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What cut of meat is best for Philly cheese?


The Philly cheesesteak is an iconic sandwich originating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It consists of thinly sliced pieces of beef and melted cheese in a long hoagie roll. While this seemingly simple sandwich has just a few core ingredients, there is an ongoing debate around what type of meat works best. The traditional options are ribeye or top round, but some also advocate for other cuts like sirloin or flank steak. So what is the ideal meat for getting the perfect cheesesteak? There are a few factors to consider when determining the best cut.

Flavor

First and foremost, the taste and flavor of the meat will impact the overall cheesesteak experience. Ribeye is often considered the gold standard as it contains marbling with bits of fat woven through the leaner red meat. This produces a juicier and more flavorful bite. Ribeye has a richer, beefier taste compared to leaner cuts. Top round offers a bit more chew but still has good flavor. Flank steak imparts a slight tang while sirloin is quite mild. So for maximum meaty flavor and mouthfeel, ribeye is hard to top.

Texture

Closely related to flavor is the texture of the meat. Traditional Philly cheesesteak preparation involves thinly slicing the meat into small strips before griddling. Therefore, the cut of beef should be tender enough to slice thin but still hold its structure during cooking. Again, ribeye performs well here as the marbling helps keep the meat fibers intact. Round has good texture but can become a bit tough if overcooked. Flank steak has long muscle fibers so can get stringy. Sirloin is quite tender and slices nicely but may fall apart more easily during cooking.

Cost

Cost and budget may be another consideration when selecting cheesesteak meat. There’s a reason ribeye is most commonly found at steakhouses – it commands a higher price point. Ribeye can run 50-100% more expensive per pound compared to other cuts. Top round offers a decent compromise between flavor and affordability. Flank steak and sirloin are typically the cheaper budget-friendly options. So paying a premium for ribeye may produce the ideal cheesesteak, but there are lower priced cuts that can still yield a satisfying sandwich.

The Case for Ribeye

As the traditional and most sought-after choice, ribeye brings several advantages to the cheesesteak equation:

Marbling

Ribeye contains intricate marbling, which is the flecks of fat interspersed between the lean muscle. This marbling accomplishes two important things. First, it bastes the meat during cooking which keeps ribeye extremely moist and juicy. Secondly, the fat carries a huge amount of beefy flavor. So ribeye delivers the best of both worlds – tender and succulent meat with full-bodied, hearty flavor.

Texture

While seeming counterintuitive, the marbling in ribeye actually provides texture benefits when sliced thinly. The fat streaks reinforce the structural integrity of the meat so it doesn’t disintegrate during griddling. Ribeye steak cheesesteaks maintain their slice integrity and provide meaty bites full of texture.

Mouthfeel

Ribeye not only tastes amazing, but feels great when chewing thanks to its high fat content. The rich meaty flavor couples with the velvety texture to create an unparalleled mouthfeel. Ribeye melts in the mouth and has a satisfying heaviness.

Versatility

As a high quality cut, ribeye brings out the best in other cheesesteak ingredients. Its hearty flavor stands up to strong cheeses like provolone or Whiz. Ribeye also pairs well with sauteed onions, mushrooms, and other classic toppings.

The Case for Top Round

While ribeye might be the traditional choice, many amateur and professional cheesesteak makers advocate for top round as an ideal cut:

Cost

Top round offers significant cost savings over ribeye, often around half the price per pound. This makes it much more economical for high volume cheesesteak production. Restaurants can pass these savings onto customers with lower priced menu items.

Leaner Meat

With less marbling than ribeye, top round provides a leaner meat option. Each bite contains more actual beef and less fat, which some cheesesteak purists prefer. People aiming to reduce overall fat and calories may also appreciate the leanness of top round.

Moderate Flavor

While top round won’t match the robust intensity of ribeye, it still delivers decent flavor. Top round has moderate beefiness to complement the cheese, onions, and other additions. The overall cheesesteak flavor balance can work well with mellower meat.

Simpler Preparation

Ribeye requires more precise cooking to achieve the right balance of melt-in-your mouth tenderness without passing into overdone territory. Top round is more straightforward to prepare properly and has a wider margin of error. This makes top round a better option for high volume cheesesteak production.

Other Cuts to Consider

Beyond the classic ribeye vs top round debate, a few other cuts can make tasty cheesesteak meat when handled properly:

Sirloin

Sirloin is quite tender with a thin grain that slices nicely. It is also one of the most affordable cuts. However, sirloin lacks flavor compared to ribeye or round. It can end up almost bland and mealy in texture.

Flank Steak

Flank steak imparts a tangy flavor, but the long muscle fibers don’t hold up well to thin slicing. It can become stringy and chewy. Proper slicing technique and cooking is required to make flank workable for cheesesteaks.

Skirt Steak

Similar to flank steak, skirt steak has pronounced grain and a loose texture. It needs to be sliced very thinly against the grain to mitigate chewiness. When done right, skirt steak provides a pleasant meaty flavor.

Brisket

Brisket has great flavor but requires hours of slow cooking to properly tenderize. However, its abundant marbling does melt into cheesesteaks beautifully when giving the time to break down.

Cut Flavor Texture Cost
Ribeye +++ ++ $$$
Top Round ++ ++ $
Sirloin + ++ $
Flank Steak ++ + $
Skirt Steak ++ + $
Brisket +++ + $$

Conclusion

The never-ending debate around cheesesteak meat ultimately comes down to personal preference. If cost is no concern, ribeye is hard to top for its luscious marbling, beefy flavor and tender texture. For those on a budget, top round offers a more affordable option with decent texture and moderate beefiness to satisfy cheesesteak cravings. And some of the lesser used cuts like flank or sirloin can produce tasty cheesesteaks in the right hands. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as the ideal cheesesteak meat often depends on the specifics of preparation and cooking technique. The beauty of the cheesesteak lies in its simplicity and versatility – whether using ribeye or round, sirloin or skirt, with the right care any cut can yield cheesesteak perfection.