Try thin-sliced bottom round roast for economical but flavorful Philly cheesesteaks.Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Traditionally, Philly cheesesteaks are made with rib eye steaks or rib roasts, but the cost of making these sandwiches can quickly add up using this premium beef cut. Though not nearly as tender or juicy as a rib roast, a bottom round roast makes a suitable budget alternative with a strong beefy flavor. Slice the roast thinly, top it with your favorite cheese and serve it on a crusty, toasted bun with or without onions.
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Bottom Round Profile
Bottom round roast is lean and sometimes tough as a result of the cow exercising the hind legs. Additionally, this meat is subdivided into smaller sections by tough connective tissue. Unlike rib eye that can be cooked juicy and tender over high heat in a short amount of time, bottom round roast generally requires a slow cooking process with moist, low heat to break down the tough tissue and meat. For Philly cheesesteaks, however, the meat is thinly sliced before cooking so that toughness isn't as great a problem as when cooking the whole roast. Unless you are serving sandwiches to a Philadelphia native who can tell the difference, you could slow-cook the meat before slicing, which is the usual preparation for bottom round roasts.
Cutting the Roast
The meat, cheese and bread in a Philly cheesesteak should melt in your mouth with each gooey bite, a feature that is achieved with very thinly-sliced beef. The bottom round roast is much more tender when cut across the grain to break the long meat fibers into short lengths. Before slicing, separate the roast at each line of connective tissue, pulling the tough tissue away from the meat. Freeze the roast pieces for 1 to 11/2 hours before slicing so the meat is frozen about halfway through. This makes the meat firm and prevents it from shifting as you slice it. You can cut thin slices with a sharp chef's knife or, if you have one available, use a meat slicer to make even thinner slices. If you cook the roast before slicing, cut across the grain and make the slices as thin as possible.
Start With Marinade
Marinade can help make up for the lack of natural moisture in a bottom round roast while adding a boost of flavor. Additionally, the acidic content of marinades helps break down the tough meat fibers to make the meat even more tender. The marinade makes the most impact when added to the meat after slicing rather than marinating a whole roast. Choose from a wide variety of bottled marinades or make your own custom marinade with your choice of seasonings and spices. Try an acidic ingredient such as apple cider, balsamic or red wine to complement the beef. Mix in your choice of cooking oil — olive oil and vegetable oil work well — plus your choice of spices such as pepper, salt, garlic and Worcestershire sauce.
Cooking the Beef
Bottom round roast beef can dry out fairly quickly after cooking, so it must be kept moist if you won't eat it right away. If you plan to serve the Philly cheesesteaks immediately, you can achieve desirable results by cooking the beef on a griddle or in a skillet just as the cheesesteak masters in Philadelphia cook them. If the Philly cheesesteaks will be served buffet-style, roast the meat in the oven in a pan of beef broth and meat juices and keep it hot in a chafing dish or slow cooker. It takes about 2 hours in a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven for the meat to cook to 145 F or medium rare, so add about 30 minutes more for well done, 160 F meat.The meat stays hot and moist in the au jus whether you make a Philly immediately after removing it from the oven or a half hour later.