Huey Lewis said it best when he proclaimed “it’s hip to be square.” Whether or not he was talking about pizza, the point still stands: square cut pizza is the best cut pizza. Sure, the standard single slice will always be pie cut. And, of course, we already know that some styles of pizza are traditionally rectangular (Sicilian, New Jersey “Grandma Pies”, Detroit Deep Dish, etc.). But what about taking a familiar, round, thin crust pizza and cutting that into squares? If you live in Chicago, St. Louis, or one of many other towns throughout the Midwest–you probably wouldn’t even give it second a thought. In these cities, thin crust pizza almost always comes square cut.
It isn’t perfectly clear how this technique came to be. Considering that some other names for square cut pizza are “tavern cut” or “party cut”, it’s possible that the square cut method was born from the pies slung in neighborhood taverns of the Midwest or from pizzas divvied up to entertain a crowd of party-goers. In any case, the style has been around since pizza first entered the American zeitgeist and still remains ubiquitous throughout the Midwest and other regions.
While square cut pizza may be an unfamiliar concept to many, it actually makes a lot of sense. Here’s why:
Allows for greater control of portioning
Cutting a pizza into squares inevitably results in smaller pieces that tend to vary in size. These different sized pieces allow for a greater number of portion possibilities without requiring the diner to do any additional cutting of slices. With a “normally” cut pizza (also called “pie cut”), you might eat 2 slices and still be hungry, but not hungry enough for a full 3rd slice. With small squares, you can easily keep grabbing another until you’re full! (Besides, it’s so much easier to avoid the guilt of how much pizza you are eating because you can keep telling yourself “I’ll just have one more little piece!” — which should be its own point, really.)
Easier to share among an arbitrary group of people
Pizza is a food meant to be shared. It brings people together. It shouldn’t be pitting an odd-numbered group of friends against each other as they fight over the last slice. The typical school of thought with pizza slicing places an undue constraint on how many people it makes sense to eat a pizza with. Given that the number of slices is always a multiple of 2, the group should be an even number, and with “normal” pizzas typically cut into 8 slices, it gets messy when you have any number other than 2, 4, or 8 people going splitsies. Further, the pieces are almost never going to be completely equal in size, which is easily another point of contention! With a square-cut pizza, there is a greater degree of flexibility in dishing out the pizza fairly, and the inconsistent size of pieces is much less noticeable. The pieces can be split up equitably from the start, or everyone can grab slices as they go. With the greater number of pieces, it’s hard to keep track of how many pieces each person has had, so no one ends up feeling slighted.
Eat different varieties more easily
Especially for larger groups, parties, etc., having smaller pieces means you can dabble in many topping varieties more easily. Depending on the pizza options available, you could potentially have one of every variety. Sampling is effortless. With a traditional pie cut, you may have 1 or 2 slices and be full (or scorned for taking more than your share), only getting to have minimal variety.
Crust doesn’t go to waste
Let’s face it, some people just don’t like to eat the pizza crust (children, low-carb dieters, picky eaters, general weirdos, etc.). For everyone else, it’s a complete waste unless you go picking off their plate! With a square cut pizza, some pieces have crust while others don’t. Crust haters can have pieces that don’t have crust and won’t end up wasting the crust when others would have gladly enjoyed it. There will still be the same amount of crust on two pizzas of equal diameter, but a square cut pizza allows the crust to be allocated directly to those who want it.
Easier to handle
Cutting a pizza into squares usually means nice, small, manageable pieces that could easily fit in the palm of your hand. You can lift a small square-cut piece with two fingers and handle it quite easily, consuming it with just a couple bites. Even without the crust “handle” on the middle pieces, their smaller size makes that basically a nonissue. The pieces aren’t large enough to flop, so there is no need to fold it in half and no temptation to use a knife and fork (a thin crust pizza faux pas!). Additionally, you’ll find it much easier to fit these slices on a plate, eat while standing up (e.g. socializing at a party), or pack into storage containers (in the unlikely event that there are any leftovers!).
The little triangles
Cutting a round pizza into squares introduces a phenomenon known as “the corners”. Each square cut pizza has 4 little triangular pieces in the “corners” (yes, a circle can somehow have corners). They are essentially tiny novelty sized slices with a linear inch or so of crust, a splash of sauce and a touch of cheese, and if you’re lucky, a stray topping. The scarcity of having only 4 of these little guys makes them quite alluring, so much so that they are often fought over! There is no inherent quality that makes them so good, but, inexplicably, they just are.
Unfamiliar concepts are easily dismissed as “wrong,” but in the case of square cut pizza, I believe there is plenty of reason to make a pie-cut devotee reconsider their allegiance. I for one am an ardent supporter. In any case, it has served us quite well here in the midwest for many decades, and I expect the tradition to remain unwavering!
Disclaimer: It should be said that you can’t just go square cutting any style of pizza. For Chicago style thin crust in particular, it works because the crust has a uniform thickness: it is as thick in the center of the pizza as it is at the edges. If you were to cut a NY style pizza into squares, the middle pieces would likely be a goopy mess. Similarly, you’d have some structural issues (i.e. runaway oozing cheese) if you tried this on a Chicago deep dish pizza.
Which side are you on?