It would be a misteak to skip the cheese.

Do you ever sit and wonder why they were named cheesesteaks instead of steakcheeses?


The website for the Philadelphia area’s official tourism agency, visitphilly.com, claims that Pat Olivieri invented what would become the Philly Cheesesteak in 1930. Olivieri founded Pat’s King of Steaks, which is across street from their cheesesteak rival Geno’s Steaks. Around the city you can find places like Jim’s Steaks, Philip’s Steaks, Max’s Steaks, Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop and other creatively named joints.

In my house we have cheesesteak nights a couple times a year. We mostly eat the traditional type of Philly cheesesteaks, but sometimes we switch things up.

I’m not claiming that what I’m making here is 100% authentic. I’m not from Philly. I never worked in a Philly cheesesteak restaurant, but I have watched a lot of cheesesteak youtube videos and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express once.

Follow along as I show you how I make my cheesesteak sandwiches.

The rolls

For this sort of sandwich I use my Sandwich sub roll. This isn’t especially traditional for a Philly style cheesesteak, but it works really well for a sub/hoagie/cheesesteak sort of sandwich. If you’re a beginner baker, you should be able to handle this recipe fairly well.

Typically I make this recipe with three 11 or 12 inch rolls, but this time I tried going to 14 just to see how that worked out and we really enjoyed the size and shape. They were a bit thinner than my usual sub roll, but that just means you can have a slightly smaller sandwich.

3 hours
Sub sandwich rolls

This is sort of a French style sandwich roll. Not too crusty but with a good chew for a sub sandwich or po-boy.

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Three 14 inch sub rolls.
The seam on the bottom.

The steak

Sliced ribeye for bulgogi. The butcher freezes the steaks and then is able to slice it super thin.

We have a local Korean market nearby and they prepare ribeye steak for people to use when cooking bulgogi (sometimes spelled bulgoki). They take a ribeye steak and freeze it and then put the frozen steak onto their deli slicer and slice full sized super thin slices that we can buy whenever we’re craving cheesesteaks.

If you do have a Korean market nearby, check them out. Hopefully they will have something like this available. Otherwise you’ll have to slice your own steak. I’ve done the slice yourself technique too.

You do this by buying a ribeye, freezing it for 3 hours or so and then using a serrated knife, make slices as thin as you can. If you’re making cheesesteaks in a pan and not a large griddle, you can use your knife while the meat is raw and chop through it a little. Usually the meat is chopped on the griddle, but if you’re using a smaller pan, pre-chopping the meat a little will help you with the process.

The cheese

You can use any cheese for a cheesesteak. The traditional choices are Cheez Whiz, provolone or white American cheese. But honestly, any sliced or spreadable cheese will work here. The sliced varieties need to be placed on the meat that is still cooking on the griddle/pan and the spreadable cheeses should be spread onto the cut side of your roll, ready to be filled with steak.

I’m guessing that people would want me to chose a favorite cheese here and I just can’t do it. Both Cheez Whiz and sliced provolone are great and it’s fun to switch things up from cheesesteak to cheesesteak.

The vegetables

I typically use onions and maybe mushrooms for my cheesesteaks. Some folks will put green or red bell peppers in there too. Regardless of which vegetables I am using, I cook them all the same way. Before you start the steak, you should thinly slice your veggies and cook them in a skillet or on your griddle to get them soft.

Note: if you’re ordering in Philly you don’t say, “please sir, may I have onions in my cheesesteak.” You just say “wit” or “wit-out” and that will let them know if you want onions or not.

Put the pieces together

Whiz wit with fries.

When we have cheesesteak night we typically cook our onions/vegetables in a pan before we cook the meat. We usually use two pans, but you can use the same pan/griddle if you want. The point is that you can cook your veggies first and they can be a bit lukewarm because you will mix them in with your steak when your steak is almost finished cooking. Steak and veggies do not cook at the same time so this is why we take this tactic.

When you cook your steak you should try to cook it in a cast iron pan or griddle. The reasoning for this is that you will want to chop up your meat a little if you can. If the only pan you have available is non-stick you will want to fully chop up your steak into smaller pieces prior to cooking.

When you feel that the meat is almost cooked through to your liking, line up the meat on your griddle or pan to be about the length of the bun that you want to use (check the gif below). Now is the time you want to add your vegetables and mix them in with your steak to make sure everything is warm and similar temperature.

At this point you have to make a decision based on the cheese you’re using. If you are using Cheez Whiz you would want to spread that into your sub/hoagie roll that you’ve cut 2/3rds of the way through. If you’re using provolone or white American cheese you would want to lay that on top of your meat and veggies that you have lined up to fit your bun length. Let the sliced cheese have a couple minutes to start the melting process.

Once you’ve spread your Cheez Whiz on your bread or let your sliced cheese melt you should open your sub roll up and lay it on top of the meat. I typically let the bun sit there for 30 seconds or so which helps to steam or moisten the bread a little.

Adding a whiz roll to the meat and veggies. This allows the bun to steam a little and the cheez to get a bit melty.

Once your bun has had a chance to warm up and everything has gotten all cheesy (or cheezy), take your spatula and slip it under everything and flip your sandwich off of the hot surface hopefully keeping all the meat and cheese inside the roll.

Some completed cheesesteaks

And here are a couple of the cheesesteaks I made.

A just filled steak with Whiz and wit. This is the cheesesteak from the gif above.
A provolone steak on a cheddar sub roll.

Pimento cheesesteak

If you’re a frequent visitor around here, you probably knew I was going to pimento cheese some steak. Well, guess what? I did.

This was a fantastic sandwich. You treat the pimento cheese like you treat the Cheez Whiz, which means you spread it on the bun while the steak is cooking. Then you open up the bun and place it on the steak on the griddle to steam the bread and heat up the pimento cheese.

This recipe also is using my Cheddar cheese sub roll which I have linked below.

3 hours
Cheddar sub sandwich rolls

Ever thought about putting more cheese in your sandwiches? Boy, have I got the sub recipe for you.

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Before the final proof
After the bake

Pimento cheesesteak recipe

Here’s the whole Pimento cheesesteak recipe. You can follow this recipe and substitute the pimento cheese for Cheez Whiz or even just sliced provolone. The concept of the recipe is all the same up until your choice of cheese.

Pimento cheesesteak sandwich view printable page for this recipe

Instead of Cheez Whiz we're trying something different. Spread some pimento cheese on your roll and let it get warmed up and melty with the hot steak for a great sandwich.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ribeye steak thinly sliced (if you can get your butcher to do this it's best)
  • 12 thinly sliced large yellow onion
  • 4 to 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 thinly sliced red bell pepper (optional)
  • pimento cheese spread (enough to spread on the inside of your two rolls)
  • 2 six to eight inch sub/hoagie rolls (or 1 large roll cut in two)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

Directions:

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook your thinly sliced onion, red bell pepper (if using) and mushrooms until they are tender. This usually takes me between 5 and 10 minutes depending on how soft/tender I want my veggies. 

Move the cooked veggies to a plate to be used later. 

If you were able to get thinly sliced ribeye from your butcher you can skip the next step because you're ready to cook. 

If you have a whole unsliced ribeye, you will need to freeze it for an hour or two so that you can slice it thinly. After your steak has been in the freezer for 1 to 3 hours, remove it and get a very sharp knife and slice very thin pieces. 

When all your meat is sliced you can start cooking.

In a large skillet or preferably cast iron griddle over medium high heat, add a little vegetable or olive oil to your pan. When the oil is shimmering add the steak and group it into "sandwiches." So if you're making two sandwiches, group the meat into two piles. Salt and pepper your piles of meat. 

Leave the meat where it is for 4 minutes. After that time has elapsed, start moving it around, flipping and even chopping the larger pieces with your spatula. The real Philly cheesesteak joints really chop at the meat, to get it into small bite size pieces. Be careful and do not ruin your pan with a metal spatula if your pan has a non-stick coating.

Continue flipping and moving the steak around until all of the meat seems to be cooked. 

Add your veggies to your steak. Divide the cooked veggies evenly between your meat piles. 

With your spatula or tongs incorporate the meat and veggies until they are combined and mixed through. 

Slice your sub/hoagie rolls 2/3rds of the way through and spread the pimento cheese on the inside of each one. 

line the meat and veggies on the skillet/griddle up so that they are about the length of each of your buns. Open each bun and lay it on top of the still cooking meat/veggies. 

Using a spatula, get under the meat and with your other hand grab the bun and flip the sandwich out of the pan, attempting to keep all of the meat and veggies in the sandwich. Do this for your other sandwiches as well. 

Enjoy your pimento cheesesteak! 

Notes:

 You can use this recipe with Cheez Whiz or any other cheese spread as well, just spread the cheese spread inside the bun as the meat is almost cooked through. 

If you want to use sliced cheese, just lay the slices of cheese on top of the meat when it's cooked through and give it another minute or two for the cheese to start melting. 

If you’re still reading I bet you want a cheesesteak right now. Go get one and come back next week when I’ll most likely be writing about another type of cheese.


Italian submarine sandwich cross section

The Italian job

Which sounds better: a Maine Sub or an Italian Sub? Because maybe you could have both?


I recently spent a whole 20 minutes researching the Italian submarine sandwich. Apparently the Italian sub was invented in Portland, Maine in 1903. Wikipedia has convinced me that a baker named Giovanni Amato was encouraged by dockworkers to slice his long bread rolls and add meat, cheese and vegetables to it. The preparation section of the above linked Wikipedia article cites that “Italian sandwiches are typically prepared on a hard or soft Italian roll with the following ingredients: all thinly sliced to order meats including Danish ham, genoa salami and capicolla along with provolone, shredded lettuce, onion, oil and vinegar, cracked black pepper and dried oregano.”

The Italian sub from JP Graziano’s

After that lengthy Italian sub research, I made a trip to a well established and much loved sandwich shop in Chicago that specializes in sub style sandwiches. The number one entry on J.P. Graziano’s menu is the Italian. Hot capicola, genoa salami and mortadella make up the meat on the sandwich that is topped with sharp provolone, tomato and shredded lettuce dressed with red wine vinegar and dried oregano. All this between a 9 inch long portion of a roll from Damato’s Bakery and Subs.

The bread on these sandwiches is great. It really makes the experience. There’s just enough crunch on the outside, but the inside is still soft. There exists a fine line for bread in a cold cut sandwich with one side too soft and the other too dense or tough. If the bread is too tough, each bite requires you to exert extra bite force shoving around the sandwich fillings and you have to constantly rearrange it. Damato’s bread is just perfect for this sort of sandwich and I can see why J.P. Graziano’s values the bread to ingredients relationship so much.

“to me, every sandwich, 60% is the bread.”

Jim Graziano – CNN Travel “The secret art of a J.P. Graziano sandwich”

Obviously, J.P. Graziano’s has nailed this version of an Italian sub and I’m already looking forward to my next visit to pick up sandwiches. But first I wanted to think a bit more about how to make one at home. Read on for my version of an Italian sub you can make at home with some tweaks I made to change up the flavors a little. Or you can just stare at this gif I made of the process of making my first J.P. Graziano’s inspired Italian sub of the week.

J.P. Graziano’s slices their meat and piles it up so that the bottom roll is flipped onto the meat/cheese stack and then veggies are added. I tried to emulate that here.

My sub rolls

The rolls I make for subs is a recipe I’ve made many times with an end result of three rolls that are eleven or twelve inches long. I find this leaves you with the perfect lunch length where you can cut half for lunch or make a big one and share half or eat the whole thing if you’re feeling feisty. This bread recipe is written for those of you who have a stand mixer, but you can make it without one; you’ll just end up kneading for about 10 or 15 minutes to get a smooth, soft dough.

3 hours
Sub sandwich rolls

This is sort of a French style sandwich roll. Not too crusty but with a good chew for a sub sandwich or po-boy.

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This sub roll recipe is great for all sorts of sandwiches. Don’t just limit yourself to Italian subs. Meatballs also work very well between this roll as do any other cold cut submarine, hoagie, grinder or whatever they call long sandwiches in your neck of the woods.

The meats and stuff

For my subs, I stood at the meat counter for a few minutes while my guy sliced up some Genoa salami, mortadella and hot capicola (capocollo for Americans – also sometimes referred to as gabagool – especially on the Sopranos). I specifically tried to copy what J.P. Graziano’s uses as meat in my sandwiches. I bought some provolone, a head of iceberg lettuce and vine ripe tomatoes (that weren’t really ripe since it’s April – but good enough). Dried oregano, olive oil and red wine vinegar were already in our pantry, but I used those too.

Because this sandwich is so simple and because it’s mostly cold cuts and commonly found veggies, it’s pretty easy to recreate at home. As long as your deli meat counter at your local grocery stocks these varieties of meat, and you can find good bread, you can easily satiate any itch for an Italian sub experience.

Lily thinks that she loves Italian subs. This was the first one I made this week. Just meats/cheese, tomato and lettuce tossed in red wine vinegar and oregano.

Giardiniara

Comparison in J.P. Graziano’s and my giardiniera recipe.

J.P. Graziano’s also sells their own giardiniara and it is really good. I bought some of their hot variety to test against mine (mine is much less spicy). Theirs has LOTS of pickled serrano peppers in it. I added some of it to the second half of the Italian sub I ordered and it really steps things up. It does make a pretty interesting addition but it also overwhelms some of the spicy flavors of the meat choices. I think a slightly milder version melds a bit better for me.

I did a small sampling to compare theirs and my recipe (linked below) and found theirs to be super savory and seriously hot, making my version more of a mildly spicy condiment. You can see the obviously differences in color and visual differences in this comparison photo. J.P. Graziano’s hot version has a savoriness that reminds me a lot of the oil on top of a pizza, but also packed with heat. I personally really like the cauliflower and olive percentage in mine and enjoy that it’s not quite as pepper focused as some hot giardiniara versions. But there’s a place for both versions in my fridge.

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Giardiniera

This giardinara recipe is spicy but not super hot. I'd list it as between mild and medium heat. Add more pickled jalapenos (and the pickling oil) or leave them out entirely to adjust the heat level for your sandwiching experiences.

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Addition of giardiniara turns this into something a little more exciting. This is one of my earlier batches of giardiniara minus the red pepper.

Dressing

Most of the Italian subs I made used red wine vinegar mixed with oil and tossed into shredded lettuce, but on the last day and sandwich of my five day Italian sub journey I was inspired to toss my lettuce into some caesar salad dressing I made. Turns out this was a fantastic choice. Even though caesar dressing was first created in Mexico, it still seems to work well with the flavors of an Italian sandwich that was invented in Maine. The recipe below is for my caesar dressing, but store bought would obviously work well too.

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20 minutes
Caesar dressing

Great for a salad or used as the spread on a sandwich. Caesar dressing is a super garlicy and tangy sauce to dress your sandwich veggies.

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My favorite version. Caesar dressing and giardinara really bring some fun new flavors to the game. But neither addition overwhelm the flavors of the meat.

The final version was my favorite version of an Italian sub. I know some purists would be upset, but I think the giardiniara and the addition of an interesting caesar dressing for the vegetables made all the difference in the world for my at-home version.

One last pro tip for folks who read to the end: tightly wrap your sub in a piece of parchment paper or aluminum and you’ll end up with an experience much more like you get in a deli or sandwich shop. I also feel this sort of cold cut sandwich benefits from sitting wrapped up for a few minutes before eating allowing the oil and vinegar or dressing to soak into crevices in the bread and coat the meat and cheese.

If you have a great sandwich shop like J.P. Graziano’s making good Italian subs in your area, go support them. If you don’t you can use some of the tips and recipes from my experiences to make your own. Report back here and tell me how it all worked out.