This week we’re making steak and cheese sandwiches in hoagie or sub sandwich rolls. But these are not the cheesesteaks you might be thinking about.
What is a Cincinnati steak hoagie?
A Cincinnati steak hoagie is a sandwich that doesn’t have slices or whole cuts of steak in it. The meat in these sandwiches is made from ground steak or beef that has been formed into a patty and cooked on a flat-top griddle. According to this food etymologist blog post about the two Cincinnati-style hoagies, you can find either pizza sauce-style steak hoagies or mushroom gravy-style steak hoagies in Cincinnati.
In addition to the beef patty, the bread, and the sauce, these Cincinnati-style steak hoagies will typically have melty cheese, sliced pickles, and raw onion on top. It is a little jarring at first, imagining pickles with pizza sauce, but I can vouch that it turns out to taste pretty good.
I have become aware that the good people of Cincinnati, Ohio have convinced every pizza parlor in their city to serve hoagie sandwiches. I do not live in Cincinnati so I can’t confirm that this is true but I’m pretty sure it is the case. It’s not just the local pizza joints either. They got the chains to jump on board as well.
If you go to Papa Johns or even Domino’s Pizza apps/websites, you can change your zip code to a Cincinnati one and the menus will change to include an option for steak hoagies. You don’t have to try this; I already did and it’s true. Big Pizza™ has been brainwashed into serving hoagies.
Another piece of history that I found while searching for Cincinnati steak hoagie content was this bit of drama from an Ohio pizza chain known as Richards Pizza. The current owners of this pizza chain who just happen to be the daughters of the original namesake, Richard, wrote a letter addressing what must have been a pretty big issue for them and their customers. In this letter, they explain how their steak hoagie patty has changed over the years as they have grown as a company and how they have attempted to make sure things were as close as possible to what their dad was making when the original restaurant opened. You can tell that the authenticity of their steak patty was a very serious issue to them. Steak hoagies are a big deal.
Hoagy or Hoagie?
Until I started working on this sandwich blog post I don’t think I had ever seen hoagie spelled with a Y. But as I dug a little deeper, I learned that restaurants in Cincinnati spell these sorts of long sandwiches either as hoagie or hoagy. I found this tweet from a person named “Lemon” and was almost as astonished as they were at the spelling on this menu.
After just a Google search or two, it turns out that other parts of the world will change the spelling of this style of sandwich as well. There is a spot in the Morgan Park neighborhood on the South side of Chicago called “Home of the Hoagy.” They have a steak hoagy as well, but it’s nothing like the Cincinnati versions.
There’s not a ton of content online about these sandwiches so I ended up turning to social media with some advanced search techniques to find out what people had to say about Cincinnati-style steak hoagies. What I learned is that it seems that a lot of people who are originally from Cincinnati are shocked to find out that this isn’t a more widely known sandwich. Also, it’s sort of funny that they all end up sourcing the same steak hoagie photo as an example.
Also, I found some Ohio-born sandwich scientists on Reddit that was researching Cincinnati-style steak hoagies just like I have been doing!
Now that we know what these Cicncinnati-style steak sandwiches are, let’s make some hoagies or hoagys. First, we need to make the bread.
Six-inch hoagie roll
I did not make a specific Cincinnati-style hoagie roll recipe. Don’t tell anyone from Ohio, but this is my Chicago-style sandwich roll recipe that I simply shaped and baked slightly differently.
For shaping, I tried to get these rolls to about 6 inches long and then I specifically tried to round off the ends a bit instead of tapering the ends into points. Once they were shaped a bit like bratwurst, I used my plastic bench scraper and flattened each roll.
The changes I made to the baking process were eliminating the attempt to add steam into the oven. I do this for my Chicago-style roll because I would like a bit of a crunchy crust in that sort of roll. This sandwich seems to need a softer exterior so that’s what I shot for.
My goal was to bake a roll that was wide and not very tall. These rolls need to hold a rectangular ground beef patty, so I preferred them to be as wide as they could be.
My main line of thinking was, “What would these Cincinnati pizza parlors use for the bread in these hoagies?” These sub rolls that I’ve shown here are probably very available everywhere and I’m guessing that something like this is easy for restaurants to source for a hoagie sandwich.
Here’s my Chicago-style sandwich roll recipe. Like I said above, if you want to recreate the rolls I made here, I made a couple of adjustments to the shaping and baking process.
Garlicing the bread
This part of my sandwich is probably not at all traditional to actual Cincinnati steak hoagies. But it’s good.
I do not think the Cincinnati pizza parlors are making their sandwiches with a base of garlic bread. But after four or five steak hoagies, I learned that this is the best way to make this sandwich. This garlic bread step is optional, but I promise it makes the sandwich a lot better.
The garlic breading of the roll does a couple of things. One benefit is taking the roll from soft to a bit crunchy. The second extra attribute is obviously adding extra flavor and texture to the roll.
Making the patty
These steak sandwiches aren’t made from large pieces of steak. They might be originally ground from specific cuts of steak, but they appear to always be ground beef formed into patties.
The important parts I have learned from forming and cooking these patties are:
- Make the patty on parchment.
- Shape the patty into a similar shape as your bun.
- Form the patty much larger than the bun.
Building the patty on parchment is a big game changer in my opinion. I like to make the patty, glance at the bun itself and use that comparison to help form the patty to the right shape and size. Once you think the patty is large enough to compensate for the shrinking that will happen during the cooking process, you can cut the parchment back, close around the patty and that will help give you a “clean” surface to grab and transfer the patty to the hot surface of the pan or skillet.
Before we talk about the sauces, we can cover the common ingredients that both versions of these sandwiches share.
Cheese and broiling
If you want melty cheese on these steak hoagies you can either put the cheese on while the burger is still cooking and melt it that way, but you would also have to sauce the burger patty in the pan first as well. I think it’s just easier to build the sandwich, add sauce on top of the patty, and then cover that with shredded cheese. Since the broiler is already warm from turning the sandwich roll into garlic bread, it should just take a couple of minutes to get the cheese melty on top of the pizza or mushroom sauce.
Pickles and onions
When I learned about this sandwich, I think the most shocking addition was the pickles. Onions make sense, pickles and pizza or mushroom sauce seem odd. Both additions end up bringing some sharpness that the final sandwich would lack without them.
Now we can talk about sauce.
Two different sauces
There are two popular Cincinnati steak hoagie sandwiches and those are topped with either mushroom sauce or a pizza sauce. Since these are typically found in pizza restaurants, the tomato-based sauce will typically differ from location to location just like how each pizza parlor has their own sauce recipe. This means if you’re making your own pizza steak hoagie at home, you should use your favorite pizza sauce whether it’s homemade or storebought.
But first I want to present the mushroom-sauced version.
Last week’s open-faced sandwich used a whole lot of mushrooms and they also feature heavily in this version of a steak hoagie. I made a sauce out of mushrooms which basically became a mushroom gravy that would be at home on top of a plate of pasta or white rice.
My mushroom gravy recipe starts with garlic, onions and mushrooms that are cooked down and softened before adding all-purpose flour, beef broth, and milk. Everything is cooked down until the sauce is thickened and creamy.
It’s an easy process to make this sauce and as I said above, you could use this sauce in a lot of different dishes. The sauce process is fairly similar to the Julia Child, mushroom and chicken sandwich I made earlier this year.
Mushroom steak hoagie
The mushroom steak hoagie is a much more savory experience than the pizza-sauced version. It also can be a little bit messier depending on how thick or thin you end up with in the texture of the sauce.
Here’s the recipe for my Cincinnati-style mushroom steak hoagie. It’s pretty much the same recipe as the pizza steak hoagie, but there’s the extra step of making a simple mushroom gravy.
The main steak hoagie from Cincinnati is one that is topped with pizza sauce. After all, these sandwiches seem to have been heavily influenced by pizza restaurants so it only makes sense that this is a sauce they would use. Here’s the sauce that my wife typically makes for our pizza nights.
Pizza steak hoagie
Here are a bunch of photos of the Cincinnati-style steak hoagies that I made while working on the recipes for this blog post. It’s a good sandwich, easy to make, and very tasty. I see how it became so popular in Cincinnati.
Here’s the full recipe for my Cincinnati-style steak hoagie. Don’t worry, there’s a couple more photos down below the recipe with some enlightening captions that you won’t want to miss.
Pizza sauce covered ground beef and melty mozzarella cheese are the foundation for this tasty hoagie sandwich that is super popular in Cincinnati.
- 2 tablespoons softened butter
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced or pressed
- 1 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
- 6-to-8-inch bread roll, sliced
- 5 to 6 ounces ground steak or ground beef
- salt and ground black pepper
- garlic bread roll (from above)
- pizza sauce
- ground steak/beef patty (from above)
- mozzarella cheese, shredded
- dill pickle slices (optional)
- thinly sliced onion (optional)
Garlic bread: combine the butter, parsley, minced garlic, and parmesan cheese and stir to combine well. Spread this compound butter on the inside of the top and bottom of your hoagie roll.
Place the buttered bread slices under a broiler and broil until the butter is melty and the bread is browning and starting to get toasty.
Steak patty: while the bread is broiling, form the ground steak into a rectangle that's an inch or so wider and longer than the bread. I form my patties on a piece of parchment paper so that they are easier to transfer to the hot pan.
Salt and pepper the top side of the beef patty.
Place a medium pan over medium-high heat. After 3 minutes or so of heating the pan, add your beef patty to the pan, seasoned side down. Season the top of the patty and cook it for 3 minutes or so on the first side. Then flip and cook an additional 3 minutes.
Sandwich assembly: once the patty is fully cooked and the garlic bread is toasted, spread a tablespoon or two of pizza sauce on the bottom bun and then place the ground steak patty on top.
Add more pizza sauce on top of the patty and cover with the shredded cheese. Place the bottom part of the sandwich in the broiler again to melt the cheese.
Once the cheese is melty continue building the sandwich by topping it with pickles and sliced onion and then the top part of the bun.
Serve and enjoy.
Check back next week for another sandwich
Next week might get a little fishy!
The people who have joined the Bounded by Buns Patreon community already know what sandwich I’m making because they get behind-the-scenes content. But you’ll have to wait to find out!