The classic cardboard pizza box was made to transport the beloved food from pizzeria to home – but its design is due for improvement according to professional pizza-geek Scott Wiener. A recent Wired article delved into Mr. Wiener’s globe-spanning search for a box that keeps heat in, while not allowing steam to build up and make the crust soggy. He found the best box in current production in India and the innovative design might yet take off in the States.
Scott Wiener: I think part of growing up in the Northeast is pizza is a staple. Just as it is anywhere in the country, but in the Northeast it’s sort of, you’re driving home from somewhere, you pick up a pizza, every Friday night. Every step of that process embeds itself in your 11-year-old mind.
And that white box with the red writing is such a huge part of it that when I was traveling around Israel in 2008 and I saw a pizza box that was yellow with blue writing, that was sort of… I was like, “This is not home anymore. They got pizza boxes that are yellow.”
Rico Gagliano: Is there a reason why they are yellow there and red and white here? Do we know?
Scott Wiener: Sort of. Really, the whole project with the collection that I have of pizza boxes, part of it was, [attempting to] figure out why these things happen.
In the US, pizza comes out of the history of bakeries. And so bakery boxes they had cookies packed in and cakes, those became the early pizza boxes. And those were always white with a cheap, smudgy red ink on top. It’s just that because we have that lineage, ours haven’t changed very much.
But since places like Israel and even some parts of Italy, everywhere, pizza boxes are a much newer thing and even pizza that’s delivered or taken out is a newer thing, they don’t have that 100 years of baggage.
Rico Gagliano: So they just do a modern design.
Scott Wiener: Yeah. They don’t have anything left from 65 years ago.
Rico Gagliano: So let’s talk about a little bit of the technology. First of all, functionally, what makes a good pizza box?
Scott Wiener: There are so few pizza boxes that do anything with regard to function. You know what I mean? Pizza boxes are meant to be cheap and carry food. But what would make a pizza box good is its ability to hold heat while not holding steam. That’s the holy grail.
Steam gets trapped in and creates a soggy crust and breaks down some of the components of the box, and therefore you taste a cardboard taste in your pizza. But at the same time you need to trap that steam to trap heat otherwise your pizza arrives cold.
Rico Gagliano: So I’m assuming that that’s what the holes are for. The average pizza box has punch holes in the covers, right?
Scott Wiener: Absolutely. But there are a couple of problems. First of all, once you stack a second pizza box on top of the first, you’re covering up any holes that are on the top panel.
Rico Gagliano: So the steam can’t get out.
Scott Wiener: Yes, exactly. So you’re trapping it anyway. And, 90% of the time, pizzerias don’t pop those vents anyway. It’s designed, it’s in there, it’s possible [but goes unused]. At the same time, if you lose all that steam, you’re losing all the heat, and it’s still not a perfect system.
I think most people would rather get a pizza hot and then the sogginess is something we’ve come to accept. I don’t necessarily agree. I would rather get a pizza home that’s not soggy and then I can reheat it if I need.
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, that’s right. Sure you can. Just put it in the oven! What’s wrong with people?
But you’ve now come upon the holy grail of pizza boxes?
Scott Wiener: Yeah. It was in India.
Rico Gagliano: What is the box like?
Scott Wiener: Okay, so it’s a box from Shri Krishna Packaging and it’s called the VENTiT Box, and it was created by this guy who was in corrugated cardboard. The way it works is, instead of having just a hole, a straight hole, it has an indirect vent.
Corrugation works by having a fluted, wavy medium. A piece of paper that’s wavy in the center. And then on the top and the bottom of it are affixed liners. So you have three pieces of paper: the inner liner, the outer liner and the fluted medium in between the two. The normal process is you put these three layers together, and then you stamp holes through them.
This guy’s process is, he stamps holes through them before they’re assembled and when they are assembled, they are assembled so that the holes don’t line up. So the steam is able to escape indirectly. It travels up through the fluted medium, across and then out.
Rico Gagliano: So it allows still steam to escape but not so much and at such a rapid pace that the heat is lost. Does this add $20 to your pizza because you’re paying for this piece of technology that comes with it?
Scott Wiener: It’s funny, it’s not any more expensive. The only expense is the rearrangement of the equipment to make the corrugated board.
Rico Gagliano: And is that the only reason we don’t have it here?
Scott Wiener: Yeah. Really, he just needs critical mass for people to want it for it to make sense to rearrange equipment in a facility. And when you get down to it, the cost of it is not much more expensive than the standard box.
Rico Gagliano: So we just need all pizza lovers to write to their local pizza box manufacturer and demand. That’s a lot of people. That would be a scary number of people.
Scott Wiener: It is. I think 94% of Americans eat pizza at least once a month.
Rico Gagliano: Are you the kind of person that now has this gentleman in India send you over these boxes that you’re now presenting to your local pizzeria and saying, “Could you please deliver my pizzas in these boxes?”
Scott Wiener: You know, he’s asked me about being involved in the sales of the box and it’s not really something I’m interested in.
Rico Gagliano: But as the ultimate enthusiast, can you stand getting your pizza in a box that you now know to be inferior?
Scott Wiener: Well, it’s a funny question because… Okay, as much as I am obsessed with pizza boxes, and I have this gigantic archive of pizza boxes for research purposes, I hate pizza boxes. I never eat pizza out of boxes. I don’t order pizza. That’s just the truth.
Rico Gagliano: Oh the irony.
Scott Wiener: It’s such pure irony.
Rico Gagliano: So you just eat at the restaurant?
Scott Wiener: The best way to eat a pizza is in the pizzeria. It’s clearly inferior as soon as it leaves. But it doesn’t have to be as inferior. That’s how I feel about these boxes.