Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce
Nacho Cheese is easy to make yourself from scratch, and is the perfect melty sauce to pour over tortilla chips. This Nacho Cheese Sauce is made with only five all-natural ingredients, and takes 10 minutes to make.
My very first experience with nacho cheese sauce was of the Velveeta variety. I was about 8 years old and had no concept of what processed food meant.
It was always the default snack at my friend Angelina’s house: a box of Velveeta popped into the microwave, then mixed with a can of rotel. It was good at the time, but now I generally stay away from things called “cheese product.”
It’s perfectly possible to make smooth, creamy nacho cheese with natural ingredients, which is what we work with here. All you need is butter, flour, milk, cheddar, and a little cayenne.
And of course, you can keep it simple, or you can jazz it up however you want. You can add tomatoes, jalapeños, scallions, ground beef, and whatever else strikes your fancy.
This method takes less than 10 minutes, and riffs on how you’d make a roux and a béchamel sauce for mac and cheese.
Because the ingredients are natural and chemical-free, know that the nacho cheese firms slightly as it cools. It has a luscious, smooth and melty texture as long as it’s warm, but if you let it cool, you’ll need to reheat it to get that flowy texture again. It does reheat just fine though and I’ll include instructions for that after the step-by-step.
You can also keep it warm in a crockpot, fondue pot, or other warming dish if you’re serving this at a party.
How to Make Nacho Cheese:
Start by melting some butter in a skillet:
Whisk in an equal amount of flour until combined:
This is called a roux, and it will thicken our sauce.
Next whisk in some milk, and season with salt and cayenne pepper:
I like the heat that the cayenne gives, but you could also add paprika if you prefer.
Once the milk heats through, the mixture should be thick and bubbly.
Now turn off the heat and add freshly grated cheddar cheese:
The freshly grated cheese is important, because pre-shredded cheeses in bags usually have things like powdered cellulose that are there to prevent caking. Those will make your sauce grainy, so make sure you actually buy a block of cheddar and grate it yourself. It only takes a few minutes.
Whisk gently until it melts and smooths out into a creamy, wonderful sauce:
It should have a flowy texture that runs and drips off the spoon in an even ribbon:
If at any point the nacho cheese gets too thick and doesn’t “run” off the spoon, just add more water or milk, and whisk to combine. It will smooth out again beautifully.
Basically what happens is when you cook the mixture on the stovetop, you run the risk of cooking too much moisture off, so you just have to add more. No big deal!
(Since I’ve been asked so many times, this is the mini-cast iron skillet picture above).
Pour over chips and devour.
What to Use Nacho Cheese For:
How to Reheat Nacho Cheese:
Heat the leftover nacho cheese in a skillet over medium low heat until melted and warm. Add 2 tbsp of water and whisk until the cheese looks smooth and creamy again (adding moisture should restore that creamy smooth texture). If the sauce is still too thick and doesn’t “flow” well, add more liquid and whisk again. Do not reheat nacho cheese in the microwave.
Can you Freeze Nacho Cheese:
Yes, but it will definitely separate, so you’ll need to reheat and whisk again to smooth it out, and probably add moisture. Follow the instructions above.
How to Keep Nacho Cheese Warm:
Nacho Cheese Sauce
This from-scratch Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce is made with only five all-natural ingredients, and takes 10 minutes to make. Perfect for football snacking!
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 8oz block sharp cheddar cheese*, grated
- Melt the butter in a medium size skillet over medium heat.
- Once the butter is melted add the flour.
- Whisk until it combines into a smooth blond paste and starts to bubble around the edges.
- Add the milk to the skillet and continue whisking.
- Once the milk is incorporated, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.
- Once the milk has reached a boil, quickly lower the heat and reduce to a simmer. Allow the sauce to thicken slightly.
- Add the cayenne pepper and salt and whisk to combine.
- Turn off the heat, and remove the skillet from the stove**. Add the cheese and gently stir, allowing the cheese to melt.
- When the cheese is completely melted and the mixture smooth in consistency, the nacho cheese sauce is ready to serve. Enjoy immediately, as the sauce will get firm as it sits.
*Be sure to buy a good quality block of sharp cheddar cheese, then grate it yourself. Those bags of pre-shredded cheese have additives in them that are specifically there to prevent clumping, so if you don’t shred your own cheese, the sauce won’t be smooth. My favorite brand cheddar is Cracker Barrel.
**A few people have reported a gritty/grainy texture, which is usually a result of cheese being overheated. I have added this step of removing the skillet from the heat, especially if you have an electric stove, so the cheese does not overcook. The residual heat of the béchamel should melt the cheese sufficiently. You definitely don't want the cheese to bubble.
To reheat: ONLY reheat on the stovetop in a pan (no microwave here). Heat the cheese in a skillet over medium low heat until melted and warm. Add 2 tbsp of water and whisk until the cheese looks smooth and creamy again (adding moisture should restore that creamy smooth texture).
Did you make this recipe?
I'd love to know how it went!