Tortilla chips with homemade nacho cheese sauce on top

It’s a well known fact that nachos are my favorite food. My kids know it. The internet knows it. It doesn’t get more official than that.

In our younger years, Ben and I even went on a lengthy Tour de Nacho around town, searching for the very best of what central Iowa had to offer in terms of chips, cheese, and all the fixins’. #whatislife

Spoiler alert: any place using nacho cheese sauce was immediately placed at the top of the list. Melted shredded cheese is good, but nothing beats drippy homemade nacho cheese sauce!

Bowl of homemade nacho cheese sauce with jalapenos

What is Nacho Cheese Sauce Made Of?

Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce is a cinch to make at home, and you don’t need processed cheese to make it creamy and drippy. It’s a simple combo of butter, flour, milk, broth, cheese, and my secret ingredient for making Nacho Cheese Sauce taste like nacho cheese sauce and not just regular cheese sauce – liquid from a jar of pickled jalapenos. Oh my, it’s so good!

I’ll give you another pro tip: mince then toss some of the pickled jalapenos into the sauce for a little kick. You’re welcome! 😉

How Do You Make a Smooth Nacho Cheese Sauce?

A common complaint when making cheese sauce without processed cheese is that the sauce turns out grainy. Here are my tips for making a super smooth homemade cheese sauce:

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  1. Don’t boil the milk. Keep the heat at a consistent medium during the entire cooking process, being ready to turn it down if the milk starts to boil. Cheese sauce becomes grainy when the cheese breaks down because the liquid was too hot.
  2. Add a little broth. I found that adding 1 – 2 Tablespoons chicken broth helps keep the cheese sauce super smooth, plus it keeps it from congealing in the refrigerator if you have leftovers.
  3. Use alternative milk. I tested this recipe using unsweetened almond milk and it was the smoothest of the bunch. If you only have cow’s milk on hand, use 2% milk fat or higher.
  4. Use freshly shredded cheese. Use a box grater or the grating attachment on your food processor to freshly shred your cheese, vs using a bag of pre-shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese comes coated in starch that can prevent it from melting smoothly and completely.

Alrighty, grab your tortilla chips and let’s get to dipping!

Tortilla chip dipping into nacho cheese sauce

How to Make Nacho Cheese Sauce from Scratch

Start by melting butter in a small/medium-sized saucepan then sprinkle in gluten free flour (or AP flour if you don’t need to eat gluten free) and whisk while cooking for 1 minute. I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour. I would not recommend using almond flour or coconut flour.

Next, slowly pour in milk and a little chicken broth while whisking to create a smooth sauce. Switch to a spatula then cook while stirring for 3-4 minutes or until the liquid is nice and thick – you should be able to see the bottom of the pan for a split second after scraping the spatula across.

Next, TURN OFF THE HEAT then add freshly shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese in two batches, stirring until completely smooth before adding the next batch.

Lastly, add a little liquid from a jar of pickled jalapenos – plus some minced pickled jalapenos, if you like. This gives the sauce a little je ne sais quoi!

That’s all she wrote! Serve with plenty of tortilla chips and sliced fresh jalapeno, if you please. I hope you love this incredible, homemade nacho cheese sauce – enjoy!

Overhead photo of a cup of nacho cheese sauce

Nacho Cheese Sauce (No Velveeta)


Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce is creamy, cheesy, and a cinch to make with everyday ingredients - no processed cheese required!


makes 2 cups

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons gluten free flour (can use all-purpose flour but cheese sauce will not be GF)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6oz freshly grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 - 2 Tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 - 2 Tablespoons liquid from a jar of pickled jalapenos
  • minced pickled jalapanos, optional
  • Tortilla chips, for serving


  1. Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour, whisk until smooth, then cook while whisking for one minute. Slowly stream in milk while whisking to create a smooth sauce. Add 1 Tablespoon chicken broth then switch to a spatula and cook mixture for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened - you should be able to see the bottom of the pan for a split second after scraping the spatula across it.
  2. TURN OFF THE HEAT then add half the cheese and stir until very smooth. Add remaining cheese then stir until very smooth, adding an additional Tablespoon chicken broth if needed to help thin the nacho cheese sauce out.
  3. Add liquid from pickled jalapenos and minced pickled jalapenos (if using) then stir to combine. Serve with tortilla chips.


  • I tested this recipe with both unsweetened almond milk and 2% milk with great results. If using cow's milk I don't recommend using 1% or skim.

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats,

Photo collage of Nacho Cheese Sauce no condensed soup required