Homemade Cheese Sauce

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This Homemade Cheese Sauce is the best ever! Shredded cheese, onions, garlic, spices, and a touch of jalapeno come together to make an incredibly delicious sauce that’s perfect for French fries, nachos, mac and cheese, or just as a dip. Make this versatile recipe today and enjoy its deliciousness with everything!

Side view of melted yellow cheese in a bowl.

Easy Homemade Cheese Sauce

Growing up, I was a Velveeta kid. Anytime my family made cheese dip, we used Velveeta and a can of Rotel.

While I still love some Rotel dip with tortilla chips, this homemade cheese sauce is the best! John made this cheese dip for me right after we got married over 20 years ago.

It’s the recipe we still use for French fries, mac and cheese, broccoli and cheese sauce, nachos, or chips and dip. It takes about 20 minutes to make and only 10 minutes to prep. Even less than that if you use our shortcuts!

Cheese Dip Ingredients and Substitutions:

  • Unsalted Butter: We use butter for cooking the onions, jalapeño, and garlic and to make the roux. Salted butter may be used, but you’ll want to reduce the salt shown later in the ingredients.
  • White Onion: One medium white onion is the perfect amount. If the onion smells very strong, feel free to cut it back and use less.
  • Garlic: Four to five small to medium cloves work great. Much like the onion if the garlic smells pungent, use 2 to 3 cloves instead.
  • Jalapeño: One medium to large jalapeño deseeded and finely diced. Leave the seeds in if you like a spicier cheese sauce.
  • Red Pepper Flakes: Just a pinch to add the smallest amount of heat and flavor. Unless you want more, then adjust to your tastes.
  • Salt: Always start with less and add more as needed. After the cheese sauce finishes cooking, taste it with a chip and then adjust the salt. If you feel like this cheese dip “needs something,” it may be a pinch more salt to bring out the other flavors.
  • All-purpose Flour: You’ll need 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour to thicken the dip.
  • Half and Half: You’ll need half and half or a combination of whole milk and heavy cream.
  • Cheese: Good quality cheese shredded off the block works best. The flavor is up to you. We love to switch it up between sharp cheddar, pepper jack, Monterey Jack, Gouda, and Muenster. Opting for a higher-quality cheese will result in a creamier, smoother cheese sauce. Forgo pre-shredded, bagged cheese. It contains anti-caking agents that give this sauce a grainy texture and thicken it too much.

How to Make Cheese Sauce with Shredded Cheese:

Scroll to the recipe card below for ingredient amounts and full instructions.

  1. Melt the butter in a large pan over low-medium heat.
  2. Add the onions, garlic, jalapeño, red pepper flakes and salt. Continue to cook over low-medium heat until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour, and stir to combine. For a thicker sauce, add more flour – less will give you a thinner consistency. Continue stirring for about 2 to 3 minutes to allow the flour taste to cook out.
Onions, jalapenos, garlic, and red pepper flakes cooking in butter.
Flour sprinkled over cooked onions.
  1. Pour in the half and half. Stir well to mix the sauteed ingredients and flour. Continue to stir frequently. Do not allow the half and half to boil. It only needs to be warm enough to melt the cheese.
  2. After the liquid begins to steam, slowly add the shredded cheese about 1/2 ounce to an ounce at a time while whisking.
  3. Continue whisking until all the cheese melts before adding additional cheese. Adding cheese too quickly causes the temperature to drop and the cheese to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
  4. Add cheese 1/2 ounce to an ounce at a time until all cheese is added. Taste the cheese dip, and add additional salt if desired.
  5. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Half and half poured into a pan of onions and jalapenos.
Cheese melted into a pan of half and half.

Tips for Success:

  • Use high-quality cheese for the best flavor and texture.
  • For a creamier and smoother texture, add half and half or heavy cream instead of milk.
  • Use freshly grated cheese for better melting consistency.
  • Stir in cooked bacon or crumbled sausage as a topping if desired!
  • Make sure to whisk constantly when melting the cheese so it doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom of your pan!
  • Add spices like garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika, and black pepper to give your sauce additional flavor complexity!
  • If you want a spicy kick try adding seeded jalapeños, extra red pepper flakes, chili powder or cayenne during the cooking process (or serve them on top).
  • Try adding different cheeses together for an amazing taste experience!
  • This cheese sauce thickens considerably as it cools, so plan accordingly if you need it to stay warm.

Shortcuts to Make Ingredient Prep Faster:

  • Use a food processor with a shredding blade to shred the cheese in less than 30 seconds.
  • Use the food processor or a small food chopper to chop the onion, jalapeño, and garlic.
  • Buy 1 quart of half and half, so there’s no measuring required.
  • Pre-measure your butter, flour, and seasonings.

How to Store Your Homemade Cheese Sauce:

Refrigerator: Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Reheating: Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop using low heat and stir often. Otherwise; the cheese sauce separates.

Chip dipping into a bowl of cheese sauce.

How Do You Make Cheese Dip That Is Not Clumpy?

Our cheese sauce is easy to make, but it becomes clumpy if you don’t follow these steps:

  1. Cook it low and slow. Don’t try to crank up the heat to cook the cheese sauce faster.
  2. Make sure the flour is completely incorporated into the half and half before adding the shredded cheese.
  3. Make sure each addition of cheese melts completely before adding more cheese.

Can You Just Melt Cheese?

You can but it won’t be dippable. Think of how shredded cheese melts when you sprinkle it over tortilla chips. It’s melted and stretchy but not dippable. Furthermore, placing shredded cheese into a saucepan and melting it doesn’t work very well.

What Cheese is Not Good for Melting?

We’ve found that hard cheeses like Parmesan, Grana Padano, and Romano don’t melt well. Softer, crumbly cheeses like queso fresco and goat cheese also have a difficult time melting.

Top down view of diced tomatoes and jalapenos on a bowl of cheese dip.

Can You Use A Cornstarch Slurry In This Recipe?

Sure, but you’ll need to omit the flour. After all the cheese gets added, pour in the cornstarch slurry a little at a time. Whisk to combine and heat over low-medium heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Add more slurry until the sauce thickens to your desired consistency.

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Close up view of a chip dipping into a bowl of cheese dip.

Homemade Cheese Sauce

4.7 from 13 votes
Print Pin Text
Author: Kimberly
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 20 Servings

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced, (seeded and membranes removed for less heat)
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart half and half, substitute with a combination of milk and heavy cream
  • 16 ounces shredded cheese, good quality; cheddar, pepper jack, Monterrey jack, etc.

Instructions
 

  • Melt the butter in a large pan over low-medium heat.
    ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • Add the onions, jalapeño, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. Continue to cook over low-medium heat until tender. About 3 to 5 minutes)
    1 medium onion
    4 to 5 garlic cloves
    1 jalapeño
    ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1 teaspoon salt
  • Add the flour, and stir to combine. Continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes to allow flour taste to cook out.
    1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Pour in the half and half, and stir to combine. Don't let the half and half boil. After it begins to steam, slowly add some shredded cheese about ½ ounce to an ounce at a time while whisking the mixture with a whisk.
    1 quart half and half
    16 ounces shredded cheese
  • Continue to whisk until all the cheese is melted before adding additional cheese. Add more cheese ½ ounce to an ounce at a time until all the cheese gets added.
  • Taste, and add more salt if desired. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
  • Scroll up and see the post for tips, FAQs, and storage options.

Suggested Equipment

Notes

*The calories listed are an approximation based on the ingredients in the recipe card and a serving size of .25 cups of cheese sauce. Actual calories will vary.
 
*For more information, tips, and answers to frequently asked questions, please refer to the post.

Nutrition

Serving: 0.25cup | Calories: 155kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 306mg | Potassium: 93mg | Fiber: 0.1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 407IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 168mg | Iron: 0.2mg

Nutrition Disclaimer

Kim and John Vargo of Berly’s Kitchen and its affiliates are not dieticians or nutritionists. Any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If preferred, use your favorite online nutrition calculator to double check the amounts. Calories and other nutritional values can vary based on brand and serving size.

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8 Comments

  1. Easy enough recipe, tastes great depending on cheese choices of course. Makes a good quantity so several Mac & Cheese meals are available. Used half and half and so was nice and creamy.

    1. Good Morning Adam, that’s great to hear! Kim and I are glad you liked the cheese dip. Thanks for coming back to comment on and rate the recipe card. Have a great day!

  2. Hey Kimberly, Ronnie here from Southern Food Junkie. I am so glad I scene this today. I have been wanting to make a dish this week that I will need a cheese sauce for. I have been putting it off all week making it for the family because I keep forgetting to find a simple recipe for the cheese sauce. This was just in time. Thanks so much. I shared on my twitter feed also. TTYL

    1. Hi Ronnie,

      Thanks so much for sharing the post! This recipe is fairly easy to make, and you can change up the cheeses to match the flavors of your dish. Let us know if there are any questions. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

4.70 from 13 votes (9 ratings without comment)

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