Nacho Cheese Sauce Recipe

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A good, nacho cheese sauce recipe is a wonderful recipe to have in your quick-meal arsenal. It can make a fast, delicious meal in minutes.

This homemade nacho cheese sauce is perfect for a quick Friday night dinner when you don’t really want to cook, or for using as a pasta sauce or even dip.

Delicious Nacho Cheese Sauce being ladled out of the pot and onto some corn chips.

Nacho Cheese Sauce

Did you know the FDA has no regulations for nacho cheese? The only basic requirement is that it must contain dairy. So companies can put whatever liquid goo they want in a jar and call it nacho cheese sauce. Kinda scary if you think about it.

Nacho cheese sauce was created by Frank Liberto. The man who started selling nachos at Arlington Stadium. He knew that natural cheese sauce had a very short shelf life, so he switched things around to create a sauce that could sit for hours at room temperature and still be the liquid, cheese sauce everyone expects.

Today, nacho cheese sauce is created mostly from whey cheese (a bi-product of cheese making), tons of oil and some coloring. While there is often no actual cheese in the jarred stuff, it does contain dairy. So manufacturers can call it cheese sauce if they wish.

Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce

Making homemade nacho cheese sauce in your own kitchen is quick and easy. You’ll be using all whole-food ingredients with this recipe and the flavor is just as delicious, if not better, because it’s the real thing.

That being said, the shelf life of homemade cheese sauce is indeed shorter. This isn’t really something you can store in the fridge and reheat. I highly recommend making just what you think you’ll eat in one sitting.

Because this recipe uses whole grain flour, the texture can change a bit when the sauce gets cold. It’s still good, but not as smooth. So enjoy this while it’s still warm.

A black skillet filled with chips covered in nacho cheese sauce and topped with chopped tomatoes and chopped onions.

What You’ll Need

  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 ½ tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • ¼ tsp. chili powder
  • ⅛ tsp. salt
  • Your favorite nacho toppings

The Butter

You will want to use salted butter for this.

If for some reason you don’t have salted butter, you’ll want to add about an extra 1/4 tsp. of salt to the sauce when called for at the end.

The salt in the butter really helps make the flavor here.

The Cheese

If you want this to truly taste like the nacho cheese sauce you get in a movie theater or at a ballgame (which has a milder cheese flavor overall), you’ll want to use mild cheddar.

Grate by hand to avoid the additives used in packaged, grated cheese.

If you need this to have a “cheesier” flavor, you can use sharp cheddar.

Consider what you will actually use this with. If this is for nachos, you can use the cheese you like best, or just stick with the mild cheddar as mentioned above.

If you will be using this for pasta or something else where you need a cheesier flavor, you can use sharp cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, or any other cheese you enjoy with pasta.

All this to say, you can adjust the flavor for what you will be using the cheese sauce for by changing the type of cheese you use.

The Milk

Whole milk is your best choice here unless you don’t mind the fat content of a heavier cream.

Using whole milk cuts down a bit on the fat content, but still gives you a creamy texture.

The finished Nacho Cheese Sauce Recipe

How To Thin Or Thicken Cheese Sauce

Thinning – If this recipe gives you cheese sauce that is too thick for your purposes, you can whisk in more milk, a quarter cup at a time, until you have a consistency you enjoy.

Thickening – If you need thicker sauce, simply stir in more cheese. Do not add more flour or your cheese sauce will become very “grainy” in texture. Always opt for more cheese for thickening.

The Flour

Here I used whole wheat pastry flour. It’s not hard to find, and is even sold on amazon if you truly cannot find it in your area.

If for some reason you can’t find it, white whole wheat flour is your next best option. However, start with only 1 tbsp. flour because white whole wheat is a courser flour that will make the cheese sauce quite grainy if you use too much. You can always add more, but you can’t take any out. So use caution.

Regular whole wheat won’t work for this recipe. Or rather, it won’t give you a nice, smooth texture you’d expect from a nacho cheese sauce.

The Spices

Salt – The salt is pretty critical for overall flavor. However, you can taste the sauce before adding the salt to see if you like it as is, or if you’d prefer more salt.

Chili Powder – The chili powder really comes through in this recipe. Not in a bad way (it’s super tasty!), but here again, you can taste the sauce first to see if you like it.

Another option is to pull out a little sauce with a spoon and add the chili powder to the spoonful so you can taste it first.

If you don’t have chili powder, regular paprika is your next best option.

The options

So what can you use this nacho cheese sauce for?

  • Nachos
  • Pasta
  • Burgers
  • French fry dip
  • Chip dip
  • Apple dip (without the chili powder)
  • Over broccoli
  • Cheese casseroles
  • Soft pretzel dip
Finished nachos with toppings.

How To Make Nacho Cheese Sauce

  • Add the butter to a pot and melt.
  • Whisk the flour into the melted butter.
  • Add the milk to the butter and flour, whisk until smooth.
  • Add the cheese and continue to whisk.
  • Cheese should be fully melted before proceeding.
  • Add the chili powder and stir to combine.
  • Taste the sauce, and add the salt if needed.
  • Prepare your chips.
  • Pour the cheese over the chips.
  • Top with your favorite nacho toppings and serve immediately.

Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce

If you prefer a vegan nacho cheese sauce, I got’cha covered! Here is my recipe for vegan cheese sauce.

Need Nacho-Making Supplies?


Cuisinart 719-14 Chef’s Classic Stainless 1-Quart Saucepan with Cover,Silver

More Cheese Sauce Recipes

Delicious Nacho Cheese Sauce being ladled out of the pot and onto some corn chips.

Nacho Cheese Sauce Recipe

Delicious nacho cheese sauce, perfect for chips, dip or even pasta sauce!
Print Pin Rate
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 1 entire recipe
Calories: 1795kcal
Author: The Gracious Pantry

CLICK TO WATCH THIS RECIPE IN ACTION!

Equipment

  • Medium pot

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 ½ tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • ¼ tsp. chili powder
  • tsp. salt

Instructions

  • Add the butter to a pot and melt.
    Melting butter in a pot
  • Whisk the flour into the melted butter.
    Butter combined with flour in pot.
  • Add the milk to the butter and flour, whisk until smooth.
  • Add the cheese and continue to whisk.
    Grated cheddar cheese added to milk mixture.
  • Cheese should be fully melted before proceeding.
    Creamy Nacho Cheese Sauce
  • Add the chili powder and stir to combine.
    Adding chili powder to cheese sauce.
  • Taste the sauce, and add the salt if needed.
    Adding salt to nacho cheese sauce.
  • Prepare your chips.
    Chips in a skillet waiting for some Nacho Cheese Sauce.
  • Pour the cheese over the chips.
    Nacho Cheese Sauce drizzling over the waiting chips.
  • Top with your favorite nacho toppings and serve immediately.
    Finished nachos with Nacho Cheese Sauce, topped with chopped tomatoes and chopped onions.

Notes

Please note that the nutrition data is a ballpark figure. Exact data is not possible. This data is for the entire recipe. Divid these numbers by the number of portions you serve.

Nutrition

Serving: 1entire recipe | Calories: 1795kcal | Carbohydrates: 33g | Protein: 95g | Fat: 144g | Saturated Fat: 91g | Cholesterol: 441mg | Sodium: 2669mg | Potassium: 735mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 4857IU | Calcium: 2720mg | Iron: 3mg

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