Philly Joes

After a huge Italian dinner with friends in Philly, the server asked if we wanted dessert. I asked for cheesecake. She brought me a cheesesteak. The weird thing is, I ate it. You don’t pass up a cheesesteak in Philly.

"Geno's," from Make It Like a Man!

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In Philly, you can get cheesesteaks pretty much everywhere. Even for dessert, apparently. But if you’re going to have a cheesesteak in Philly,  don’t pass up an opportunity to get one from Pat’s or Gino’s. The question is: Pat’s? Or Gino’s? Well if you ask me, that’s a trick question. The answer is Pat and Gino’s. I mean, they’re right across the street from one another, and don’t tell me you don’t want two sandwiches. OK, maybe you don’t. I went with a couple of friends, and we all split our sandwiches, so that we could have the other half at the other place.

On the way home from my Philly trip, Philly Joes, from Make It Like a Man!I was reading a post on one of my favorite cooking blogs, about elevating the time-honored Joe. It inspired me to see if I could take a Sloppy Joe – the equivalent of a small-town club fighter – and give it a shot at the world heavyweight championship of cheesesteaks … to see if I could capture the flavors of a Philly Cheesesteak in a Joe. Hey Adrian! Philly Joe is here! And he’s straight-up comfort food and super-easy to make.

Philly Joes

Makes 4 substantial sandwiches


4 slices of provolone cheese [1], [2]
1 medium onion
1 medium green bell pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil, or – if you love fun – bacon fat
1 lb ground beef, 80% lean ground chuck preferred
¼ cup steak sauce [3]
1 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Salt and ground black pepper (to taste)
2 tsp Worcestershire, optional
¼ tsp dry mustard, optional
4 large hamburger buns


1. Take the cheese slices out of the fridge now, so that they start to come to room temperature as you’re cooking. 2. Chop the onion and pepper into very small pieces – not quite minced, but close. It would be worth the trouble of getting out the food processor. Once chopped, you should have approx. 1 cup of onion and approx. ¾-cup pepper. If you have a little more, go ahead and use it. If you have a lot more, set the extra aside for another use. 3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Scramble the beef until just the tiniest bit of pink remains. Pour off any excess liquid. Add the pepper and onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the onions become translucent around the edges. Stir in the steak sauce and beef broth, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Extract about 2 Tbs of liquid from the pan, put it in a bowl, and whisk in the cornstarch until no lumps remain. Stir this back into the meat mixture and continue cooking until you’ve cooked away most of the liquid. If your joe-meat needs a bit more zing, which will vary according to the type of steak sauce that you use, add the optional Worcestershire and mustard.

A note about texture: You don’t want the final mixture to be soupy, but you don’t want it to be dry, either. You want it to be juicy. Here’s how to test it: give the entire pot a really thorough stirring, then use a spatula to push the meat away from the bottom of the pan in one spot. If liquid immediately runs back into the spot, it’s too wet. Keep cooking. You want the liquid to very slowly seep back into the spot – so slowly that it may not completely fill in the spot.

4. While the meat is cooking, prep the buns. My toaster has a “bagel” setting that toasts only the cut side of the bagel. I use that to toast the inside of the buns. As a rather tasty alternative, you can butter the cut side of the buns and fry them in a skillet until browned. 5. If you’ve ever had a Sloppy Joe, the assembly of the Philly Joe will be pretty obvious: bottom half of bun, covered with lots of the meat mixture, slice of cheese over that, top half of bun on top. If the cheese slices are warm enough that the hot meat mixture will melt them easily, you’re good to go. Philly Joes, from Make It Like a Man!If your cheese is too cold to do that, do this: place a cheese slice onto the cut side of the top bun. Place it in the microwave, cheese-side up (of course), and nuke for about 11 seconds, or until the edges of the cheese have just curled themselves downward. You don’t want to fully melt the cheese; you just want to get it teetering on the edge of melting, so that the heat of the meat will finish the job. In any case, you want the cheese to be fully melted when you serve up the Joe.


The meat mixture is good leftover, maybe even better. Heat it on the stove with a splash of water, stirring frequently. It also freezes well. Sometimes I like to add cooked rice to the leftover Joe meat and then eat it from a bowl rather than on a bun.


[1] Slice: If you want to use a provolone sauce, net-search “how to make a cheese sauce” and use provolone as the cheese. You’ll definitely achieve a more luxurious texture this way, but it’s a considerable amount of effort.
[2] Provolone: You can have a cheesesteak without cheese … if you’re some kind of lunatic. The only choice a sane person has is provolone or Wiz. Yes, I’m talking Cheez Whiz. Buy a jar of Cheez Whiz. Scoop out a fantastically-heaping soup spoon per Joe, nuke it until warm, and spoon it on top of your meat instead of the provolone. Turn your nose up at it if you want, but unless you’ve had “one wiz with” from one of the South Philly temples of cheesesteak, you don’t know.
[3] Sauce: I use Lizano Salsa. Why? Because I can. I have a friend from Costa Rica. Use your favorite steak sauce.
[4] While doing research for this post, I came across what I think is the weirdest blog thread I’ve ever come across. It launched out with an article about how crustless sandwiches will destroy America – which, after reading, I have to say I agree with … assuming Trump doesn’t do it first (or has he already?) – and then proceeded to ask whether or not to cut a Viking. I mean, assuming you could time travel, Vikings were fierce warriors. I don’t think you should casually sit around thinking you could take a knife to one without loosing a body part, if not your very life.

See Also:

Philly Cheesesteak (by Center Cut Cook), via Make It Like a Man!

Philly Cheesesteak

Orange-Chili Joes (by Dulcet), via Make It Like a Man!

Orange-Chili Joes

Philly Joe (by Jazz Profiles), via Make It Like a Man!

Mo’ Joe

Creds for all images on this page: hover over image to reveal source. If an image has a green caption, hover over it. Click to jump to or toward source.

Chicken Soup with Polish Dumplings
360: The Restaurant at the CN Tower

26 thoughts on “Philly Joes

  1. Now this sounds like my idea of fun…and my idea of deliciousness…all rolled up in a bun form! I’m kinda curious about the cheesesteak for dessert thing. I get that cheesesteak sounds like cheesecake. But what confuses me is that when the waitress heard ‘cheesesteak’ she didn’t stop and double-check the order. That means cheesesteaks-for-dessert must be fairly common in Philly? Dessert, breakfast, lunch snack…I don’t care…I’ll gladly put down one of these joe’s! You represented joe well, my friend. He would be proud.
    David @ Spiced recently posted…Slow Cooker Southwestern Chicken Tacos

    • I know! I wonder to this day if she thought she toying with me, or if she just didn’t care, or if I look like the kind of guy who downs a cheesesteak after a huge meal, or what. Seriously, though, I hesitated for a couple beats, and then though, uh, ok. (This from the guy who, when he visits his in-laws in Buffalo, insists on having wings with every meal, even if it means wings three times a day for four days.)

    • The meat keeps well and reheats perfectly, so you could easily have them on a whim.

    • First time I went (years ago), it was Pat’s. This time. Geno’s. I know that sounds diplomatic, but that’s really how it went down.

  2. Hey, thanks for the link. Can you believe I’ve never had a Cheesesteak? Never been to Philly either. But a Sloppy Joe in all it’s creative forms I get. GREG

    • I’ve lived in the suburbs of Philly all of my life. Cheesesteaks are a treasure here! I personally like the suburban cheesesteaks because they are made with American cheese and not Cheese Wiz. They aren’t as greasy either.

      If you ever get into Philly, I strongly suggest finding a great place to have a cheesesteak and then get a soft pretzel.
      Joanne | No Plate Like Home recently posted…One Pot Jambalaya with Shrimp and Andouille Sausage

      • I know how you feel. When I heard they use Cheez Whiz, I thought it sounded gross. However, I have to tell you, Cheez Whiz may not be good in the overall sense, but it is very good at what it does. It melds with meat in a way that real cheese cannot. I became a convert. However, I respect your American cheese choice!

  3. Back in the day when I could actually eat two sandwiches — this is at least 25 years ago — I was in Philly and did a taste test between both Pat’s and Gino’s. Both good. Splitting sandwiches is much more sensible, but when have I ever been known to be sensible? 🙂 Anyway, fun dish. I like Sloppy Joe’s — and have been playing with them lately. Like what you did, a lot. Thanks!

    John/Kitchen Riffs recently posted…Cabbage Chili with Spicy Sausage

    • Tgank you! Those were the days, eh? Those two-sandwich days? I’ll be eager to see what kind of Joe you come up with.

    • I was skeptical my first time. It just sounds like a lot of hype over a sandwich whose simple, low-brow ingredients couldn’t amount to much. But I was so wrong. It’s not the cheesesteak; it’s what Pat’s and Geno’s does to them. I’m not sure what kind of dark magic it is … but it’s like smoking umami out of a bong.

  4. I really friggin’ wanna burger now. Steak kind of sucks in my mind… But burgers – that’s a whole other story. I guess it’s all a texture and fatty thing to me – and this recipe right here, looks like it would fit the bill, that’s for dang sure! I like it dirtyy!

    • Yes, we dated when I lived in New York. Oh, wait a minute. Are you talking about a sandwich?

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