Three steps to cheesesteak supremacy
March 12th, 2012
02:00 PM ET
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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



soundoff (223 Responses)
  1. Patrick

    Amorosos is hardly the only choice for bread. The best places beyond the tourist traps get their bread from small local bakeries. Best cheesesteak I ever had was at Johns Roast Pork.

    August 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Reply
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    May 22, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  3. Sheldon Steinberg

    Jim's 62nd and Noble best in the world, period.

    May 1, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  4. Patrick

    your so lucky, back in Philly. Here in Chicago a 12" Philly steak is $14, I kid you not. And a so-so one at that.

    March 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  5. dorothy

    Cheese steaks are great and the other secret cheese and at a lot of places in Philly the only cheese is Mozzarella. I live where good bred is hard to find as well as an Amaroso roll. If you want one close to the real thing, make and Italian bread recipe, roll out in hoagie roll size and when they are baking brush with a pastry brush and plain water 3 or 4 times while cooking to get the crust out side and the fluffy soft interior. This I know, I once worked a Phila. roll factory. Same thing if your coating Philly pretzels.

    March 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  6. jill

    im from south philly and ur wrong everyone knows its sliced ribeye... lean meat my ass, and whiz is the only way. i hate when the meat is too chopped up... tony lukes makes a perfect cheese steak!

    March 2, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  7. j-son

    i call BS on the no Whiz line. Yes, I personally prefer Provolone, but my wife's family is from Philly and they ALL, even her grandpa, who's lived there his entire life, only ever gets Whiz/Wit (and has for years)

    I've also lived across the country and traveled everywhere for my job. Philly may be da home of da cheesesteak, but there are very good one's all over if you know where to go.

    Silly article...

    March 20, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
    • RUKiddinMe

      Dear j-son:
      Whiz on ANYTHING (as well as your post) is what's silly! American cheese stands alone when it comes to a REAL cheesesteak....

      March 22, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
      • CAMTX

        Amen!

        March 22, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      I wish I had all of the money back, I've wasted on cheese steaks around the country. Half went in the trash barely eaten, I've never had a great one anywhere, but Philly. We're talking a couple of dozen over 30 years.

      March 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  8. John

    The famous and controversial Joey Vento, owner of Geno's, died of a massive heart attack in August of 2011. Here is a link to a CNN photojournalist story about him, and cheesteaks, wiz wit and all, circa 2009: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2009/10/01/aif.wiz.wit.cheesesteaks.cnn?iref=allsearch
    He looked great in that story.

    March 16, 2012 at 12:04 am | Reply
    • John

      But the cheesesteaks at Geno's don't look nearly as good as the one at the top of this story.

      March 16, 2012 at 12:10 am | Reply
  9. KAH

    First off this is a great article.

    People who say cheese whiz was the original cheese product used on cheesesteaks are dead wrong. Cheese whiz didn't come about until the 1950s. The first cheesesteak was in the 1930 and provolone is rumored to the first cheese used.

    There's a great cheesesteak review blog out there located at http://cheesesteakmeouttotheballgame.com/. The author of the blog sucks at writing, but he's reviewed over 70 cheesesteaks around the Philadelphia area.

    March 14, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Reply
  10. Russ

    If you answered "Never had a cheesesteak" you should go jump off a bridge.

    March 14, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  11. True American

    Cheesesteaks are too liberal. Real American food are more along the lines of a good old fashioned burger. Period.

    March 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  12. Gary S.

    I have to disagree with the author about mushrooms, all self respecting pizza places in Philly make cheese steaks too and they all offer mushrooms.
    I do agree with NO green peppers, sprouts or other California BS.
    The cheese is mozzarella BTW. cheese wiz is for tourists.

    March 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  13. Better Cheese

    It has to be WHITE American cheese. The whole voting process here is void because it does not say "White American." Have you ever seen a real steak with anything orange on it? I agree ... Cheez Whiz is out, and so is orange American "hamburger cheese."

    March 14, 2012 at 8:33 am | Reply
    • Kim

      Totally agree - white American is the only way to go, and I don't know why they didn't make any distinction in the vote. I've never in my life heard of anyone using the yellow stuff. I've tried Whiz just out of curiosity – I grew up in Jersey and we always had white American on ours, but had heard that Whiz was what a lot of people ate in Philly (don't know if that's actually true or not, so I tried it – it didn't make me wanna puke, but I definitely still prefer my white American and always will.

      June 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  14. Waimeaman

    The White House Atlantic City NJ

    The best cheesetsteaks for decades all the celberitys go there.

    March 14, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
  15. Mike V.

    The best cheesesteaks do not come from Pat's or Geno's (contrary to what Fox/CBS think when they cover Eagles games). After living in the Philly 'burbs for over 35 years, there's no place on the planet that can compete with the Delaware Valley when it comes to this regional cuisine. If you want to savor a real cheesesteak, grab a 'slice' or sink your teeth into a 'boli'; try a Mom-n-Pop pizza and steak shop. If you can find one that serves A-Treat or RC Cola, all the better. Enjoy!

    March 14, 2012 at 7:43 am | Reply
    • Gary S.

      Agreed the best ones come from mom and pop pizza places. Ginos and Pats are both tourist traps with lousy cheese steaks, sorry but its true. For a REAL Philly cheese steak its almost any Mom and pop pizza place.

      March 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply
      • Kim

        Also agree, I've eaten at Pat's and it really was not good at all. I've had way better from tons of mom and pop places throughout Jersey/Delaware/Pennsylvania. I've not eaten a Geno's but it didn't look appealing at all since it didn't look like they were even chopping the meat up. What's up with that?

        June 26, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  16. West Coast Joe

    Spent sometime in Philly a few years ago. Walked 4 miles to get to Gino's. Sandwich was OK but I wouldn't walk the 4 miles again.

    Here in California, try either the Great Western Steak and Hoagie Company on Lincoln in Venice, or the Great Central Steak and Hoagie Company on Arniel in Camarillo. Steak'em, provolone cheese, and grilled onions on long sourdough roll. Make mine with peppers, mushrooms, and pizza sauce. To die for, but the purists probably won't like them for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is West Coast.

    March 14, 2012 at 1:50 am | Reply
  17. Christi

    In San Antonio the place to go for cheese steaks is Youz Guyz Cheese Steaks off Pat Booker Road on the far NE side of town. My ex is from Pennsylvania and this was the only place in the city that met his high standard for cheese steaks. And yes, after reading about all of these places, I'm now craving one :-)

    March 14, 2012 at 12:58 am | Reply
    • Matt

      Sorry but I live in San Antonio and Youz Guyz is bland overcooked meat with no flavor at all. Flavor wise so far Jersey Mikes subs over by 151 has 10x the Philly that Youz Guyz has. And it actually does look like the picture up top.

      March 23, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  18. sphil

    COSMI'S.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:16 am | Reply
  19. TennMan

    PUDGES in Blue Bell, Pa. You may disagree, but, if you do, it just means you're stupid.

    March 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  20. Mike

    First off (pronounced awff) if you werent ever living in the city of philadelphia boarders you aint from from philly and insult to those of us who do cause we are a very prideful bunch.Second, the writer has it right on one thing. a cheesesteak comprises of those three ingredients. anything else is something else with the exception of fried onions. But yo, it's d'ambrossio rolls that take the cake. Amaroso is all right but who wants commercialized machine processed, non hand made garbage, when you can hand made rolls born out of an old family recipe from a legit Italian family that didnt sell out commercialization for the almighty buck. Also, seriously, wiz on a steak is sacralige, your nuts and your obviously not from philly. if it were sacralige, it wouldnt be staple of every single cheesesteak servin place in philly. I can guarentee more than half of the consumers of cheesesteaks in philly prefer wiz over anything else. and this whole provolone on your cheese steak thing is for the people who aint from philly cause i dont know anyone from philly who takes anything but american or whiz on there steak. And yo a good majority of all the people i know, use ketchup on their steak. its rare for me to even see someone not put ketchup on it, so again you probably aint from philly, probably from some stuck up richy snobby suburb of philly. Neway fro me, its wiz wit and ketchup from steve's on the blvd. Nuff said.

    March 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Reply
    • CT

      All Philly steaks use Wiz Period. And Steves on BLVD are the best

      September 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  21. jay

    Hands down, the best cheesesteak in the world is White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City. Great roll, meat, cheese, fried onions, hot peppers on side. Place has been around forever and you might stand in line, but well worth the wait!!

    March 13, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  22. Erik

    If it's not in eastern Pennsylvania it's crap. The end.

    March 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  23. christian c

    Little Phillies in Covington, GA...

    March 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  24. eagles13

    There are many good places to get quality cheesesteaks in the Philly area....but you can't go wrong with Tony Luke's in South Philly. Also nothing wrong with mushrooms on your steak and cheese whiz is the best!!

    March 13, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  25. Chi

    This post and all the comments has made me hungry. I'm a pregnant New Yorker and I want a cheesesteak, damn it. I lived in Hatfield for a brief time and miss the delicious cheesesteaks I used to get in that area...won't pretend to be an expert but there's nothing like it here. The closest I've come is this cheesesteak at Planet Wings...and I know that would get laughed at in Philly!

    March 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Reply
  26. Echo

    John's Roast Pork and Tony Luke's are my favorites. They both use Sarcone's bread. Oh, my goodness, beats Amoroso's hands down. A bit crustier and seeded, yum. John's is only open 6 am to 3 pm on weekdays and there's always a long line, so it's like the Shangri-La of cheesesteaks for those of us who work during the day. Try the roast pork with sharp provolone and sauteed spinach at either place, it's better than the cheesesteak, I promise.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  27. Philo99

    Being from Philly I often think the cheese steak phenomenon is over hyped. I’ll have friends come tell me that they were in Philly and they had a cheese steak, and “that was good but not great” Eating a cheese steak isn’t a life changing experience; it’s not the best thing you ever ate. However if you’re from Philly it’s always been part of your life.

    If you’re going to the Eagles game, someone will volunteer to stop and get cheese steaks. Mom doesn’t feel like cooking, Dad offers to run out and get cheese steaks. You stayed out to late drinking, it’s time to go get late night cheese steaks.

    Whenever I get back to Philly I always hit up Powelton Pizza on Drexel’s campus. Terrible pizza but they make some great cheese steaks

    March 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Reply
    • Sharc

      I went to Drexel also. We used to go to Powelton Pizza, Village Pizza and Abner's. All pretty decent for cheesesteaks. You are right about cheesesteaks being a part of your life when you live there. We used to stop at the corner pizza place near home (name escapes me) and pick up cheesesteaks or hoagies on Saturday night because Mom didn't feel like cooking. We also had them on Christmas Eve. It was tradition. Mom was cooking a big meal Christmas day and wanted a night out of the kitchen. I think I am going to have to make a road trip to Phila. with all of this cheesesteak talk! Now I'm craving one. No good places near me now.

      March 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  28. Derek

    My family is all from Philly, so I love cheesesteaks. I will admit that I like a little ketchup on mine (let the bullets fly ;)

    March 13, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  29. Ed Klitsch

    I'm a Philly transplant out here in San Francisco. Great news!
    About 15 years ago I found this wacky little yellow place called The Cheese Steak Shop on Davisidero street. Wow!
    I had tasted failures from all over the US but this tasted like home. I asked the manager how they did it and he explained that they fly Amoroso rolls out each week to make 'em great! They knew the secret!
    They keep it simple – just cheese, onions & sauce. They avoid the California cuisine- avocados and all that.
    BTW as a teenager I worked in a cheesesteak place called 'The Bright Spot' in North Philly- Moved to Manayunk and had many D'allesandros. Was back in Philly last fall, had one for the road on Henry Ave. The guys out here in SF are just as good! Their place is a cheesesteak shrine, the walls decorated with pictures of Jim's , D'allesandros. Mama's, Pat's, Genos and all the best of the Philly area. Come enjoy!

    March 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
    • Pat

      the food service companies( if I remember right its Buy Rite) has amoroso rolls on their order form, I used to work at a bar in SF and we ordered them for our brats all the time

      March 14, 2012 at 6:38 am | Reply
  30. jj

    Don't eat them too often or you will get fat and die. Sorry.

    March 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • Glider2001

      True dat!!

      March 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • Hugo

      Will be reincarnated anyways so who cares?

      March 14, 2012 at 1:11 am | Reply
    • Sharc

      My husband and I are from Phila but have moved away. When we go back to visit, we always joke that we would weigh 300lbs if we still lived there. Great pizza, cheesesteaks, hoagies, soft pretzels, Italian sausage. Mmmmm. Now I'm hungry.

      March 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  31. Ted

    It's been at least 15 years, but I remember Ishkibibble's on South St made a killer steak. Mine was always a toasted Amoroso's roll, tons of grilled onions, and a mix of provolone and white American.

    In any case, I don't know why this city doesn't hire and franchise some of the better trucks to other cities. It's our most memorable cultural contribution, and I've never met anyone, anywhere, that doesn't like a proper Philly steak. Good steaks are to Philly what a PoBoy is to New Orleans.

    March 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  32. davetharave

    The statement that you can't get Amoroso rolls outside of the Philly tri-state area is not true. At South Street Philly Cheesesteaks in California (Burbank and Westwood) they get their rolls from Amoroso. I've had the best in Philly and from South Street in CA and they are virtually indistinguishable – it's true, the roll makes the sandwich.

    March 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    • Glider2001

      I agree that the roll is critical to a good cheesesteak. But anyone who thinks Amoroso's has a lock on good rolls hasn't been around much.

      March 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Reply
    • Sharc

      Did you ever go to a Colonial Village Meat Market just outside of Phila? They have about a dozen bins and paper bags lined up in front of the deli area filled with different types of rolls. They have Amoroso rolls and tons of other rolls also. These guys take their deli, rolls and meat very seriously.

      March 14, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  33. Snacklefish

    Billadelphia's in North Richland Hills, Texas (halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth). Pretty much everything good about Philly – D'Ambrosio, Herr's, Habersett, Taylor, Federal Pretzels & Tastykake.

    March 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
    • mike

      The presence of Tastykakes is the mark of awesomeness. Really tough to find outside of the northeast/east coast.

      March 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
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