No conversation about eating out in Philadelphia can be had without addressing the elephant in the room: the cheesesteak. While many common perceptions about Philadelphia food are false, one rings true: the city is synonymous with its cheesesteak. Philly’s signature sandwich is not only a civic symbol, but it also defines its culinary identity. Let's find out more.
What is a Philly cheesesteak?
Pat Olivieri created the Philly cheesesteak sandwich in the 1930s in South Philadelphia, where he ran a hot dog stand, Pat's Steaks. One day, Pat took a piece of beef, cooked it on the grill, and popped it in a hot-dog bun. A legendary sandwich was born, and 90 years later, the Olivieri family is still operating Pat's King of Steaks, offering this iconic sandwich.
The Philly cheesesteak is prepared with thinly sliced ribeye steak, caramelised onion, and provolone cheese. This is the original classic combination, as preferred by East Coasters. The Philly cheesesteak has been modified on the West Coast by adding mushrooms and bell peppers, but an authentic “Philly” is simply steak, onions and cheese over a roll.
While this authentic sandwich has proved to be a cultural icon and a street food favourite, it is also an excellent dish to make at home. This Philly cheesesteak recipe keeps it simple with a combination of thinly sliced steak, melted cheese, and fried onions in a hoagie roll.
How to make an authentic Philly cheesesteak
What goes into a traditional Philly cheesesteak? The classic version consists of a thinly sliced ribeye steak covered with melted provolone or American cheese, served on a hoagie roll with toppings like fried onions or peppers. Despite its simplicity, the details are crucial. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when making your Philly cheesesteak:
Thinly sliced ribeye is the meat of choice for a classic Philly cheesesteak. The marbling of ribeye is perfect because it makes the sandwich tender and easy to bite. Slice the beef very thinly so you can quickly sauté it. You can have your butcher chop it fine for you, or you can do it yourself. A fantastic way to thinly slice beef is to cut it frozen: freeze your ribeye for about 30 minutes, then slice it with your sharpest knife. You can add the frozen beef to the pan.
The original Philly Cheesesteak had no cheese at all. Later, Provolone was added. Provolone cheese is the best choice for a Philly cheesesteak due to its neutral flavour and melting qualities. Sliced white American cheese is the second most popular option. If you use Provolone, opt for the soft deli kind and avoid aged Provolone, as it tastes too strong and overpowering.
The original Cheesesteaks can be served ‘wit onions’ or wit-out onions’ (“wit” is the jargon used in Philadelphia). The choice is up to you.
Philly cheesesteak recipe
Total time: 35 mins
Servings: 2 cheesesteaks
1 pound ribeye steak, thinly sliced
6 slices sliced deli Provolone, or white American cheese
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 soft deli rolls, sliced most of the way through
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Warm the split rolls at 250°F (120°C).
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and cook, constantly stirring, until translucent and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
While the onion is cooking, slice the ribeye into extremely thin strips.
Remove the onions from the pan and set them aside. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the meat, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and fresh black pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. As soon as the steak appears halfway done, add the onions back into the mix.
Divide the cooked beef in the pan into two piles, each about the length of a roll. Place the cheese slices on top of each pile, allowing the cheese to melt.
Lay a split roll over each pile of beef and cheese. Working one sandwich at a time, slide a long spatula underneath one pile of steak, and flip it right-side up onto a plate. Repeat the process with the second cheesesteak. Serve hot.
Where is the best place in Philly to get a cheesesteak?