The Best Way To Melt Gooey Cheese For Nachos

From a quick grilled cheese sammy to fettuccine Alfredo at a classy dinner party, nailing a perfectly melted cheese sauce is an impressive skill to add to your culinary arsenal. Today, we're applying that skill to nachos – and to achieve a silky, lava-esque texture, don't try to melt your cheese in the microwave. There's also no need to bust out a slow cooker, or relent to a can of premade, hyper-processed nacho cheese from the nearest Circle-K. Those days are over, boy howdy. All it takes is a saucepan and a little patience.

Cheese is made from water, fat, salt, and milk protein (casein), and when it melts (somewhere around 150 degrees Fahrenheit), its protein molecules break apart and transform into liquid. The fat and protein molecules move through the water as the cheese melts (aka emulsification), which is responsible for the retention of a thick, luscious texture. That's why a low and slow cook is crucial to allow those crave-able little molecules to pour into every inch of your melted cheese sauce. Low heat also ensures that your delicate cheese sauce won't clump up or scorch — just be sure to stir near-constantly. 

To do it, melt some butter in a heated saucepan and mix in flour and heavy cream, whisking until smooth. The result is like a sleazy béchamel. Then, just slam in some shredded or grated cheese, reduce the heat to medium-low, and stir until it's melted into a golden-hued nacho cheese sauce for the ages.

Nacho average cheese sauce

The best type of cheese for nachos is one that melts evenly, and shredded or hand-grated from the block melts better than sliced. With cheese's melting properties in mind, opt for a cheese that's young (i.e. not aged) and full of moisture to ensure that the protein stands are pliable. For the creamiest nacho cheese, skip the Kraft singles and grab a handful of grated cheddar, Colby jack, pepper jack, or mozzarella. Any bag of shredded cheese with a name like "fiesta blend" is also a solid bet.

These perfectly melted nachos are highly customizable, please picky eaters, and (perhaps best of all) are super economical. It only takes a few low-cost ingredients to pile a baking sheet high with loaded nachos, enough to serve two to six hungry movie-watchers. Keep it fun and filling at the end of the pay period, or entertain last-minute guests on a dime. 

Nachos are also easy to make vegetarian-friendly by topping them with diced veggies or meatless chili, making them great for guests with any dietary restrictions. You could use non-dairy alternatives to make vegan-friendly nacho cheese, and corn chips make it accessible for gluten-free foodies. Most of the toppings ingredients are shelf-stable, so you can keep everything you need to whip up a batch of last-minute nachos on hand for when the moment strikes — and the perfectly melted homemade cheese sauce keeps it impressive.