An age-old debate still rages: Papa John’s or Domino’s?

This piece won’t be a qualitative answer to the above question, but rather, a quantitative one.

I recently did a chicken nuggets math piece, breaking down exactly how much chicken is in a chicken nugget. I wanted to do the same for pizza. I went to Domino’s and Papa John’s websites to get their menu data to utimately answer:

Which pizza is the best pizza?

Why should you care? Well, pizza is the favorite food of most Americans. (Author’s note: I do not eat pizza, just fascinated by food math). We should understand the nuance behind these favorite foods and if pizza is your favorite food, you should eat the best pizza!

Below is our breakdown for calculating our pizza allocations:

Pizza = Crust + Sauce + Cheese + (Pepperoni)

There will be a comparison of surface area, pizza composition, density of ingredients, and price, to determine: what is the “best” pizza?

The article below is broken down as follows:

  • Size
  • Crust
  • Sauce
  • Cheese
  • Pepperoni
  • Prices
  • Parting Thoughts

(Also if you’re interested in this dataset, I built it from here and here and can send along!)

Choose Your Fighter: Domino’s vs. Papa John’s

The below pi*r^2 equation is used to calculate the surface area of the pizza (throwback to geometry!).

Figure 1: The Surface Area of Pizza, Piesanosvt

In Figure 2, the two pizzas are displayed side by side: we can get to the surface area through the equation in Figure 1. Domino’s has the same servings for their M – XL pizzas (8 slices) but Papa John’s has a 10-slice serving for their XL.

The pizzas are the same by surface area. However, the Medium pizza is 44% bigger than the Small (and is probably a better deal) confirming work done by others in pizzathematics.

Figure 2: Comparing Cheese Pizzas

The Crust Contribution

This is a breakdown of the crust for the two cheese pizzas. The Papa John’s XL pizza is extremely heavy and very dense, with the total crust weighing 1,330g versus Domino’s 728g (2.9 lbs vs 1.6 lbs for non-metric system users). This gives Papa John’s ~45% more crust allocation; see Figure 3.5 for further ‘explanation’. All of these data are from the menus linked in the first section.

Figure 3: Comparing Crusts

There is also a metric called “dough density” which is the dough weight divided by the number of square inches on the pizza. This give an idea of the crust appearance, texture, and breadth. (I will repeat this metric across all the ingredients to measure true thickness).

Strangely enough, the Papa John’s pizzas actually tend to have less crust as compared to their Domino’s brethren, as we can see in total crust density – they are ~0.05 less dense, on average (except in that weird XL pizza).

(Figure 3.5, An Aside: Why is the Cheese XL Papa John’s Pizza so massive?)

In absolute and percentage terms, it’s the same story. The Domino’s Small Cheese Pizza has 96% more crust as compared to the Papa John’s pizza. The Medium and Large pizza have 65% and 68% more crust, respectively. However, nothing compares to the outlier – Papa John’s XL simply has a ton of crust.

Figure 4: Absolute and % Crust Comparison

But as in life, there are crusty tradeoffs.

Referencing Figure 3 again, we can see that there is much more consistency across the Domino’s pizza sizes, with crust density ~0.13. Papa John’s has much more variance in density, ranging from 0.07 all the way to 0.23. A less consistent pizza experience could be troubling to some.

Figure 5: Crust Weight Distribution

Based on this analysis, it seems as though Papa John’s might be the less crusty of the pizza duo. But what about the rest of the ingredients?

The Sauce Share

Papa John’s loads up on the sauce. Their sauce density is the highest on the L pizza, at a whopping 0.07 – however, once again there are tradeoffs, especially when compared to Domino’s much more consistent sauce distribution across the pizzas.

Figure 6: Comparing Sauce

Papa John’s has ~40% more Sauce than Domino’s does, on average.

Figure 7: Absolute and % Sauce Comparison

Quite… saucy.

Figure 8: Sauce Weight Distribution

Now, for the most important part, specifically for the cheese pizza connoisseurs.

The Cheese Contribution

The cheese distribution clearly favors Papa Johns. They have 506g of cheese on their XL pizza! Their cheese density is surprisingly consistent as well, ranging from 0.08 – 0.10.

Figure 9: Comparing Cheese

But here, we have a clear takeaway when referencing Figure 9 above- if you want the DENSEST cheese experience, you have to choose Papa John’s Medium Cheese Pizza. There is no other choice.

As we saw, on a percentage basis, Papa John’s has much more allocation to sauce, relative to Domino’s. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t have more cheese too! The Medium Papa John’s gives you 30% more cheese as compared to Domino’s.

Figure 10: Absolute and % Cheese Comparison

Relatedly, the government apparently has an underground cheese bunker. Maybe that’s where all this cheese is coming from.

Figure 11: Cheese Weight Distribution

What about other toppings?

BONUS ROUND: The Pepperoni Portion

I personally do not eat pizza (a byproduct of veganism) but I have been informed that Pepperoni pizza is a “must-have” amongst pizza lovers.

So which pizza company has the most populous percentage of pepperoni placed per pizza?

See below, Figure 12. Both companies had the exact same amount of pepperoni density.

Figure 12: Comparing Pepperoni

However, Domino’s has much more pepperoni per pizza than Papa John’s. Once again, the Medium pizza is a winner (this time, in Domino’s favor). The Domino’s pizza has 29% more Pepperoni when compared to the parsimonious-pepperoni pizza chain known as Papa John’s.

Figure 13: Absolute and % Pepperoni Comparison

Price by Part

So which one is the best deal? This breaks down the whole thing into weight, and calculates the price allocation across ingredients to the penny.

Cheese-Only

Based on sheer weight, Domino’s is the heaviest pizza (except for the XL). For the Medium 12-inch, you get a solid 744g of pizza. Papa John’s is close behind, weighing in at a stocky 728g. For the XL, Papa John’s has an enormously heavy pizza, for reasons I can’t quite understand and have highlighted throughout this article (see Figure 3.5, as discussed previously).

Figure 14: Pizza Weight, Cheese

But of course, the parts matter more than the whole.

Papa John’s offers the highest percentage of cheese across all the cheese pizza sizes as shown in Figure 18 – but Domino’s bests them in the XL category by ~6% cheese allocation (surprising, considering how massive Papa John’s pizza is).

Figure 15: Pizza Weight %, Cheese

We can see that Papa John’s consistently has the most cheese (with the Medium pizza giving you the most pizza for your cheese buck) but Papa John’s is also more expensive (government bunker cheese comes at a high cost, after all).

As illustrated in Figure 19, for the $14 Medium Papa John’s Cheese pizza, you pay ~$6 for cheese. About 42% of the total cost. Compared to Domino’s, where you pay ~$3 for cheese on their $10.99 pie, which is ~29% of the total cost.

(Disclaimer: this is probably not how their pricing structure works, illustrative purposes only).

Figure 16: Pizza Price Breakdown, Cheese

What about pepperoni?

Most of the pepperoni sizes weigh the same as the cheese sizes, as shown in Figure 20. The Small pizza does weigh slightly more and this Papa John’s XL is much more reasonably sized.

Figure 17: Pizza Weight, Pepperoni

But which one is a better deal?

If your goals are to get the absolute most pepperoni possible, Domino’s is the best. But if you want the most toppings – Papa John’s wins, with more than 1/3 of the pie being devoted solely to the top of the pizza (not including sauce).

Figure 18: Pizza Weight %, Pepperoni

Price-wise, Domino’s and Papa John’s tie in terms of pepperoni cost for both the Medium and Large pizzas.

Figure 19: Pizza Breakdown, Pepperoni

Final Parting Pizza Thoughts

Here is a graphically eloquent way to look at the pizzas:

Papa John’s has the least amount of crust allocation, with a heavier emphasis on sauce and cheese (except for the XL).

If you really like cheese on your cheese Pizza: Papa John’s is the best choice. Domino’s gives you bigger pizza for less money, but most of the pizza is crust. (with that being said, if you really like crust? Dominos.)

Figure 20: The Cheese

For pepperoni, it all depends on your goals. If you want a cheese/pepperoni ratio that is somewhat reasonable, Domino’s is the best bet. But Papa John’s comes in swinging with very little crust and very much cheese (just look at that Medium pizza).

Figure 21: The Pepperoni

I won’t talk about calories or fiber or micronutrients, but those are all important things to consider as well.

Overall, I can’t tell you which is the best. I can only give you the tools to decide for yourself.

But as with all things, we must make decisions – more cheese or more crust?

Life is a series of choices and ultimately is a process of tradeoffs. Choose wisely.

Thanks for the Kilo Workshop team and fellows in the Compound Writing group for their editing prowess 🙂

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