How to Make Crispy, Cheesy Quesadillas on the Stove Top

Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn

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The humble quesadilla wears many hats. It's a quick weeknight meal that can transform yesterday's leftovers into something new and tasty. It's also a fuss-free snack that will satisfy a group of hungry teenagers — or the crowd at your next cocktail party. Fill it with plain cheese and beans or with shrimp and avocado, the quesadilla is whatever you want to make it.

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Making quesadillas as about as easy as it comes. Warm a tortilla in a skillet and top with cheese and fillings. Wait until everything is warm and gooey, then fold and dig in. I prefer flour tortillas for quesadillas — they're usually easier to find in the larger 9- or 10-inch size and they get nicely crispy in the pan without breaking apart when you fold or cut them.

One trick — a surprising trick! — is to use only a little bit of butter or oil in the pan when cooking the quesadillas. Too much and I find the tortilla ends up soggy and greasy instead of crispy. Just a half teaspoon or so to coat the bottom of the pan ensures a crispy tortilla with golden-brown spots.

Play with the burner temperature, too. On my electric stove, medium heat will cook the quesadilla in a few minutes, with the cheese melting that the tortilla crisping almost simultaneously. On gas stoves in former apartments, I usually cooked the quesadillas over slightly higher heat.

My only other word of advice is to keep it simple with the fillings. Stick to just a few ingredients and only use about 1/2 cup or so per quesadilla. The melted cheese will hold the filling in place once the tortilla is folded and help prevent it from tumbling out on the plate. Don't feel limited to just South American ingredients either! A quesadilla is really just a vehicle for whatever combinations of ingredients your imagination can create.

Do you love quesadillas? What are your favorite fillings?

How to Make Crispy, Cheesy Quesadillas

Makes 4 tortillas

What You Need

Ingredients
2-3 cups filling: leftover cooked vegetables, shredded meat, crumbled tofu, cooked beans, fresh or frozen corn, cooked rice or grains, or any other leftovers
2 teaspoons butter or vegetable oil, divided
4 large (9"-10") flour tortillas
2 cups shredded cheese: cheddar, monterey jack, colby, fontina, or any favorite melting cheese

Equipment
12" skillet or griddle
Spatula
Paring knife

Instructions

  1. Prepare the filling. Pick a few of the suggested filling ingredients above, enough to make 2 to 3 cups of total filling. If combining leftovers, warm them briefly in the microwave or in a skillet over medium heat. If using raw ingredients, cook before making quesadillas. Transfer the filling to a bowl and cover to keep warm.
  2. Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter or oil in the skillet. Ironically, the key to a crispy quesadilla is less fat in the pan, not more. Too much fat will make your quesadilla soggy instead of crispy. Use just enough to coat the bottom of your skillet — about 1/2 teaspoon of butter or oil. Warm it in the skillet over medium to medium-high heat.
  3. Add the tortilla and top with cheese. Lay one tortilla in the skillet and sprinkle all over with 1/2 cup of cheese.
  4. Add the filling. Spread roughly 1/2 cup of filling in a single layer over just half of the tortilla. Don't use too much or the filling will fall out as you try to eat it. Spreading the filling over half makes the quesadilla easier to fold, and adding it as the cheese melts gives the filling time to warm if it has cooled.
  5. Watch for the cheese to melt. Once the cheese starts to melt, begin lifting a corner of the tortilla and checking the underside. When the cheese has completely melted and you see golden-brown spots on the underside of the tortilla, the quesadilla is ready.
  6. Fold the quesadilla in half. Use the spatula to fold the quesadilla in half, sandwiching the filling. 
  7. Transfer to a cutting board and slice into wedges.  Slide the quesadilla to a cutting board, and if serving immediately, slice into wedges. If preparing several quesadillas for a crowd, slide the un-cut quesadillas onto a baking sheet and keep warm in a 200°F oven and slice into wedges just before serving.
  8. Wipe the pan clean and repeat. Wipe the pan clean, melt another dab of butter, and continue cooking quesadillas as described above. 

Recipe Notes

  • Favorite Filling Combinations:
    → Diced onion, diced red peppers, black beans, corn, and cheddar
    → Sautéed sliced mushrooms, shredded chicken breast, wilted spinach, and fontina
    → Pulled pork, caramelized onions, and monterey jack cheese
    → Sautéed shrimp, red onion, avocado, and queso fresco

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(Images: Emma Christensen)

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