How to Make Nacho Cheese Sauce
Here's how to make a cheese sauce that's smooth and creamy, never grainy or goopy.
Nacho cheese sauce is a game day classic. We love it at the stadium, but this melty cheese preparation is super-easy to make at home. We're following Chef John's no-fail nacho cheese sauce recipe here. Follow along, and don't miss the video below for Chef John's key insights on keeping your cheese sauce smooth and creamy, never grainy or goopy.
How to Make Nacho Cheese Sauce with Shredded Cheese
One thing to note about this silky cheese sauce, it is not cheaper than the prepared cheese sauce you'll find at the grocery store. This isn't a budget recipe. As Chef John explains, "You could probably get a gallon of that industrial strength stuff for the same cost as a single batch of this." But we think you'll discover that this cheese sauce, which includes lots of actual cheese, is far, far superior.
1. First, we'll make a quick white sauce with butter, flour, and cold milk. Over medium heat in a sauce pan, melt 1/4 cup of butter.
2. Whisk in 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of flour, cooking the flour in the butter and stirring constantly for about 3 or four minutes.
3. Slowly drizzle in 3 cups of cold milk. Start slowly, whisking constantly. After you've added about half the milk by slow drizzle, go ahead and pour in the rest. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Next, it's spice time. Chef John uses four kinds of powdered chili peppers -- 1/4 teaspoon each of ground dried chipotle pepper, ancho chile pepper, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Stir in salt to taste.
5. Reduce the heat to low. Add your freshly shredded cheese. Chef John uses a secret blend of three cheeses. Now, it's critical that the heat be on the lowest setting here. You don't want to boil or simmer the cheese sauce or it will get grainy and greasy. Add half the cheese, allowing it to melt before adding the second half of shredded cheese. Even on low, the cheese will melt quickly. That's all there is to it.
You'll notice that the sauce is fairly thin. That's intentional. As Chef John explains, "It's a total rookie mistake to make a nacho cheese sauce too thick, since as soon as it hits the chips, the sauce tightens up considerably, and you end up with a lump of cheese, and some serious sauce-to-chip ratio issues. Even at room temp, this sauce remains fairly fluid."
Chef John's Pro Tip: Test for seasoning using a tortilla chip, which will have some salt on it and so provide a more accurate taste test.
Now watch Chef John get it done:
How to Make Cheese Sauce without Flour
And finally, here's how to make nacho cheese sauce with American cheese: Nacho Cheese Sauce with American Cheese.
Check out our collection of Nacho Recipes.