The core ingredient. Here’s the science on the specific cuts that make a true Philly Cheesesteak.
Its importance is often overlooked but the bread plays a crucial role in the equation. Let us break it down.
American or Whiz. The debate in our hometown will never die. Here’s some points for discussion.
For the first 20 or so years of its existence, steak and bread monogamously formed a sandwich. It wasn’t until sometime in the 50’s that cheese was introduced and the modern Philly Cheesesteak as we know it was born. Today, the three are inextricably linked.
The pervasive misconception from folks not from the Philly area is that a legitimate Philly Cheesesteak must be smothered with Cheese Wiz. This is not true. Sliced White American followed by sliced provolone are the most popular types of requested cheese on cheesesteaks throughout Philly and the rest of the country. Wiz was first introduced by the two famous South Philly steak joints because of its convenience and time savings – when there are lines of salivating cheesesteak junkies running down the block at 3 AM, preparation time is of the essence.
The type of cheese used should complement the flavor of the steak, it should not be overwhelming in sharpness or salt. When choosing a white American, look for something that imparts a creamy taste. For provolone, go for a mild or medium profile with a light smoky flavor.
The first cheesesteak was created by a hot dog vendor in Philly who, when tired of consuming his franks for lunch everyday, had the idea to cook up some thinly sliced steak he bought from the local butcher. As is no surprise, he put the steak on the only type of bread he had at the ready, a hot dog bun! Obviously that was a temporary solution. And, presumably, a hot dog bun in 1930 had a little more character than they do today.
As was the case in 1930 as it is today, most cheesesteaks in the Philly region are served on rolls baked fresh and delivered to steak shops and restaurants every morning (and sometimes multiple times a day).
Outside of the Philadelphia area, the same mostly holds true; fresh rolls delivered from a local baker each morning. Some restaurateurs, however, choose to import rolls directly from Philadelphia’s legendary bakery, Amoroso’s. Amoroso’s has perfected the flash freezing processes and ships several varieties of their Hearth-Baked Bread and Rolls to restaurants, grocery stores and food service organizations throughout the country and the world for those who demand absolute authenticity.
The most common characteristic of a cheesesteak roll is that it is light, crisp but not overly crunchy on the outside and soft, tender but not overly chewy on the inside.
Rolls should be long, uniform and slender, but not skinny. The ends should be rounded, and not pointy -- like the wider side of an egg so that the steak fills the roll evenly and every bite will yield the same bread to meat ratio. Some operators will slice off the ends of their rolls to guarantee a perfect ratio.
Legend has it that one day in 1930, a Philadelphia hot dog vendor named Pat Olivieri finally had enough of eating hotdogs for lunch. So he bought some thinly sliced ribeye steak from the local butcher, fried it on his hot dog grill, added some onions, put it into a hot dog bun, and readied himself for the meal. Just as he was about to take his first bite, a regular customers walked up and remarked about how good it smelled and offered to buy it from him. Ever the entrepreneur, Pat sold it to the cabbie and the Philly Steak was born (cheese wouldn’t make an appearance for 20 more years).
Ribeye is the cut of beef most synonymous with a Cheesesteak. It was the original cut used and popularized in the early days by the steak shops in South Philly and to this day remains the cut of choice for many destination shops. It’s the Steak Cut Emeritus of the Cheesesteak World. A great balance of flavor and texture.
That said, the majority of operations in the Philadelphia region and across the country use a blend of whole muscle beef cuts chosen for their distinct individual characteristics that, when married together (chunked and formed), are the optimal combination of flavor, texture and bite. And perhaps most important to restaurateurs and consumers, they’re of great quality and taste without the higher cost of single cut products.
Options abound. Various cuts. Naturally flavorful, unseasoned products. Hand-packed. Single cut, seasoned. Blended seasoned. Fully cooked. And don’t forget Chicken!
Many would argue its an essential, but in the big picture it’s an “add-on” but not just any “add-on”, it’s the most noteable for those who prefer the extra flavor of “with” or “wit”.
In the beginning, a Philly hot dog vendor paired thinly-sliced steak with a roll. An icon was born — yet its creator saw room for improvement. So he thought, “let me throw on some of these diced onions I put on my franks.” And there was “wit.”
To most, onions are a must. Depending on the variety used and how they're prepared, onions will add a bit of sweetness or a tang of sharpness to the cheesesteak experience.
Hang out near the counter of a Philly steak shop or pizza pallor and you’ll observe the following: Some folks will order a cheesesteak with grilled onions. Some will order a cheesesteak with fried onions. And, of course, some will just say “with”. No matter how it’s phrased, everybody is referring to the same thing. Technically, sautéed onions.
There are three decisions to be made when considering the onion for your cheesesteak luncheon: Type, Cutting Method, Preparation. Nothing is ever easy, is it?
Long Hot PeppersA crookedly long, green pepper that is either roasted or fried. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of peppers. One bite could be pleasantly spicy. The next bite might ruin your night with it's heat.
KetchupThe condiment of choice on cheesesteaks in and around Philadelphia.
Heinz® is a registered trademark of H.J. Heinz Company, L.P.
Hot Cherry PeppersBreak 'em up and put them in your cheesesteak or hold one in the hand opposite your cheesesteak and alternate bites.
MustardSerious violation! A priest in South Philly once threw a guy out of the confessional for admitting he liked mustard on his cheesesteaks.
Lettuce & TomatoSome shredded Iceberg Lettuce and several slices of Jersey Tomato and you've got a Cheesesteak Hoagie.
MayonnaiseNot a very popular choice for folks in the Philly area (but the #1 cheesesteak condiment for the rest of the country).
Hellmann's® is a registered trademark of Unilever-affiliated companies.
MushroomsSautéed mushrooms go well with almost everything. Mix them into your steak for a Mushroom Cheesesteak.
Hot SauceFor those who like it hot. Tabasco® brand Buffalo Style Sauce is great on a chicken cheesesteak!
TABASCO® is a registered trademark of McIlhenny Company.