Jalapeño Cheddar Nacho Cheese Sauce

Jalapeño Cheddar Nacho Cheese Sauce Recipe

Nacho cheese sauce is a delicious melted cheese sauce that tastes great served along with chips and salsa, added to burritos or over nachos, or even for a quick mac and cheese or poured over some steamed broccoli. It’s made using ingredients like milk, cheddar cheese, salt, sometimes a thickener like corn starch, spices, and vegetables like jalapeños, tomato, or onion.

One of my favorite ways to eat nacho cheese is as a cheese sauce for pretzels or using it as a melted cheese sauce for nachos. I also use this recipe in my Black Bean, Rice, And Cheese Burritos; which are a great way to fill your freezer with burritos for just thirty to fifty cents each. You can see how they look in the image below this paragraph.

Though, if you’re just looking for a quick recipe for some of the best nacho cheese sauce — this is it.

What Makes Cheese Sauce So Smooth?

If you were to compare most homemade cheese sauce to canned cheese sauce, the stuff in a can often has a more even and smooth consistency. It’s usually creamy and silky smooth. This is because they use an ingredient to relax the proteins in the cheese. This ingredient makes the sauce extremely smooth; whereas for a homemade cheese sauce, you might melt the cheese in a béchamel sauce thickened with flour and butter.


Sodium citrate is this magic ingredient. It’s the sodium salt of citric acid (the same acid in lemons, limes, or oranges.) When you add sodium citrate to a liquid like milk, it dissolves like any salt. Then, when you add cheese, the cheese melts completely smooth because the proteins in the cheese are relaxed from the sodium citrate. Sodium citrate is what makes cheese sauce so smooth. It’s the secret ingredient.

If you ever make a recipe and the cheese won’t melt like it’s supposed to and it looks clumpy, adding a little sodium citrate will quickly melt away those cheese clumps. It also helps to prevent oil separation from cream sauces like alfredo while reheating leftovers. It’s a great thing to have in your pantry for when situations like that occur. You also don’t need to use very much to get these results. I generally use 1/4-1/2 tsp when making this nacho cheese sauce recipe, or for other things like mac and cheese, or alfredo sauce. A little goes a long way, so a single bag should last a very long time.


While sodium citrate will make your cheese sauce super smooth, it’s not required to make this recipe. You can make this recipe without it, and it will still be a great cheese sauce. But, if you want the smoothest sauce, I recommend using it. You can buy sodium citrate for a good price on Amazon.

Is This Nacho Cheese Sauce Spicy?

It can be if you’re not used to eating spicy food, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to play it safe but still want the jalapeño flavor, just scrape out the pith and seeds from inside the pepper, then dice up the outside of the pepper and just use that. The seeds and pith are what contain the most capsaicin, which is what makes food spicy.

If you don’t care much for jalapeno flavor or spicy food at all, just omit the pepper and the oil. You can just heat the evaporated milk in a pan and melt the cheese with the salts, then thicken it with the cornstarch thickener.

At A Minimum, You’ll Need:

  • A 10″ pan to cook the sauce. This is the pan that I use in the photos below. It’s a nice pan for the price, and I’ve had it for almost a year now. It has a great non-stick coating that hasn’t failed me yet. In my last pan, I was tossing some fried rice and the handle fell off mid-swing, sending fried rice flying all over the kitchen. This one hasn’t done that yet, so I recommend it.
  • If you’re using a pan with a non-stick coating, you’ll need a whisk that is safe for non-stick pans. A standard wire whisk will scratch off your non-stick coating which will flake off into the sauce. If you’re not using a non-stick pan, a standard wire whisk should be fine.
  • A cheese grater to grate cheese for the sauce. You’ll want to use block cheese for this recipe and shred it yourself. Block cheese has no fillers like vegetable cellulose that would grit up the sauce.
  • A set of measuring spoons to measure the ingredients. These are the spoons I use, they’re great because they’re stainless steel so they’ll last forever, and the measurements are engraved or stamped in so the lettering will never rub off.
  • These little stainless steel cups aren’t required, but they’re really awesome little cups that I love for holding ingredients. They come in different sizes and are great for when you’re preparing food and want to keep things like spices or chopped ingredients separate. They also serve as great little side cups for dipping sauces or salad dressings. They’re in the next picture with the ingredients.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This means I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post, at no additional cost to you. This just allows me to continue sharing great recipes with you guys.

How To Make Nacho Cheese

A spread of ingredients on a table for making nacho cheese sauce. From left: shredded cheddar cheese, chopped jalepeno peppers, evaporated milk, oil, sodium citrate, salt, water, and corn starch.

You should always start every recipe by gathering your ingredients. This is called “mise en place,” which is a French culinary phrase for having everything in its place and ready for when you start to cook. If you don’t have your ingredients ready, you end up running around the kitchen wild trying to measure or chop ingredients before your sauce burns. If you have everything ready, you can add ingredients as you need them because they’re already prepared.

A few tablespoons of chopped jalepeno peppers sautéing in a pan before evaporated milk is added in turning it into a melted cheese sauce.

Add the oil to a 10″ pan over medium-high heat, and add the chopped jalapeño. Cook the jalapeño until soft, about 3 minutes.

A photo showing a mixture of evaporated milk, sodium citrate, and sauteed jalepenos before adding shredded cheese and turning it into a nacho cheese sauce.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, then add the evaporated milk and sodium citrate (if using) and stir.

An almost-finished melted cheese sauce in a pan before adding the mixture of corn starch and water to thicken it. The melted cheese sauce has nice color, but looks thin.

Bring the liquid mixture to a simmer, then add the cheddar cheese. Whisk the cheddar cheese into the milk mixture to melt the cheese into the sauce.

A photo showing the finished melted cheese sauce. There are small bits of chopped sauteed jalapeño pepper in a melted cheese sauce.

In a separate small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water. While whisking the cheese sauce mixture, pour in the cornstarch slurry you just made.

Then, add 1/8 tsp salt per the recipe or salt to your preference.

A GIF showcasing the nacho cheese sauce. A purple corn tortilla chip is scooping up the nacho cheese and holding it to the camera as some drips off.

Serve with some Pico de Gallo and corn tortilla chips for a nice appetizer, or pour it over some loaded nachos, or add it to Black Bean, Rice, and Cheese Burritos. Or dip some soft pretzels into it. There’s so much you can use it for.

What did you use it for? Tell me in the comments below, I’d love to know. I hope you enjoy it!

Nacho Cheese Sauce Recipe


Cheese Mixture
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 1 12 oz can of evaporated milk
  • 8 oz medium cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/8 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sodium citrate (optional)
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp water

Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped jalapeño and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, then add the evaporated milk and sodium citrate (if using) and bring to a simmer.

Add the shredded cheddar cheese and whisk, melting the cheese into the evaporated milk.

In a separate small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water together, then whisk this mixture into the cheese sauce. Continue to cook, while whisking, until the mixture thickens.

Add 1/8 teaspoon salt or salt to your preference.

Serve with chips, pretzels, or over nachos, and enjoy!

If you enjoyed this recipe it would mean a great deal to me, and be the biggest compliment, if you shared the link with your friends or social groups. It really helps me out so much when you do.


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