People are very opinionated about their cheesesteaks and are always quick to call out non-authentic versions! So, this is one of those recipes that I have to mentally prepare myself for when I’m working on it.
A classic Philly cheesesteak consists of thinly shaved steak (usually ribeye or top round) and is traditionally cooked on a griddle. It’s a wonderful sandwich. When you bite into it you get the savory pieces of thin steak and melty, gooey cheese. Add in some good bread and caramelized onions and you are in for a treat!
It can be served solo just loaded with meat or with sauteed onions and peppers. It’s generally topped with provolone cheese or Cheez Whiz. While the classic Philly cheesesteak is served on an Amoroso roll, that’s a pretty hard find if you aren’t in the Philly area (I know, what a bummer), but you can substitute it for a hoagie roll for an equally delicious sandwich.
So, let’s get into it and talk through all the delicious variations, get behind the history of the sandwich along with the directions to make one really wonderful cheesesteak. The good news about making it at home? You can make it however you want!
History of the Cheesesteak
The original cheesesteak was made by a hot dog cart vendor in the early 20th century. The exact details are hotly contested, but most credit Pat & Harry Olivieri as the original creators. There are two shops in Philly right across the street from each other that are in heavy cheesesteak competition, Pat’s and Geno’s. I refuse to pick a side. They are both great!
How to Make a Philly Cheesesteak?
If you can’t get to Philadelphia easily to pick up a cheesesteak sandwich, then your next best shot is to make it at home! The layout of the sandwich is simple (steak, onions, bell peppers, cheese, and bread), but the details are important. Here are a few key things to consider when making your sandwich:
- You want your steak to be thinly sliced. If possible, you can have your butcher shave it for you. At home, you can stick the steak in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it really stiff and then shave it with your sharpest knife. Trim off any large pieces of fat, but some fat is good.
- The original cheesesteak can be ordered with only steak or with steak and onions (“wit” is the ordering lingo there). Personally, I like onions and bell peppers, so I do both. You can make it your own since you are making it at home!
- The onions and peppers need to cook much longer than the steak so cook them first, separately and then combine everything together with the cheese to finish the dish.
What Kind of Steak to Use for Cheesesteak?
You want to use a nice cut of steak that has some marbled fat on it and is really tender. As the thin steak cooks, the fat melts a bit and makes each piece of steak very tender. Personally, I like to use rib eye for mine (it has better marbling, but it’s more expensive). Top round is also a classic cheesesteak option. Do not use tougher meat cuts like flank steak or brisket. They will be really chewy in the final sandwich.
What Kind of Cheese to Goes on Philly Cheesesteaks?
There are two options here: provolone or Cheez Whiz, a shelf stable cheese product sold in jars. If I’m being honest, American cheese is also pretty delicious, but let’s keep it somewhat classic with the cheese.
Personally, I like to use BOTH. I melt some provolone over the steak as it cooks and then drizzle on some Cheez Whiz right before serving. I like the texture of the Cheez Whiz and the flavor that the provolone gives the sandwich. Provolone has a sharper bite to it while the Cheez Whiz is just a completely creamy, almost nacho cheese, situation.
You can make it however you like. Use both, skip the Cheez Whiz if you can’t find it or use your own favorite cheese.
Swaps and Substitutions
Once you have the basics of the sandwich down, you can keep it classic, or you can make this your own. Your choice! Here are a few ideas:
- Use thinly sliced chicken breast instead of steak
- Add sautéed mushrooms to the sandwich
- Make it a pizza cheesesteak with marinara and mozzarella!
- 10-12 ounces ribeye steak
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 sweet onion, sliced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
- 2 ounces (3 slices) provolone cheese
- 2 hoagie rolls, toasted
- 1/4 cup Cheez Whiz, warmed
- Fresh thyme, for garnish, optional
Freeze and slice the steak:
Place steak in the freezer on a sheet pan for about 10 minutes so it gets very cold but not frozen through.
Trim off any large pieces of fat normally around the edges of the steak, but some veins of fat in the middle of the steak are good. Slice the steak as thin as possible with a sharp knife. You won’t be able to get it paper thin without a meat slicer, but think of thick deli cut meat. Season steak with salt and pepper.
Cook the onions and peppers:
In a large skillet set over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil along with sliced onions and peppers. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and peppers have softened and start to caramelize around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Don’t rush them!
Cook the steak:
Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the sliced steak. Spread out the steak in the skillet in a thin even layer so it covers as much surface area as possible. Cook for a minute or two and then stir to finish cooking the steak. It might need another minute or two, but it will cook very quickly.
Finishing the cheesesteak:
Turn heat down to low on the steak and add the peppers and onions to the steak mixture and stir to combine. Add the provolone slices to the top of the steak mixture and let the cheese melt. Stir to combine, once the cheese has melted.
Assemble the cheesesteaks and serve:
Evenly scoop the cheesesteak mixture into the toasted hoagie rolls. The hoagie rolls should be packed! Optionally, drizzle the cheesesteaks with warm Cheez Whiz for maximum cheesiness. Sprinkle fresh thyme over top and serve.