You may think that the best cheesesteak is a Philly cheesesteak like one you find at a local sandwich shop or one of the cheesesteak joints in South Philly.
But you may be surprised to find that this Montana steak sandwich gives the traditional cheesesteak a run for its money!
I'd be willing to say that the Montana cheesesteak is an even more authentic cheesesteak because it makes the beef the star of the sandwich instead of disguising it with Cheez Whiz and other ingredients.
Before I show you why the Montana steak sandwich is so delicious and give you the recipe to make one, let's learn more about what some call the authentic Philly cheesesteak.
So what is a Philly Cheesesteak?
What is a Philly cheesesteak?
The Philly cheesesteak is a sandwich made of thinly sliced beefsteak and melted cheese on a hoagie roll. The most popular type of cheese used on a Philly cheesesteak is Cheez Whiz, followed by American and provolone cheese.
The steak is usually cooked on a flat-top or griddle, but can also be fried. Onions, peppers, and mushrooms are common toppings, as well as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, or even tomato sauce.
It is one of the most popular foods in Philadelphia and can be found at most restaurants in the city, especially the local, family-owned restaurants.
Who invented the cheese steak?
Its creation is credited to Pat Olivieri, who first served it in South Philadelphia in the early 1930s.
Oliveri ran a hot dog stand. At one point he threw down some slices of shaved beef on a griddle and cooked it hot and fast on the flattop.
Since he already had hot dog buns on hand, the beef got put in the bun and the rest is history.
What meat is used to make a Philly cheesesteak?
There are many different types of meat that can be used to make a Philly cheesesteak, but the most popular is ribeye steak.
Ribeye is a cut of beef taken from the prime rib roast.
Having the rib eye thinly sliced allows the meat to brown and caramelize more quickly, which makes for a delicious sandwich.
It packs a lot of flavor, because it's well-marbled with intramuscular fats.
For cheesesteaks, the beef is raw and sliced thin, then seared quickly on a flat-top like the Blackstone griddle.
The flash-searing gives the meat a deliciously flavorful crust. Yet, despite the heat, it remains tender and juicy.
Different variations of the sandwich use different meats.
Thinly sliced roast pork, chicken, and lamb, as well as other cuts of beef, are common when making this type of sandwich.
Who makes the best Philly cheesesteaks?
There are a lot of great Philly cheesesteaks out there, but who makes the best is a hotly contested topic.
Some people might say that Pat's King of Steaks in South Philadelphia is the best, while others might swear by Geno's Steaks, also in South Philly.
I've even heard that some touristy cheesesteak gluttons like to mix it up and get a cheesesteak from both Pat's and Gino's places in the same visit.
They're known to ping-pong back and forth depending on how long the line is at one place or the other.
But these are touristy places.
There are also quite a few places in the suburbs that make a mean Philly cheesesteak.
Sometimes the best food comes from less popular places
My first time in Philadelphia was around 1995. I was there for business and manning a booth at a ski expo inside of the King of Prussia Mall.
My business associate and traveling companion, Scott, was from Doylestown, PA. We had a long drive from Waitsfield, VT to King of Prussia and much of the conversation on I-95 revolved around getting me a legit cheesesteak while in the area.
Put yourself in 1995 for a moment
There was no internet.
There was no Food Network.
And there were no smartphones.
Yet even back then as a fledgling foodie who'd never been to Philadelphia, I'd heard of places like Pat's and Gino's.
So had Scott. And he'd been to both of them.
Sadly, I learned that on his watch there would be no sandwich stops at these iconic types of places.
He said the ones that say authentic Philly cheesesteak are the ones to avoid. And that he could tell if a place had a good cheesesteak just by looking at it.
And he did.
We'd done our trade show. Packed the van. And we were headed back to Vermont. But like a kid who went to Disneyworld without ever seeing Mickey Mouse, I still had yet to try a cheesesteak.
Scott was at the wheel as we navigated decaying urban sidestreets en route to the interstate. Once we got on that highway, my chances of getting a cheesesteak would melt away like last year's snow, so I reminded Scott of his promise.
Frantic and embarrassed, he was confident he could still find us a legit place before we hit the highway.
I was skeptical when he pulled into a random parking lot near our on-ramp.
There were a few small businesses, like a video rental store and a pet shop with hardly any customers. Tucked in the middle was what looked like a Greek pizzeria to me. Probably because it was.
The menu consisted of some appetizers, salads, and various formidable pizza offerings. And like many similar spots, they had sandwiches too.
There was no mention of this restaurant being famous for anything
The place was clearly run by assorted members of a family.
Scott stepped up and ordered the pizza steak.
The pizza steak was shaved beef with green bell peppers, marinara, and mozzarella. Scott told me it was a favorite of his but encouraged me to order what I wanted.
I ordered the classic steak that came with peppers and onions and American cheese, and politely asked them to hold the mushrooms.
Since we had a long drive ahead of us, I also ordered a pizza steak - something I would never have done outside of the Philly area.
Trying to explain how amazing these sandwiches were is like trying to describe the prettiest sunset you've ever seen. A delight for the senses.
My sandwich was balanced and uncomplicated but everything worked well together. It was both sophisticated and messy, more like someone in a thousand-dollar suit with frizzy hair than a university frat boy with a trust fund.
With only five ingredients, this sandwich left an indelible mark on my taste buds.
What ingredients are in a traditional Philly cheesesteak?
That depends who you ask...
The traditional Philly cheesesteak consists of steak and melted cheese and onions.
They are all grilled or fried together and served on an Italian roll.
But I feel the roll is just as important as the ingredients.
People swear by Amoroso rolls for the cheesesteak as they are a type of Italian bread that is popular in the Philadelphia area.
They are made with a high percentage of wheat flour and have a slightly sweet taste. Amoroso rolls can be eaten plain or used to make sandwiches.
For me, the roll is so important
People's favorite toppings, like hot peppers, sweet peppers, caramelized onions, or fried onions, can get quite soggy in a boring roll. But a good roll can handle all the fixings.
It should be both crispy and pillowy. A functional vehicle that's airy and would be delicious without the fillings.
Toasting a hoagie roll for a cheesesteak serves a few purposes
When you toast a more crusty roll or dense Italian market-style roll on the Blackstone griddle, it will hold up better when the sandwich gets gooey with different cheeses. When a roll gets toasted on the griddle in butter, it provides bursts of salty flavor with a slightly crisp texture I can't get enough of.
Did somebody say Cheez Whiz?
I suppose you can't really mention a classic Philly cheesesteak without talking about gooey Cheez Whiz.
Which type of cheese you prefer on your cheesesteak sandwich is a matter of personal opinion. But the good news is that there are plenty of melty cheese options. I suspect that Cheez Whiz became popular on this sandwich because it was cheap, readily available, and completely spreadable without excessive heat or needing to be melted.
This is especially convenient for touristy restaurants that have long lines and want to get people served quickly.
I will always stand behind the fact that the best places use fresh ingredients. So the choice of using Cheez Whiz instead of slices of provolone or my favorite melty white American cheese is up to both the cheesesteak place and to the customer.
So what is a Montana Cheesesteak?
A Montana cheesesteak is one that pays respect to the flavor of the steak first and foremost. It will leave your taste buds ringing from here to the Liberty Bell.
I'm lucky that when I go to the grocery store or local butcher, I have access to some amazing local beef. The beef I use for this recipe is from a small mom-and-pop ranch near Livingston, Montana.
Felton Angus Beef Ranch lies along the banks of the Yellowstone River in the heart of Montana's Paradise Valley. It's an area that I've floated and fly-fished many times.
When I watch the television show Yellowstone based on the fictional Dutton ranch in that same area, I cannot help but applaud them for making the locations look shockingly similar to what I've seen while rowing a drift boat or hucking a hopper at an unsuspecting trout.
Even better, the scenery and many of the locations in the program are actually shot in Montana. And for good reason. The area is a true west coast gem even if it's located remotely in the mountain west.
For these cheesesteak sandwiches, it's important that I use the highest quality cut of beef and there's no one I trust more than Felton's.
What to serve with this sandwich?
I encourage you to make this bleu cheese horseradish sauce to go with our Montana steak sandwich. It's also delicious for dipping these crispy no-fry potato wedges in or as a creamy side to these bacon-wrapped jalapenos.
Montana Cheesesteak Sandwich
- 32 oz ribeye steak or prime rib roast
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 4 Kaiser rolls
- 3 tablespoons butter
- To dry brine the steak, sprinkle kosher salt liberally on all sides of the steak and allow it to sit elevated on a cooling rack over a baking sheet in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours
- Remove the steak from the refrigerator
- Rinse the steak with water and pat dry
- Wrap the steak in paper towels while you prepare your grill
- Preheat your grill for indirect cooking
- Although your steak has been dry brined, you may want to consider adding 1-2 tablespoons of additional steak seasoning or BBQ rub with a low salt content
- Using a leave-in digital thermometer, roast the steak over indirect heat and slowly bring the steak toward your ideal internal temperature (shoot for 115F)
- As you approach your desired internal temperature, sear the outside of the steak over direct heat to further develop the bark and give the meat some char
- Remove from the heat and wrap tightly in plastic wrap
- Place the meat in the refrigerator to rest for a minimum of 90 minutes or as long as overnight
- Make this Blue Cheese Horseradish sauce for your sandwich
- Heat your Blackstone griddle to medium-high heat and toast the Kaiser buns for 4-5 minutes until golden brown and set aside
- Remove your steak from the refrigerator
- Using a meat slicer or slicing knife, carefully slice your steak across the grain as thinly as possible
- Place 6-8oz of steak on the Kaiser bun and top with the Blue Cheese Horseradish sauce
- Serve immediately