Nacho Cheese Sauce

nacho cheese sauce on tortilla chips with black beans

The Spruce / Pete Scherer

  • Total: 15 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 10 mins
  • Servings: 6 servings
  • Yields: 2 cups

Nacho cheese sauce has a permanent place at stadiums and movie theaters for the obvious reason that it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser that sells, sells, sells. Statistically speaking, the odds are very good that if you have opposable thumbs and can easily digest lactose, you also love nacho cheese sauce.

This recipe is based on béchamel, one of the so-called mother sauces of classical French cuisine and the base for dishes like mac and cheese, lasagna, and pommes dauphinoise. You didn’t expect nacho cheese to be quite so sophisticated, did you?

This sauce is quite simple to make. Just don’t overcook it, because it may thicken too much and separate. If you’re in doubt about the texture, err on the side of thin by whisking in a little hot water until you reach the desired viscosity. You don't want a gloppy sauce.

This is a fabulous dish to make for parties and potlucks, as long as it can be kept warm throughout service. Because it’s so quick and easy, it also makes a lovely weeknight treat. Keep it healthy with additions like grilled chicken and black beans, or indulge by slathering it on homemade French fries. You can even use it as a veggie dip, which might just sell your stubborn carb-addicted children on those carrots and broccoli you're always pushing.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook the roux for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking frequently.

  3. While gently whisking, slowly add the milk.

  4. Bring the sauce (now a béchamel) to a simmer, then remove from the heat and add the grated cheese. Whisk gently as it melts. The sauce should be creamy. If it seems too thick, add a small amount of water and gently whisk until you find the proper consistency.

  5. Add cayenne, salt, and cumin (if desired) to taste.

  6. Ladle onto chips, tacos, burritos, french fries, or anything else you can think of! Serve immediately.

Tips

  • Keep extra sauce warm over a very low flame or in a crockpot or fondue pot.
  • Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week.
  • Use a little water to thin the sauce when reheating.

Recipe Variations

Because this sauce is so simple, it's easy to tweak. Adjust the flavor to your taste.

  • Make a spicy nacho cheese sauce by adding cayenne pepper or stirring in small-diced fresh or pickled jalapeños.
  • Swap the cheese for any quick-melting cheese like Colby Jack or Monterey Jack. An extra-sharp cheddar makes an especially flavorful sauce.