As I sat down to my second cheesesteak of the day recently, I found myself wondering why the sandwich seems to have such a low ceiling. I mean, even when it’s good, it’s never that good. Is it? Am I wrong? I’m a native of Atlantic City, NJ, and have eaten more than my share of these things over the years. Far more. And it’s wholly possible that the purely orthodox version eaten in my hometown is just not that great. God knows, no one from that area would ever seek to improve it, or anything; I think they are still using crank phones and biplanes too. But the cheesesteak, even with an expanded vocabularly of American or jack cheeses, various spicy aiolis, heaping piles of picked peppers or simmered mushrooms, still is never that good. There’s a reason it can’t compete with the hamburger.
I just can’t be sure I know what it is. In my recent eHow video, you’ll see that I made what I believe is not just the best cheesesteak in the world, but the best cheesesteak that can be made. Let’s look at what makes cheesesteaks such a weak sister in the “hot meat with melted cheese” derby.
- Cheesesteaks are lean and leathery. There’s hardly any need to even go on. That’s 95% of the reason they aren’t good. The meat used for cheesesteaks is totally unmarbled, just red sheets of commodity beef which are then…..
- Cooked to death. When was the last time you ate a cheesesteak that tasted like meat? Never, right? And the reason is that they are routinely murdered on the grill. The quality of beef used in most cheesesteaks would still barely taste like anything, but then it’s cooked and hammered and slapped and cut with the side of the spatula, as the bored cook takes out his frustrations on the hapless meat.
- Cheesesteaks are always side-loaded and out of whack. Here’s the thing about a sandwich. It shouldn’t be a lottery. Each bite should have two pieces of bread, and about the same amount of filling as every other bite. Cheesesteaks are typically shoved into the bread with all the cheese, peppers, onions, etc. facing up. But you don’t eat a sub facing up, unless you are an imbecile. So when you eat it as a sandwich, with a top and bottom, the far right side has everything that makes it good.
- There’s isn’t enough to make it good. For some reason, dry, salty provolone was the cheese of choice in Atlantic City. In Philadelphia, you could have the even worse option of Cheese Whiz. I now get American cheese every time, all the time, but it’s rarely the default. I’m just pointing this out.
So that is four problems with cheesesteaks, and if you watch the video you’ll see how I address them. I use a real steak, cook it in stages, sear enough into the pan to pick it up with pepper vinegar, am unstinting with good ingredients, and make damn sure they are all mixed up together. In this way, I have tried to bring the cheesesteak to the level it deserves, but never quite attained. If only someone could find a way to do it cheaply and easily.