Philly cheesesteaks are one of America’s richest culinary traditions. A shining example of simplicity, these sandwiches are made up of just melt-in-your-mouth steak, onions, and cheese on top of a thick french hoagie bun.
But even with something with as few ingredients as Philly cheesesteaks, everyone has their own way of doing things. From Geno’s to Jim’s, to Pat’s, secrets in the Philly cheesesteak game are held under lock and key.
That being said, there are right ways and wrong ways to make them, and we’re going to show you what the best meat for Philly cheesesteaks is along with some other key aspects of making an authentic one.
What is a philly cheesesteak?
Philly cheesesteak is “a hot sandwich developed in the early (20th) century by combining frizzled beef, onions, and cheese in a small loaf of bread”[*].
Legend has it that Pat of Pat’s King of Steaks and his brother were running a hot dog stand when they decided to make up a new sandwich and placed beef on top of a roll and gave it to a cab driver. The cab driver immediately told them to sell these instead of hot dogs, and the rest is history[*].
An authentic Philly cheesesteak only has onions, beef, cheese, and an Amoroso roll, which is a sort of lightly salted hoagie roll made from a bakery in Philadelphia that has become integral to the Philly cheesesteak experience.
Like any popular food, variations have appeared in the decades since. It is popular to add mushrooms, bell peppers, mayo, ketchup, and a multitude of other ingredients to a Philly cheesesteak these days, although die-hards would argue that extra ingredients can only make this perfect sandwich worse.
The best meat for philly cheesesteak
If you want to have an authentic philly cheesesteak, there’s really only one choice: boneless ribeye steak. Thinly sliced and evenly marbled, the ribeye’s rich fat content melts to tenderize and flavor the meat, giving it that characteristic punch.
A ribeye comes from the rib primal and is famous for its texture and flavor, making it more expensive than many other cuts.
Top round is arguably a close second, but ribeye is more popular. If ribeye or top round aren’t options, sirloin, skirt, and flank steak are all good alternatives. For leaner cuts like skirt and flank, you may have to add some additional tallow or fat in to mimic the ribeye’s marbling, but when sliced and prepared correctly they can also be delicious.
Best practices for choosing the best cut
Now that you know which cuts to get, let’s talk about quality. With a sandwich this simple, every ingredient has to pull its weight, and nothing is more important than the beef you choose.
Here’s what to look for when picking out your ribeye:
Look for a good fat to meat ratio.
A ribeye is a naturally marbled steak, but some cuts can have too much fat or be too lean. Look for an even distribution of the white bits and stripes throughout the meat. It should look balanced and have enough fat to permeate the meat when cooked.
Buy grass-fed and grass-finished beef.
It’s no secret. Beef raised without antibiotics, GMO-feed, stress, and feedlots tastes better, is better for you, and is better for the environment.
Industrial beef is so sickly that the cows’ waste is sometimes considered toxic waste — meaning companies have to take extra measures to avoid that manure from getting into the water supply.
And then we eat that beef? It’s awful, and once you make the switch to truly sustainably-raised beef, you won’t go back — we guarantee it.
Make sure it’s fresh.
Buying beef that’s been in the freezer for many months isn’t going to get you the best results. Try and shop from active companies that are clearly moving product for the best results.
How to make philly cheesesteak like a pro
Now, let’s get to the cooking. Here are a few “secrets of the trade” the team at US Wellness Meats have learned over the years.
Put your meat in the freezer before slicing.
Cutting the right-sized slices is critical for getting the right texture, and making sure your steak is cold (but not frozen) when cutting will make it much easier.
Slice against the grain.
Slicing against the grain makes your meat much more tender, which is the key to a good cheesesteak.
Look for the grains that run in the meat and cut across them. Those grains are protein strands, and cutting them has the effect of cutting a taut rubber band with scissors — the protein strands relax and the meat ends up being a lot softer!
Wait to salt until the very end.
As we mentioned, any advice around cheesesteaks is controversial, but you may consider waiting to salt your meat until after it’s cooked.
The idea is that due to osmosis, salting in advance draws liquid out of the meat — this is ideal for traditional steaks because a dryer steak makes it easier to brown and reap the benefits of the maillard reaction, but with cheesesteaks, the idea is to retain as much liquid as possible.
Use Amoroso rolls.
While any french rolls or hoagies that are thick enough to capture the juices will work, if you want to go all the way with your Philly cheesesteaks, go ahead and order some Amoroso rolls online and get them delivered to your house. Nothing will really replace them.
Use the same cast iron skillet or griddle each time.
Most famous cheesesteak shops have been using the same griddles for decades, and that’s because of the natural seasoning that occurs from cooking meat on them for so long.
Just like a cast iron, griddles can develop their own unique flavor. You won’t ever be able to replicate the flavor of the famous shops, but you can start to develop your own!
Steam the cheese.
Steaming the cheese makes sure it seeps down into every bit of the ribeye and onions. Just throw on the cheese and cover it with a lid for a few seconds until it’s melted all the way through.
Don’t skimp on the fat.
Some shops add beef tallow, ghee, or some other fat source to the meat. This entirely depends on the meat you’re using.
If the marbling is good you may not need to, but when deciding just remember that the sandwich is simple, so do what you need to do to make the meat as “meaty” tasting and moist as possible.
Our favorite philly cheesesteak recipes
If you’re ready to dig in, just pick up a good ribeye and start with any of these recipes that catch your eye!
If you’re gonna play, you gotta start with the basics, and that’s exactly what this recipe from The Stay At Home Chef shows you how to do. This will walk you step by step through all of the choices you have and make sure you end up with a great cheesesteak.
For an even more hardcore dive into cheesesteaks, this is the recipe for you. Complete with specific Philly recommendations and debates about ingredients, the Everyday Maven does a great job of breaking down the complicated world of Philly cheesesteaks.
For a different angle, try this recipe from The Recipe Critic. It adds some extra ingredients and steps to make a sort of cheesesteak pizza fusion. This would be great for kids or game day!
If you want to skip the bread or just make a lot of Philly cheesesteak filling at at once, then check out this sheet pan recipe from The Modern Proper. This recipe uses some extra seasonings like onion powder and garlic powder along with red and green bell peppers, but you can experiment with any spice and vegetable blend you want.
This recipe doesn’t use all of the “proper” Philly cheesesteak ingredients, but we all know how much better food tastes when camping, and these campfire Philly cheesesteak sandwiches from Homemade Heather hit the spot. There are a lot of cool tips in here for pulling it off over a fire, and if you take the time to do it you and your family will love them!
Ribeye steak is the only choice for a real Philly cheesesteak. You can substitue flank, skirt, top round, sirloin, or any other cut that cooks into tender, thin strips, but ribeye is the original choice.
Just make sure you buy grass-fed and grass-finished beef for the best results. Why go through the trouble of making a cheesesteak with sub-par beef? That’s most of the sandwich!
Get the absolute best, 100% grass-fed, sustainably raised, unbelievably rich, and perfect ribeye U.S. Wellness Meats delivered straight to your door.
Order the perfect ribeye for your cheesesteak now.
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.