The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Tradition

nyone from the Philadelphia region—and probably many beyond—are familiar with the Philadelphia cheesesteak. This dish screams Philadelphia, and Jerry’s Kitchen proudly caters two different kinds of Philadelphia cheesesteak: a gourmet cheesesteak with hand-shaved ribeye and homemade gooey cheddar sauce, with pepper and onions; and a vegan version with homemade seitan “steak” and vegan wizz, with peppers and onions.

cheesesteak photo

Cheesesteak by stu_spivack is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This celebrated sandwich is attributed to Pat Olivieri, who was a South Philadelphia hot dog vendor. The story goes that he wanted something different for lunch one day, which led him to cook some steak he bought from a nearby butcher. That was in 1930, and soon Olivieri’s steak sandwiches grew so popular he opened his own place, which he called Pat’s King of Steaks. Later, he added the added melty cheese, and that combination with the steak continues to define the Philadelphia cheesesteak.

Rivalries followed. In the 1960s, when Geno’s Steak’s opened across the street from Pat’s King of Steaks, the competition created debate about what constitutes the true and best Philadelphia cheesesteak. How finely the steak should be chopped, what type of cheese should be used—these are sources of serious disagreement among Philadelphia cheesesteak lovers.

There are some pretty clear rules: the steak needs to be ribeye (no ground steak meat or steak burger patties), the ribeye needs to be sliced or chopped, the cheese must be melty and gooey, and the bread that holds it must be a hoagie roll or long Italian roll, sliced lengthwise in half. If your sandwich lacks these critical features, then you are not eating a Philadelphia cheesesteak.

There are differences in preference between those prefer finely chopped steak versus coarsely chopped meat. Many cheesesteak lovers advocate for chilling the ribeye in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes, which renders it stiff enough to slice while raw, so it cooks faster. While the cheese of choice may be Cheez Whiz, American and provolone cheese are common and effective substitutes.

Philadelphia cheesesteaks can include extra toppings, such as fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, ketchup, and hot or sweet peppers. But if you make too many additions or substitutions, you run the risk of transforming your sandwich into something other than a Philadelphia cheesesteak. You might end up with just an ordinary steak and cheese sandwich.

Philadelphia food trucks are great champions of this terrific Philadelphia culinary tradition. Stop by one soon and pick up a delicious Philadelphia cheesesteak.


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