The Art of Pizza Topping
Delicious pizza doesn’t happen by accident.
Toppings play a crucial role in elevating flavor and achieving a desirable texture.
Their combined weight, volume as well as their fat, moisture content and placement can make the difference between a good pizza and a great one.
Our recommendations for the best three topping pizza combinations are below. We also invite you to consider some tips and tricks for perfecting your approach to pizza making.
What's the Best 3 Topping Pizza Combination?
There’s more debate than decision around what’s considered the best 3 topping pizza.
You’re likely to find different preferences throughout the country, including creative combinations inspired by popular local dishes.
When you’re trying to decide what 3 topping pizza to make at home, the following combinations are a reliable starting point.
1. Tomato, mozzarella cheese, basil
This pizza, often referred to as Margherita pizza, is always a favorite. It combines three delicate flavors in a manner that has been popular since 1889 when Italy’s Queen Margherita enjoyed it at a pizzeria in Naples.
Margherita pizza is also memorable because its three core ingredients represent the red, white and green colors of Italy’s flag: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil.
2. Bacon, pineapple, serrano pepper
This combination offers a modern and spicy twist on a popular classic: Hawaiian pizza.
We recommend grilled pineapple, thick bacon strips cut into squares and blistered serrano peppers atop a tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese pie.
The addition of peppers brings in some spicy heat to counterbalance the sweet and salty flavors of the pineapple and bacon.
The original Hawaiian pizza has inspired debate since its invention in the 1960s when a chef and restaurateur in Canada first topped a traditional red sauce and mozzarella cheese pizza with ham and Hawaiian brand canned pineapple.
While especially popular in Australia and Canada, many people are just as passionately opposed to the original recipe. Will a spicy kick persuade them otherwise?
3. Pesto, kale, artichoke
Unique veggies are becoming increasingly popular to use as pizza toppings.
Starting with the sauce, using basil pesto as a base to your dough is a fitting canvas to produce a delicious veggie pizza upon.
While most greens atop a pie must be watched carefully during cooking because of how easily they wilt or burn, kale is sturdy enough to withstand more heat.
Fresh artichokes offer herbaceous tasting notes, but can be labor intensive to properly prepare. To save time, you can use canned or frozen artichoke hearts. If you opt for canned, we recommend those that have been stored in water rather than oil. Canned or frozen, pre-cook them so that excess hydration doesn’t interfere with the dough.
4. Meatball, ricotta, garlic
Meatball, ricotta and garlic is a modern classic. The creamy ricotta elegantly cuts through a herb-packed meatball while sauteed garlic adds depth to the tomato sauce base.
We recommend pre-cooking meatballs so that no hydration is added to the dough. Furthermore, in pre-cooking the meatballs you ensure the meat is thoroughly cooked prior to adding them to your pizza. When adding them to your pizza, you have the option to keep the meatballs whole or, for an easier-to-eat approach, slice or crumble them atop your pie.
5. Fennel sausage, pepperoni, uncured bacon
Adding pepperoni to pizza is considered an American invention; it’s not a topping you’re likely to see on many pizzas in Italy. Nonetheless, it’s hard to go wrong when combining this crowd pleasing topping with sausage and bacon to create an amazing trinity of toppings.
The fennel sausage adds further dimension to this combination, offering a fresh, spring-like aroma that many liken to anise. Bacon speaks for itself, almost every meal tastes better when it’s added. Its rich flavor and crispy texture titillate the taste buds and play well with the crumbled sausage and sliced pepperoni.
To ensure food safety, as well as prevent excess oil from seeping into the crust, each of these meats should be precooked. To avoid over-topping the pizza, evenly distribute each topping across the pie, ensuring that each slice gets a bit of each topping.
6. Portabella, cremini, shitake
Mushroom lovers enjoy the unique earthy taste that different types of fungi offer. Whereas portabella mushrooms bring a meaty flavor and texture, cremini tend to be milder. A fresh shitake mushroom adds a buttery element, while dried shiitake has a more smokey flavor.
Mushrooms are another ingredient that should be precooked before adding them to the pie. Mushrooms shed a lot of liquid when cooked and could easily lead to a very soggy dough.
Why The Pizza Combinations Work So Well
These thoughtful creative combinations act like a catalyst for the senses: awakening smell, sight, taste and texture.
Chefs make it look easy, because when preparing any dish, they’re working towards engaging each of the senses:
A delicious smelling pizza usually indicates success; the crust, sauce and cheese have combined nicely with complementary toppings, including any herbs or spices you’ve added.
A crust that has been made using a long fermentation process will create a delicious fresh bread aroma while baking.
While a slight char smell doesn’t necessarily spell disaster, it’s ideal if the singe is confined to the crust. In especially hot ovens like those used for Neapolitan pizzas, it’s common for dark-tinged bubbles to appear on the crust.
Burnt toppings, on the other hand, are problematic: they’re both unsightly and can be ruinous to the taste. To avoid singed toppings, shelter them by placing lighter toppings such as fresh herbs under toppings with high moisture content.
It’s been said a million times that you eat with your eyes, so, to craft a combination that is aesthetically appealing, we recommend that you visualize your pie before topping it: See in your mind’s eye where to place each topping to ensure that a desired combination is included in every bite.
When toppings end up in a diner’s lap, professional chefs describe it as ‘over-topping’ or ‘topping drag’.
Topping drag is easy enough to avoid by spacing toppings correctly. For example, if the pie is going to be cut into pieces, toppings should be placed evenly and the pie should be cut effectively.
Last, but not least, consider the color of the topping. To make a picturesque pizza combine ingredients with compelling colors like basil, pineapple and kale with ingredients that have interesting visual textures like creamy mozzarella, crispy bacon, and layered artichokes.
When you’re eating a delicious pizza, take note of how it feels. Over time, you’ll become familiar with the qualities of one that’s perfectly made.
To put this in perspective, a good pizza has an adequately moist yet crispy crust. A delicate yet delicious balance that comes from properly preparing the dough and toppings.
Speaking of toppings, cheese brings a creaminess to the crunch of a quality crust, and an ingredient like pineapple can bring juiciness to every bite. Meaty textures like those in sausage and meatballs can add flavor and depth to each mouthful.
Taste is the ultimate marker of a well-made pizza. Beyond personal preferences around flavor combinations, take note of what it’s like to eat. When every bite is enjoyable, you’ve found a recipe worth repeating.
Picking and choosing an ideal combination of toppings for your pizza is central to a delicious outcome.
There’s no accident as to why certain combos have been popular through the ages: they’re complementary and subtly stimulate all the senses.
The result? You’re satiated in more ways than one.