I'm not going to pretend this is an authentic, best-in-the-world Philly cheesesteak — I'm from Alabama, for cryin' out loud! For the real deal, you'll have to head to Philadelphia; eat your way through a couple hundred hoagie shops, gas stations, and street food stands; and then decide a favorite for yourself.
But since I don't have any plane tickets booked at the moment — and I'm guessing you don't either — this recipe makes a pretty incredible stand-in.
I start with rib-eye, because that is really the only option if you want to make this legit. You can use other cuts of beef, but the flavor and juiciness just won't compare with a good ol' rib-eye. Traditionally, Philly cheesesteaks are made with shaved, chipped, or thinly sliced meat. So when I'm feeling totally crazy, I freeze the steak for a few hours and then pass it over my mandolin, which isn't a task for totally sane people, but makes for beautiful, razor-thin slices. (A helpful butcher could do this for you, too.) When I'm not feeling as crazy, I'll just slice it as thin as I can get it. And you know what? That way tastes pretty darn good too.
As for everything else, there are just a few more things you need to know. First, don't skimp on the seasoning. Since this sandwich is all about the meat, you need plenty of salt and pepper to bring out its very best. Toppings are a personal preference (although opinions about them are often divisive enough to start family wars) but I like to stick with the basics — onions for sure, maybe some mushrooms, maybe some bell peppers. (If I've got 'em, I've got 'em; if I don't, I don't.)
Cooking the steak can't be easier. If you've got a large cast iron griddle or grill pan, use that. If you don't, any skillet, or even a wok, will do. Get the heat going and coat the pan with a little canola oil. Start with the vegetables if you're using them, and spend a little extra time getting them nice and caramelized. Then crank up the heat, throw on the steak, and cook it until it is deliciously browned with some yummy crispy bits. (And try not to set the fire alarm off, which for some reason happens every single time I make these!)
Cheese is also a must. For me it's provolone all the way. I like to lattice the slices over the meat as it rests, letting it get all melty before the whole pile goes on the bread.
Speaking of bread, the bun on which you serve your cheesesteak can get pretty controversial, but I am just not that picky. Since Amoroso rolls aren't easily available to folks outside of Philly, I say use any sub roll that you like, whether it's from your favorite hoagie shop, fancy bakery, or (gasp!) a mass-market brand from your grocer's bread aisle. No matter which you choose, split it open and toast it on the same griddle you cooked the meat on, because you might as well soak up every drop of that rib-eye flavor!
Philly cheesesteak night at our house is super relaxed — clearly we aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. We serve frozen French fries (our favorite brand is Ore Ida Simply Olive Oil & Sea Salt) alongside our sammies, and wash them down with a couple of ice-cold beers. Whatever you do, don't overanalyze this recipe. At the end of the day you've got steak, onion, bread, and cheese. It's as simple as that! And while those may be fighting words for some, at our house it's just dinner.
Weeknight Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches
Makes 2 hearty sandwiches
large (1 to 1-1/2 pound) thick-cut rib-eye steak
Neutral cooking oil, such as canola
medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (some people use Lawry’s salt, or add garlic powder)
4 to 6 slices
provolone or American cheese (or warmed Cheez Whiz)
large hoagie or sub rolls, split open
French fries, for serving
Place the rib-eye in the freezer and chill until semi-firm (not frozen solid), about three to four hours. Cut the steak into 4 smaller pieces. Working with one piece at a time — while leaving the rest in the freezer — use a mandolin or a sharp chef’s knife to slice the steak into razor-thin slivers. (If using a mandolin, I recommend investing in a cut-resistant glove.) Transfer the sliced meat to a medium bowl and set aside. Alternately, you can ask your grocer's butcher to do this for you if they have a meat slicer. If they agree, it will make life easy-peasy for you! (Side note: I keep all of the fat. Every last bit of it. It’s why you bought a rib-eye in the first place.)
Heat a large cast iron griddle, skillet, or other large pan over medium heat. Add a liberal pour of neutral oil, about 2 to 3 tablespoons, and add the onions. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 3 to 6 minutes depending on desired doneness. (Make sure you are patient with this step!) Once the onions are done, push them aside (or transfer to another bowl if there's not enough space).
Increase heat to medium-high and add another drizzle of oil if the griddle seems dry. Season the shaved rib-eye pieces generously with salt and pepper and add to the sizzling skillet. Cook the meat until browned and caramelized, which should happen quickly if the pan is smoking-hot. If you are cooking on a griddle or flat top, push the cooked steak into two separate piles and shape into roughly the same size as the hoagie roll. Shingle two to three slices of cheese over each stack of meat, allowing the cheese to melt while the meat is resting. (Alternately, you can transfer the meat to a separate plate to rest.)
While the meat is resting, place the hoagie rolls flat-side down on the griddle and cook until lightly toasted. Using a large, flat spatula, gently scoop the meat and cheese mixture and transfer it into the hoagie roll. Slice in half crosswise and serve immediately. Serve with your favorite frozen French fries (cooked according to package directions, of course) and plenty of napkins.
If you have bell peppers or mushrooms in your fridge, slice those thinly and cook them once the onions are done.