Welcome, cheese aficionados and Philly cheesesteak enthusiasts! You’ve landed on the most comprehensive guide to discovering the best cheese on a Philly cheesesteak.
The best cheese on a Philly Cheesesteak is either Provolone, Cheez Whiz, or American. The original cheese used when the sandwich was invented was provolone.
But since the introduction of Whiz in 1952, residents of Philadelphia have been pretty evenly split with their cheese preference.
As this age-old debate between Provolone and Cheez Whiz (and several other contenders) rages on, we’ll help you navigate the delicious maze of options, dive into the history, and explore the top cheesesteak joints (jawns) in Philadelphia where you can get whichever cheese your heart desires.
Now, let’s uncover the world of the Philly cheesesteak!
A Brief History of Philly Cheesesteak
Our journey begins in Philadelphia during the 1930s.
Legend has it that hot dog vendor Pat Olivieri, unsatisfied with his lunch options, grilled up some thinly sliced beef and onions, plopped them on an Italian roll, and voilà – the Philly cheesesteak was born!
It wasn’t until years later when cheese was introduced to the sandwich.But once it arrived, things were never the same and sparked a never-ending debate among cheesesteak lovers worldwide.
Provolone vs. Cheez Whiz vs. American Cheese
A true cheesesteak fan will likely have strong opinions on which cheese is supreme, but this guide wouldn’t be complete without presenting the contenders:
Provolone: The Classy Classic
Provolone, the original cheese used on cheesesteaks, is an Italian cheese with a rich and slightly sharp flavor.
Many traditionalists argue that its creamy and melty goodness is the perfect complement to the savory beef and onions.
Usually slices of provolone are melted on top of the meat while it grills. Some shops chop up the meat and mix it well with the melted cheese before putting it all on a roll.
Cheez Whiz: The Controversial Crowd-Pleaser
Cheez Whiz burst onto the scene in the 1950s and quickly became a favorite among Philadelphians. Despite its processed nature, its tangy taste and gooey texture make it a strong competitor in the great cheese debate.
There’s something about the unique taste that can’t be replicated. If you go to Philly and don’t try at least on cheesesteak with wiz, you’re really missing out.
American Cheese: The Underrated Underdog
American cheese, the oft-overlooked contender, is a mild and melty option that can hold its own.
While it may lack the prestige of provolone or the cult following of Cheez Whiz, its loyal fans argue that it is the ideal choice for a cheesesteak.
Most of the shops I’ve seen with American serve a melted American sauce, rather than slices of cheese.
The Art of Choosing the Right Cheese: Factors to Consider
So, how do you determine the best cheese for your Philly cheesesteak? Take into account factors such as:
- Taste preferences: Do you prefer a mild or bold cheese? If mild, go provolone. If bold, Whiz all the way.
- Texture: Are you looking for a creamy, gooey, or firm cheese? They’ll all be somewhat melted, but Whiz is by far the gooey-best as it’s naturally a sauce consistency.
- Authenticity: Does staying true to the cheesesteak’s roots matter to you? Then go with provolone.
The Top Philly Cheesesteak Joints and Their Signature Cheeses
Now that you know the contenders for types of cheese, let’s visit some of the top Philly cheesesteak spots and see how they stack up with their cheese.
It’s important to note that nowadays, you can get pretty much any cheese at any shop, but some are known for one kind occasionally.
- Pat’s King of Steaks: As the originator of the cheesesteak, Pat’s is known for its thinly sliced beef, grilled onions, and choice of cheese. Since this is the original cheesesteak shop and the original cheese was Provolone, maybe you want to get the classic.
- Geno’s Steaks: Pat’s fiercest competitor, located right across the street. They are well known for their Whiz sandwiches. Many tourists get one sandwich from Pat’s and one from Geno’s and split it with their travel partner, so they can compare.
- Jim’s Steaks: With multiple locations, this iconic spot is known for its mouthwatering sandwiches made with your choice of Provolone, American, or Cheez Whiz. Fans often rave about their perfectly grilled onions.
- Tony Luke’s: One of the top steak spots, also known for their pork sandwiches. Many locations around the city now.
- John’s Roast Pork: Don’t let the name fool you; their cheesesteaks are just as legendary. John’s is best known for Provolone and the quality of rolls. They’re also known for their “Ultimate Cheesesteak” with 12oz of meat.
The Cheesesteak’s Cheesy Cousins: Variations and Spin-offs
Philly’s classic cheesesteak has inspired numerous creative variations:
- Pizza Cheesesteak (aka Pizza Steak): Provolone and marinara sauce join forces for an Italian twist.
- Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak: Spice things up with Buffalo sauce, chicken, and blue cheese.
- Veggie Cheesesteak: Swap the beef for mushrooms, peppers, and onions to make it vegetarian.
- Indian Cheesesteak: I’ve yet to see this included in any other list so I want to mention it: There’s a shop in a South Philly strip mall called Little Sicily II that sells an Indian-style cheesesteak, with either chicken of beef. It’s the most unique sandwich I’ve tried, and everyone I refer to them loves it. You can get it mild, medium, or spicy and it’s great either way.
While exploring these variations, you might also be interested in another street food: the Sonoran Hot Dog. This southwestern spin on the classic hot dog features bacon, pinto beans, grilled onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, and mayonnaise. Check out my blog post on the Sonoran Hot Dog to learn more
A Cheesy Glossary: Cheesesteak Lingo and Terminology
Before we wrap up, let’s learn the language of how to order the Philly cheesesteak like a local:
- “Wiz Wit”: Cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and onions.
- “Whiz Witout”: Cheesesteak without onions.
For any other variations, just tell them what cheese you want and whether or not you want onions.
For anyone nervous about ordering, let me put your mind at ease. Literally no one cares how you order the cheesesteak. It can be fun to order in the local vernacular, but you definitely don’t have to use these terms.
Just don’t ask for Swiss cheese on your sandwich or you’ll risk getting run out of town.
We’ve reached the end of our cheesy journey, exploring the world of Philly cheesesteak in all its mouthwatering, cheesy glory!
I hope this has inspired you to embark on your own quest for the best cheese on a Philly cheesesteak, whether you’re visiting Philadelphia or having one in your home.
Whether you’re a traditionalist, a rebel, or an experimentalist, there’s a perfect cheesesteak (and cheese) out there for you.
And of course, there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy a cheesesteak. Just pick what’s best for you!