I used to work at Ken's Pizza in Jenks, OK and at one on S. 33rd W. Ave. at West Skelly Dr. (I-44) in Tulsa and finally at one in Stillwater, OK that was one of the first to become a Mazzio's Pizza.
I wish I knew what was in the sauce spice packages. They came pre-mixed. I did take a few home over the years to make my own sauce
I wish I had a package of it now.
The brands of pureed tomatoes Ken's used changed over the years, so don't get too caught up in the brand. As far as I could tell, they used the entire tomato, seeds, skins and all. They were finely pureed and came in very large cans that held a gallon or more each. We mixed the sauce in five gallon food grade plastic buckets with sealable lids using a very large stainless steel whisk. The recipe called for three cans of pureed tomatoes, a bag of the sauce mix and an amount of water we had to weigh. The amount of water changed with each shipment of pureed tomatoes, so Ken had some scientific way of determining the exact consistency needed and adjusted it for variations in the tomato crops and brands. I assume the cans contained Italian Plum or Roma tomatoes, which have a high pulp to water ratio and fewer seeds than round tomatoes used on hamburgers. We could go through four buckets of the stuff on a busy night.
There is a lot more to making a great Ken's Pizza than just the sauce though. The dough recipe is also critical and I sure wish I still had it. The pans were also key, as was the oven, which was gas-fired and kept at 425 degrees F. The dough was machine rolled to a certain thickness, but the thickness was adjusted by weighing the dough. The pans had about a half inch high edge, but it was turned outward at about a 45 degree angle and they were just under a 1/16" thick. Once you ran the dough through the rolling machine and draped it over the pan, you lifted it around the edges to settle it into the pan with no stretching or air gaps under the edge. You then rolled a large rolling pin over the pan to cut the dough. If you had stretched it, the edge would fall and not stay at the top of the pan and sauce would eventually leak under it and burn. It was easier to chuck the dough back in the bin and roll a new one.
Once you had a perfect crust in the pan and it was trimmed, you measured a heaping ladle of sauce in the centre. There were three ladles, one each for the 10", 13" and 15" pizzas. Since the sauce always had the same solids to liquids ratio, it always heaped the same amount, about 1/4" at the middle of the ladle. The reason Ken strove for perfect consistency in the sauce is because the next step is to lift the pan, tilt and rotate to distribute the sauce. You never, ever pushed it around with the ladle. You didn't need to if it was the right consistency and you used the right amount.
The next thing to go on was the mozzarella cheese. Ken used sliced mozzarella. There were precise guidelines for how to place it. The 13" size got two slices end to end across the middle, so we can assume the slices were just over 4" x 6". You then put one slice above and below the centred ones and then you cut a fifth slice in half at the middle and then each half diagonally with a pizza cutter. These triangles filled in the corners. I am convinced the sliced cheese is another secret to the success because it trapped the sauce under the cheese for a very long time in the cooking process. Ken's pizza's are cooked for about 20 minutes, twice as long as competitors or Mazzio's.
Once the toppings were added, Canadian Bacon and Pepperoni by count, all else by weight, into the oven it goes. We had precise charts for how to arrange the ingredients. If Ken was ever in the store and you had the wrong number of pepperoni slices in each concentric ring (and never put a slice of anything in the centre, where it gets obliterated when cutting the pizza), the store manager would get chewed out. The ingredients also had to go all the way to the edge. You never got a 15" pizza at Ken's with a 12" circle of ingredients. It wouldn't cook right if you didn't get everything to the edges, leaving only that half inch or less of exposed crust sloping up the edge of the pan. We were obsessed with making them perfectly and lazy preppers shaped up and did it right or were sent to wash dishes.
Once in the oven, the pizza chef gave them about 3-4 minutes, at which point that edge of crust showing would start to puff. You had to catch it before it began to dry out. Too soon or too late and the next step didn't create that firm edge that makes such a great handle when eating a slice of Ken's Pizza. We used a special pan pliers to pull the pizza out onto the oven door and then used a pizza cutter to gently roll around the edge very lightly pressing the puffy edge down in on itself. If you pressed too hard, you cut through and the sauce would leak under and burn later in the cooking process. If you didn't press hard enough, it didn't compress enough to make a handle and to get the air out, so later it would make big bubbles that break easily and ruin the edge. If you did it perfectly, which we mostly did unless one guy was running three or four ovens on a busy night, the finished pizza had a nice crisp edge that would support the weight of the entire slice.
Another secret to Ken's success was the thin and crispy crust. It was truly crispy unless lazy cooks didn't constantly check the crust weights and adjust the rolling machine every 30 minutes or so. If the crust was too thick, the chef would be constantly fighting air bubbles that swell during cooking. Too thin and it would tear, sauce would leak under and burn, ruining the pizza.
Finally, the cooking is the biggest trick of the trade. There were three indicators that the pizza was done to perfection. First, when you put a pizza cutter under it and lifted it, the crust would support the weight of the pizza. The entire thing would be a solid disk and only a 15" pizza with the Works on it would bend under the weight of the toppings. Second, the cheese was cooked to a nice golden brown colour. The full flavour of mozzarella cheese only develops when you cook the pizza for about 20 minutes. This is why Mazzio's is so disappointing, as the cheese melts, but doesn't cook in the short time they leave it in the oven. The same goes for every other brand of pizza on the market today. Nobody cooks them like we did at Ken's in the 60s, 70s and 80s. This is also why the high amount of sauce was needed; it kept the cheese from drying out and burning while it melted and cooked to perfection. The third sign of doneness was that the sauce would eventually bubble up through the cheese and boil rapidly. It literally simmers t's way up and through. With grated cheese, this happens way too early, so sliced mozzarella was a must at Ken's.
The other very important thing the over person had to do was to fight bubbles in the crust. You had to gently push them down with the pizza cutter without breaking through the crust. You had to do it before the bubble got so big that all the sauce, cheese and toppings slid downhill and the exposed crust bubble got dry or crispy. If you didn't catch them early enough, a repair would be needed and while you pull that one out to patch it, others would bubble too much.
All the fuss was worth it when perfect pizza after perfect pizza comes out time after time. I could easily handle two ovens. Three was a challenge for one person and four would require two for everyone except maybe Ken Selby. Later, Ken started feeling the pressure to expand the product line and include hot sandwiches, garlic bread, spaghetti and rigatoni. With all the crap in the ovens on a busy Friday night after a high school football game, it was difficult to run even two ovens well.
As for what spices are in the sauce and what gave it the zest, I think much of it came from the tomatoes, but there was definitely some red pepper of some sort in the sauce. There was dried onion and garlic, parsley and oregano, salt, black pepper and probably basil. There was more than these, but I don't know what the other ingredients were. Most importantly though was the interaction of the sauce and the cheese as it got golden brown and gave up both it's moisture and stringiness. A properly cooked Ken's pizza slice did not trail strings of cheese when you cut or bit it. I've never had pizza as good as Ken's since I moved away from Oklahoma.
I hope someone figures out how to replicate it or I find an excuse to go back to Oklahoma and indulge in a Ken's pizza soon. My wife is sick of hearing about them and not getting to have one!