20 Best Toppings for Pizza
Toppings are to a pizza what icing is to a cake. Of course, pizza is great without toppings, and cake is still tasty without icing, but adding the right toppings to pizza takes each pie to the next level.
As with all food, pizza toppings are subjective. Some seem to be universally hated (looking at you, anchovies,) while others are loved by pretty much everyone.
When you think about it, any food can be a pizza topping if you want it to be.
That being said, some pizza toppings have stood the test of time and seem to be unwavering favorites across the nation.
So now, prepare for your mouth to water as we dive into the 20 most popular pizza toppings!
I know, I know, we’re starting off controversial. You either love pineapple on pizza or you hate it.
I have no issues with the occasional slice or two of Hawaiian pizza.
I wouldn’t order pineapple on pizza without any other toppings, but I think it works pretty well when combined with smoked ham.
According to The Globe and Mail, pineapple was first added to pizza in Ontario, Canada, in 1962.
Hawaiian pizza’s inventor, Sam Panopoulos, was inspired by the salty-sweet combinations he found in Chinese dishes.
Since then, pineapple has divided our nation into two distinct camps.
According to How to Cook Recipes, pineapple was the most popular topping in ten states in 2021, including Maryland, California, Florida, and (unsurprisingly) Hawaii.
Whether you end up loving or hating it, I think everyone should try pineapple pizza at least once.
Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, right?
Another controversial pizza topping, yes, but still one of the most popular in the US.
For anyone unfamiliar, anchovies are small fish that are usually salt-cured and packed in oil.
They’re described as briny and oily, but flavors vary depending on how they’re cured and packaged.
Despite their less-than-stellar reputation, anchovies have been a popular topping for centuries.
As reported by Broadsheet’s article “Food We Fight About: Anchovies,” Italians started putting anchovies on bread over 2,000 years ago, and fermented fish was one of the very first pizza toppings when it was invented in the late 18th century.
Anchovies are also often used as an ingredient in Caesar salads, so you might already like the taste of it and not even know it yet.
Again, don’t knock it ‘til you try it (although I have to admit, I’ve never ordered anchovies on pizza.)
Jalapenos are next on our list of the most popular pizza toppings. They add a fiery kick to your pie and pair perfectly with cheese and tomato sauce.
Depending on where you order your pizza, jalapenos will likely come in one of two forms: pickled or fresh.
Fresh jalapenos tend to be spicier since they can include seeds, which is the reason for the pepper’s heat.
Unless they’re specifically pickled in spicy vinegar, pickled jalapenos may have lost some of their heat while in the pickling liquid.
Either way, jalapenos are particularly popular among spice lovers and are often found in one of my favorites, Mexican pizza.
Mexican pizza is typically topped with ground beef, jalapenos, tomato, and onions.
Who said delicious pizza toppings can’t be a little healthy?
Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, spinach provides a mild, earthy flavor to your pizza.
Since it’s one of the more subtle toppings on our list, spinach is usually not ordered as a stand-alone topping.
It’s often paired with other toppings like artichoke, mushrooms, or ricotta.
Spinach wilts and shrinks quickly when cooked, so many chefs recommend adding spinach on top of the pizza towards the end of the baking process.
This way, it will retain most of its flavor and color.
16. Artichoke Hearts
Artichokes have a flavor profile that’s hard to pin down – they’re tangy, sweet, and a little earthy.
Cooked artichoke hearts are tender and creamy, making them the perfect topping for a pizza with a crunchy crust and gooey cheese.
Just like spinach, artichoke hearts don’t have a particularly strong taste, so they’re great when combined with other pizza toppings.
Artichoke hearts are usually canned or marinated before being added to pizzas.
Pork reigns supreme as the favorite meat-based pizza topping, but chicken shouldn’t be discounted as a worthy contender.
Whether cubed or shredded, chicken adds flavor and some lean protein to any pie.
Chicken is typically grilled or marinated when added to the pizza. The most popular iteration of chicken-topped pizza is definitely the BBQ chicken pizza.
One of the popular pizza chains, California Pizza Kitchen, is credited with being the first establishment to make this iconic pie, featuring it on its menu when the first location opened in 1985.
Plus, not that calories matter when it comes to pizza, but chicken is leaner and healthier than other meat toppings like pepperoni and sausage, which tend to be more processed.
14. Ground Beef
Ground beef is another popular carnivore-friendly pizza topping that adds a robust, meaty note.
With endless seasoning possibilities, ground beef can be the star topping of any pie, from a Philly cheesesteak-inspired pizza to the aforementioned Mexican pizza.
Ground beef brings a tender, juicy texture, offering a satisfying contrast to the crispy crust.
Home cooks should note that ground beef should be cooked before being added to your pizza.
Otherwise, it won’t be fully cooked by the time your cheese has melted, and the crust has baked.
The same goes for chicken and any meats that aren’t fully cooked when purchased.
Far less controversial than its Hawaiian pizza partner, ham is a safe bet when ordering pizza for a group.
It’s not as spicy as pepperoni and not as smoky as bacon, striking that perfect balance between salty and sweet that no other meat can quite replicate.
Not all hams are created equally, though, and there are multiple options when it comes to topping your pizza with it.
Smoked ham is, well, smokier than the other options and provides a depth of flavor to your pie.
Black forest ham is another popular option, which has a tangy and sweet undertone.
Prosciutto is an Italian dry-cured ham loved for its delicate, super-thin slices.
After all, what goes better with Italian food than more Italian food?
Ham is also loved for its texture, adding some chew to each bite while remaining juicy and tender.
Pasta is one of the newer trends when it comes to pizza toppings.
The mashup isn’t for everyone, but certain pasta-topped pizzas have taken the US by storm over the last decade.
Shorter pasta shapes like penne and macaroni are ideal for topping a pizza, as they stay in place much more easily than a longer shape, like spaghetti.
Usually, the pasta is topped with cheese or covered in a marinara or cream-based sauce.
One of the main allures of pasta as a topping is the textural component.
The soft and chewy texture of pasta provides an exciting contrast to pizza’s crispy and crunchy crust.
You can’t go wrong when bringing together two beloved comfort foods, especially when both of those foods happen to be carb-loaded.
11. Banana Peppers
Banana peppers are a bright yellow member of the chili pepper family that are more tangy than spicy.
For comparison’s sake, a banana pepper is around 500 Scoville units, while a jalapeno pepper can be anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000 units.
Banana peppers are among my top three favorite pizza toppings, and I know I’m not alone!
Their mild heat adds just enough excitement and spice to your pie, with a subtle crunch that not many other pizza toppings can replicate.
Banana peppers can be added to pizza raw or pickled.
I prefer pickled because it ups the pizza’s tang factor, but non-pickled banana peppers lend more of a crunch.
Basil is a green herb known for its fresh, aromatic flavor. It’s a common pizza topping, both fresh and cooked.
The best-known pizza that features basil as a topping is the Margherita pizza, which is a simple pie that also features mozzarella and tomato sauce.
When baked on a pizza, basil leaves wilt and shrink, similar to spinach leaves.
It loses some of its flavor when cooked but still maintains its unique herbiness.
However, when added to the pizza after it’s cooked, fresh basil remains vibrant and green.
Basil is served on top of the pizza in a handful of forms.
Hand-torn basil is commonly added to the top of pizza, as tearing the leaves releases its aromatic oils and gives a boost of flavor.
Whole basil leaves and dried basil are also popular iterations of the topping. I always prefer uncooked, hand-torn basil on my pizza.
Tomatoes are easily one of the most popular pizza toppings of all time – and I’m not including sauce as a topping here.
Since tomato sauce has so many herbs and spices in it, a plain tomato on top of a pizza doesn’t feel like an overload of the ingredient. Instead, it’s a refreshing reprieve.
Tomatoes provide a naturally sweet contrast and freshness to an otherwise savory, salty dish.
Whether a restaurant uses cherry tomatoes or slices of colorful heirloom tomatoes, they lend a juicy texture that isn’t found in any other pizza topping.
While fresh tomato is the most popular form of tomato pizza topping, sun-dried tomatoes have garnered attention thanks to their concentrated flavor and chewy texture.
8. Green Peppers
While I’m not the biggest fan of bell peppers, there’s no denying that they’re one of the most popular pizza toppings of all time.
Green peppers add a subtle sweetness and element of freshness while also providing some crunch.
In a world of toppings that tend to be softer, a crispy topping is a welcome change.
Since their flavor isn’t too strong, green peppers are great for pairing with other pizza toppings.
Sausage, onions, and peppers are one of the most beloved pizza topping trios.
The inclusion of bacon on this list is probably surprising to no one. Something about this crispy, salty form of pork makes it taste good on just about everything.
Bacon can be crumbled before being sprinkled on top of pizza or added in larger strips for a more concentrated, smokey flavor.
Bacon adds a crisp textural component to pizza, and its saltiness enhances all the other flavors happening on the pizza, from the tangy tomato sauce to the rich cheese.
It holds up just fine as the only topping on a pizza, but it’s often paired with combinations like chicken and ranch or eggs and sausage for a breakfast-style pizza.
6. Black Olives
Black olives have a unique, briny flavor but taste milder than kalamata or green olives.
When featured as a pizza topping, black olives are usually sliced into smaller pieces. They have a buttery, almost melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Pizza chain Domino’s claims they go so well on top of pizza because there’s a good chance that black olives are already in your pizza’s tomato sauce.
Olives are often added to marinara to balance acidity and give the sauce a smoother texture.
Onions often go unnoticed as a pizza topping, but they have a strong presence in many beloved pizza topping combinations.
From veggie pizza to BBQ chicken pizza, onions are an unsung hero in the world of pizza toppings.
Once cooked, onions become caramelized, which adds some sweetness to a dish that is usually heavier on the savory aspect.
Just like ham, onions are a safe bet to add to a pizza when ordering for a group.
Most people will approve of adding onions to a pizza, and they complement almost any other topping you can think of.
Alright, now we’re getting down to the best of the best. Sausage is one of the most beloved elements not only on pizza but in any Italian dish.
It varies from place to place, but most pizza shops use sausage that is salty, a little sweet, and has a little kick to it.
When I think of sausage on pizza, I think of the crumbled kind. However, sliced sausage is also a popular iteration of the topping.
Sausage comes in all flavors and forms, and some are spicy while others are herby and sweet.
When ordering a sausage pizza from a place you’ve never tried, you can never be sure what you’ll get, which adds to the fun, in my opinion.
Folks, we’ve made it to the top three most popular pizza toppings!
Coming in third are mushrooms, which lend a uniquely earthy flavor to your pie.
Mushrooms also have a meaty texture, making them a hearty addition to your classic veggie pie.
Most of the time, mushrooms are sliced fairly thin before being added on top of a pizza.
The most common mushroom variety used for pizza is cremini or baby bella mushrooms.
Their firm texture means they hold their shape while cooking under high heat.
Shiitake and portobello mushrooms are also popular pizza topping options.
2. Extra Cheese
Cheese is (to me, at least) the best part of a pizza, so why cover up all that goodness when you can just add more?
More likely than not, the cheese on top of your pizza is mozzarella or a mozzarella blend.
Mozzarella strikes the best balance between moisture, creaminess, and elasticity.
Adding more cheese to your pizza will make it creamier and more decadent.
Extra cheese acts as a glue to keep all other toppings on your slice. Plus, melted cheese’s gooey texture contrasts beautifully with the crispy crust of your pie.
Lastly, extra cheese means a bigger cheese pull, which always gets some bonus points from me!
Irrefutably, the most popular pizza topping of all time is pepperoni!
Pepperoni is a cured, highly-seasoned sausage often sliced thin and added on top of pizzas.
Marked by its distinct bright red color, it is full of spices and has a slightly smoky flavor.
Since it’s sliced so thin, it easily crisps up as it bakes and creates a crunchy, chewy bite.
Pepperoni has a little bit of everything – it’s smokey, salty, and spicy.
This variety of flavors and textures makes it the best pizza topping out there.
Plus, as the most popular pizza topping, there are plenty of pepperoni variations, from turkey to vegan to beef.
According to South Florida Reporter, about 252 million pounds of pepperoni are consumed each year on top of pizza alone.
The only way to improve a pepperoni pizza, as far as I’m concerned, is by adding a drizzle of hot honey on top.
Some like to keep their pizza simple with one topping, while others prefer to order the works.
When it comes to pizza toppings, the best combination will always vary from person to person.
It seems that pepperoni will always have the #1 spot on the list, as far as Americans are concerned.
Despite leaving people divided, other controversial picks like anchovies and pineapple still maintain a loyal following.
New pizza topping trends are popping up every day, so we’ll just have to wait and see which toppings will rise to, well, the top!