Skip to Content

What cheese is supposed to be on Philly cheesesteak?

The authentic cheese for a Philly cheesesteak sandwich is provolone cheese. Provolone originated in Italy and was brought to Philadelphia by Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When the famous Philly cheesesteak sandwich was invented in the 1930s, provolone was the natural choice of cheese to top the thin slices of grilled steak.

The History of the Philly Cheesesteak

The Philly cheesesteak was invented in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the early 1930s. Several different stories exist about who created the first cheesesteak, but most credit Pat Olivieri, a hot dog vendor who worked in South Philadelphia. According to legend, one day in 1930 Olivieri decided to make himself a sandwich using some chopped up grilled steak and an Italian roll. A taxi driver saw Olivieri eating the sandwich and wanted one for himself. Soon, word spread and requests for the sandwich increased. Within a year, Olivieri opened up a storefront directly across from his hot dog stand to sell this new creation.

Initially, Olivieri’s steak sandwiches did not actually contain cheese. The addition of cheese happened a few years later in 1933, when a cheese distributor began giving samples of provolone cheese to Olivieri and suggested he add it to his sandwiches. The combination of thin slices of provolone and pieces of grilled steak on an Italian roll turned out to be a huge hit. Within a decade, cheesesteaks were becoming iconic in Philadelphia.

Why Provolone Cheese?

So why did provolone become the standard cheese for Philly cheesesteaks? There are a few key reasons:

  • Provolone was one of the most popular Italian cheeses in Philadelphia at the time due to the large population of Italian immigrants.
  • It had a very smooth, mild flavor that complemented the grilled steak.
  • It melted nicely into the sandwich.
  • It was affordable and accessible for street vendors to purchase.

As the Philly cheesesteak rapidly grew in popularity throughout the 1930s, provolone cemented its status as the signature cheese for the sandwich. Competing cheesesteak makers used provolone to stay authentic, and customers came to expect that distinctive provolone flavor.

Other Cheese Options

While provolone remains the traditional and most popular cheese for Philly cheesesteaks today, some other cheeses are also used:

  • Cheez Whiz – In the 1950s, the Kraft Foods company began heavily marketing this processed cheese product. Some Philly vendors switched over to Cheez Whiz as a cheaper alternative to provolone. It is gooey and melts well into a cheesesteak.
  • American cheese – American cheese is another processed cheese product that became an inexpensive option for some vendors. It melts smoothly like Cheez Whiz.
  • Mozzarella – Mozzarella is another Italian cheese that gained some popularity due to pizza’s rise in the 1960s. The milky, mild taste compliments a cheesesteak.
  • Cheddar – Aged cheddar provides a sharper flavor to cut through the richness of the steak and can be used in place of or along with provolone.

However, to cheesesteak purists, provolone remains the ideal choice. While others may use Cheez Whiz, American, mozzarella, or cheddar based on availability, cost, or personal preference, the authentic Philly cheesesteak showcases the smooth, subtle provolone cheese.

Provolone on a Philly Cheesesteak

When making an authentic Philly cheesesteak, provolone cheese should be used. Here are some tips for including it:

  • Use thinly sliced provolone – Thin slices will melt quickly into the steak.
  • Make sure the steak is hot – If the steak isn’t hot enough, the cheese won’t melt properly.
  • Add it at the end – Only add sliced provolone after cooking the steak to prevent burning or overcooking.
  • Use enough for coverage – Cover the entire steak area with a layer of cheese slices.
  • Let it melt – Allow 15-30 seconds for the cheese slices to fully melt into the steak.

Aim for about 2-3 ounces of provolone per cheesesteak. The provolone should be gooey and dripping down into the steak slices inside the roll when picked up. That’s how you know it’s a genuine Philadelphia cheesesteak!

Where to Get the Best Cheesesteaks

There are dozens of popular cheesesteak shops and vendors to check out in Philadelphia. Here are some of the most legendary destinations for an authentic cheesesteak experience:

Restaurant Location Details
Pat’s King of Steaks 1237 E Passyunk Ave The original shop, opened in 1930 by inventor Pat Olivieri
Geno’s Steaks 1219 S 9th St Famous rival of Pat’s, opened in 1966
Tony Luke’s 39 E Oregon Ave Well-known for its roast pork and provolone sandwiches
Steve’s Prince of Steaks 41 S 16th St Popular with college students, open late hours
Jim’s Steaks 400 South St Several locations throughout the city

Outside of Philadelphia, Pat’s and Geno’s both ship their rolls, steak, and cheese wiz nationwide to fans looking for an authentic taste. There are also some Philly-style cheesesteak restaurants bringing provolone-topped sandwiches to other states.

Making Your Own at Home

With some simple ingredients and techniques, you can create your own delicious Philly cheesesteak with provolone in your home kitchen:


  • 1 lb thinly sliced ribeye or top round steak
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 6-8 oz provolone cheese, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 Italian rolls or baguettes, split


  1. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet or grill pan over high heat.
  2. Add the sliced steak. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Push steak to the side. Add onions to the other side of the pan. Cook 1-2 more minutes.
  4. Combine steak and onions. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes until steak is browned and onions are tender.
  5. Pile steak and onions onto the rolls. Top with provolone slices.
  6. Set oven to broil. Place sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil 1-2 minutes until cheese is melted.
  7. Serve sandwiches immediately while hot and melty.

Adjust provolone amount based on your cheese preferences. Other options like green peppers, mushrooms, or banana peppers can also be cooked with the steak and onions.


For an authentic cheesesteak experience, provolone cheese is the ideal choice. This mild, smooth Italian cheese has been used on Philly’s famous sandwiches since the 1930s. While other cheeses like Cheez Whiz or American may be used, to cheesesteak purists, provolone is the true signature cheese. Whether ordering one in Philadelphia or making your own at home, be sure to use provolone cheese to enjoy the classic Philly cheesesteak flavor.