Easy Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Cheddar cheese sauce being poured from a gravy boat over broccoli florets

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yield: 2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
126 Calories
10g Fat
5g Carbs
5g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 126
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 10g 12%
Saturated Fat 6g 28%
Cholesterol 28mg 9%
Sodium 279mg 12%
Total Carbohydrate 5g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 160mg 12%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 84mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

A made-from-scratch cheddar cheese sauce is easy to prepare at home. This recipe uses a simple white sauce base and shredded cheese to create a delicious sauce that you can use in a variety of ways. It cooks up quickly and is gently seasoned with dry mustard, salt, and pepper, so it has a universal flavor that you can build on.

What Kind of Cheese to Use for Cheese Sauce

Almost any cheddar cheese will work for cheese sauce, but choose one that tastes good on its own. Generally, very sharp aged cheddars do not melt as well as younger cheddars, but most cheddars available at your typical grocery store will work perfectly well in this recipe. The only cheddar to avoid is the pre-shredded kind. Pre-shredded cheeses are coated with cellulose, which prevents the cheese shreds from sticking together in the bag. However, it also inhibits melting and can give sauces a grainy texture.

How To Use Cheddar Cheese Sauce

  • Simply Steamed Vegetables: Top plain steamed vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans with cheese sauce for an easy, crowd-pleasing side dish. For more texture, sprinkle with seasoned buttered bread crumbs.
  • Macaroni and Cheese: To make a quick macaroni and cheese, combine the sauce with 3 to 4 cups of cooked and drained macaroni. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and top with buttered breadcrumbs and more cheese, if desired. Bake in a 350 F oven until bubbly and breadcrumbs (if using) are browned, 20 to 25 minutes. 
  • Stuffed Baked Potatoes With Broccoli: Bake 4 to 6 large russet potatoes until tender. Split the potatoes open and fluff the potato lightly with a fork, leaving the shell intact. Arrange on plates. Top with hot cooked broccoli and ladle cheese sauce over the broccoli.
  • Chicken or Turkey Sandwich Melts: Arrange 4 thick slices of toast on a baking sheet. Top each slice of toast with turkey or chicken slices and a slice of tomato. Drizzle with cheese sauce then top with bacon. Put under the broiler until heated and cheese sauce is bubbly. 
  • Nachos: Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and one (4-ounce) can fire-roasted diced green chiles, well drained to the sauce at the same time as the shredded cheese. Serve over nachos.

Why Isn't My Cheese Sauce Smooth?

One reason for a lumpy sauce may be that the roux—the melted butter and flour mix that thickens the sauce—is overcooked or burnt. The recipe's recommended heat and cook times should prevent that. Resist the temptation to increase the heat for faster results. It's also important to add the dairy to the roux slowly while stirring constantly.

The cheese may be a factor as well. Freshly shredded cheese works better than packaged shredded cheese. When adding it, the heat should be low to avoid "breaking" the cheese (when the fat separates out of the cheese due to overheating), which will cause a grainy sauce. Try adding half of the cheese and stir that in until it melts, then add the rest. You can also remove the pan from the heat during that step, heating it only if needed to aid melting.

Tips for Making Cheese Sauce

  • Gradually add the flour to the melted butter, whisking constantly, to avoid lumps. If you have one, you can sift in the flour using a small fine mesh strainer. This method has the added bonus of removing any lumpy flour from the get-go.
  • Similarly, add the milk in a thin, steady stream, whisking as you add. You can also stop pouring the milk and whisk for a minute if you find your pouring arm is faster than your whisking arm.
  • Keeping the heat on low or medium-low ensures that you won't scorch your beautiful sauce. This recipe comes together quickly. There is no advantage to rushing the process.
  • Heat the sauce minimally after adding the cheese. In fact, you can take the sauce off the heat while stirring in the cheese. If it is not sufficiently hot to melt the cheese, place it back over low heat to finish melting.
  • Shred your own cheese for this recipe. It is certainly possible to make cheese sauce from pre-shredded cheese, but the best, smoothest, and most flavorful cheese sauces are made with cheese sold in blocks.
  • For an ultra-cheesy sauce, stir in up to 1 cup (4 ounces) additional shredded cheddar.

Click Play to See This Easy Cheddar Cheese Sauce Recipe Come Together

"This recipe is a great foundation to build on and adapt as needed. I mixed it with cooked pasta, and it was perfect and not much more time consuming than boxed mac and cheese (the taste is much better, and you know what’s in it). Adding spices like paprika, basil, oregano, garlic, and cayenne can add interest for various dishes, too. It’s definitely a recipe to keep in your repertoire." —Colleen Graham

A golden cheese sauce in a white bowl
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper (or white pepper)

  • 1 1/2 cups milk (or light cream)

  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated cheddar cheese (mild or sharp)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather ingredients.

    Ingredients for cheddar cheese sauce recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat; remove from heat. Stir in the flour, salt, dry mustard, and pepper.

    Flour, melted butter, and seasonings being stirred smooth in a small saucepan off the heat

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga  

  3. Put the saucepan back on the heat and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

    Sauce in a small saucepan being stirred with a wooden spoon on the burner

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  4. Gradually add milk or light cream, stirring until well mixed.

    Milk being gradually stirred into sauce with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  5. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

    Thickened smooth sauce being stirred with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  6. Add the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and well blended. 

    Sauce with cheese added being stirred smooth on the burner

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  7. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately.

    Thick yellow cheddar cheese sauce in a saucepan with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

How To Store and Reheat Cheese Sauce

Store the cheese sauce covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. It can be reheated on the stovetop over medium heat or in 30-second increments in the microwave.

Recipe Variations

  • Switch to smoked cheddar for a smoky-flavored sauce.
  • Use a combination of cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses.
  • Add drained diced pimentos to the cheese sauce for color and flavor.
  • Spice it up with a pinch of cayenne and a dash of garlic powder.
  • A Mexican blend of cheeses and chile peppers are great when using the sauce in a Tex-Mex style dish, including nachos.