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The official frozen pizza power rankings

Frozen pizzas, ranked.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times)
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As we maneuver through the beginning of 2021, a.k.a. “2020: Fury Road,” some things have changed (the president) and others have not (the pandemic, lack of will to change out of pajamas). And while I’m certainly hoping for a better year than last year, as with all the speculation about Kim and Kanye divorcing, it’s just too soon to tell.

But enough small talk: I’ve got hot takes on some cold pizzas. I’m happy to present to you the irrefutable, infallible and 100% correct Frozen Pizza Power Rankings. I’ve ranked these using two metrics: taste, of course, as well as cook time — the upper recommended limit for conventional oven cooking (a better ranking means a shorter cook time). When you’re sitting there hungry, waiting for that first slice to scorch the roof of your mouth, thus ruining all future slices, every minute counts. Here are the pizzas, from best- to worst-tasting:

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1. Screamin’ Sicilian, Holy Pepperoni (Loaded Pan)

In the competitive realm of frozen pizza, there are not a lot of ways to set yourself apart from your rivals. Therefore, it’s the little things that delight. This entry, from Screamin’ Sicilian, comes in its own disposable pan, a fun detail that also is functional: The cheese spillage that catches between the pan and the pizza crust caramelizes into a nice little lattice.

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Sicilian doesn’t skimp on the pepperoni, as a lot of brands do; this had roughly double the pepperoni of a typical frozen brand. There are even tiny pepperoni bits stuck into the bottom of the pizza crust, giving it a little extra something. Overall, it’s satisfyingly greasy without veering into unctuous or overly heavy.

I can’t vouch for the Sicilian-ness of this, nor whether it would make anyone from the island actually scream. But I can say that it’s one of the few commercially available frozen pizzas I’ve tried that is actually better than some fresh offerings.

Cook time ranking: 21 (tie)

Pepperoni slices with faces drawn on
(Stacy Michelson / For The Times )

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2. Newman’s Own, Supreme

So you’re telling me Paul Newman owns this pizza? I was a fan of his blue eyes, and I’m a fan of the food products that bear his name. This pizza hits the right notes: a thin, crispy crust; a tangy sauce with the right amount of zip; good toppings distribution. The Italian sausage has a garlicky snap and actually tastes like pork sausage. The balance between the pepperoni, sausage and green and yellow peppers is perfect.

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Here’s a story I don’t need to share but is 100% true: One time I was at a theater festival seeing a production of “As You Like It” and went to use the restroom. You know who was in that restroom? Paul Newman. That’s right.

Cook time ranking: 5 (tie)

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3. American Flatbread, Ionian Awakening

The name of this pizza, “Ionian Awakening,” may sound like something that happens while finding yourself during a junior semester abroad in Greece, but it really delivers. With sweet red onion, briny Kalamata olives and salty feta, this hits all the right notes. A crispy, wheat-y crust is more like a thick cracker than anything else and provides a nice change from most frozen pizzas. A short cook time means you’ve got more time to fantasize about beaches on Corfu.

Cook time ranking: 1

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4. California Pizza Kitchen, BBQ Chicken

How many restaurant chains can say they were opened by former federal prosecutors? This L.A. institution was. Attorneys Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield opened the original Beverly Drive location of California Pizza Kitchen in 1985, and the restaurant quickly became a hit. (The chain was hammered by the pandemic though, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.) It also became fodder for a particular worldview of California cuisine and culture at the time — Thai peanut sauce on a pizza? Jerk chicken? La la land, amirite?

But CPK hit on something important: If something tastes good by itself, it probably tastes good on a pizza. And the classic BBQ chicken pizza, the flagship pie, still hits the right notes after all these years, with its sweet, tangy sauce, chicken, cilantro and thinly sliced red onion for some bite. It’s as good as you remember.

Cook time ranking: 13 (tie)

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5. Vicolo, Roasted Mushroom

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Look at you, you fancy little vacuum-packed pizza! I bought this at my local Gelson’s, with which I have a love-hate relationship (I think we all feel that way about Gelson’s, where I just saw a package of precut watermelon for $21.67). But Vicolo makes an excellent pizza, generously slathered with crimini and portobello mushrooms, dotted with the occasional bit of sun-dried tomato for sweetness and texture and sprinkled with some basil mostly for show. I like a pleasantly gritty, crunchy cornmeal crust, and this delivers exactly that.

Cook time ranking: 20

Frozen pizza power rankings
Upper left frozen pizza quadrant
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times)

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6. Stouffer’s French Bread pizzas, pepperoni

I’ll admit that this is probably a little too high in the rankings, but the nostalgia factor is strong with this one. Why is the French bread pizza so good? Is it the shatteringly crisp crust that yields to a soft, mushy bread mantle and finally the molten-hot, saucy core? Or the cuteness of the pepperoni quarters sprinkled over the top?

Mostly, it just feels like after-school snack time. It’s that blissful respite in the day when the torture of the school day is over, Mom and Dad aren’t home yet, and you’ve got nothing to do but watch “Mr. Belvedere” reruns for the next couple of hours. I don’t care how old you are, we all could use a built-in time during the day for juice, cookies and a nap. And pizza.

Cook time ranking: 24 (tie)

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7. Udi’s Gluten Free, Four Cheese

At $13.99, this was the most expensive frozen pizza I tried. “This had better be good,” I thought, shaking my fist. And it was! I was skeptical because it’s gluten-free, but I could hardly tell the difference. And with the addition of tapioca flour, this actually had a slightly pleasant chew that adds dimension to the initial crispiness of the crust.

Cheese overflows, spilling over the sides of this pizza — an awesome thing to see and one that doesn’t happen enough. The sauce is serviceable, and the overall effect is like a solid second basemen in baseball: While nothing blows you out of the water, everything is good enough, and there are no unforced errors. I’d certainly take this over a majority of glutened pizzas any day.

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Cook time ranking: 8 (tie)

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8. Trader Joe’s Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with deep fried crust.

I admit to being intrigued by this pizza, which boasts four cheeses, cashew and pine nut pesto and a “Naples-style crust.” But did it actually taste like a pizza fritta, as claimed?

This was pretty good. The garlic is nicely roasted and the pesto is sharp and nutty. But with those premium ingredients comes a premium cost, I suppose, because they cover only about half the pizza. The border is a massive bike tire of plain crust, which I could only really sign off on if it were otherworldly tasty. And even though the crust does has some of that state fair, oily appeal of fried dough, it’s not enough to make it worth it. I’d rather have more toppings.

Cook time ranking: 11 (tie)

Pepperoni slices with faces drawn on
(Stacy Michelson / For The Times )

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9. Private Selection, Five Cheese & Marmalade

Private Selection is the “fancy” Kroger in-house brand, giving it a whiff of attainable luxury, something akin to a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. And it is the only frozen option I saw that contained, well, marmalade, so immediate creativity points were earned.

The crust had a strange interior toughness, like an overly al dente noodle. But the cheese is generously portioned out, and I’m a fan of the marmalade addition. It’s not nearly as good as June Taylor’s marmalade, which I just wrote about, but it brings the classic cheese/fruit pairing together in a way you don’t often see on pizza (other than one topped with pineapple).

Cook time ranking: 5 (tie)

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10. DiGiorno Cheese Stuffed Crust, Supreme

A cheese-stuffed crust is always better than a non-cheese-stuffed crust, but I think the fantasy here, spurred on by DiGiorno’s advertising of “2 ½ feet of cheese” on the packaging, is that the crust somehow turns out to be an ooey-gooey mozzarella stick of sorts.

That’s not the case. The cheese neither oohs nor goos, nor does it stretch, and it doesn’t particularly taste like pizza cheese, either. It’s got kind of a soft, spreadable feel to it and has a bit of tang like cream cheese. The overall composition of the pizza is decent, and the toppings are generous and well distributed. But the crust itself is not something to go out of your way for.

Cook time ranking: 27

Frozen Pizza Power Rankings
Upper right frozen pizza quadrant
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times )

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11. Amy’s, Margherita

The drippy, oregano-rich sauce left me feeling like a kid on Pizza Day in elementary school. The cheese, meted out in small blobs as opposed to the standard shreds, made this pie feel slightly elevated and fancy even. You could certainly do worse in the freezer section.

Cook time ranking: 11 (tie)

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12. Caulipower, Uncured Turkey Pepperoni

I was predisposed, much as with the gluten-free pizza, to dislike this relatively recent crust trend: replacing wheat with mashed cauliflower. But you know what? It works. After 15 minutes in a hot oven, it doesn’t taste that different from a regular crust, and it doesn’t have much of that faintly sulphuric taste you get with cauliflower and broccoli. If you like a thin, crispy-bottomed pizza, you won’t be let down by this.

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My one beef (or turkey, I suppose) was with the skimpiness of the turkey pepperoni. You’ve heard of “Five Easy Pieces”? More like nine measly pieces. Come on, gang. Don’t be cheap with the toppings.

Cook time ranking: 13 (tie)

Pepperoni slices with faces drawn on
(Stacy Michelson / For The Times )

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13. Red Baron, Brick Oven Cheese Trio

I’ll say this: Not a lot of American food products are named after Second Reich-era German war heroes.

The original Red Baron, of course, is Manfred von Richthofen, Snoopy’s mortal enemy and a World War I flying ace credited with singlehandedly wreaking havoc on Britain’s Royal Air Force, notching 80 aerial victories. Germany ultimately lost the war, of course, and Richthofen didn’t live to see the end of it. Again, making this guy the face of your business is certainly an outside-the-box marketing choice. (A 2015 article about the Red Baron in the Wall Street Journal, which quoted a company spokesman, stated, “Red Baron Pizza stresses Von Richthofen’s attention to detail as an aviator personifying ‘strength and romance.’”)

As for the pizza, it’s nothing to write home about, but you could do worse. The cheese and crust are heavy on the dried herbs. The sauce is thin and has a somewhat slick mouthfeel. My feelings about the pizza are not quite “Curse you, Red Baron!” but I’m not inclined to heap praise on the guy either.

Cook time ranking: 17 (tie)

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14. Pizza Romana, Burrata Prosciutto and Arugula

A nice short cook time, which I like, but it’s skimpy on the enclosed package of prosciutto (only three pieces), which I didn’t. The arugula was a bit of a nonentity; it should be in a separate package because it gets baked into nothingness, losing all of that nice pepperiness.

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Cook time ranking: 2

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15. Simple Truth Organic, Italian Style Vegetable

What’s an Italian-style vegetable, anyway? Zucchini, apparently, as well as yellow peppers and cherry tomatoes. I might have picked radicchio or something, but maybe that’s a bit out there for a mass-produced pizza. This isn’t bad; the main flaw is that the sauce is crazy sweet, almost jamlike.

Speaking of cherry tomatoes: Is there anything hotter on this planet, temperature-wise, than a cherry tomato that’s been in the oven? I just about cauterized the entire inside of my mouth biting into one of those things.

Cook time ranking: 7

Frozen Pizza Power Rankings
Lower left frozen pizza quadrant
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times )

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16. Trader Giotto’s, Arugula Pizza

Trader Joe’s does a lot of things well, and frozen pizza is one of them. But this particular offering is pretty average; the toppings are good enough but the sauce is too sweet and pasty. Go with the mushroom flatbread or the tarte d’Alsace.

Cook time ranking: 4

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17. DiGiorno, Four Cheese Crispy Pan

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As with the Screamin’ Sicilian, this pizza comes in its own little pan that you put into the oven, a detail that I find pretty delightful. That’s where the delight more or less ends, though, as the pizza doesn’t really deliver. The cheese is a bit sparse, and the pizza has a thin, sour sauce and not enough of it. Instead of a sturdy-but-pillowy, focaccia-like crust, it more closely resembles thickly cut white bread, like Texas Toast.

The corners are sturdy and have a decent cheese crust along the edge — but it’s not quite enough to make up for the pizza’s shortcomings.

Cook time ranking: 24 (tie)

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18. Freschetta, Canadian-Style Bacon & Pineapple

Food debates are eternal, and “Is pineapple good on pizza?” is one of those questions you’ll never really come to a consensus on, like anchovies or black olives. The correct answer, of course, is that there are no bad pizza toppings, only bad pizzas.

I didn’t hate this pizza from Freschetta but there wasn’t much to set it apart. The meat is fine and the pineapple is slightly army rations-ish; the crust is a little on the dense side. This could be a few notches higher in the rankings but, again, this pizza is somewhat doomed by its own averageness.

Cook time ranking: 24 (tie)

Pepperoni slices with faces drawn on
(Stacy Michelson / For The Times )

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19. Tombstone, Pepperoni

Tombstone made the most memorable frozen pizza commercials: One had a catchy ’80s jingle that hawked a “small-town, homegrown, made-the-way-you-make-your-own pizza.” In the ’90, things got noticeably more macabre. In one, a generic mobster who’s about to get whacked is asked, “What do you want on your Tombstone?” to which he, remarkably chipper, responds, “Pepperoni and sausage.” The scene closes with the wiseguy enjoying a slice of pizza, but we don’t see what happens with his cement shoes when the commercial ends.

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Tombstone is a very typical frozen pizza. I complained above about the lack of pepperoni on the Caulipower pizza. Tombstone does better in that department, doubling the amount of meat with 18 pieces of smoky pepperoni, but the sullen sauce and nondescript crust do nothing to distinguish this pizza from its brethren.

Cook time ranking: 21 (tie)

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20. Whole Foods 365, Supreme

Once upon a time, we had a totally serviceable Ralphs grocery store down the street from me. You could buy normal store things there, like Honey Bunches of Oats and Coca-Cola. Then, in 2016, it was replaced by a Whole Foods 365, a store concept so bad that the powers that be actually decided to stop expanding.

But I digress. This pizza isn’t terrible but it’s subpar. The sauce is a little too pasty, and the toppings situation is ungenerous. You’d think moneybags Bezos could toss another couple of pepperoni slices on there.

Cook time ranking: 8 (tie)

Frozen Pizza Power Rankings
Lower right frozen pizza quadrant
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times )

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21. Wild Mike’s Ultimate Pizza, 4 Cheese

With a bold, ’90s contemporary-art feel to the package graphic design, I thought this was going to be something special or, at the very least, a little different. When I opened the package and saw the sachets of red pepper flakes and spice/seasoning mix (the only brand I tried that had this), I really thought I was in for a treat.

The pizza itself, though, was underwhelming — the typical sparsely cheesed, cardboard-crusted, thin, sour-sauced frozen pizza you’d pick up at any generic store. The little things matter, and the enclosed sachets bumped this up a few points but, man, what a disappointment!

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Cook time ranking: 13 (tie)

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22. Totino’s Party Pizza, Combination

There are so many ingredients in this thing; I stopped counting after 50. There’s titanium dioxide and sodium aluminum phosphate. There’s both potato starch and modified potato starch. Does the cheese melt? Not exactly. Is that supposed to be meat? I can’t really tell. The packaging brags “sausage & pepperoni seasoned pork, chicken and beef pizza topping” — yes, that’s a string of words, but what do they mean?

This is as institutional as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It’s pizza in name only; the soul died long ago. All the same, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever had. The crust is surprisingly light, almost flaky, and while the toppings don’t really resemble what I would call “food,” in the strictest sense of the word, there’s a modestly appealing cafeteria quality to this.

Cook time ranking: 17 (tie)

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23. Kroger Self-Rising Crust, Four Cheese

This pizza was a little puzzling, in that it’s a regular, generic cheese pizza, only very heavy and with an extra dense, thick dome of a bottom crust. Imagine melting a little cheese on top of a Frisbee and you’re getting close to what this looks like. It would be one thing if the crust were particularly tasty, but it isn’t. It just smells very yeasty and has the mass of an old fruitcake.

Cook time ranking: 23

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24. Signature Select Garlic Chicken Alfredo

Alfredo can be a tough nut to crack. It has to be cheesy and garlicky and just the right amount of creamy without veering into nauseatingly heavy. This pizza has the heavy part down but there’s very little punch: no sharp garlic taste, no funky cheesiness to the sauce. The sad little chicken bits don’t taste like much at all. Could be a lot better.

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Cook time ranking: 8 (tie)

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25. Tony’s, Cheese

This didn’t look great going into the oven, and it didn’t taste great going into my mouth. Too little cheese, and a goopy, musty sauce. Pass.

Cook time ranking: 19

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26. Celeste, Sausage & Pepperoni

“Mama” Celeste Lizio, the woman on the box, was a beloved Italian American figure who settled in Chicago after emigrating from her native Italy in the 1920s. After selling her popular West Side restaurant in the 1960s, she began focusing on selling frozen pizzas, for which she acted as spokeswoman in commercials.

I don’t know what the pizzas originally tasted like; I can only tell you that today they’re not very good. Frozen, my “pizza for one” looked like a caricature of a pizza. A tiny circle perfectly covered in bright red sauce and little chunks of evenly dispersed meat. Once cooked, cheese and sauce meld into one uniform, sticky condiment that tastes slimy and coats your mouth. The pepperoni more resembles bacon bits than delicious, greasy little cups. I don’t think Mama would be happy.

Cook time ranking: 13 (tie)

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27. The Alpha Pizza, Buffalo Chik’n

This is plant-based, so maybe I should grade this on a curve, but to be so bold as to call yourself “Alpha,” like some loser pick-up artist, I expect better. The crust tastes like a drab English muffin. The buffalo chicken, or “chik’n,” was tasteless, and the sauce lacked any kind of kick or hint of spice. Even the worst pizzas I, a human trash compactor, can usually finish most of, but this was too sad and insipid.

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As evidenced by the kids lined up outside Monty’s Good Burger all the time, we all know plant-based meat is the future. But this entry is just really, really not up to snuff.

Cook time ranking: 3

Pepperoni slices with faces drawn on
(Stacy Michelson / For The Times )