Forget Pepperoni — Elvis Presley Topped His Pizza With One Unique Meat

When it comes to cheesy pizza, pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, or ham just would not cut in for the King. Elvis Presley preferred a sweet and savory, non-traditional topping — barbecued pulled pork. These days, it is common to see creative combinations and pizza sauces that shamelessly break flavor traditions. Back in pre-WWII United States, pizza — never mind this sort of fusion food — was not even a dish that many people recognized unless you were of Italian descent or grew up in a city with a significant immigrant population.

At Coletta's Italian Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee — founded by Emil Coletta — folks from the nearby naval base would request pizza since they had become familiar with the dish after being stationed in Italy. After Coletta's son Horest took a sabbatical in Chicago to learn how to make pizza, the family decided to put it on the menu. However, plain old pizza was not selling to anyone other than the sailors, so the Colettas had to get creative. Sometime in the 1950s, Horest tried putting barbecue pulled pork on a pizza. It was a way to get folks from Memphis to try something familiar in a new way.

It was a hit, and it turns out that the novel dish became one of Presley's all-time favorites. By the 1970s, Elvis and his crew would regularly order barbecue pulled pork pizzas to take back to the famous Graceland mansion.

What is Memphis barbecue pulled pork?

Every style of American BBQ has its signature — Texas has brisket; St. Louis has ribs; Kansas City has burnt ends; and Memphis has pulled pork. Though other meats are seasoned, smoked, and sauced by Memphis pitmasters, pork remains king, and pulled pork is a favorite. A true Memphis-style pulled pork is made with dry-rubbed and then pit-smoked pork shoulder. Once it is deeply caramelized and fall-apart tender, it is sauced with a thin, tangy, tomato-based barbecue sauce. The sauce still has some sweetness and depth, but the acidic quality makes it different from other styles of barbecue sauce.

The traditional way to serve it is piled high on a squishy white bread bun with a crunchy, creamy coleslaw topping, but something about this beloved dish seems to inspire innovation. Folks in Memphis have even gone so far as to toss pulled pork, barbecue sauce, peppers, onions, spices, and other secret ingredients with cooked noodles to make barbecue spaghetti. It was created by Brady Vincent of Brady and Lil's around the same time that Elvis was frequenting Coletta's Italian Restaurant for their pulled pork creation, so maybe the King himself gave this riff a try too.

Recreate Elvis Presley's favorite barbecue pulled pork pizza

At Coletta's Italian Restaurant, "The Original [Barbecue] Pizza" remains a favorite on the menu, and the South Parkway location that Elvis used to frequent is still open (via Coletta's). The Coletta's version of the now-famous pizza is pretty simple. It has barbecue sauce and a mixture of low-moisture mozzarella and shredded cheddar cheese, which gets baked on the pizza. Then, it is topped with the pulled pork and even more barbecue sauce once it's cooked.

When it comes to the crust, make your own or buy a ball of fresh dough from your favorite local pizzeria. You can even take a shortcut, and elevate a frozen cheese pizza by topping it off with saucy pulled pork. The restaurant does not reveal the exact seasoning and method for the pork shoulder, so just use your favorite recipe. The Memphis-style sauce is a must though — Coletta's tomato-based number has a long list of ingredients including garlic, onions, Worcestershire sauce, cloves, sugar, dried basil, and white vinegar.

Keep the pizza simple like Elvis preferred, or make it your own. Extra toppings like red onion, fresh cilantro, fresh or pickled jalapeños, pineapple, bacon, or different types of cheeses would all be delicious.