Matt Sloane is a CNN Medical producer. He seeks to rid the world of sub-par cheesesteaks.
As a Philly-area native, nothing offends me more than a bad cheesesteak - and there are a lot of bad cheesesteaks out there. So, having been a connoisseur for almost 30 years, I've learned a thing or two about what makes them amazing.
Let me be clear about something: there are steak and cheese sandwiches, and there are cheesesteaks. They are not the same thing.
Restaurants, take notice. If you call it a cheesesteak, it had better be greasy, cheesy, and chopped up. If there are chunks of steak, brie, or horseradish sauce, it's a steak and cheese sandwich.
So, what's the magic recipe for a perfect Philly cheesesteak? In this case, less is more. A good cheesesteak should consist of only three main components: the bread, the steak and the cheese. If you want to put fried onions on it, I'll give you a pass, but I personally am a purist.
Part One: Bread
Amoroso rolls, period. This Philly-area bakery makes "the rolls that make Philly sandwiches world famous," according to their slogan, and they're not kidding. Any self-respecting cheesesteak restaurant in Philadelphia uses Amoroso. They're crusty on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and strong enough to stand up to a greasy hunk of meat and cheese.
Unfortunately for those outside of the Philadelphia/New Jersey/Delaware tri-state area (myself included here in Atlanta), you can't get them. My advice is to try and find a decent substitute, that's not too hard or too soft on the outside, but flaky and crispy. You don't want a mouthful of bread. It's just the vehicle for steak and cheese.
UPDATE: Amoroso says they now they now ship to all 50 states and six countries. Lucky you!
Part Two: Steak
The steak is critical. Paul Castellucci, owner of Mama's Pizzeria in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania (my personal favorite) says keep your cut of meat lean, and thinly sliced. It should be low end enough that you don't feel guilty for covering it in cheese, but lean enough that it's not gristly. You don't want to spend 15 minutes chewing each bite.
Use a large, clean metal griddle that gives you enough space to chop up the steak as you cook it, and use a sharp enough spatula or flipper so you can cut the beef into little meaty shreds.
Strips and chunks on a plated cheesesteak are bad. Finely shredded meat scraps enveloped in bubbling cheesy goodness equals heaven.
Castellucci also says use a little bit of oil, but only enough so the steak doesn't stick to the grill.
Part Three: Cheese
In my opinion at least, Cheez Whiz does not a good cheesesteak make. Whiz is for nachos and tourists who want to try Philly cheesesteaks in the airport.
It's no secret that the two most famous Philly cheesesteak places - Geno's Steaks and Pat's King of Steaks, located directly across from each other in South Philly - both offer Whiz. But just because you can, doesn't mean you should. They also offer provolone and American too, in all fairness.
When asked about his choice of cheese, Castellucci said more than I've ever heard him say on the subject.
"We have a blend of three different cheese that we use on ours, but it's kind of our personal signature," he says. That's code for, "Nice try, but I'm not telling you."
My guess is that it's a blend of provolone and mozzarella, and maybe even a little American. Whatever it is, there's lots of it.
In my experience, provolone and American are both good choices, because they melt easily, they're mild, and they don't taste like they came from a can. Sorry, Whiz.
Once you've decided which cheese to use, remember, size counts. Use a lot. Most cheesesteak places I've found outside of Philadelphia serve steaks that are chronically under-cheesed, so I always order double.
So, what about toppings?
I can tell you from (lots of) experience, that most places in Philly don't serve cheesesteaks with any vegetables other than fried onions. I've never seen a mushroom or green pepper on a good Philly cheesesteak. If you're into that, fine, go for it, just keep it off of mine.
And while we're on the topic of things that don't belong on a cheesesteak (Whiz), save your mayo for Canadian-style french fries and hamburgers.
The Rating Guide
If this is all too much to remember, you can go by the official cheesesteak rating guide created by yours truly, and my childhood friend Aaron Dobbins. Two points each for bread, cheese and steak quality, two points for hotness – because nobody likes a cold, congealed cheese steak – and two points for overall quality (because as Aaron reminded me, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts) and that's it.
Have I successfully made you hungry? Well book yourself some tickets to Philadelphia, and check out the three restaurants I never miss when I'm home: Mama's Pizzeria in Bala Cynwyd, Dalessandro's in the Roxboro neighborhood, and Tony A's Pizza in Conshohocken.
If you're here in Atlanta like me, don't worry, I've done my homework. Weeyums, a restaurant with literally four walls and a grill, in Stone Mountain is about the best I've found. It's followed only by Roy's Cheesesteaks in Mableton, and Woody's in Midtown Atlanta.
For the rest of you, I suggest taking these instructions to your local sub shop, and schooling them in the ways of the greatest sandwich on earth. Or, Castellucci says he'll ship one to you.
"We do send em' frozen," he says. "We ship em FedEx overnight."
More on classic Philly cheesesteaks
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