak in the beer while you throw balls at pins. The best part of Pizza corner is how non-greasy it is. It is a doughy as fuck pizza, but you need that kind of stability acting nearly like fiber, so your stomach stays solid when you think dancing is suddenly a good idea or you get a little to flirty with a guy whose bowling stories just got way more interesting.
Lotzza Motzza is technically sold as a pub pizza, but you do not want that in your stomach. It is not cleverly named. They douse that thing in enough cheese to pass as a joke on SNL. It is legitimately swimming in cheese and grease to the point I eat the pizza with a napkin to dap my forehead, not my mouth. That pizza is the fastest way to feel the meatsweats and uncomfortably full for your entire day. We call LM an epic level dose of pizza and you can’t just jump into it. Do not take this pizza lightly.
Stuff-crusted Digiorno is one of my personal favorites. It has incredible crust and mouthfeel. As I said, there is nothing shameful in talking about pizza lust or describing the mouthfeel as you bite into that juicy thicc naughty slice. It also makes stuff-crust accessible to plebeians like me. If I want a really good pizza experience where I won’t feel extremely greasy, but still will have a good time, it’s the SCD every time.
Using these Baselines to Understand Pizza Theory
I’ve gone over what I believe are pretty ubiquitous brands of pizzas.
Tier-0: Less than $2
Cost isn’t the end all be all. In actuality you have to determine a pizza’s worth by its cost, compared to its calories, compared to its taste. All of these add together to create an actual value index to judge all pizza frozen or not. Since taste is subjective, I didn’t include it, but you did get a look at calories per penny for this consideration.
And maybe money doesn’t matter to you, but for a lot of people it does. If you don’t care about price, I’m not even sure what you’re doing with frozen pizza, except to stay connected to your roots as an American. If you have the money then delivery is almost always better and a higher tier experience. If you can go to restaurant than same thing. Or bake your own pizza from scratch.
What’s actually important here is that frozen pizza price really sets the reasonable price for the rest of the market. If you buy a thirty dollar pizza can you really say it’s fifteen times better than a Tostinos? Careful. Keep in mind if a human was fifteen times bigger they’d be 90 feet tall. Basically, Tostinos is the One Punch Man of the pizzaverse. It’s unbeatable.
But, look at you. You started out this medium article significantly younger than when you got here. Here we spent a solid twenty minutes on pizza theory. Let’s put you back in that pizza aisle. You’re ready. You’ve earned it…I’m just so proud! So, look at this aisle now, as a master. You can make decisions that actually matter.
What do you want out of your night? Do you want something good? Something light? Something cheap? Something interesting? What’s on sale and how good is that sale? You can now really make these decisions. Inflation keeps threatening to make this difficult, so keep basing your choice on relative value to Totinos. If you find a four dollar pizza that has the mouthfeel and sensationally delight of the eight dollar brand, buy that every time. If you get a ten dollar pizza that feels as lackluster as a Roma, then you got tricked. If you go to a restaurant and get a twenty dollar pizza that doesn’t taste better than your six dollar Digiorno, fuck that place.
I have given you, literally, the greatest gift one could give and I did it for free. And you do not even need to thank me (but you can). I want everyone to enjoy pizza. I want them to understand it. I want them to really look forward to exactly what they buy. I want you to share it if you can. I want you to talk to your friends about it. Share in real American culture. Connect to your roots. Embrace them, you frozen pizza people.
So, this entire article so far is obviously objectively true. I often try hard to be solipsistically correct about reality. So, I’ll depart from the facts™ to give some little bonus content here. A review of mine featuring a fantastic restaurant pizza trying to break into the frozen market and the nightmare that ensued.
This serves as an example for how you can understand and judge new frozen pizza when it hits the market.
Pizza Review on Rhombus Frozen Pizza: Final Cut
It’s worth remembering that it was twenty years ago that the Rhombus House of Pizza was born. A product of Matt Winjum and Arron Hendricks. Not just a product, but a dream born from their time mixing smoothies over a table with equal sides, but odd angles. The evolution from smoothie to pizza caught the attention of the Grand Forks Herald and within the misty waters of Thief River Falls they forged their first pizza house and defined what would be their future business.
Fast forward twenty years and we see several successful restaurants and trivia nights. The pizza darling of the Midwest, with bold and interesting flavors that took fine dining to task, while allowing patrons to draw silly little things with crayons on paper table coverings. The pizza was great and the atmosphere was better, almost entrancing to a point you could find yourself drinking and eating pizza with Gatsby himself and not even bat an eye.
Success begets success, and the question is always what next or what more? The answer so many consumers found was one day sitting within the freezer section in between Bellatoria and Pizza Corner. The Bombay section of the pizza aisle that measures quality from left to right, rather than top to bottom. An $11.50 monster entering the market with promises and sweet nothings to your taste buds. No lowballing to get you hooked, no, this was the confidence to say they knew you already were.
This frozen section brought with it the diverse style and taste of the restaurant and with that the hope of fine dining packaged into little circles. Be royalty tonight they would whisper. Be dedicant. Let your mouth sail and soar far beyond your physical trapping and into something more. The perfect slice, the best bite, the euphoria of grease amplifying the savory stylings of meat and safely cut short of overload by the bare hints of acidic tomato, herbs, and seasoned bread.
Even buying it feels perverse. Not different than a lamp of a woman’s leg in full display of the neighborhood. Cashiers wondering what fun you will have within the privacy of your mouth. How could you not buy it with your heart beating slightly faster? How could you not want to run home to a preheated oven, damn the fire risk, because this was your night to enjoy alone. Away from Gatsby and every car he owned or the eyes ever looking.
A mere thirty minutes later and you pull the pizza out of the oven. It looks good for a frozen pizza, but a shadow of what lands on your crayon Tokyo/kaiju scene you drew while in the restaurant. It looks also tired in a way you feel off about. Deflated. The anticipation falls short after the first bite, when instead of any explosion of complexion for flavor you feel the indifferent sterility of a frozen product. The height of whatever this pizza experienced is way past the prime. This pizza had seen stuff. It has been around. It had lost the luster it once had for life, becoming what it was always afraid it might be — boring.
No matter what dresses we put on it, what flavors we tried to mimic, it felt like it never had the soul it needed to truly reflect the vibe of the restaurant from which it came. A pale imitation at best, being sold for way more than it was worth. After half of it is gone, you put the rest in the cooler, wondering what went wrong. Not just the pizza, but your life.
A day later you peel off the pepperoni, salvaging what taste you could from the investment that was aging as finely as pizza. What disappointment, what mockery of a product born of dreams between smoothies twenty years ago. What a scam to sell that name and experience, to emerge into the market with such energy to say they would dominate, and still underperform compared to fricking Bellatoria.