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A good deal any way you slice it

Sure, it's convenient -- and cheaper than a pizzeria. But can frozen pizza truly satisfy anyone other than undiscriminating kids? In other words, you?

Yes, according to Consumer Reports' latest taste test of 16 frozen cheese pies. The best, a trio of very different but very good pies, include Amy's Cornmeal Crust 3 Cheese, Home Run Inn Classic Cheese and DiGiorno Rising Crust Four Cheese, the only CR Best Buy of the bunch.

Amy's Cornmeal Crust 3 Cheese, the priciest pie tested at $7.99, won points for its combination of fresh-tasting vegetables, herbs and dollops of goat cheese over a flavorful cornmeal crust. The Chicago-style Home Run Inn Classic Cheese, $7.42, features a generous blanket of tasty cheese and abundant sauce over a pastry-style crust. The Italian-style DiGiorno Rising Crust Four Cheese, $6.47, has lots of cheese and sauce over a thick, chewy crust.

There's room for improvement among frozen pizza brands, since no pies were excellent. But most pies in CR's Ratings were very good -- as good as or better than the Domino's hand-tossed cheese pizzas recently taste-tested for a May 2010 report by the magazine.

The tests also show that you shouldn't buy simply by brand. The CR Best Buy DiGiorno pizza scored higher than the other DiGiorno pie that was tried; the same was true of the Red Baron pizzas tested.

Five pizzas at the bottom of the Ratings scored just OK, with Totino's Crisp Crust Triple Cheese coming in last. Though it was the least expensive pizza in the tests at $1.38, it had the most flaws in its crust (greasy), sauce (sparse and nontomatoey), cheese (nonspecific), and overall flavor (dehydrated seasonings.)

>How testing was done

For this report, CR bought and baked more than 100 pies and cut them up into same-sized pieces. Cheese pies were the focus. They are one of the most popular types, according to the National Frozen Pizza Institute, a trade organization. Seven trained sensory panelists tasted each brand three times in an order designed to eliminate bias.

Testers didn't know which pizzas they were tasting; all samples were coded with three-digit numbers. (CR doesn't use two-digit codes because they can introduce bias. For example, a tester whose ex-spouse's birthday is on the 14th or whose favorite sports figure wears No. 14 might unwittingly grade Sample No. 14 more harshly or favorably than other samples.)

Tasters graded the crust, cheese and sauce separately, and also gave an overall impression of each pie. Between practice tests and the real taste tests, tasters were served more than 800 slices in all.

>Rating nutrition

It's pizza, remember, so don't expect miracles. Almost all brands scored adequately for nutrition, but CR discovered quite a range in calories (260 to 380), fat (9 to 18 grams), saturated fat (3.5 to 9 grams), and sodium (570 to 870 milligrams) per serving. Top-rated Amy's stood out as the lowest in saturated fat and among the lowest in sodium. Two were only fair for nutrition: Red Baron Fire Baked because it was among the highest in calories, total fat, saturated fat and sodium; and Totino's because of high total fat and trans fat and low fiber.

CR's Ratings are based on the manufacturer's suggested serving size. Mind your pizza cutter. Most of the pies came whole; you cut them yourself. It's easy to cut more than what constitutes one slice.

By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumer

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