NYC pizza primer

Serious Eats' primer on NYC pizza is a mouth-watering education in the many ways that a delicious pie can be made and consumed. Pizza being my most deadly downfall, I'm finding this hard to read.

One thing you might not be familiar with is the fact that some NYC pizzerias use anthracite coal to cook their pizzas. (Then again, I know that Brooklyn-based Grimaldi's has made inroads into Texas, so maybe you do know coal-fired pizza.) Pizza geeks have long been into coal-fired pizzas. The ovens cook at a hot-enough temperature that a skilled pizzamaker can create an amazing crust that is both crisp and chewy at the same time and that is not dried out and tough. Also, the way that most of these old-school coal-oven places make the pizza, they just sort of know how to make a nice balanced pie, one that doesn't go too heavy on the sauce or pile on too much cheese.

Most of the coal-fired pizzerias in NYC are part of an old and venerable family tree of pizza history. Lombardi's is widely thought of as having been the first pizzeria in NYC and indeed the nation (at least on paper). That's probably oversimplifying things (see this post on Lombardi's for its history), but the fact remains that many of the other beloved coal-oven pizzerias in NYC were founded by people who once worked for Gennaro Lombardi in the early 1900s.

NYC Pizza Cultural Literacy

(via Kottke)

(Image: Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from miamism's photostream)

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  1. I think there’s a Grimaldi’s in downtown Scottsdale.

    Definitely a coal-fired pizza joint, anyway.

  2. in my city we had a place that advertised “wood burning pizza.” I don’t think it ever got that hot honestly.

    Also: damn I love pizza, and that photo is killing me.

  3. I can’t help it; when i read “coal-fired pizza” i see it instead as “pizza more directly interested in securing your demise.”

    I’m sure it’s really not any worse for you than wood-fired pizza but something about all the baggage that comes along with “coal” makes it seem so… well, sinister. 

    also: being gluten intolerant, this picture makes me so sad. I wants it… i wants it so bad.

  4. While coal fired may be common in NYC, most are wood fired, due to the availability of wood.  Boingboing should know of a great website, which does sell kits, but has a forum for those inclined to make their own. Members show step by step how to build a wood fired pizza oven.  It can be done quite inexpensively and makes a great addition to your back yard.  By the way, roast chicken is almost better than pizza. The number of home built wood ovens on this site must number in the many thousands by now. 

  5. My favorite in NYC is John’s on Bleeker Street.  best pie I have had in the city.
    THANKFULLY, there are a lot of enterprising people out there and we can get good pizza on the west coast now.  It’s not rocket science, you just have to be willing to do it the right way.
    We have one (and only one) great philly cheesesteak place, too.  Some friends of mine on the east coast laughed when I told them about it.   “Yea, right!  a good cheesesteak in San Diego!”  Same thing.  It ain’t flying the space shuttle.  It’s whether you want to make it good or not.

    1. Where would the cheesesteak place in SD be?  (Transplanted Philadelphian, now living in America’s finest city…)

      1. Sorry for the late reply (cheesesteak in San Diego for weeble) I didn’t see it.
        The best place I have been is called Alex’s Brown Bag.  It’s near the west side of Balboa Park in Banker’s Hill.  If you go for lunch, get there early.  They get super busy.

  6. If you are ever in Spanish HArlem, check out Sal’s on 116 and Lex, and Patsy’s on 119th and I think 1st or York, both are good, though Patsy’s is perhaps more ‘classy’. Patsy’s is a holdover when Spanish Harlem used to be a little Italy.. with Patsy’s, a few Italian restaurants that you can only really get into if youse knows a guy whos knows a guy, and Pleasant Avenue the only holdovers. 

  7. I’ve seen footage of New York’s mayor and most likely next president of the USA eat a slice with a fork. This goes against everything I learnt about pizza watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

    Could Michelangelo be wrong?

  8. My local fish and chip shop in England (Botesdale, Suffolk) used to have a coal fired fryer. It made the food taste amazing.
    But hygiene laws made them replace it with a “modern” machine.
    Even now, I could weep.

  9. Okay, going to college with new yorkers makes me feel the need to say this, (they just don’t shut up about the quality of the local pizza (or bagels) in such a situation).


    Mine’s better.

    1. I’m a real pizza heretic.  I like pizza a lot, and generally speaking, the cheaper the better.  As a kid, I was a fan of Godfather’s pizzas (though I’m still not voting for Herman Cain).  Real cheap, and real good.  Now that I’m a grown-up, my favorite “presentable” pizza (the one I order for family and friends) is Georgee’s in La Cañada.  Overpriced, but man, they know what they’re doing.  My buddy Dan and I used to go to Johnnie’s New York Pizza over in Sherman Oaks, but though they’d go to ridiculous lengths to tell you how it’s all about the dough and it’s the water that makes New York pizza dough so special, so they use, like, imported New York tap water to make their dough, blah blah blah… in the end, I just didn’t love their pies.  Too greasy, too salty, too thin.

      I worked for too many years at a Pizza Hut Delivery when I was in college, and I never quite got sick of their pizza.  It really makes a difference who’s working there on any particular night.  It’ll never be sublime, and sometimes it could be fairly wretched (particularly if the dough is overproofed or the sauce is old or the conveyor oven improperly adjusted or the pepperonis poorly-distributed), but it’s usually just peachy.  

      These days, I’m perfectly happy with a $5 “Hot & Ready” pepperoni pizza from Little Caesar’s, though I hasten to point out that though the boxes say “Hot” and “Ready” all over them, there is no actual text testifying to how good the pizza’s going to be.  They pretty much guarantee in writing that it’ll be sitting there under a heat lamp ready to go when you walk in the door (without even an order), but as for how it tastes, they leave that judgment entirely up to you.  But I kinda like it.  So now you know just how much value my food opinions carry.

      Two places I can’t stand: California Pizza Kitchen, and the place my production office orders from every week because it’s right across the street from Warner Bros: Ciao Cristina.  Goddamn, but that place puts out some inedibly awful offal.  I don’t know if we keep going there because it’s conveniently close or because some high-ranking producer genuinely likes it, but on the days when Production picks up pizza for lunch, I hit the Taco Bell.

      (Oh, and as far as I know, all the places I like just cook with natural gas.)

    1. Could not agree more!  I grew up around Chicago.  NYC makes pie (not enough sauce or cheese), not pizza.  Give me the classic Chicago, super thin crust cut into squares, sausage, mushrooms and onion with half an inch or more of mozzarella on top.

  10. How is pizza a “downfall” Cory?  Take away the crust and everything else is pretty healthy.  Nice healthy fats and meats.  True it’s hard to make a pizza without a crust but a “meatza” comes pretty close and has even more healthy meat in it.

  11. coal as a tradition? Perhaps because it was difficult to find wood for furnaces at the time of immigration.In Italy we only use wood or  mixed natural gas/wood to cook the pizza. Is the first time I’ve heard of coal-oven pizzeria.

  12. Pizzeria Regina, Boston.
    Don’t know how they cook it, don’t care. The first three words of this post end this thread.


  13. I’ll stick with my New Haven coal-fired pizza.. I, personally, think it is better and much closer (10 min drive v. almost 2 hr train ride)

  14. Glad you enjoy your coal-fired pizza! Hope you appreciate the sacrifice of lives and mountaintops that give you your chewy yet crispy crust. :)

  15. The article was good – I love pizza, and am from the opposite end of the state from NYC (Buffalo) where pizza isn’t so great. I always seek out pizza when I go to NYC, but I’m generally not too picky (the chain with $1 slices is great IMO – it’s a price/convenience/taste/quality tradeoff). I’ve been meaning to check out some of the well-known great pizza places, but never get around to it.

    Now though I live in Orange County CA, and the pizza situation here is dire. There is one great but pricy place in Fullerton (definitely not NY style) and a few “decent” places scattered throughout the rest of OC. Honestly though? At Ikea they have a pizza combo where for $2 you get a large plain slice (NY style but yeah, it came out of a freezer I presume) and a soda with free refills and I eat there all the time since I live nearby. I mean, I stop in there just for a quick slice, which probably sounds weird since it’s Ikea (the swedish meatballs and other stuff in the restaurant are all great too and only slightly more expensive).

    Anyway though, what I came to comment about is the article. It’s a great start but seems to stop at like 1/2 done – as a pizza “primer” I suppose it’s OK, but it leaves a heck of a lot for future articles and just kind of stops without wrapping anything up.

  16. I’d love a mythbusters style test where they try to re-create the flavor and taste of anthracite coal baked pizza with other stuff. Maybe propane burners or electric ovens.

    I’m guessing they would have to properly copy the temperature, humidity and the elements emitted by the anthracite coal

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