Philly Cheesesteak is a sandwich filled with perfectly-seasoned pieces of meat, gooey slices of cheese, and optionally, sweet caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms. It is a classic example of American comfort food that’s now a staple in many restaurants across the US.
Meat lovers will enjoy the Philadelphia cheesesteak as it is traditionally stuffed with meat. Vegetarians shouldn't fret, because as you'll learn from this article, this sandwich can easily be modified to suit vegetarians. It can even be customized for people with dietary restrictions.
From being a convenient snack for cab drivers when it was first invented in Philadelphia, this dish has now spread all over the world and can be eaten from practically anywhere.
Are you curious about the origin story of the Philly cheesesteak? You've come to the right place as we’ll share that (and more) in the next section! We'll also share with you everything you’ll need (or want) to know about this amazing dish.
Lastly, we’ll show you a time-tested recipe that’s easy to follow so that you can prepare and enjoy this dish from the comforts of your home! Are you ready?
What is a Philly Cheesesteak?
This wholesome comfort food is essentially made up of a mixture of grilled steak, caramelised onions, melted cheese which are all stuffed in a buttered hoagie roll. It is the pride of Philadelphia, the state where it originated and where it is simply known as “cheesesteak”.
It is once you’re outside the state that you’ll see names such as Philadelphia cheesesteak or authentic Philly cheesesteak. Funnily enough, there are forums online that caution against the word “authentic”. They say that if you see that on the menu, run away as it will most likely be far from the real thing. You’ve been warned.
The Founding Father: Pat Olivieri
Now for the origin story. As you’ll see on Visit Philadelphia’s official page, the story goes like this: One day in the 1930s, a hot dog vendor named Pat Olivieri was looking for something new to eat, something different from his usual hot dog.
He decided to go to his local butcher shop and get beef. He grilled the beef and made a sandwich. A cab driver passing by got a whiff of the delectable smell, asked for one too and was immediately hooked. Pretty soon the Philly cheesesteak started to become a delicious treat for cab drivers. The rest, as they say, is history!
These days it’s seen as both a comfort food enjoyed at home or in restaurants (remember the days when we could still eat out?) or as a pre-game savoury snack.
It’s amazing to note that this delightful treat was invented all the way back in the 1930s and is still popular and loved until this day. In fact, Pat’s King of Steaks, which Pat Olivieri opened more than ninety years ago, is still completely family-owned and operated.
It's still thriving and is considered as one of (if not THE) most famous Philly cheesesteak shops in the world. Flocks of people make it a point to visit the shop if they're in town. With the shop being open 24/7 and with quick service, you'll surely be able to order one (or two, we won't judge!).
There are so many reasons why people rave about this sandwich. What’s not to like? Protein — check. Dairy — check. Carbs — check. If it contains onions or mushrooms, then you’ll also have vegetables (or fungi) — check!
If you’ve been reading until this point, you’re already familiar with the main ingredients of a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. In the next section, we'll take a closer look at the ingredients. More importantly, we'll explore all the substitutes you can buy in case you’re not able to get any of the main ingredients. We’ll also discuss the substitutes you can try if you’re feeling adventurous.
To recap, a traditional version consists of only the following: ribeye beef, cheese (specifically Cheez Whiz), and either a hoagie roll or long Italian roll. Substitute any one of these ingredients and Philadelphia locals and loyal fans will deem your Philly cheesesteak inauthentic.
Toppings such as sautéed onions and sautéed mushrooms are acceptable but the jury is still out on green bell peppers. Condiments such as ketchup and mayo are acceptable too.
Let’s break it down even further.
Cuts of meat to use
The go-to Philly cheesesteak meat is the ribeye steak, specifically thinly sliced ones. When cooked, they are not only tender but are extremely juicy too. They have a melt-in-your-mouth texture that already has us salivating as we’re typing this out.
Now we understand that ribeye steak is a bit on the pricier side. Maybe not everyone can shell out the money for it. If you’re making this at home and feeding a lot of mouths, the budget might be a consideration.
If you are working within a budget, some alternative cuts of meat would result in delicious sandwiches too. We suggest either sirloin or flank steak, or even chicken if you’re not able (or prefer not to) eat beef.
There are many cheesesteak shops across the US that serve chicken (such as Ishkabibble in Philadelphia) to cater to a wider market. We’ve even seen shops that offer the option of getting extra meats such as pepperoni or salami, so it’s really up to you!
On days when you want to splurge or if budget permits, we suggest still getting the ribeye steak for a taste of the traditional Philly cheesesteak.
Types of cheese to use
Cheez Whiz is the cheese of choice in a classic sandwich, mostly because it melts nicely (think gooey) on top of the meat.
Two other types of cheese that have won the approval of the public are provolone and American cheese. It’s easier to achieve the oozing, melted cheese consistency of Cheez Whiz with any of these two types.
If you’ve previously followed a Philly cheesesteak sandwich recipe at home and you’re already in the mood to experiment, you can see whether other types of cheese would work. We’ve seen friends try it with Swiss cheese and liked the result!
Don't be afraid to experiment because after all, it’s a matter of personal preference, right? Based on our experience, we’d stick with the top three — Cheez Whiz, provolone, and American cheese, in that order.
Types of bread to use
Philly locals and loyal fans are of the strong opinion that only Hoagie rolls or Italian long rolls can be used as the base of a Philly Cheesesteak. Anything else is considered inauthentic.
What are hoagie rolls? They’re long rolls with a soft, chewy interior and a harder exterior that holds well even after being stuffed full of dripping meat juice, oozing melted cheese, and other ingredients. They also have the perfect texture when toasted.
If you have a knack for baking bread you can also bake hoagie rolls at home!
Toppings and condiments
In many shops, you can order your traditional Philly cheesesteak with a generous topping of caramelized (sautéed) onions. As we’ve mentioned in the section above, another option for toppings is sautéed mushrooms. That’s about it.
Hot peppers are also sometimes one of the options, and we’ve also been seeing variations that add green bell peppers. Word of warning, some fans would say that such ingredients result in inauthentic sandwiches.
The sandwich is sometimes drizzled with melted cheese sauce, like how celebrity chef Bobby Flay does his version. He melts provolone cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano and other ingredients like butter, flour and milk to make a thick sauce from it. We’ve also seen ketchup or mayo used as condiments.
How To Make Philly Cheesesteak
We’ve come to the best part, which is writing through how to make the cheesesteak. Here we will share tips on how to ensure that you achieve the most delicious sandwiches at home.
How to thinly slice the meat
To achieve the best results with the ribeye steak, you need to make sure that the meat is sliced thinly. One way to do this is by freezing the steak for about 30 minutes before slicing it.
This allows you to easily slice through the steak as thinly as possible. Of course, you’ll also need a sharp knife that can do the hard work for you.
In most butcher shops or grocery stores, they can also slice the meat for your Philly cheesesteak. In our experience, they do this at no extra cost, so make sure to ask!
How to cook the meat
The most important tip we have here is not to overcook the meat. It is quintessential that the dish is served with tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat. We have a couple of tips for this part — first, make sure that the meat is sliced as thinly as possible, as mentioned in the section above.
Second, make sure to heat the pan first before cooking the meat. Only use medium or medium-low heat to avoid burning or overcooking. Third, remember to keep stirring the meat in the pan.
By keeping to the tips above, you’ll be sure to keep your Philly cheesesteak meat tender and juicy.
How to toast the bread
Lightly toasted hoagie or Italian long rolls add that extra crunchy bit of deliciousness to the Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwich. Slice the rolls in half to open them up, but make sure not to slice too deep so as not to separate them.
Spread either butter or garlic butter on the insides and pop them in the oven to toast them. Alternatively, you could also lightly toast them on the pan. Be careful not to burn them though.
How to melt the cheese
Cheez Whiz already has a gooey, sauce-like consistency which makes it the perfect Philly cheesesteak sauce. If you’re using that then you only really need to pour it on top of the meat and toppings as a final step.
If you’re using other types such as provolone or American cheese, add the slices on top of the meat once it's almost cooked in the pan. Essentially what you’re doing is covering the meat with the cheese slices so that the cheese melts on top.
Traditional Philly Cheesesteak Recipe
- 450 g ribeye steak sliced as thinly as possible
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 pc large sweet onion diced
- 7-8 slices provolone cheese or American cheese
- 4 pcs hoagie roll or Italian long rolls, sliced halfway open
- 2.5 tbsp unsalted butter
- In a sauté pan over medium or medium-low heat, add one tablespoon of butter. Once melted, add diced onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook slowly until onions turn translucent. Remember to stir occasionally so as not to burn the onions. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Season the thinly-sliced ribeye steak with salt and pepper. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and add ribeye to the pan once the butter melts. Keep the heat to medium and cook for 2-4 minutes. Remember to keep stirring occasionally and avoid overcooking the meat.
- Return onions to the pan and stir with the steak. Place the cheese slices on top of the steak and onions mixture and let them melt. This will take about 1-2 minutes.
- Butter insides of hoagie rolls with the butter of your choice and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes. Spoon the mixture into your freshly toasted hoagie rolls. Serve your Philly cheesesteak sandwich immediately and enjoy!
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
If you’re looking for a spicier version, we recommend checking out Cooking with Kiona’s video recipe. She uses a variety of spices such as smoked paprika, oregano, cumin and more to marinate her ribeye. Moreover, she also adds bell peppers and jalapeno to the mix to make the final dish a flaming one!
The recipe we’ve shared above doesn’t contain other toppings such as mushrooms or condiments such as ketchup or mayo. It’s a traditional recipe which only makes use of the classic ingredients you can find in a traditional Philly cheesesteak.
If you want to try something different, we suggest adding mushrooms, ketchup, mayo or even horseradish! Additional ingredients that we’ve also seen people use are jalapeño, pizza sauce, green bell peppers, or even tomatoes! Feel free to try different toppings to see which ones work best or which ones suit your palate.
In an earlier section, we’ve also brought up meat alternatives if you’re looking for something other than beef. There’s chicken, salami, or sausages. For a vegetarian option, you could also swap out the meat with mushrooms. Portobello or king oyster mushrooms are perfect substitutes!
What to serve with?
By itself, the Philly Cheesesteak is already good and filling. But if you’re like us and you need side dishes to go with your main dish, then look no further because we’re suggesting sides that pair well with the sandwich.
The top side dishes that we usually choose to have are:
- French Fries
- Coke or Root Beer
Have you noticed how burgers are usually eaten with a side of French Fries? It’s a classic pairing because they complement each other. Well, crispy and salty french fries are delicious not just with burgers but also with this Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
Coleslaw, on the other hand, works well as a side dish because it’s light and refreshing. An American restaurant with international franchising called Hooters serves the sandwich with a side of coleslaw on its menu.
The potential guilt you feel will be offset by the vegetables in the coleslaw. We believe that there shouldn’t be guilt in the first place though, especially if you eat in moderation.
If you're in the mood for a drink, we recommend a milkshake. Make sure to get a heavy, creamy one to achieve maximum satisfaction. You can check out our recipe of how to make the perfect milkshake at home. This is an ultimate cheat meal as this combination will set you back more than 1000 calories. But who’s counting, right?
For a lighter but equally satisfying drink, we recommend either Coke or root beer. Add ice cream to your root beer and you instantly have root beer float. It's pretty much like the milkshake with a slightly lower indulgent score.
There are other side dishes you can choose to pair with the Philly Cheesesteak. For example, you could also have cheese sticks, onion rings, or potato wedges. The list goes on.
The bottom line is there are many ways to enjoy this wonderful comfort food. Enjoy it solo or pair it with delicious side dishes; it’s all up to you! After reading up about this delicious comfort food and the pride of Philadelphia, we hope we've piqued your interest.
If you haven't tried this before, what else are you waiting for? When you're in a country where you can already eat out at restaurants, find the nearest Philly cheesesteak restaurant and order one. Otherwise, give our recipe a try at home!.
We hope you like our recipe as much as we do. If you tried making it at home, share your photos with us. Tag and follow us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks and we might even feature your photo!