Pizza ♥ Ranch: An Edible Love Affair (Plus a Ranch Dust Recipe)
Defined as either a quick way to elevate a basic pizza or ruin a perfectly good slice, pizza dipped in (or drizzled with) ranch dressing is a popular and divisive combination. Equally loved and hated, “to dip, or not to dip” is a pizza debate that’s raged for years. So how did we get here?
The origins of this combination are a little murky, but evidence suggests it might have been invented by drunk American college students in Washington, D.C., making that city both the nation’s capital and the capital of ranch-dunked crusts. It may also have stemmed naturally from ranch being offered as a dipping sauce for breadsticks. Maybe breadsticks and crusts aren’t so dissimilar after all.
What we do know for sure is that when Nebraska cowboy and California transplant Steve Henson first started making his buttermilk and herb dressing back in 1954, he wasn’t dipping slices point-first into small plastic tubs of the stuff. Instead, he was pouring it over salads at his 120-acre Santa Barbara dude ranch (yes, Hidden Valley Ranch was a real place).
Guests loved it so much they wanted to take it home. As demand rose for souvenir bottles of ranch dressing, Henson began selling mail-order packets of the herbs and spices for just $0.75, complete with instructions to add your own buttermilk and mayonnaise. Voila: a foolproof, dump-and-stir way to make California ranch dressing in kitchens across America.
Henson sold his spice packet business to the American bleach company Clorox in 1972 for eight million dollars — about $55 million in 2022 dollars (in 2019, AdAge reported that ranch dressing is now a $1 billion industry, surpassing $833 million in annual U.S. ketchup sales). Clorox took the spice packet racket and ran with it, getting ranch into casseroles, potluck salads, crudité platters, and, yes, pizzerias.
It even made its way into jewellery: In 2021, Hidden Valley made a lab-grown diamond out of ranch seasoning before auctioning it on eBay. The winning bid for the HVR LVR-inscribed ring was $12,500. That’s enough to know that we’re obsessed with this dressing, even almost 70 years after its invention.
Whether pizza and ranch came together because of a late-night frat party or simply because there was leftover breadstick dipping sauce on the table on pizza night, one thing’s for sure: The combination isn’t going anywhere. Some food writers and independent pizza makers have pushed back against the trend (cue Texas Cane Rosso’s Jay Jerrier, whose $1,000 “break in case of emergency” ranch dressing prank was eventually purchased for a good cause), but you’ll find it offered as a dipping sauce at Jet’s, Hungry Howie’s, Domino’s, Papa John’s and many other pizza joints.
If you’re a self-respecting American pizza chain, you’ve got ranch as an option. And it’s not just the pizza businesses and people that have gotten behind Henson’s creation. Dan Barber, the American James Beard Award-Winning chef behind Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York (an annual 50 World’s Best restaurant with a 30-course tasting menu) has made ranch and served it alongside salad and pizza.
So what makes the combination of herby buttermilk dressing and pizza so good? While pizza gets topped with almost anything these days, it’s traditionally covered in cheese and tomatoes. Ranch dressing is full of fat and acidic tang — complementing the cheese and tomato — and works as a palate cleanser, cutting through grease and preparing you for the next bite. And if you’re eating anything spicy (sausage, red pepper flakes, hot peppers) the dairy in ranch helps dissolve the spice-producing flavour compound capsaicin, making each bite a pleasant balance of heat and relief.
It’s not just the bottled dressing that’s a friend to pizza. Ranch spice packets — made with onion powder, onion flakes, dill, parsley, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and dried chives — can be delicious on crust. Inspired by the mail-order packets of herbs and spices that Steve Henson invented and that are still available today, we made our own homemade ranch crust dust recipe.
Our secret ingredient is buttermilk powder — a dehydrated version of the cultured dairy product that gives our spice blend that particular beloved tang. You can find it on Amazon or in the baking aisle of your local grocery store. Brush on some melted butter, sprinkle on a healthy dose of ranch powder post-bake, and you might just start eating crust-first.
Love it or hate it, pizza and ranch is a combination that’s here to stay. If drunk college students and Dan Barber can’t convince you to douse your slice in “the great American condiment,” let our spice dust be the first way you dip your toe into the world of pizza and ranch.