pepperoni 101: where it came from, how it's made, and why cup and char is so superior to flat pepperoni
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Pepperoni is a perennial favorite, but do you know where it came from, how it’s made, or what makes it Buffalo style? Read on to find out.

You know it. You love it. In fact, you’re so obsessed with it there was an actual shortage of it over the summer!

There’s a reason pepperoni is America’s favorite pizza topping. Salty, chewy and fatty, it can be enjoyed on its own as a solid snack food. It’s also great in a sandwich, cheesy dip, or even added to rice. But let’s be real: Spreading it across that ‘za can’t be topped.

So what exactly separates pepperoni from other salami?

Related Reading: 9 Alternative Crust Pizzas to Try for National Pizza Month

The History of Pepperoni

Battistoni

Italians can lay claim to some the world’s most spectacular dried meats. But Italian-Americans gave the world the gift of pepperoni.

When a massive wave of Italian immigrants settled in America in the early 20th century, many began businesses using homespun recipes from the old country with tweaks to accommodate the availability, affordability, and broader popularity of ingredients in their new, diversely populated environment. And thus, pepperoni was born.

Related Reading: This Family Lasagna Is Peak Italian-American Comfort Food

What Makes Pepperoni Pepperoni?

A key difference between pepperoni and your standard Italian salami is that pepperoni is a blend of pork and beef whereas in the Old Country, the meat tends to be wholly hog.

pepperoni pizza

Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels

The disparity gets even wider when you get into seasoning. “[Pepperoni] has paprika in it for that nice red color. It has some chili pepper in it for that little bit of heat,” notes Jennifer Tuck, President of renowned pepperoni purveyor Battistoni Italian Specialty Meats. “Salami, a lot of times, has wine in it. And garlic. It’s really a different spice profile.”

Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Charcuterie

Then there’s the fact that pepperoni is made of finely ground meat (salami tends to be made with a slightly coarser grind). The fine grind of pork and beef creates a denser final product that easily slices and also retains its shape in the high heat of a pizza oven.

Classic Pepperoni, $6.59 from Battistoni

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Like its salami brethren, pepperoni is dried, anywhere from several days to several weeks. At Battistoni, “It gets fermented and cooked for about 18 hours or so and then it hangs in a controlled climate drying room for 2 to 3 weeks,” Tuck says. “All in all, [the process] could take up to a month.”

The Rise of the Grease Chalice 

Battistoni

The most commonplace style of pepperoni is “lay flat”, which, as the name suggests, keeps its shape during a hot bake in the oven.

“When you have the ‘lay flat’ pepperoni, the fat’s going to render out of it while you’re baking it. It kind of runs all over your pizza,” Tuck notes.

But if you scan foodie Instagram or recently came across a pizza joint with an unusually long line, you’re probably familiar with the pepperoni sensation that’s sweeping across the nation: the cup and char, also loving referred to as the “grease chalice.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: The edges of the pepperoni char to create a nice crisp, and curl up to create a cup shape retaining that salt and smoke-infused oily goodness.

While New York City pizza hot spots such as Prince St. and Emmy Squared may have ignited the recent buzz around the cup and char, its origins can be traced a few hundred miles upstate to Buffalo where its been the pepperoni standard for decades. According to Tuck, Battistoni (previously known as Bison) formulated the recipe, probably. “Much like hamburgers, everybody wants to take credit for it,” she notes.

Cup & Char Pepperoni, $5.25 from Battistoni

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Unlike the standard ‘roni which has a fibrous casing that is discarded prior to consuming, Buffalo-style (yep, it goes by that moniker too) uses a natural collagen casing that remains intact which allows each slice to cup. As for the char, an extra dose of sugar contributes to the signature crispiness.

Pepperoni Beyond the Pizza

Now that all you’re all pepped up for pepperoni, go forth and order a pizza or better yet, make a pie from scratch (you can even proof your dough in an Instant Pot and then use it to prepare homemade mozzarella). But why stop at the crust? Pepperoni can add salty, peppery, porky punch to a wide variety of dishes, from apps to mains.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to spread that pepperoni love.

Baked Mussels with Pepperoni Rice

Baked Mussels with Pepperoni Rice

Chowhound

Land meets sea in this dish that can work equally well as an appetizer as it would a main. Short-grain rice cooks in a stock infused with sauteed pepperoni and anchovies to serve as the flavorful stuffing for a haul of steamed mussels. Get the Baked Mussels with Pepperoni Rice recipe.

Related Reading: 13 Ways to Use Leftover Rice for Every Meal

Pizza Stuffed Chicken

pizza stuffed chicken recipe

Chowhound

If you can’t decide whether you’d rather have pizza or parm, just split the difference. Use a large knife to slice a pocket into the chicken breasts, then stuff  with slices of mozzarella and pepperoni. Bread ’em, fry ’em, bake ’em, eat ’em. Get our Pizza Stuffed Chicken recipe.

Italian Deli Blowout Sandwich

Italian Deli Blowout Sandwich

Chowhound

Why not throw thinly sliced pepperoni into the mix of this Italian meat extravaganza? Roasted red pepper-spiked mayo is the recommended spread while marinated artichokes provide a hit of acid. Get our Italian Deli Blowout Sandwich recipe.

Related Reading: 7 Essential Rules for Crafting the Ultimate Sandwich

Pepperoni Pizza Dip

pepperoni pizza dip

Chowhound

On game day, this is a guaranteed winner. The oozy consistency of this cheese dip is reminiscent of Mexican queso fundido, but the flavors are pure Italian-American red sauce-inspired. Get our Pepperoni Pizza Dip recipe.

Pepperoni Pizza Jalapeño Poppers

Pepperoni Pizza Jalapeño Poppers

Chowhound

If you’re someone who’s always adding a heap of red pepper flakes to your pizza, here’s an indulgent, gluten-free snacker that cuts bread out of the equation. A blend of cream cheese and parmesan mitigates the heat from the jalapeño, while the pepperoni adds the perfect touch of salt and chew. Get our Pepperoni Pizza Jalapeño Poppers recipe.

Related Reading: Homemade Detroit-Style Pizza Is the Perfect Vehicle for Cup and Char Pepperoni

Header image courtesy of Ponyo Sakana / Pexels

David is a food and culture writer based in Los Angeles by way of New York City. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Local, Mashable, and Gawker.
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