There’s no need to head to Philadelphia for the city’s famed cheesesteak sandwich!
In 1984 I was a fresh-faced 20-something who’d arrived on time at the Elvis Suite at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. After a full minute of banging the door knocker on the oversized glossy-black double-doored entrance the resident, feeling no need to disguise that he’d been napping, open up and invite me in. This was my first staff job writing on a television series, and its star, a famous comedian with Emmys and platinum albums, was cranky.
Sure, I had the guts and confidence of a young ‘un, but the six foot-four-inch ex-football player intentionally intimidated me. He’d commanded my presence in order to deliver me the bylaws of writing his show. My first contract was for three weeks only. I could’ve been let go for using the door knocker. The star expertly drew himself a cappuccino from a five-foot-tall brass Italian espresso machine without offering me one. The drink perked him up a bit, and the edicts began to flow: No jokes, just write The Truth. Tell a story. Don’t write the kids like they have cigars in their mouths. He gave that one after taking a huge puff on a Churchill-sized Cuban.
To his credit, all his rules turned out to be on the money. I was the baby writer, and the show didn’t feature my name in the title. He must’ve started to like my Midwestern vibe, because 20 minutes into the meeting, he pivoted and asked if I’d ever had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. I replied that I was raised in central Ohio and the closest I’d had to this Philadelphia specialty was “Italian” cold cuts stuffed into hoagie rolls with a drizzle of oil, called “subs.”
He held up his index finger, lifted the receiver of a fire-engine-red phone, punched in a number, and ordered four of them. A mere 25 minutes later, a paper bag with four oblongs, white-wax wrapped, grease-stained torpedo-shaped rolls arrived, with a griddled beef/onion aroma so intoxicating I literally thought “If I get fired tomorrow, this will have been worth it.” The star kept three and handed me one. That’s all it took. I banged that door knocker a long long time ago. The show went off the air in 1992 but not before I won an Emmy for my writing for it. But my romance with the sublime invention from Philly has endured beyond.
- 1 Griddle
- 2 sturdy spatulas (try to get one about 6-inches long)
- Mandolin slicer (I strongly recommend the Benriner brand).
- 2 boneless prime ribeye steaks
- 2 tbsp. Morton Coarse Kosher Salt
- 2 tbsp. coarse ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. granulated garlic
- 3/4 pound high quality cheddar cheese
- 1/4 pound bright orange American cheese
- 1 cup half & half or milk
- 2 medium size sweet onions
- 2 hoagie rolls, soft inside, crunchy crust, about6-inches long
- 4 tbsp. beef tallow
These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page
- Fire up. Pre-heat your smoker to 225°F or set up your grill in 2-zones with the indirect side at about 225°F. Get some smoke rolling. Trim off excess fat from the steaks and set the fat aside to use as tallow. Mix the salt, pepper, and garlic in a bowl and sprinkle the meat. Smoke the meat for about 30 minutes, just enough to give it some flavor but not so long as to cook it through. Let the meat cool a bit and then wrap it tightly in plastic wrapand place in your freezer for at least four hours. You want them frozen stiffenough to shave thin on the mandolin. You can do this a couple days in advance.
- Make the cheese sauce. While the meat is smoking, grate the cheese with a box grater on the large holes. Set up for double boiling by placing a bowl ontop of a pot with 2-inches of water in it. Turn the burner on medium high. Thesteam will heat the bottom of the bowl but won’t let it get too hot. Add the half& half to the bowl. Give it a few minutes to warm. Slowly add the cheese.Whisk nonstop. Expect some hand cramping, but do not wimp out. Take no breaks.Visualize eating the most delicious thing you’ve ever put in your pie hole.After approximately 20 minutes, the mixture will show signs of thickening. You’ll feelit. When you can write by drizzling the sauce, just a tad more and you’rethere. Turn the stove to low to keep the sauce warm and give it the occasionalwhisk, while you move on.
- Prep.Dice the onions into 1/2-inch chunks. Put them in a bowl, cover, andrefrigerate. Slice your loaves the long way, leaving them hinged on one side. Slicethe frozen meat thin on the mandolin and be sure to use the protective guard.
- Practice. Pullout a clean cutting board and spend some time rehearsing your moves with thetwo spatulas. Use one to pin down the imaginary slices of beef, while the otherpulls and shreds. Practice until you have the technique.
- Cook. Preheatyour griddle to about 300°F. Melt a heaping tablespoon of beef tallow on it. Saute your onions until translucent. Should take only 5-10 minutes. Push them to the sides,away from the intense heat or take them off altogether.
- Add the rest of the beef tallow, and just whensizzling starts add the beef. Brown one side for a minute or two then flip to brown the other. Now, working quickly, employing both spatulas, pin down thebeef with one spatula, stab and pull with the other, shreding the beef. Addthe onion and drizzle a couple of tablespoons of cheese sauce. Form yourmixture into two columns, matching the size of bread.
- Serve. Open the loaves of bread and place them cut side down on top of the columns. Leave everything alone for a minute, allowing the beef to brown. With the confidence of a swordsman, in a single move, slide the 6-inch spatula under the beef, and flip the entire sammie into your hand (careful, hot oil). Drizzle on more cheese sauce. Don’t be shy, you worked your damn hand into carpal tunnel whisking this stuff. Place the whole thing on a cutting board, slice in two. Enter heaven.