Can’t make it to Philly? Here’s an authentic Philly cheesesteak recipe instead.
For those who can’t make it to Philly — or just want to make the best Philly steak sandwich ever — here’s an authentic Philly cheesesteak recipe that takes you step by step and covers everything, from fried onions to the right cheese and more.
When Were Cheesesteaks Invented?
An authentic Philly cheesesteak isn’t just a steak and cheese sandwich. It’s the best steak and cheese sandwich, ever.
The cheesesteak was invented in Philadelphia in the 1930s, when a hotdog cart vendor named Pat Olivieri grilled some thinly-sliced beef and put it on a hotdog roll. Legend has it that a passing cab driver smelled the steak sandwich and asked to try it. Pat shared his steak with the cab driver, who loved it. And the cheesesteak was born.
What Makes a Real, Authentic Philly Cheesesteak?
There are a lot of bad meat and cheese sandwiches out there, purporting to be real Philly cheesesteaks. An authentic Philly cheesesteak consists of:
- Thinly-sliced chopped ribeye steak
- Topped with melted American cheese, provolone, or Cheez Whiz
- Served on a hoagie roll with toppings like fried onions or peppers
What Goes on a Cheesesteak Sandwich?
Along with the meat, American, soft provolone, and Cheese Whiz are the only acceptable cheese options. Cheesesteaks should never, ever come with lettuce, tomato or any other cheese. Tomato sauce is acceptable as well; this makes your cheesesteak a pizza steak.
How Do You Make an Authentic Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich?
An authentic Philly cheesesteak recipe combines the right ingredients and the right technique. Here’s what to do:
- Split a soft hoagie roll most of the way through.
- Fry diced onions (and peppers, if you are a pepper steak person) in a skillet until translucent and lightly browned.
- Add the thinly-sliced ribeye steak. Season and cook in the pan.
- Layer cheese on top of the steak and onions. Lay a split hoagie roll on top of the steak, then flip right side up onto a plate.
What Cheese Goes on a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich?
American cheese, deli provolone, or Cheez Whiz are the only acceptable cheese options for a real cheesesteak. I recommend white American cheese.
If you use provolone, use the soft deli kind. Avoid aged provolone, which tastes too strong and does not melt as well. (Aged provolone is the best option, however, for Philly’s other famed sandwich, the hot roast pork sandwich.)
John Kerry made an enormous unforced error in his 2003 Presidential campaign when the candidate, already battling an out-of-touch reputation, attempted to order a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese at Philly’s famed Pat’s King of Steaks. It did not go over well. In fact, the reverberations of the event are still analyzed in politics to this day, such as in this Economist article.
Cheesesteaks should never, ever come with lettuce or tomato or anything like that. Ever.
What Beef to Use for Philly Cheesesteaks (+ a Pro Tip!)
Use very thinly-sliced ribeye steak for your cheesesteaks. You can get your butcher to slice or chop it fine for you, or you can do it yourself. Those lucky enough to live in the Philly region will be able to buy chip steak for cheesesteaks at most supermarkets and butchers.
For the rest of us, you can slice your own ribeye very easily with this great tip: Freeze your beef for about 30 to 45 minutes, then slice. Freezing the beef makes it very easy to cut, and gives you more control of the size.
Can’t find ribeye steak? You can substitute top round for your cheesesteak.
Craving more authentic Philly food? You’ll also love:
- The Frog Commissary Carrot Cake
- Authentic Philly Irish Potatoes
- How to Order a Cheesesteak Like a Philly Local
Authentic Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches (+ How to Order One in Philly)
- 1 pound ribeye steak, sliced extremely thin
- 6 slices white American cheese, sliced deli provolone, or some Cheez Whiz (those are the only options)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 soft deli rolls, sliced most of the way through (if you can find Amoroso brand, great!)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil, such as canola
- Warm the split rolls in a 250°F oven until ready.
- Heat the oil in a wide-bottomed skillet over medium heat, preferably cast iron.
- Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- While the onion is cooking, slice the ribeye into extremely thin strips and pieces. Use ground beef as your inspiration, but stop before the beef reaches quite this size, and before cutting the beef to this smallness makes you insane. TIP: Cheesesteak shops cook cheesesteak beef on a flattop grill, and can chop the beef as it cooks. But you are cutting the beef this thinly now because it will be difficult to chop the beef once it is in a standard pan with sides.PRO TIP: A fantastic way to thinly slice beef is to slice it frozen. You will have much more control. You can add the frozen beef to the pan.
- Take the onions out of the pan and set them aside on a dish. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the steak, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and about 20 turns fresh black pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, turning the beef occasionally. Stir the onions back into the beef when the steak looks about halfway done.
- Divide the cooked beef in the pan into two piles, about the length of each roll. Layer cheese slices on top of each, and let the cheese melt over the steak.
- Lay a split roll over each cheesy pile of beef, so it looks like an upside-down sandwich. Working one sandwich at a time, slide a long spatula beneath one pile of steak, and flip it right-side up onto a plate. Taste for seasoning. Repeat with the second cheesesteak.
- Serve hot.