Philadelphia Cheese Steak History and Recipe

According to Philadelphians, you simply cannot make an authentic Philadelphia Cheese Steak sandwich without an authentic Philadelphia roll.  The rolls must be long and thin, not fluffy or soft, but also not too hard.  They also say that if you are more than one hour from South Philly, you cannot make an authentic sandwich.  The Philadelphia cheese steak is truly one of the most delightful and beloved foods available in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  It is said by most Philadelphians that if a restaurant offers something called a “Philly Cheese Steak” then it is not authentic.


A cheese steak sandwich is not really a steak sandwich,  it is a sandwich made with chipped steak (steak that has been frozen and sliced really thin) and cooked on a grill top.  Locals think in terms of steak sandwiches with or without cheese.  Without cheese, the sandwich is referred to as a steak.  With cheese, it is a cheese steak or “cheesesteak.”  Cheeze Whiz is the topping of choice for serious steak connoisseurs.  However, you can also use provolone cheese.


Residents and tourists who come for paper-wrapped Philly cheese steaks and sodas can study the wall of celebrity photos before taking seats at the no-frills picnic tables.  For the uninitiated, a sign explains the drill:
with or without onions
specify provolone, American or Cheez Whiz
have your money ready
go to the back of the line if you make a mistake


Pat's Cheesecake    Philly Cheesecake

Photos courtesy of Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia, PA


History of Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich:


1930s – During the 1930s in the Italian immigrant section of South Philadelphia, brothers Harry Olivieri (1916-2006) and Pat Olivieri sold hot dogs and sandwiches.  Tired of hot dogs, Pat suggested that Harry go to a store and buy some beef.  Harry brought it back, sliced it up and grilled the beef with some onions.  The brothers piled the meat on rolls and were about to dig in when a cab driver arrived for lunch, smelled the meat and onions and demanded one of the sandwiches.  Pat never got a bite because a cab driver drove by, smelled the sandwich, and asked how much?  He didnt know what to charge, so he charged a nickel.  The cab driver supposedly said,  Hey . . . forget about those hot dogs, you should sell these.  It was not until 20 years later that cheese was added to the sandwich by a longtime employee, Joe Lorenzo, who was tired of the usual sandwich and added some cheese.


1940s – In 1940, the brothers opened Pat’s King of Steaks at 1237 East Passyunk Avenue.  The business has been there ever since, open 24 hours a day.  Cheez Whiz was added to the steak and onions starting in the 1960s, and provolone, American cheese, and pizza sauce later became options in the concoction along with various condiments, and side dishes.


1970 – In 1970, Pat Olivieri quit and went to southern California.  A dispute over ownership broke out with Pat’s lawyer son, Herbert, on one side and Harry and his children, Frankie and Maria, on the other.  In 1974 Pat died, and later Frankie bought the business out.



Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich Recipe:
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
25 mins

This is a very filling sandwich, great to make ahead of time and keep warm in the oven for a football party or any other time.

Course: Snack
Keyword: Philadelphia Cheese Steak History, Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich Recipe
Servings: 2 servings
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced as thin as possible and rings separated*
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 12 ounces chipped steak (very thin-sliced eye of round, rib eye, or sirloin tip roast cut into 1-inch slices)**
  • Salt and coarsely-ground black pepper
  • Cheese Whiz or provolone cheese slices
  • 1 (8-inch long) Italian loaf, hoagie roll, or French baguette
  • Dill pickle spears
  1. In a large frying pan over high heat, add olive oil and heat so that a drop of water will sizzle when you drop it in the oil; lower heat to medium.  Add onions and mushrooms, stir and cook until mushrooms darken and onions start to look transparent.  Add steak slices and cook for approximately 3 minutes or until meat is lightly browned.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

  2. Heap cooked meat mixture in a long length-wise pile across the frying pan.  Lay cheese slices over meat until melted.  If using Cheese Whiz, melt in a double boiler or in the microwave.

  3. Slice bread lengthwise.  Using a spatula, scoop 1/2 the meat mixture and cheese and lay on bread with cheese on top.  If using melted Cheese Whiz, ladle it on top.  If you're using Cheez Whiz, do not use too much or it can overpower the sandwich's taste.  Use remaing meat mixture to make another sandwich.

  4. Slice sandwich into 2 or 4 pieces, and serve with a dill pickle.

  5. Each sandwich makes 2 servings.

Recipe Notes

* Learn how to make Baked Caramelized Onions. This is a quick and easy way to caramelize a large amount of onions. 

** Freeze steak before slicing. With a sharp knife, slice the meat paper thin. 


Hoagie SandwichAlso learn about Philadelphia’s Hoagie Sandwich.

The Hoagie was declared the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia” in 1992.  The Hoagie was originally created in Philadelphia.  There are a number of different versions to how the Hoagie got its name, but no matter what version is right (historians cannot seem to agree on the correct version), all agree that the Hoagie Sandwich started in Philadelphia or the towns’ suburbs.





Beef Sandwiches    Food History    Lunch    Mid Atlantic    Sandwiches History    Sirloin Steak   

Comments and Reviews

22 Responses to “Philadelphia Cheese Steak History and Recipe”

  1. jeff jones

    we came back from a holiday in Washington dc and had a couple of Philadelphia cheese sandwiches and I must say they where the best I have eaten, and I have been looking for a good recipe and this one fits the bill ,yum yum.

  2. Minerva Moser

    So you “scoop 1/2 the meat mixture” on the sandwich and finish it up by slicing it in half to make 2 servings. What are you supposed to do with the other half of the meat mixture, let the cook eat it as a reward for working so hard to make the sandwich? If you read the instructions carefully, you have to agree you left something out, like “repeat with a second sandwich,” or “scoop the rest of the meat mixture onto the sandwich” maybe because there’s too much to handle in one scoopful? I hate misleading recipes.

    • Linda Stradley

      You are right, I forgot to say that. Thank you for your input.

    • David Hobson

      It does say use remaining meat to make another sandwich. I hate people can’t read

    • Laura

      Read, It CLEARLY says to make another sandwich with the remaining meat.

  3. Milan Coddington

    Excellent, what a website it is! This website provides valuable facts to us, keep it up.|

  4. Sergio

    Good to know!

  5. Nonsense

    An authentic Philly cheesesteak is not cheese wiz. Nor does it have pickles. Nor is a French baguette a suitable substitute. Come on

    • Whats Cooking America

      If you fully read the history and the recipe instructions you would learn that Philadelphians like either provolone or melted cheese wiz when they order a cheesesteak at a counter. The Pickle is served on the “side”, not in the sandwich. Also, Italian bread or hoagie rolled is listed to use for the bread. A fresh baguette loaf would work if you have no other options.

    • Ronni

      Everyone (at least we Philadelphians) know there is a cheese sauce that is used – however it is NOT cheese whiz. The steak needs to be chopped up, (have you ordered a cheesesteak and gotten a slab of steak?) and needs Amoroso roll. Sounds easy right? Not so much, proof are all the look-a-likes, aka Philly Cheese Steak Subs…No where but Philly can you get a “real” cheesesteak

  6. Cckremer

    Philly girl here. C’mon everyone knows the true Philadelphia cheesesteak must be on a roll made in Philadelphia — it’s the Philadelphia water that makes the bread! (Also true for Philadelphia soft pretzels and Tasty cakes).
    The roll has a semi-hard crust which pieces flake off of and is soft inside & you can taste the unique saltiness of the roll.
    You can’t really get these items anywhere else.

  7. Anthony michilizzi

    Yes it’s the bread the steak the
    Cheese the onion.
    My question if adding mushroom are they fresh or canned
    I hate canned mushrooms,
    Out here in California they say canned is traditional
    But I’ve had them with fresh way better

  8. Ronni

    Fresh mushrooms are perfect!

  9. Chloe

    It says serve with dill pickle. That implies “on the side”.

  10. Anita

    I’ve ate alot of cheesesteaks some good some bad I’m going to make my own and it pretty much boils down to preference. I dont like onions and peppers but I love mushrooms and swiss or provolone cheese sooo make it according to what you like there is no wrong way of making a cheesesteak.

  11. Richard

    I grew up in Philadelphia and always considered the only cheese to be used on a cheese steak to be American cheese. I would never use cheesewiz

  12. Michael A krajnik

    You must be out of your mind provolone is the only way to go.

  13. George

    Out here in northern Cal, a “cheese steak” is actually a beef and cheddar sandwich under an alias. Blech! They oughta be sued for fraud. Beef for steak. Next, it’ll be gristle for beef.

  14. John Morrow

    Wilmington is my home town.
    We had a place where we hung out called the
    Charcoal Pit or “the Pit” as we called it.
    Decent food but not the reason we went there.
    Great shakes though.
    But I am a purist so Pat’s is my place.
    My son lives there and he likes Jim’s.
    Got to use provolone.

  15. John Morrow

    Not any roll but an Amoroso roll!

  16. Wayack

    The instructions say to add the meat AFTER the onions and mushrooms are soft and ready. The instructions also say to cook the meat until it is “lightly browned”. I’m sorry to tell you that this is impossible. If you have already been sauteeing onions and mushrooms in your pan, there is no way you can “brown” the beef. It will be gray, not brown, because of the water released by the onions and mushrooms. If you want the meat browned (which you undoubtedly do want, because of the extra flavor from the Maillard reactions) then you must brown the meat first in the oil, then remove the meat and sautee the onions and mushrooms, and only then add back the meat just to make it warm again.
    PS I happen also to like red and / or green bell peppers in there with the onions and mushrooms, so I’m probably some kind of barbarian.

  17. Todd the epicurious

    I live in Willoughby, OH ( a suburb of Cleveland) and I argued that our Philly cheese steak wasn’t authentic so often, long and loudly that the owner eventually changed the name of our sandwich to “DTW stuffed cheesesteak”.


Leave a Reply