What Sets Philly Cheesesteaks Apart From Steak And Cheese Sandwiches

If you ask a Philadelphian what makes an authentic Philly cheesesteak, they'll likely give you a passionate answer. It does, of course, depend on who you ask, but most people will insist the famous sandwich consists solely of sautéed beef and melted cheese. There are variations with ingredients like sautéed onions or long hot peppers, but sandwich aficionados would strongly argue that if the sandwich has too many extra toppings or condiments, it's just a steak and cheese sandwich.

That's right, if you try to hack your Philly cheesesteak by adding toppings like sautéed bell peppers, mushrooms, or shredded lettuce, or with spoonfuls of horseradish sauce, ketchup, or classic mayonnaise, your sandwich will still be delicious, but you'll technically just be eating a steak and cheese sandwich. Both sandwich varieties are made from three main ingredients — steak, cheese, and bread — but that's mostly where the commonalities stop. That means if you're using a different kind of bread or cut of steak for your sando, then it's almost certainly a steak and cheese sandwich.

How Philly cheesesteaks are unique

Given the endless variations of steak and cheese sandwiches, determining what constitutes a real Philly cheesesteak can be confusing. To help sort out this culinary controversy, let's delve into what makes an authentic cheesesteak. You read that correctly — in Philadelphia, the sandwich is simply referred to as a cheesesteak, no Philly prefix required. This guidance is important because many of Philly's iconic cheesesteak eateries don't appreciate substitutions or modifications.

Let's start with the steak, the dish's main star. A classic cheesesteak uses thinly sliced, sautéed ribeye beef, a tender cut of steak from the outer ribs. If a different cut of beef is used, like skirt steak, or if the beef is cut into thick slices or served in a different manner, then it's a steak and cheese sandwich. For the cheese, the most common choice for a cheesesteak is Cheese Whiz, the gooey orange sauce that's ladled onto the sandwich by the spoonful, but sliced American or provolone are acceptable alternatives. Other cheeses like mozzarella, gouda, or cheddar are all delicious pairings for steak, but they aren't true to Philadelphia's version of the sandwich. As for the bread, it's always a crusty, hoagie-style loaf. If you find yourself in Philly, check out spots like Steve's Prince of Steaks, Pat's King of Steaks, Barry's Steaks, or Chubby's for an authentic cheesesteak experience.