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? What is the original Cheesesteak Sandwich?
An authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwich isn’t just a steak and cheese sandwich. It’s the best steak and cheese sandwich, ever. The flavor is rich and salty, complemented with added optional ingredients like fried onions, hot peppers, and skillet-fried green bell pepper slices or mushrooms.
The Philly cheese steak was invented in Philadelphia in the 1930s, when a hot dog cart vendor named Pat Olivieri grilled some thinly-sliced beef and put it on a hot dog 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 so the cheesesteak sandwich was born.
If you want to skip the homemade part and go right to buying yourself one of the best cheesesteaks in Philly, I like Philadelphia Magazine’s roundup of the best cheesesteaks in Philly — shout out to Delco Steaks and Dalessandro’s. But if you can’t get to Philly, or want to make one right at home, read on!
What Makes a Real, Authentic Philly Cheesesteak Recipe?
There are a lot of bad meat and cheese sandwiches out there, purporting to be real Philly cheesesteaks. An authentic Philly cheesesteak recipe consists of:
- The right cut of beef. You want thinly-sliced chopped ribeye steak; you want it very thin to keep the meat tender. If you can’t buy thin-sliced ribeye in the store, a local butcher should be able to do it for you. You can also slice the beef at home; freezing in advance of slicing it helps.
- Topped with melted American cheese, provolone cheese, or Cheez Whiz
- Served on a hoagie roll with toppings like fried onions (which are cooked a little less than caramelized onion, which are too sweet), mushrooms (less common), or fried bell peppers
What Goes on a Cheesesteak Sandwich?
Along with the sliced steak, you need cheese. American cheese, deli (not aged) provolone cheese, and Cheese Whiz are the only acceptable cheese options for your cheesesteak. Each of these choices creates a blanket of melted cheese, enhancing the sandwich’s flavor.
Authentic 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. Extra credit if you use Amoroso’s brand rolls.
- Fry diced onions (and bell 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 a large skillet or other wide pan over medium-high heat. If you have one, use a cast-iron skillet for even heat and good browning. (Note: You can also use fine-chopped chicken for a chicken cheesesteak.)
- Layer cheese on top of the beef 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 cheese, or Cheez Whiz are the only acceptable cheese options for a real cheesesteak, because these are very melty cheeses. I recommend white American cheese.
If you use provolone slices, use the soft deli kind. Avoid aged provolone cheese, 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. Yikes.
What Kind of Bread Is Used for a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich?
Even though the original allegedly used a hot dog bun, today’s authentic cheesesteak recipe bread of choice is a soft hoagie roll. The preferred brand in the Philadelphia area is an Amoroso roll. If you can’t find Amoroso, choose any long, soft deli roll.
Hot dog rolls are actually not a great substitute because they are too soft and become gummy and fall apart under the weight and juices of the filling.
What Beef to Use for This Authentic Philly Cheesesteak Recipe (+ a Pro Tip!)
Use very thinly-sliced ribeye steak for your Philly cheese steaks. 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 can go to the store and ask for chip steak. Chip steak will be able at most local 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 Potato Candies
- How to Order a Cheesesteak Like a Philly Local
Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks
- 1 pound ribeye steak, sliced extremely thin
- 6 slices melty cheese such as white American cheese, sliced deli provolone cheese, or Cheez Whiz (those are the only options)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped (optional)
- 2 soft deli rolls, sliced most of the way through (if you can find Amoroso rolls brand, great!)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil, such as canola
- Warm the split rolls in a 250°F oven until ready. PRO TIP: A low oven temperature ensures that you will not bake the rolls; it will just warm them. Wrap the hoagie rolls in foil if you'd like to keep them extra soft.
- Heat the oil in a large 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, then chop into 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. You want the meat to be very tender.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 fried onions out of the pan and set them aside on a dish. Increase the burner to medium-high heat. 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 warm, 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.