Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce
Nacho Cheese Sauce is easy to make yourself from scratch, and is the perfect melty sauce to pour over tortilla chips or Homemade French Fries. This 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.
The 5 Ingredients You’ll Need:
- Cheddar Cheese
- Ground Cayenne pepper
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 sauce 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.
Tips for Best Results
Grate the cheese yourself – Nearly all pre-shredded cheeses have cellulose or anti-caking agents added to them in order to keep the shreds from sticking together. These are a disaster for your sauce. You must grate a real block of cheddar yourself for a smooth consistency.
Don’t overcook the cheese – Just like when you make mac and cheese, if you overheat the cheese, it will get grainy and have a horrid texture. Add the cheese off the heat and let it melt with the residual heat.
Serve immediately or keep it warm – Because this is made with all-natural ingredients, as the nacho cheese sauce cools, it will lose its melty texture. If you’re not eating it right away, I recommend keeping it warm in a crockpot, a fondue pot, or a saucepan over a warming plate, especially if you’re serving this at a party.
Step by Step Overview:
Start by melting some butter in a skillet, either salted or unsalted:
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 ground cayenne pepper.
Once the milk heats through, the mixture should be thick and bubbly.
Now turn off the heat and add freshly grated cheddar. Remember I told you above that freshly grated 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.
Not All Cheddar Is the Same!
Cheddar cheeses vary HUGELY in taste and melt-quality depending on brand.
My absolute favorite cheddar is made by Cracker Barrel, and it’s what I used here. Any cheddar made by them, whether White or Yellow Sharp, Extra Sharp, Vermont Sharp, or Marbled Sharp, is excellent. Tillamook, Cabot, and The Whole Foods 365 Sharp Cheddar are also decent.
Cheddars I find that don’t work as well texture-wise are Kraft, Organic Valley, Target’s brand, and TJ’s brand. Also don’t use really high-end artisanal cheddars, because they usually don’t melt well.
Whisk gently until the cheese 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.
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).
Ideas for Flavor Enhancements
If you’re using a really good quality, flavorful cheddar, the nacho cheese sauce should be very flavorful even with these few ingredients. However, if you wish to add other ingredients, here are my suggestions.
Tips and FAQ
Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, in an airtight container.
Heat the leftover nacho cheese in a skillet over low heat until melted and warm. Add 2 tbsp of water or milk 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.
Yes, for up to 2 months, 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.
Nacho Cheese Sauce
- 2 tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- 8 oz 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, about 30 seconds.
- 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.
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.