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The History of the Philly Cheesesteak Origin

July 24, 2023

philly cheesesteak origin

Philadelphia isn’t known as “the great sandwich city” for no reason. The historic city invented three of the most iconic sandwiches of all time, namely the roast pork sandwich, the hoagie, and — of course — the Philly cheesesteak. While the origins of the hoagie and roast pork sandwich remain somewhat elusive, the story behind the birth of the Philly cheesesteak is widely acknowledged and celebrated amongst Philadelphia locals.

If you ever find yourself in Philadelphia and want to know the origin story of the Philly cheesesteak, just ask any friendly-looking person walking down the street — or (and this would probably be a better idea), head on down to Tony Luke’s and chat it up with some of our regulars. Today’s blog post should also give you a pretty good idea of how this delicious sandwich came to be, so listen up!

The Philly Cheesesteak: An Introduction

The Philly Cheesesteak has become a staple food for local Philadelphians and tourists alike, to say the least. Just picture this mouthwatering masterpiece: Thinly sliced rib-eye beef, cooked just right, and piled high on soft, pillowy Italian-style bread. That’s not all, though — you can’t forget about the melted cheese, oozing and dripping all over the place as you take that first bite. There’s a reason why you can’t go to Philadelphia without trying an authentic Philly cheesesteak. Trust us, it’s a serious game-changer!

It’s the kind of sandwich that leaves an impression for sure — a memory that lingers long after you take your last bite. It’s the epitome of comfort food, a guilty pleasure that’s sure to bring joy and satisfaction with every single mouthful. The beauty of the Philly cheesesteak is that it’s not just a sandwich; it’s an experience. It has a fascinating history and has become an iconic symbol of historic Philadelphia over time, so it’s definitely not something you want to miss out on should you ever get the chance to try a true Philly cheesesteak. Let’s get into the history and origin of this incredible sandwich below.

The History and Origin of the Philly Cheesesteak

When it comes to the origin of the Philly cheesesteak, there’s actually not a lot of controversy on the topic. The vast majority of Philadelphians concur on its creator and timeline. As the story goes, the Philly cheesesteak was invented by Pat Olivieri in the 1930s. Pat owned a modest hot dog stand (which later became the popular restaurant and original Philly cheesesteak co., Pat’s King of Steaks) in South Philadelphia. One day, he decided to experiment with thinly sliced beef instead of hot dogs. He cooked the meat on his grill, piled it onto a roll, and then added onions. Needless to say, the man was a genius. This simple combination struck a chord with hungry Philadelphians, and — low and behold — the Philly cheesesteak was born.

Now, we know what you’re thinking: What about the cheese? This might seem pretty wild to some, but the Philly cheesesteak sandwich didn’t actually include cheese until the 1940s, when a restaurant manager at Pat’s King of Steaks decided to add some melted provolone to the concoction. Obviously, the addition of cheese to the steak sandwich caught on pretty quickly!

Nowadays, there are a lot of different cheeses used in Philly cheesesteaks — from Cheez whiz to squares of orange American cheese — but provolone is the way go to if you’re looking for an authentic Philly cheesesteak recipe, or want the traditional cheesesteak experience when you inevitably visit Tony Luke’s.

How to Make an Authentic Philly Cheesesteak

Of course, you can always get a Tony Luke’s frozen Philly cheesesteak delivered right to your house, but let’s say you want to try your hand at making your own authentic Philly cheesesteak? Here’s a recipe that’s sure to blow your mind. While the process of making a Philly cheesesteak is pretty simple, making a Philly cheesesteak the right way is probably going to take a little bit of practice. That’s okay, though! We’re here to guide you.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced and rings separated
  • 12 ounces chopped steak (thinly sliced eye of round, ribeye, or sirloin tip roast cut into 1-inch slices)
  • Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • Cheez Whiz or provolone cheese slices
  • 1 (8-inch long) Italian loaf, hoagie roll, or French baguette
  • Dill pickle spears (if you’d like)


  1. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan over high heat until a drop of water sizzles when flicked into the oil. Reduce to medium heat.
  2. Add the thinly sliced onions, and stir until they become transparent. This should smell delicious, so you’ll know when they’re ready!
  3. Add the sliced steak to the pan and cook for approximately 3 minutes, or until the meat is lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Arrange the cooked meat in a long, lengthwise pile across your frying pan. Place your cheese slices over the meat and let them melt. If you’re using Cheez Whiz, you’ll want to melt it separately in the microwave or double boiler (if you have one on hand).
  5. Slice the bread lengthwise, and, using a spatula, transfer half of the meat and melted cheese onto it. If using melted Cheez Whiz, simply spoon it on top of the meat. Don’t use too much Cheez Whiz, as it could potentially overpower the sandwich.
  6. Use the remaining meat and cheese to make another sandwich, and top both sandwiches with plenty of onions. And, voila! You’ve made yourself a couple of authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. Serve some pickle spears on the side if you’d like, grab a friend, and enjoy!

Making homemade Philly cheesesteaks is super fun, but again, it’s going to be difficult to replicate the kind of authentic Philly cheesesteak you’d get at Tony Luke’s. This is why we’d recommend ordering a couple of Tony Luke’s frozen cheesesteaks. Save them for a night when you don’t feel like cooking, and simply reheat them in the oven to get that genuine Philadelphia taste!

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