There are few topics that have the power to divide a nation like pizza toppings. Some of us stay firmly in the margherita camp, opting for the unfailing simplicity of mozzarella and basil, while others fall victim to the most unhinged, non-traditional toppings a pizza menu can advertise without making themselves a target for angry Italians. But let’s be honest: Not all pizza toppings are created equally. Some enhance the subtle, herby sauce and fresh dough of the best-made pizzas, while others detract from the pizza-eating experience, forcing us to pick pieces of the offending ingredient off of every inch of our slice before we dare go in for another bite.
Don’t worry, friends: I’ve done the difficult work of ranking some of the most common pizza toppings from worst to best so you will never again be led astray by a kale- and sweet potato-covered pizza. Yes, these are just my opinions, but they’re also the correct opinions. So, while you wait for the oven to preheat, let’s dive into this definitive ranking of pizza toppings.
13. Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes are the beef jerky of the vegetable world, and that’s not a compliment. Cover your pizza in sun-dried tomatoes, and you’ll be forced to gnaw on hardened, shriveled tomato skins when you could be enjoying the yeasty, cheesy pleasure of the pizza itself. There is one place where sun-dried tomatoes belong, and that’s in the compost.
Just… don’t. Order some chicken tenders on the side or something. Why do you even want this for yourself? The chicken you find on pizza literally never tastes good; it’s dry, unseasoned and adds nothing of value to the finished product. Just choose a cured meat like a rational person.
Bacon belongs in dishes that need some added fat and savoriness. A pizza certainly does not need either. Honestly, if I see bacon on a pizza, I’m just going to assume that whoever cooked it doesn’t recognize the difference between bacon and prosciutto.
10. Black Olives
As a big olive person, I truly believe that black olives should never disfigure the face of any pizza ever again, especially when there are so many amazing olives out there. Choose Castelvetrano or Kalamata, and you’ll never want to open a can of watery black olives again.
9. Green Bell Peppers
There are few vegetables as boring as green bell peppers. Sure, they’re not going to make your pizza taste bad, but they’re not going to add anything exciting to the flavor profile either. I guess if you want to get more veggies into your diet, go for it. Just please don’t pay extra for such an unremarkable topping.
Onions are nearly as boring a pizza topping as green bell peppers, but at least they do add a touch of sweetness if they’ve been roasted properly. They’re unnecessary, but at least they’re not going to ruin your pizza.
Plain pepperoni: the pizza order of teenage boys playing video games everywhere. I shouldn’t be a hater, though; pepperoni is an undeniably enjoyable topping. Usually, I don’t get too excited about it unless the edges of each individual pepperoni are appropriately crisped (even better if they’re slightly burnt).
Pizza can be heavy, dense and acidic, which is why basil is such a perfect topping. It adds some freshness and a floral fragrance to the mix that you won’t get from many other ingredients. Whether you want to add whole leaves or thin strips of basil is up to you, but I definitely prefer it fresh, not dried—there’s a big difference.
If you want your pizza to be hearty and meaty, sausage is the way to go. However, it’s important to note that you want the crumbled sausage here, not the slices. Also, the sausage should contain an ungodly amount of fennel. I don’t make the rules, but I do enforce them.
Pepperoncini is the gods’ greatest gift to the vegetable-eating world. It doesn’t pack a ton of heat, but it does pack a ridiculous amount of flavor. Pepperoncini is super-acidic, so use it sparingly, or just eat the slices on the side. The fresh brightness plays well with the heaviness of the pizza.
Can’t decide whether to order a salad or a pizza? Ask for arugula on top of your pie, and you can have both. Fresh arugula has a peppery, spicy quality that I personally can’t get enough of, and it adds a freshness to the pizza that keeps things balanced.
Sure, anchovies aren’t for everyone, but if you’ve always been opposed to them, you should at least consider giving them a try. They’re less fishy than they are salty and umami, and if you get over the appearance, you’ll find that they add a lovely pungency to your pizza.
If I’m at a loss for what toppings to put on my pizza, I always turn to mushrooms. They have the texture and flavor of meat but the lightness of a vegetable. What’s not to love? Bonus points if you manage to score a mushroom-topped pizza that features mushroom varieties beyond the button.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.