Can You Use Deli Roast Beef for a Philly Cheesesteak? Everything You Need to Know

The Philly cheesesteak is an iconic sandwich from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania made with thinly sliced beef and melted cheese. While the traditional recipe calls for ribeye steak, many people wonder if deli roast beef can be used as a substitute. In this article, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of using deli roast beef and provide tips to make the best Philly cheesesteak possible.

An Overview of the Traditional Philly Cheesesteak

To understand if deli roast beef is a suitable substitute, it helps to first look at what makes an authentic Philly cheesesteak:

  • Thinly sliced ribeye steak: This cut of beef provides tenderness and rich, beefy flavor. The marbling gives it juiciness.

  • Onions: Thinly sliced onions are sautéed and piled high onto the steak.

  • Cheese: Traditionally, Cheez Whiz is slathered over top while the steak and onions are still hot. Provolone is another popular choice.

  • Rolls: A long, crusty Italian roll holds all the ingredients. The soft interior soaks up the delicious juices.

This simple sandwich balances the savory beef and onions with melted cheese. When done right you get an amazing interplay of textures and flavors in each bite.

Can Deli Roast Beef Work in a Philly Cheesesteak?

Now let’s look at whether deli roast beef can stand in for ribeye steak


  • Convenience: Deli roast beef is pre-sliced and ready to use. This saves a lot of prep time.

  • Consistency: The slices of deli roast beef will likely be uniform in size and thickness. This can make cooking easier.

  • Lower cost: Deli roast beef is usually cheaper per pound than high-quality ribeye steak. This can make cheesesteaks more budget-friendly.


  • Leaner meat: Deli roast beef is typically very lean. Without marbling, it may turn out dry and not have much flavor.

  • Texture: The deli slices tend to be soft and can become mushy when cooked. Ribeye has more bite.

  • Flavor: While delicious, roast beef has a different taste profile than ribeye steak. The cheesesteak may seem off.

The Consensus:

Deli roast beef can work in a pinch, but for the best results, ribeye steak is ideal. The marbling and texture of ribeye are hard to replicate. However, with the right techniques, deli roast beef can make a decent substitute.

Tips for Using Deli Roast Beef

If you want to use deli roast beef, here are some tips to help improve its flavor and texture:

  • Choose high-quality roast beef. Opt for roast beef from the deli counter, rather than pre-packaged. It will taste fresher.

  • Use flavorful cheese. Go for Cheez Whiz, provolone, or aged cheddar rather than mild cheeses. This boosts the overall flavor.

  • Load up on toppings. Include extra onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc. More toppings help distract from any lack of beefiness.

  • Add seasoning. Use salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and other seasonings to increase the flavor of the roast beef.

  • Cook thoroughly. Make sure to cook the meat through so it doesn’t seem dry or rubbery.

  • Use flavorful rolls. Choose rolls with sesame seeds, garlic, or herbs rather than plain ones.

  • Drizzle with jus. Adding beef jus can provide a savory boost similar to the ribeye marbling.

Mastering the Method for Deli Roast Beef Cheesesteaks

The way you prepare and cook the sandwich also makes a difference. Follow these steps for great results:

  • Thinly slice the roast beef. Using a sharp knife or meat slicer, slice against the grain as thinly as possible. Watch for sinew to remove.

  • Heat oil in a skillet or griddle. Use enough oil to generously coat the surface. You want sizzling heat.

  • Cook onions first. Sauté the onions for 1-2 minutes until starting to soften. Move them toward the side.

  • Brown the roast beef. Add the beef in an even layer. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side until nicely browned.

  • Finish cooking the onions and beef. Mix together and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes until the beef is no longer pink.

  • Melt the cheese. Top the steak and onions with cheese slices. Cover to melt the cheese thoroughly.

  • Toast the rolls. While cheese melts, toast rolls on the skillet or griddle for 1-2 minutes per side.

  • Construct the sandwich. Scoop the cheesesteak mixture onto the roll, adding any extra toppings you like.

Ideas for Extra Flavor

If the deli roast beef still seems to be lacking, try incorporating these ideas for more flavor:

  • Sauté mushrooms, peppers, and onions for a cheesesteak hoagie.

  • Spread spicy mustard or mayo on the roll before adding fillings.

  • Add hot sauce, BBQ sauce, or steak sauce for a flavor boost.

  • Use provolone cheese and sprinkle everything bagel seasoning into the meat.

  • Top it off with fried onions for crunch.

  • Make a French dip sandwich by serving with au jus or gravy for dipping.

  • Turn it into a cheesesteak melt by using the open-faced sandwich method.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about using deli roast beef:

Can I use leftover roast beef?

Yes, leftover roast beef works well, especially if it was cooked to medium or medium-rare originally. Just slice it thinly and follow the same cooking method.

What about roast beef lunch meat?

Pre-packaged lunch meats often lack flavor and moisture. Try to find freshly sliced roast beef from the deli counter for better quality.

Should I season the roast beef?

Seasoning is recommended to increase flavor. Use a meat tenderizer first to help the seasonings penetrate.

What cheese is best with roast beef?

Cheez Whiz, provolone, cheddar, and mozzarella all pair nicely. Go for a cheese with some sharpness to stand up to the roast beef.

Can I use an instant pot or slow cooker?

Yes, but traditional pan-frying yields the crispiest, most authentic texture. Use a broth for moisture if using other appliances.

The Verdict

While deli roast beef may not fully replicate the indulgent experience of a classic Philly cheesesteak, with the right techniques and ingredients, you can still create a tasty sandwich. The key is using high-quality roast beef and amping up the flavors. With the tips provided, your roast beef cheesesteak can be crave-worthy.

However, for the true iconic cheesesteak, ribeye steak remains the best choice. If you want an authentic taste of Philadelphia, it’s hard to beat thinly sliced, well-marbled ribeye sizzling on the griddle. The mix of textures and concentrated beefiness just can’t be matched.

So next time you get a craving, consider splurging on fresh ribeye for the full cheesesteak experience. But in a pinch, don’t be afraid to improvise with some deli roast beef. With the right approach, you can still make an awesome sandwich.

How you adapt the classic recipe is up to you and your tastebuds. Now get out there and sink your teeth into a delicious cheesesteak! Just don’t forget the napkins.

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