What is the best pizza chain?

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Every football weekend usually gets me thinking about pizza, but the playoffs get my pie-centric brain working overtime. Growing up, I always hit up my favorite local place for some ‘za as I watched playoff football, but ever since I moved out (be honest, after the Pokemon blog you thought I still lived at home. I don’t hold it against you) I’ve had to switch it up. No more go-to spot has opened the door for more experimenting and, much to my great joy, plenty of the Big Three: Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s. But which is the best? As is natural in playoff time, someone needs to be crowned the winner. Before we get into it, if you consider yourself too good to indulge in chain pizza, you can get the hell out right now. The Brian’s Den is a socialist commune for pizza, and everyone gets a fair shake. Yes, you can get better pizza at plenty local places. But you can also get worse. All pizza is good pizza, no matter what is says on the box. Now, let’s get to the tale of the tape.

Pizza Quality

I guess the most important category to start with is the actual quality of the pizza. It should go without saying that we’re talking about the basics. Default crust, sauce, and cheese, at most one topping. Just the pure pizza experience. I’ll say this about Pizza Hut: It’s awesome if you have it once a year. Once in a blue moon I’ll get a random craving for Pizza Hut and it’s probably the strongest craving I get for any food. It can’t be ignored. But once you start having more often than that you start running into trouble. I recently tried Papa John’s pan pizza. It was better than Pizza Hut. Pan pizza is Pizza Hut’s calling card. If someone does your supposed strength better than you, that’s a bad sign. It’s hard to remember what Domino’s was like before their big redesign a few years ago, but they hit the ground running and haven’t looked back. The new garlic crust is awesome. The sauce is good and the cheese is fine. Considering the only adjective I can think of to describe Papa John’s Pizza is that it’s pretty good, this is a win for Domino’s. Extra points for possibly having the least bad aftermath.

Winner: Domino’s

Specialty Crust

Hinted at above, but Papa John’s pan pizza is awesome. It’s better than their regular pizza by a mile. Domino’s non-regular options are so bland and subpar that I seriously question why anyone would bother to get them. Pizza Hut gets points for sort of creating stuffed crust, but stuffed crust sucks.

Winner: Papa John’s

Breadsticks

I was tempted to just throw breadsticks in with rest of the sides, but they’re too important not to recognize. Breadsticks are a staple of the pizza chain menu, and each one brings strong entries. Pizza Hut’s breadsticks are excellent. The seasoning meshes perfectly with the bread. More than anyone, Pizza Hut’s breadsticks are an extension of the crust. If Pizza Hut’s pizza was as good as the breadsticks, I’d be tempted to go more often. Domino’s has quality breadsticks, as well, with the added wrinkle of being baked as one big piece that you rip pieces off of. It lends itself well to cheese and other toppings, but we’re talking straight breadsticks here. I get them every time and always enjoy them, but Domino’s has the weakest of the three. I feel like not many people know it, but Papa John’s is a titan of the breadstick world. They’re thicker than most places, but high on natural bread flavor. That’s a plus for me. I think they’re the best for dipping, and, most importantly, are great cold. Pizza Hut’s aren’t. That’s the only thing separating these two Hall of Famers.

Winner: Papa John’s

Sides

Here’s where we factor in pretty much every non-pizza, non-plain breadstick food everyone offers. This is an easy win for Domino’s simply because of the chicken. Their chicken nuggets, or whatever they call them, are great if you get them plain or with the various toppings they offer. The cheesey bread is good too. I honestly couldn’t tell you what other sides Papa John’s has and if you get wings from Pizza Hut you should probably go in for a psych evaluation.

Winner: Domino’s

Best Gimmick

Kind of felt bad that Pizza Hut is getting left behind here, so this is for them. No one takes chances like they do. Whether it’s pretzel crust, that New York style thing they tried where it was just regular pizza but like 24″ in diameter, or the P’Zone, Pizza Hut is always at the forefront of innovation. I tried the pizza they had where the crust was just a bunch of pigs in a blanket and it changed my life. Jury’s still out on if the change was positive.

Winner: Pizza Hut

Desert

Though I will admit to trying most of the menu for research purposes, you’ve got to be in a pretty dark place in your life to be getting pizza chain desert regularly. This would be a tie between Pizza Hut and Domino’s for their cinnamon sticks, but Domino’s pulls away with the chocolate lava crunch cakes. Domino’s asking if you want to add one to your order online is the strongest temptation I can think of.

Winner: Domino’s

Delivery

This is the only category that prevented this from being a fatal four way. Little Caesar’s Hot and Ready pizza is so good and so underrated that I have to give it a quick shoutout. They don’t deliver though, which is just about the only requirement to get into this debate. The big three are all pretty even here. I’ve had both fast and slow delivery times with all of them. However, when I was in college the only one we had was Domino’s and they were open super late on the weekend. It may seem biased, but the importance of that fact cannot be overstated.

Winner: Domino’s

Mascot

A pretty rough category all around. The Pizza Noid is stupid, as is that speed box folder Domino’s tried to impress us with. Pizza Hut’s recent ad campaigns have been a combination of boring and annoying, as they keep trying to get in on the new trend of just being super weird and random in commercials and hoping people remember it. They don’t remember, and they probably hate the ad. Papa John seems like a decent guy and I don’t really care about Peyton anymore, but J.J Watt, man. He’s just so fake and insufferable. It’s an upset he hasn’t gotten his grandma on one of the ads yet, and an even bigger upset he hasn’t gotten his great grandma in one. He still hangs out with both of them, you know. Not sure if you would, though, he never mentions it.

Winner: Nobody

Well, it’s pretty clear that Domino’s is the winner. I don’t think I really thought it would be this apparent when I started, but you never know what can happen during the course of a debate. Domino’s rewards program where you get free pizza if you order enough is just the icing on the cake. Domino’s runs away with it, proving that in the chain pizza game, as in life, every detail matters.

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5 thoughts on “What is the best pizza chain?”

  1. As a pizza man by trade, I think you’re leaving out some intangibles. Domino’s 30 minutes or less campaign that they gave up on after a month has been annoying pizza places for years where people think their food is free if it’s not made fresh and brought to their house in the boonies within 30 minutes. Also how does papa john himself not factor in? The thought of the gentle kiss he gave Peyton Manning and the fake Camaro story make me gag.

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    1. It’s true that Domino’s may have sabotaged the delivery business for smaller local places, that wasn’t enough to effect its standing among chain giants. The mascots (papa john) were negatives against all three places.

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