Have you had a taste of the real Philly cheese steak yet? It’s easy to think that with all the fast-food joints and restaurants that offer them. However, what makes you think you’ve had a real one?
Philadelphia’s food scene is finally getting some recognition. In large part, it’s thanks to the Philly cheesesteak. It spearheaded the cheesesteak movement, bringing creative variations to the original recipe.
No visitor in Philadelphia should miss the Liberty Bell or the Independence Hall. In the same way, no trip to Philly is complete without getting a taste of the city’s iconic cheesesteak.
Below, we’ll talk about how you can tell when the Philly cheesesteak you’re eating is genuine.
1. Origins of the Philly Cheese Steak
Where did the Philly cheesesteak come from? Let’s dive deep into their origins to help you differentiate the real deal from all the copycats and spin-offs:
Pat’s King of Steaks
Back in the 1930s, there was a hotdog vendor in South Philadelphia named Pat Olivieri. One day, Pat got tired of eating hotdogs for lunch. To remedy this problem, he went to the local butcher and bought a thinly-sliced rib-eye steak.
He fried it on his hotdog grill, added some onions, and placed it in an Italian roll. A cab driver smelled what he was cooking and asked if he could buy it from him. The business-minded Olivieri didn’t hesitate and sold the sandwich.
As you may know, word of mouth was the best kind of marketing there was long before the internet and social media. The cab driver had told his fellow about the steak sandwich he got from the hotdog vendor in South Philly. Soon, Olivieri was selling steak sandwiches to regular and new customers.
Everyone from all over the city of Philadelphia came to Olivieri’s to get a taste of his steak sandwich. With the revenue he got from all these customers, Olivieri opened up Pat’s King of Steaks. You can still find the establishment on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia.
At the time, cheese wasn’t a major ingredient of the steak sandwich yet. It was in the 1950s when Joe Lorenza, who was the manager at Pat’s at the time, added cheese into the recipe. There are also theories that Pat’s rival restaurant, Geno’s Steaks, was first to add the cheese.
Joey Vento established Geno’s Steaks in 1966. The story says that Vento found the name GINO painted in the back of his shop. He took this name, changed it up a little, then began to create cheesesteaks that could match Pat’s.
Since then, both Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks have been at it. The interesting thing is you can find both establishments on 9th and Passyunk.
2. Main Ingredients of the Philly Cheese Steak
The famous Philly cheesesteak has three major ingredients. Those are the meat, the bread, and the cheese. Onions are a part of the picture too but we like to refer to them as a side ingredient.
When you talk about real Philly cheesesteak, it’s automatic to assume you’re talking about a rib-eye steak. If you want to follow the original recipe, the rib-eye steak needs to be in thin slices. Also, if you want authentic Philly cheesesteak, then make sure the meat’s grilled.
Other cuts are good alternatives, too. Choose between seasoned or unseasoned products when you cook your Philly cheesesteak. If you don’t eat beef, there’s no stopping you from using chicken meat.
Most restaurants in Philadelphia like to stick to the original cut. Some use whole muscle beef cuts to get the optimal blend of flavor, texture, and bite of each cut. This technique also promises high-quality beef that’s also cost-effective.
If you plan to recreate the original Philly cheesesteak at home, stick to the rib-eye cut.
Our hotdog buns today don’t have the same quality as the hotdog buns in the 1930s. Now, the proper bread for a Philadelphia cheesesteak is the steak roll. Others might know this bread as a sub, hoagie, or torpedo roll.
The bread needs to be uniform, long, and slender. It needs to be light and crisp, not skinny or too- crunchy. The bread roll also needs to have a tender inside, but it shouldn’t be too chewy.
Often, these bread rolls have rounded edges. This way, when you place the steak in the roll, you get the same bread to meat ratio with every bite. If the ends of the roll are pointy, you’d be having more meat than bread when you start and finish your sandwich.
In Philadelphia, Amoroso’s is the best place to get your bread. Most restaurants in and outside of Philadelphia order their rolls from Amoroso’s. If you want to recreate the Philly cheesesteak, you can find Amoroso’s products in grocery stores, too.
Alternatives for the steak roll include Panini, Kaiser Roll, and wraps. If you wanted, you could even use unorthodox bread like the English Muffin or matzoh. For a taste of the perfect recreation, stick to the steak rolls.
What’s a cheesesteak if it doesn’t have cheese? It’ll be a throwback to the Philly cheesesteak in its early years. It would be very odd to eat a cheesesteak that has no cheese though.
The right cheeses for the true Philadelphia cheesesteak are American or Provolone. If you want something with a creamy taste to it, get white American cheese. Provolone provides a salty/creamy taste and great texture to complement the meat.
Some people believe that Cheese Whiz on cheesesteaks makes cheesesteaks like the original. It goes well with the sandwich, sure. However, a sandwich smothered in Cheese Whiz isn’t what a real Philly cheese steak looks like.
It’s a great alternative to American and Provolone cheeses though. Another alternative you can use is mozzarella cheese. If you’re feeling unorthodox, try your sandwich-making skills with Swiss cheese.
3. How to Identify a Real Philly Cheese Steak
Before you look up “Philly cheesesteaks near me” on Google, take heed. Not all the sandwiches they serve are authentic. If you’re looking to get a taste of the genuine Philadelphia cheesesteak, read on.
The first thing you should do is ask the restaurant about their ingredients. Earlier, we mentioned what ingredients make a true Philly cheesesteak. If the sandwich place isn’t too keen on sharing their ingredients, they’re likely using the alternative ingredients.
The standard ingredients of a cheesesteak don’t include pickles or peppers. If the menu says they do, then don’t expect a genuine cheesesteak experience. Also, note that real Philly cheesesteak doesn’t need ketchup.
Keep It All Real, Even Your Cheesesteaks
That’s it for our guide on what the real Philly cheese steak is like. Now that you know the basic ingredients, it should be easier to find a place that serves true Philly cheesesteaks. Remember, the key to knowing is to ask your server about the food.
Do you still find it difficult to find the original Philly cheesesteak? Tired of walking around Philadelphia to get the right sandwich? Check out our other guides and we’ll show you a few more tricks on finding the one your stomach is craving.
The method of cooking and melting the cheese and carmelizing the onion is more important than whether or not someone adds peppers. Just saying. Pickles should be served on the side, as is the case generally across the board with sandwiches. Sirloin can be used instead of ribeye in a pinch, if you’re making it at home. Those of us on a budget can’t always spring for ribeye, as it’s cheaper when you buy it in bulk. And if you’re east of pennsylvania, no one is going to have a legit cheesesteak. I’ve never even found a good one in Pittsburgh. I just wanted to add my ten cents to an otherwise awesome article, from one foodie to another, thank you!