pizza in box

What makes a good pizza? Ask anyone and they’ll probably tell you the same sort of thing. A crisp, flavorful crust is an absolute must. The cheese should be completely melted and well-distributed. The toppings, naturally, should be of the highest quality. Greasy is bad. Doughy is bad. Burnt is a disaster. Those are the core tenets of a really decent pizza, and they’re not exactly complicated — but it’s often surprising how many places can get it wrong.

A good pizza place should, as some matter of priority, serve good pizza. That’s the criteria we’re focusing on with these rankings, although other factors (such as value for money or the company’s own ethical record) are also likely to make a mark on the list. From the heavyweight names, to the up-and-coming chains, to the stalwarts of American pizza-making, these are the very best and the very worst of what the country has to offer.

10. Papa John’s

Papa John's pizza

Papa John’s is one corner of the Great Triumvirate of delivery pizza chains. Unfortunately, "great" is taking the definition here of "prominent," not of "tasty." The menu itself is decent enough: You’ve got all the classics (margherita, veggie, sausage and pepperoni; that kind of thing) but the only dishes that could really be considered inventive just come across as a little bizarre. Hawaiian BBQ chicken? Tropical luau? Spinach Alfredo? Really?

Then there are the pizzas themselves. Practically everything we mentioned before about what makes a good pizza is lacking, here. The crust and dough is often airy and soft. The cheese is lacking. And they’re just greasy enough to make you hate yourself for eating them (though nowhere near as bad in this sense as some of Papa John‘s peers). Worst of all, though, is their "special" garlic dipping sauce, which has arguably inflicted more misery upon mankind than most wars. Avoid.

9. Papa Murphy’s

Look, just take it from us — never trust your pizza with someone who refers to themselves as "Papa." The biggest problem with Papa Murphy’s pizzas (aside from the fact that you have to bake them yourself), is the crust. Their "Signature" range of pizzas come on a crust thinner than a B-movie plot. Their Gourmet Delite pizzas, which, according to the restaurant, are "sophisticated recipes," come on a "crispy thin crust" which practically defies the laws of physics. But hey! It’s not all bad news. If you’re after a pizza which exists in the third dimension, you can also opt for their stuffed pizzas. That’s not a stuffed crust pizza, by the way, that’s a pizza that is entirely stuffed.

The Neapolitans would freak. Why must our only options be gluttony or starvation? Pizzas which don’t snap in half when they’re picked up and pizzas which aren’t literally bursting at the seams are not mutually exclusive. Find the middle ground, Papa Murphy’s.

8. Uno Pizzeria & Grill

Ready for some controversy? Great, here it is: Deep dish pizza is not pizza. It’s pie. Our full apologies to the people of Chicago, because they take this sort of thing incredibly seriously for some reason, but it’s true. Nothing that could ever feasibly be mistaken for a birthday cake has any right to call itself a pizza.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to Uno Pizzeria & Grill, the chain that invented the deep dish pizza. They might take center stage on the restaurant’s menu and Uno does seem to enjoy making a big deal about how great they are, but — as we’ve established already — they’re not actually pizzas, and so do not qualify for a prime spot on this list. Let’s look at their thin crust options instead then, which, honestly, aren’t too bad as far as the major chains go. Not a lot on offer, unfortunately, but they taste relatively decent (looking at you here, John) and the crusts are at least perceptible to the human eye (looking at you here, Murphy).

7. Little Caesar’s

Little Caesar’s is a heavyweight pizza chain, no doubt about that. It’s just a shame the pizzas are so lightweight. The sauce they use is actually kind of great, but the dough is chewy and the cheese is nothing special. More than that, though, is the sense of unease that comes too often with eating a Little Caesar’s pizza — the nagging voice at the back of your head which keeps telling you that you could be eating something better. We’re not sure what causes it (rooted in a certain je ne sais meh, perhaps) but it’s always there. If you happen to arrive just as they’re taking a fresh batch out of the oven you might be pleasantly surprised, but chances are, your "Hot and Ready" pizza will have been that way for a long, long time before it gets to you.

It’s not all bad, though. There are plenty of choice, the sides are occasionally decent, and their rectangular deep dish pizzas at least have the sense to not masquerade as real pizzas by coming in a circular shape. All in all: thoroughly average.

6. Domino’s

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Homer set up a business selling grease to pretty much anyone who’ll take it? Well, that’s basically Domino’s. The second corner of the Great Triumvirate, Domino’s has carved out an incredibly comfortable place for themselves in the American pizza industry since their foundation in 1960. Unfortunately, their pizza doesn’t quite match their reputation.

The toppings are great — we’ll give them that. There are plenty of them on offer too, which comes in handy if you’re opting for a create-your-own shindig instead of one of the pre-made items. Beyond that, though, there’s not a lot going for them. The garlic-seasoned crust makes a hell of a mess, the edges are never quite crispy enough, and the things are just drenched in grease. Now, that’s all fine and dandy if you’re looking for a quick-fix indulgence after a night on the town — in fact, few chains do comfort pizza better — but it’s just no good the rest of the time. Nobody likes a soggy slice.

5. Pizza Hut

At last, we come to the final corner of the Great Triumvirate — and by far the best. Pizza Hut is the best chain pizza you’re going to get that’s still not quite really good pizza. There are loads of choices on the menu, the toppings aren’t too shabby, the crust is alright, and the cheese tends to be gooier and smoother than that found at their biggest rivals. What’s more, Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust pizzas are the only gluttonous indulgence we’re going to make any time for on this list because, if we’re being completely honest, they are actually a really good idea. So sue us.

We’re not exactly in Pizza Valhalla yet, sadly — Pizza Hut’s grease factor is a little high and the pizzas, just like those at Papa John’s and Domino’s, still tend to be massively overpriced — but things are certainly starting to look up.

4. Pieology

Pieology is basically Subway for pizza. You walk in and customize your pizza from start to finish at the counter. Everything — crust, sauce, cheese, meats, toppings, and "After-Bake" sauces — is fully customizable. The choice on offer is nothing short of spectacular: five crusts, seven sauces, six cheeses and a long, long list of meats and toppings means that pretty much the only way to make your pizza more personal is to make the whole thing yourself.

The pizzas themselves aren’t exactly huge (they’re definitely nothing compared to the behemoths sold by its nationwide rivals) but your heart and arteries will probably thank you for it. Even better, the ingredients are all fresh and tasty enough to mean that, whichever pizza you do choose, you’re unlikely to go unsatisfied. Throw in the fact that Pieology is a family-owned chain with some pleasantly wholesome origins and you’ve got the foundations for a really great restaurant.

3. California Pizza Kitchen

California Pizza Kitchen, self-professed inventors of the BBQ chicken pizza, have long been the restaurant of choice for anyone who wants the comfort of a major chain without any of the self-loathing that follows after buying from one. Their range of pizzas is nothing if not ambitious: shrimp scampi, steak, wild mushrooms and Thai chicken all feature on their own pizzas, but what makes CPK’s options infinitely more appealing than some of the "innovative" dishes we’ve already seen from — for example — Papa John’s, is the quality of the ingredients used.

It’s much easier to stomach the idea of a club chicken pizza when you’re looking at toppings that include applewood smoked bacon, avocado, wild arugula, torn basil, and Romaine, tossed in lemon-pepper mayo. It really feels like they’ve put effort into coming up with something interesting — like a chef has created these pizzas rather than, say, a marketing team.

2. Bertucci’s

If you ever take a look at how the best pizzas you’ve ever had were all made, you’re likely to find a single common denominator: a wood-fired oven. Nowhere is this clearer than at Bertucci’s, a 37-year old chain based out of Somerville, Massachusetts. The signature pizzas on their menu tend to be more Italian in style than your run-of-the-mill chain (expect to see things like prosciutto, ricotta, balsamic fig glaze or pesto rather than, say, pineapple or BBQ sauce) while the pizzas themselves are thin — but thin in that nice, crispy and traditional Italian style, rather than thin in the frozen supermarket pizza sense.

The wood-fired aspect of their production also means that Bertucci’s pizzas are likely to be cooked just right, with the toppings nicely roasted and the base defined by that smokey, heady taste that you just can’t get with a normal oven. For sheer Italian authenticity, this is your best option.

1. MOD Pizza

Now this is pizza royalty. MOD’s pizzas are as customizable as the ones you’d find at Pieology — you can choose your sauce, cheeses, and toppings from a list of over 30, or opt for something off the pre-made menu. Those toppings are nothing short of superb: everything from pesto to roasted broccoli to arugula to Asiago, to romaine, to basically anything you could possibly want, all served on beautifully-cooked personal pizzas which (get this) all cost exactly the same, no matter how many toppings you throw on top.

Just to cinch the deal, MOD is an ethical company who take not just quality but also environmental impact and animal ethics into mind when sourcing their ingredients. They’re also known for treating their workers well and hiring staff with special needs, as well as those who have been incarcerated in the past. A good heart and good pizza — MOD is the best. Full stop.