What is a Philly Cheesesteak?


Pat's Cheesesteaks
Pat’s King of Steaks

There are few sandwiches more iconic than the Philly cheesesteak. This humble sandwich of thinly sliced griddled beef is an oldie but a goodie. Topped with Cheez Whiz, Provolone, or American cheese and, if you like, “wit’ or wit’out” grilled onions, this steak sandwich is a beloved regional masterpiece. There’s even a day devoted to it – National Philly Cheesesteak Day is March 25.

What Makes a Philly Cheesesteak Special?

What makes a Philadelphia cheesesteak special is the beef, and the way that it plays with the cheese, onions, and bread to become a cohesive whole that’s better than the sum of its parts. Ribeye is the best meat for a cheesesteak, because it is a cut that won’t lose its flavor when grilled well-done. Plus, ribeye is tender and its fat content will melt in your mouth. 

It’s important to use high quality ingredients, including stuffing the split roll with a generous amount of thinly sliced ribeye. Add some cheese, onions, and love, and you have the best sandwich ever.

Joe's Steaks Philly Cheesesteak
Joe’s Steaks
John's Roast Pork Philly Cheesesteak
John’s Roast Pork

What Is On a Real Philly Cheesesteak?

There are three basic ingredients and an optional add-on on a real Philly cheesesteak. While the ingredients may be simple, the combination makes for one incredibly tasty sandwich. An authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwich includes: 

  • Beef (typically ribeye or frozen chipped beef) that is sliced super-thin and cooked on a hot flat-top griddle until well done
  • Torpedo (or submarine) roll
  • Melted Cheese (traditionally American, provolone, or Cheez Whiz)
  • Optional: grilled chopped white onions 

If you want to order one of these sandwiches like a real Philadelphian, then you order a “cheesesteak wit” if you want onions and a “cheesesteak witout” if you don’t want onions. 

You can choose any of the three traditional cheeses — American, Provolone, or Cheez Whiz — but do not order Swiss cheese – as American politician John Kerry once mistakenly did when visiting Pat’s King of Steaks while on the campaign trail.

To eat a drippy cheesesteak with ooey gooey Cheez Whiz like a true Philadelphian, it’s important to assume “the Philadelphia lean” to avoid having cheese drip on your clothes or shoes. Lean forward, prop your arms up on the table, and bring your face to the sandwich to take a bite.

What’s the Difference Between a Philly Cheesesteak and a Regular Cheesesteak?

The difference between a Philly cheesesteak and a regular cheesesteak is the use of “Philly” in the name – the two are otherwise basically synonymous. Purists may argue that a true Philly cheesesteak must be made in Philadelphia and have ribeye served on a Torpedo roll that is firm on the outside and soft on the inside. The roll is not toasted.

Sandwiches served in Philadelphia and elsewhere that include steak, cheese, onions, and other toppings like hot or sweet peppers and mushrooms are considered cheesesteaks (there are plenty of variations as well, like the pizza cheesesteak with tomato sauce and mozzarella). A sandwich with just sliced ribeye wit or witout onions is a steak sandwich. Cheesesteak lovers in Philly and elsewhere may also add condiments like ketchup or Sriracha.

Nathan's Famous Cheesesteak
Nathan’s Famous
Campo's Philly Cheesesteaks
Campo’s Philly Cheesesteaks

What Kind of Meat Is in a Philly Cheesesteak?

Traditionally, a Philly cheesesteak is made with sliced beef, particularly ribeye, which is sliced super thin and cooked on a griddle. Many cheesesteak shops also offer chicken cheesesteaks, made with sliced chicken breast instead of beef.

Read More: Pastrami vs Corned Beef

When Were Cheesesteaks Invented?

The original Philly cheesesteak was invented in the 1930s. Brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri, who owned a hot dog stand in South Philadelphia, decided to mix it up one day. Instead of grilling hot dogs, they sliced up some beef and grilled it along with onions. Then, they stuffed it on a roll. 

Their creation’s aroma immediately attracted the attention of a taxi driver who frequently bought hot dogs from the brothers. He requested the steak sandwich and one of the most iconic sandwiches ever was born.

It wasn’t until a couple decades later when cheese was added, transforming the Philly steak sandwich to the Philly cheesesteak. This might explain why some of the most famous Philly cheesesteak shops just have the word “steak” in their names. 

“Cocky” Joe Lorenzo, an employee at Pat’s King of Steaks, is credited with adding Provolone to a steak sandwich in the 1950s, birthing the Philly cheesesteak. Cheez Whiz, the bright orange processed cheese product in a jar, was invented in 1953. It became one of a trio of acceptable cheeses to add to this mega meat sandwich.

What Is the Original Cheesesteak Sandwich?

The original cheesesteak sandwich was actually just a steak sandwich with grilled meat trimmings and onions. There wasn’t any cheese in the original sandwich. The original sandwich just had grilled sliced beef with onions on a split-top roll.

Most Famous Cheesesteaks

One of the most recognizable sandwiches in the world comes from City of Brotherly Love. Savor food love from Philly with the top cheesesteak makers in Philadelphia.

Watch Pats King of Steaks’ on Goldbelly TV

Out of This World Cheesesteaks: Pat’s King of Steaks

Pat’s King of Steaks is the inventor of Philadelphia’s most iconic culinary creation. Legend has it, brothers and hot dog stand owners Pat and Harry Olivieri slapped some sliced beef and onions onto the grill instead of the usual hot dog and the rest is history.

Jim's Steaks Philly Cheesesteaks

Authentic Cheesesteaks: Jim’s Steaks

Since 1939, Jim’s Steaks has been serving its legendary sandwiches from the same 62nd Street location. Each 12-inch sandwich is piled high with thinly sliced meat that is juicy and delicious. Each made-to-order sandwich is an authentic taste of Philly.

Joe's Steaks Philly Cheesesteak 2

Pure Philly Perfection: Joe’s Steaks

Since its founding by Samuel Sherman in 1949, Joe’s Steaks has become a Philly cheesesteak institution in Northeast Philadelphia. The sandwiches are made to order. Each sandwich is made with ribeye steak sliced in-house and topped with American cheese, provolone or Whiz, and served “wit” or “witout” onions.

It’s no mis-steak: Goldbelly has the best Philly cheesesteaks, shipping nationwide. Shop the cheesesteaks sale now!

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Read More: The Best Philly Cheesesteaks