Nacho Tips & Recipe: The Ultimate Nacho Cheese Sauce

updated May 2, 2019
The Ultimate Nacho Cheese Sauce
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A couple of years ago I developed a recipe for a nacho cheese sauce that I now use as a template for many an extrapolation on a theme, subbing in different spices and add-ins for variation. It is so, so good.

But first, you have to understand that great nachos begin with an even better cheese sauce. This one starts with a bechamel and combines two cheeses, plus spices, fresh tomatoes, and beer. Herein, find not only the recipe, but numerous options to customize this ultimate nacho topper to your taste.

To appropriately lay the groundwork for this recipe, it may be necessary to geek out for just a moment. To clarify: a great nacho plate should be layered with sauce rather than solely grated cheese. The biggest issue with cheese-only nachos is the coverage factor. By nature, a dusting of gratings is infinitely less smotherable than a liquid sauce that oozes and spreads. With a cheese sauce, you can virtually ensure the disappearance of that inevitable pocket of naked, cheese-less chips in the middle of your nacho mound. Clearly this is a deeply serious issue.

Especially if you’re entertaining (presumably this Super Bowl weekend), a sauce is the way to go, since straight-up melted cheese on chips, if left to sit out, seizes and congeals. Cold melted cheese should just not ever be, while a cheese sauce has greater holding power once plated, and is actually as palatable when at room temp as when hot. So if people go for some wings before your nachos, they won’t be disappointed by chips with a rubbery, solidified coating of cheese.

This nacho cheese sauce recipe, which I developed for my other, less all-cheese-oriented job, has truly been met with only the greatest of accolades. The adaptation below can be used in conjunction with the following Martha Stewart nachos recipe.

See suggestions for variations in parentheses, italicized

The Ultimate Nacho Cheese Sauce

Serves 8 to 12

Nutritional Info


  • 1/4 cup

    vegetable oil

  • 2

    large red onions, minced (Try any combination of shallots, scallions, leeks, or yellow onions)

  • 3 to 5

    jalapeños (to taste), minced (Try charring poblano or anaheim peppers for a more smoky flavor)

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon

    chili powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (Other great spices to include: chipotle powder, paprika, pimenton, or a hefty dose of black pepper)

  • 1/3 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups

    heavy cream (Half-and-half or milk can be used in place of heavy cream)

  • 1

    12-ounce bottle lager-style beer (Try white wine, but bourbon, cognac, or brandy would be excellent, too. For a non-alcoholic version, use apple cider.)

  • 4 cups

    grated cheddar cheese, from about 1 pound

  • 4 cups

    grated Monterey Jack cheese, from about 1 pound (Other cheeses to include: pepper Jack, Gruyere, Comte, provolone, mozzarella, Fontina, or Havarti)

  • 3

    tomatoes, chopped (Try these add-ins in addition to the tomatoes: Pickled giardiniera mix with carrots and pepperoncini, peppadews, olives, corn, or bacon.)

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Over medium-low heat, warm vegetable oil. Add onion, jalapeños, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring, until onion is very soft, about 6 minutes. Add flour and cook until absorbed.

  2. Gradually add beer and whisk to combine. Simmer until slightly reduced and beer is cooked down by one-third. Add cream, whisking, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add cheeses. Cook, stirring, until completely melted.

  3. Remove from heat and fold in tomatoes and any additional add-ins. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve with nachos.

  4. Serve the nachos with the suggested toppings: guacamole, sour cream, thinly sliced jalepenos, radishes, and cilantro, plus a salsa of black beans and cherry tomatoes and another made from charred tomatillos. And may you score the highest of marks among your fans.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from Martha Stewart.

Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.

(Image: Martha Stewart)