someone whisking cheese sauce

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to instantly upgrade a meal, it’s homemade cheese sauce. For example: Steamed broccoli might be boring, but steamed broccoli with homemade cheese sauce? That’s an entirely different story.

This homemade cheese sauce is creamier and more flavorful than the store-bought stuff and comes together in just one pot with a handful of ingredients you likely have on hand. If you’re looking for a versatile, foolproof cheese sauce recipe, this is the one for you.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

What Can I Use This Cheese Sauce For?

This cheese sauce can be used as either a dip or a sauce, depending on how you serve it. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Pour over steamed veggies for a decadent, kid-approved upgrade.
  • Spoon over baked potatoes for a showstopping side.
  • Toss with a pound of cooked elbow macaroni for a quick mac and cheese.
  • Serve with pretzels, fries, or cut veggies for a crowd-pleasing party snack.
  • Drizzle over tortilla chips for an outstanding platter of nachos.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

What’s the Best Cheese for Cheese Sauce?

This sauce is all about the cheese, so you’ll want to use one that has a bold, pronounced flavor. I like to use a sharp orange cheddar, which provides a nice vibrant color and savory cheese flavor.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

How Do You Get the Creamiest, Smoothest Cheese Sauce?

For the creamiest cheese sauce, follow these two tips.

  1. Slowly add the milk to the roux. Adding the milk in a slow, steady stream — while whisking constantly — will prevent the sauce from clumping.
  2. Add the cheese over low heat. The very last step of this recipe is to reduce the heat to low and slowly start adding the cheese. The gentle heat prevents the cheese from clumping or getting grainy.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

How Do You Make Cheese Sauce More Flavorful?

In addition to using a flavorful cheese (and a dash of sweet paprika), you’ll want to season this sauce generously with salt. Before serving, give the sauce a taste and add more salt as needed. You can also transform the base recipe into something new with just a few ingredients.

  • For a quick party-style queso dip, add a can of drained green chilies, chili powder, and diced tomatoes. Top with fresh cilantro and serve with tortilla chips for dipping.
  • For Buffalo cheese sauce, mix in Buffalo sauce to taste and serve with celery sticks and pretzels.

How To Make Cheese Sauce

YieldMakes 2 1/3 cups

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 cups

    milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    paprika

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Grate the cheese. If needed, grate 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups).

  2. Melt the butter. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

  3. Add the flour. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and immediately stir with a wooden spoon, taking care to scrape the corners, until the flour is completely absorbed, 30 seconds to 1 minute. The mixture will be foamy and there should be no dry pockets of flour left.

  4. Add the milk. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups milk. Continue cooking over medium heat, whisking often, until the mixture comes to a simmer, the flour has completely dissolved, and the milk has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.

  5. Add the seasonings and cheese. Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and whisk to combine. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheese a handful at a time, whisking between each addition, until the cheese is fully melted before adding more.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Reheating: Homemade cheese sauce is best served the day it is made. To reheat, transfer into a medium saucepan and heat over low heat, whisking frequently, until hot, 4 to 6 minutes. Avoid microwaving leftovers to prevent separating. Leftover cheese sauce can also be stored in a zip-top bag in the freezer for several months. To reheat, add to a saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water and heat over low heat, whisking frequently, until fully defrosted and heated throughout, 8 to 10 minutes.

 

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