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!
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.
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.
- Melt the butter in a large pan over low-medium heat.
- Add the onions, garlic, jalapeño, red pepper flakes and salt. Continue to cook over low-medium heat until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- After the liquid begins to steam, slowly add the shredded cheese about 1/2 ounce to an ounce at a time while whisking.
- 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.
- 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.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately.
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.
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:
- Cook it low and slow. Don’t try to crank up the heat to cook the cheese sauce faster.
- Make sure the flour is completely incorporated into the half and half before adding the shredded cheese.
- 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.
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.
Homemade Cheese SaucePrint Pin
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- 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 kosher 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.
- 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 onion4 to 5 garlic cloves1 jalapeño¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes1 teaspoon kosher 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 half16 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.