The best sandwich in the world: the Philly Cheesesteak
The best sandwich in the world is a Philly Cheesesteak and I’ll fight whoever says otherwise. Oh, and I’ll also show you how easy they are to make...
Okay, I’m not really going to really fight anyone over this, but I will tell you one thing: people from the region where the Philly Cheesesteak comes from can be damn passionate about this sandwich, and I’m one of those people.
In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that the Philly Cheesesteak ties for first place (in a three-way tie with French fries and cheeseburgers), as my favorite food of all time. In some respects, the Cheesesteak may actually slightly edge French fries and cheeseburgers out as my favorite. This is a pretty big claim for me because there are a lot of different dishes that I absolutely love – but the Philly Cheesesteak is just that important to me.
My beautiful wife, Stacey, at By George in Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA.
I did most of my “growing up” in New Jersey, just a 15 minute drive from downtown Philadelphia. A big part of that childhood were the corner Italian eateries that exist in almost every neighborhood of that region, turning out the most awesome pizzas, calzone, hot wings, cheese fries, and of course, Philly Cheesesteaks. Friday or Saturday nights usually meant carry out Cheesesteaks and cheese fries from Cafe Antonio’s in Collingswood, NJ – a place I will always have fond memories of as their food was so damn good.
Cafe Antonio’s, my “cheesesteak home” through high school
My first semester at college was spent at the then-named Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences (now a part of the Thomas Jefferson University). It was my first experience out in the “real world” without home-cooked meals and a refrigerator full of food in the kitchen. I had a meal card and ate twice a day during the week at the school’s dining hall. It was buffet-style with a single long serving line, and a short order cook. In time, the short order cook would see me in line, hold two fingers over his head, and I’d give a nod in return. And when I got to his station, I’d have a fresh Cheesesteak and fries waiting on me. Two times a day. Five days a week. How am I still alive?
Me killing the By George cheesesteak in Reading Terminal Market
These days I don’t get back to the Philly area or New Jersey that often – but when I do, a Cheesesteak is the first thing I seek out (followed by good pizza and then a Wawa sub).
So where does one go in Georgia for a good Cheesesteak? There aren’t too many choices for a truly exceptional Cheesesteak. A couple places that come to mind for a good Cheesesteak are Jersey Mike’s (not bad for a chain), Philly Connection (an okay chain Cheesesteak), and Roy’s Cheesesteaks in Smyrna. But the best Cheesesteak I’ve had in my area of Georgia is at Saporito’s Pizza, in Canton. They use quality bread, good meat, and the cheese comes out like molten lava. The owner of that joint is a true Jersey dude who knows how to do a Cheesesteak up right.
Saporito’s menu. They have a damn good cheesesteak and their pizza is great
A good Philly Cheesesteak isn’t that far away though, for anybody. You can make a damn good Cheesesteak in your home with very little effort and no special equipment. All you’ll really need is a frying pan or griddle, and a handful of ingredients.
The foundation to a great sandwich is the bread. In my house, we love the rolls from the bakery in Publix grocery stores. The rolls are always soft and fresh, and they taste great. Use whatever hoagie/sub roll you like the most.
You’ll also need the right meat. Shaved ribeye is the most desirable meat for a good Cheesesteak, but if you can’t source that, shaved shirt steak or shaved top sirloin will do you well. It’s important you get the meat shaved though, as anything thicker cut will be too thick. Kroger sells a conveniently packaged shaved beef that is perfect for cooking up some Philly Cheesesteaks. It turned out to be good for three good sized sandwiches. The next ingredient, however, can be a bit of a contentious topic: the cheese.
Kroger sells this convenient packaged shaved beef. It was good for about three Cheesesteaks. Photo credit: Stacey Battersby
Some of that passion people have for a good Philly Cheesesteak can really come out when it comes to a discussion on what cheese goes on a Cheesesteak. I will tell you, in my opinion, that hands down the only cheese to go on a Cheesesteak is white American cheese. I may have been influenced by my upbringing, doing a good portion of my growing up in New Jersey and with parents that preferred white American cheese on their Philly Cheesesteaks.
Others will tell you that American cheese on a Cheesesteak is blasphemous, and only “Whiz” should be used. Whiz, or Cheese Whiz, is that awesome, liquid yellow cheese product; melty gold. At some Cheesesteak places this is the go-to cheese, and large cans of it are often heated on the grill so the liquid goodness can be ladled onto the meat moments before the Cheesesteak gets scraped from the grill and put on the roll. I am not a big fan of Whiz on a Cheesesteak though; I prefer my Whiz on cheese fries or chili-cheese dogs (just not on my Philly Cheesesteak).
Another popular choice is provolone cheese. I’m okay with provolone melted on a Cheesesteak, although white American cheese is my first choice. American cheese just melts perfectly, without separating into oily nastiness. It keeps a very nice creamy consistency due to the emulsifiers that are in the cheese. Ideally you’ll have three to four slices of white American cheese per Philly Cheesesteak. I source mine from the deli section of the grocery store, and only buy enough slices for the Cheesesteaks I’m making.
Lastly, you’ll need toppings and condiments. Some of these items are best thrown on the grill with the meat, while others go on after everything is cooked. On the grill you can add onion, mushrooms and peppers as the meat is cooking. Some people like fixing their Cheesesteak as a “Cheesesteak hoagie”, topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion. Most people will agree that mayonnaise is an acceptable condiment to have on a cheesesteak, while ketchup is just WRONG. Banana pepper rings or a pepper “sub topping” are other great choices for a good Philly Cheesesteak.
To cook your Cheesesteak, you’ll need a flat surface like a frying pan or griddle. I use a stainless griddle insert for a grill that I can use in either my gas grill or my Kamado charcoal grill. I wipe my griddle with a little bit of vegetable oil as it starts to heat up, just to help the meat not stick to it. After that, just dump your meat on and break it up with a metal spatula.
My griddle grill insert coming up to temperature with some vegetable oil wiped onto it
As the meat cooks, you want to use a metal spatula to continually break it up and move it around the griddle or frying pan, keeping it cooking evenly. As the meat begins to brown, it’s a good time to throw on whatever toppings you want cooked with the meat, like onions, mushrooms, and peppers. I prefer my Philly Cheesesteak with fried onions.
My preference is for fried onions on my Philly cheesesteak
After the meat is cooked thoroughly and your veggies are soft and cooked through, form your pile of meat into servings for individual Cheesesteaks. Then place your cheese on top and wait for it to melt.
This is shaping up to be a great dinner
Once your cheese is melted, use your spatula to scoop the meat and cheese mixture onto your sliced roll. Spread it out evenly on the roll so each bite is packed with awesome flavor. At this point, I like to wrap my hot Cheesesteak in aluminum foil, and let it sit to rest for a few minutes. This makes it really come out like a “take-out” Philly Cheesesteak. The roll will get gently steamed in the foil with the hot meat.
Wrapped in foil and resting for that authentic take-out flavor
Once it’s time to eat your Philly Cheesesteak, top it to your preference. I love mine with extra mayo, a few dashes of hot sauce, and a good pepper sub topping like Cento Cherry Pepper Hoagie Spread. If I don’t have any sub topping, I’ll use banana pepper rings to give it that extra bite it needs. Then, all that’s left is to enjoy.
This is a most beautiful sight. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it...
The take aways:
The Philly Cheesesteak is a gift from God.
White American cheese is the way to go.
A good Cheesesteak is easy enough to make in your own home.
Don’t put ketchup on your Cheesesteak in Philly or you’ll get some sideways looks.