“Anyone, anywhere, can make a passable cheesesteak. What distinguishes the great from the mediocre is context,” writes Tom McAllister, Philly native and former cheesesteak jockey, on the Hungry Beast. McAllister attributes a great cheesesteak to five factors: ingredients, location, clientele, self-awareness, and time.

When it comes to the right cheese, he’s firmly anti-Whiz, arguing that the only acceptable options are provolone and American. Frozen meat chopped up on the griddle haphazardly is out. McAllister says the optimal cheesesteak is made with meat chopped “so finely I could snort it.” The vibe of the shop is integral to the experience, too. “What you want is a place that used to be a townhouse and has enough room for five seats, so everyone eats while leaning on the windowsill or sitting outside on the sidewalk.” And, needless to say, don’t go anywhere full of tourists. Find a local’s joint, preferably one where people wear jersey shirts advertising the shop.

And don’t forget, it’s the people’s cheesesteak. “The cheesesteak is a populist food, not fit for gourmet … Some steak jockeys have deluded themselves into thinking they’re actual chefs, which leads to abominations like the cheesesteak cordon bleu hoagie … if they try to serve you a craft beer or sparkling water, then you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in a place that probably calls itself the Philly Cheese Steak Factory and plasters pictures of Guy Fieri on the menu.”

McAllister suggests his top three cheesesteak joints, but if you aren’t in Philly, you can always make your own.

Image source: Flickr member scaredy_kat under Creative Commons

See more articles