The One Trick to Making the Perfect Nachos

Never settle for a less-than-stellar stack. 

nachos
Photo by Jodi Pudge/Getty Images

Whether you smother chips in buffalo sauce or stack ‘em with sautéed veggies, there are a million and one ways to make a plate of game-day nachos. But if there’s one thing about nachos that everyone can agree upon, it’s that the most important element is the gooey, melty cheese.

Traditionally, the cheese component of nachos falls into two camps: shredded blocks of cheese or a creamy cheese sauce. But the key to crowd-pleasing nachos is actually incorporating both types, layering them in between the chips to create the perfect pile.

You'll begin by making a bechamel sauce (a thick, rich sauce made from butter, flour, and milk), then adding your choice of cheese. For authentic Mexican flavor, try a blend of Cheddar and Menonita (a semi-soft cheese similar to Chihuahua), which is what David Suarez, chef at Rosa Mexicano in San Francisco, does at his restaurant. If you can’t find Menonita, you can substitute Monterey Jack. Stir in pureed chipotle peppers for an extra kick of heat.

The other route for cheese sauce? Using good ol’ American, which becomes thick and silky when melted into a sauce. “You’re creating not quite ballpark nacho cheese sauce, but it has the same thick consistency, and it's the color you’ve come to expect out of nachos,” says Lucas Robbins, chef at River Styx in New York. Also added to the restaurant's nostalgic sauce are jalapeños, hot sauce, and a generous splash of cream.

Once your sauce is complete, it's time to consider the other ingredients. The tortilla chips need to be sturdy—which means choosing corn over flour. “Thinner chips are crunchy, but they’ll break with the toppings on them,” says Lee Frank, co-author of Ultimate Nachos. "Blue corn chips are good too, and you can mix them in for a bit of color variation.”

The warm toppings are up to you—shredded chicken and ground beef are classics, or try Suarez's combination of sautéed onions, jalapeños, tomatoes, and black beans. Once you’ve decided, the layering can begin, which ensures the bottom of your stack won't go dry and un-touched. Suarez recommends the following order: a small spoonful of cheese sauce, a generous pile of chips, a sprinkling of shredded cheese (such as sharp yellow or white Cheddar), a layer of warm toppings, and then a smothering of cheese sauce. Repeat twice, finishing with a sprinkling of shredded cheese on top. Pop it under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

The final touch? Add cold toppings of your choice—think chopped chives, cilantro, and thinly sliced radishes. To avoid soggy chips, serve crema and guacamole on the side, and go for pico de gallo instead of traditional salsa.

In need of more game-day tips? We've got everything you need to throw the ultimate Super Bowl party.