Nacho Cheese Sauce Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep/total time: 10 min.
This nacho cheese sauce recipe gives you a smooth, creamy, cheesy and rich sauce with a little heat, just like the stuff they use at stadiums and ballparks. Ours is made with all-natural ingredients and can be ready in 10 minutes.

Updated: Apr. 23, 2024

Nacho cheese sauce is a ballpark tradition. I can’t help but order it when I see the cheese pump beckoning me from behind the concession stand. I know the tortilla chips will be stale, and I don’t even care. I order the nachos anyway so that I can enjoy the silky-smooth sauce that smothers them. The only thing I don’t love about the sauce is that it’s made with a lot of processed ingredients.

So we make our nacho cheese sauce recipe the way it’s meant to be made: with all-natural ingredients. It starts with a three-ingredient basic white sauce (one of the first things I learned to make in culinary school). Also called “bechamel,” this white sauce is the foundation of many great recipes from lasagna with bechamel to chicken fried steak and gravy, plus beloved cheesy sauces in old-fashioned macaroni and cheese.

Once you have your white sauce ready, you can customize the cheese and final flavors to your tastes. Use American cheese for a mild, creamy sauce or cheddar cheese (my favorite!) for a bolder, cheesier character. Add cumin and chili powder to give the sauce some serious taco vibes, or give it heat with cayenne powder. No matter what flavor profile you choose, this homemade nacho cheese sauce will be ready to eat in just 10 minutes.

Ingredients for Nacho Cheese Sauce

  • Butter and flour: These ingredients form a roux, a base of cooked fat and flour used to thicken milk into a creamy sauce.
  • Milk: Whole milk creates the most flavorful cheese sauce, but you could use reduced-fat milk if preferred.
  • Cheddar cheese: For the smoothest sauce, skip the pre-shredded cheese from the grocery store. Instead, grate your own cheese. Pre-shredded cheese usually has additives to keep the cheese from sticking together. Freshly grated cheese tastes fresher and melts more smoothly.
  • Seasonings: Chili powder and ground cumin give the sauce an earthy, smoky, slightly spicy vibe, and a little salt brings all the flavors together.


Step 1: Make the white sauce base

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In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour until smooth. Then, gradually whisk in the milk.

Step 2: Add the seasonings

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Stir in the chili powder, cumin and salt. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thickened, one to two minutes.

Step 3: Add the cheese

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Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheese, and stir until melted.

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Editor’s Tip: Be careful with the heat once you add the cheese. High heat can cause cheese sauces to break, where the water and oil separate and the sauce gains a curdled, grainy texture. If it happens, don’t fret! Here’s how to save a broken sauce.

Recipe Variations

  • Experiment with the seasonings: Add garlic or onion powder, ground coriander or paprika. Or use a seasoning blend like taco seasoning. To ramp up the heat, include a pinch of cayenne pepper or a few dashes of hot sauce.
  • Add salsa: Stir in salsa to add fresh flavor and chunky texture to nacho cheese dip. Or use a can of diced tomatoes and green chiles to give the sauce a Rotel dip feeling.
  • Make it heartier: Top the cheese sauce with shredded rotisserie chicken or cooked, crumbled ground beef, turkey or chorizo sausage. For a meatless option, stir in a can of drained and rinsed black beans.
  • Use cornstarch: Skip the butter and flour for gluten-free nacho cheese sauce. Instead, thicken the milk with cornstarch, as we do in this chili con queso recipe.

How to Store Nacho Cheese Sauce

Nacho cheese sauce stores well, so it’s a great make-ahead appetizer. Store leftover nacho cheese sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. The sauce will thicken as it cools, but it should loosen back up once reheated.

Reheat nacho cheese sauce in a covered heatproof container in the microwave for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Or cook it in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. If the sauce is too thick, whisk in extra milk 1 tablespoon at a time.

Nacho Cheese Sauce Tips

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What is the best cheese for nacho cheese sauce?

You can technically use any melting cheese for nacho cheese sauce, but we’ve found that some cheeses work better than others. Mild or medium cheddar cheese is our favorite because it melts smoothly and adds a robust flavor. Aged cheddar has more complexity, but it doesn’t melt as well, becoming oily or gritty when overheated. American cheese, Monterey Jack or Colby are also fantastic options for homemade nacho cheese sauce.

And then there’s Velveeta. This processed cheese melts easily and has an iconic, somewhat nostalgic character. If you’re specifically looking for a cheese sauce for nachos made with Velveeta, check out our recipes for chili cheese dip or loaded cowboy queso.

How do you serve nacho cheese sauce?

Nacho cheese sauce works as a dip for tortilla chips, breadsticks or soft pretzels like pretzel nuggets. It’s thin enough to use as a drizzling sauce, making it our go-to cheese sauce for movie-style nachos, smothered burritos, cheesy tater tots or loaded waffle fries. This sauce also tastes fantastic drizzled over baked potatoes, omelets, roasted broccoli or grilled asparagus.

Nacho Cheese Sauce

Prep Time 10 min
Yield 3 cups.


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese


  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth; gradually whisk in milk. Stir in chili powder, cumin and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir until thickened, 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add cheese; stir until melted.

Nutrition Facts

1/4 cup: 120 calories, 9g fat (5g saturated fat), 27mg cholesterol, 208mg sodium, 3g carbohydrate (2g sugars, 0 fiber), 6g protein.

Ooey-gooey cheddar cheese meets cumin and chili powder for a thick and creamy queso dip with a little kick. It's perfect for dipping tortilla chips in and also great for drizzling on top of loaded nachos for a cheesy finish. —Dianna Smith, Newport, Tennessee