Perfect loaded nachos are a football party classic in my house. I serve them buffet-style, letting guests load up their own bowls. Leftover meat, sauce, and condiments are absolutely fantastic on baked potatoes!
Perfect loaded nachos: the good news
No Velveeta cheese is involved with perfect loaded nachos! Yay!
The cheese sauce is free of that processed cheese food nastiness, but has a wonderful, creamy texture and loads of cheesy flavor.
The other good news? No bechamel is involved, so no roux of flour and butter—just cheese, evaporated milk, and a bit of cornstarch. How simple is that?!
PS: Make it nacho cheese flavor by adding in some jalepeno juice.
Perfect loaded nachos: the bad news
Let's not lie to ourselves. This is a calorie explosion. But everything in moderation, right?
Although we are not using it in these perfect loaded nachos, Velveeta has loads of additives, among which are emulsifiers that make it the perfect substance to throw in the crockpot with some of those rotel tomatoes and call it a day.
Unfortunately, our cheese sauce for perfect loaded nachos is not like that...
Harder than microwaved Velveeta + Rotel...but totally worth it
We put real cheddar cheese in our sauce. Cheddar and crockpots do not play nicely together.
I've tried putting the cheese sauce in a crockpot before. I've never found a setting that's low enough not to keep the sauce at a bubbling simmer, which is really too high for cheddar cheese to be happy.
Unhappy cheddar cheese is clumpy, greasy, and gross.
For this reason, I make the cheese sauce right before "go time".
I do put it in the crockpot for people to come by and serve themselves, but I stir every few minutes and turn off the crockpot as soon as everyone is served.
The magic, no-fail nacho cheese sauce technique
The cheese sauce for perfect loaded nachos is based on a technique I found over at Serious Eats. It's a wonder—no bechamel sauce involved.
It looks pretty gnarly at first, like it can't EVER possibly turn into anything resembling "smooth and creamy".
But then, magic happens. My version of the sauce includes good-quality American cheese in addition to cheddar.
American cheese has some emulsifiers in it, which will help the sauce stay creamy and keep it from breaking.
Speaking of broken sauces, don't EVER use bagged, pre-shredded cheese for sauces.
These contain "extra stuff" to keep the cheese shreds from clumping together in the bag. It's death to sauce.
Meat mix for perfect loaded nachos
Nachos are an ideal way to use up leftover cooked meat.
I've used rotisserie chicken, leftover turkey (hello, Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner leftovers!), ground beef, ground turkey, or even pulled pork.
I love to mix in some chorizo, if I have it handy.
While I'm making the cheese sauce, I just re-warm the meat in a skillet with just enough tomato sauce to make the meat "saucy", then add in some chili powder and cumin. BOOM.
Perfect loaded nachos and the DIY nacho bar: ideal for sports parties
There's just something about letting everyone serve themselves off of a buffet line.
It's not only fun, but it's also lower stress for the hosts. Everyone gets their nachos exactly the way they like them.
Nacho bar ingredients and toppings
I like to chop tomatoes, scallions, and cilantro in advance. Avocados are amazing too, but I don't cut them up until immediately before serving.
Then, I just set everything out: bowls, chips, meat, cheese sauce, chopped veggies, hot sauce, jarred jalapeños, sour cream, and maybe some pico de gallo to top it all off.
Proper nacho assembly
I always used to load my bowl up with a bunch of chips, then put the cheese sauce and toppings on top. BAD FORM!
This results in a bottom layer of chips with absolutely no cheese sauce. I now fix that problem by adding a layer of chips and cheese sauce on the bottom of the bowl, then topping with more chips, cheese sauce, meat, and all the fixings.
Everything besides the cheese will roll around as you scoop up bites, so it should come out even.
How to use leftover nacho cheese
I love to save everything from my perfect loaded nacho bar (minus the chips) for a DIY baked potato bar the next day. The kids love it, and I have to say: it's heaven.
Reheat the cheese sauce over low heat in a saucepan (stirring frequently until smooth), or use the microwave on 50% power, stirring every 3 minutes or so until it's hot.
I also keep some evaporated milk in reserve, since the reheated cheese sauce sometimes can use some thinning out.
I hope these nachos are a hit at your next party! Some of our other favorite party foods are Fiery Mango-Habanero Salsa, Feisty Chile con Carne Queso Dip, Phil’s Taco Dip, and Michelle’s Sweet & Zingy Asian Meatballs. Or check out my Easy Appetizers and Party Food!
I am linking my perfect loaded nachos recipe up with these great link parties, with recipes and a variety of other reads:
- #CookBlogShare, hosted by Hijacked by Twins, Easy Peasy Foodie, Recipes Made Easy, and Everyday Healthy Recipes.
- #CookOnceEatTwice (coming soon!), hosted by Searching For Spice.
- #BrillBlogPosts, hosted by Honest Mum.
FOR THE MEAT MIXTURE
- 6 cups cooked meat, (ground beef or turkey, rotisserie chicken, roast turkey)
- 15 oz tomato sauce,, canned
- 2 tbsp chili powder, such as ancho (start out with less if you're sensitive to spicy food!)
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp kosher salt, (or other coarse salt)
FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
- 3 cups American cheese, shredded*
- 5 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (See Recipe Note 1)
- 24 oz evaporated milk, (2 12-oz. cans, divided; see Recipe Note 2)
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp juice from jarred jalapeños, OR hot sauce (optional)
- 2 fresh Roma or hothouse tomatoes,, diced
- ½ bunch scallions,, thinly sliced
- 1 avocado,, cubed
- 1 can sliced black olives,, drained (optional—I hate 'em)
- 1 jar sliced jalapeños, (you can also use fresh)
- sour cream
- hot sauce , (we like Cholula)
- pico de gallo, (recipe in notes)
- salsa verde, (recipe in notes)
- 1 cup cilantro,, chopped
- 1 avocado,, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced
FOR THE MEAT MIXTURE
- Add all ingredients to a large skillet and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally while you make the cheese sauce. Reduce heat to low after 5 minutes; continue simmering until ready to serve. Remove from heat.
FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
- Toss the cheeses with the cornstarch in a bowl to combine, then transfer to a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add in 2 cups of the evaporated milk along with the jalapeño juice or hot sauce (if using). Place the saucepan over low heat. Use a whisk to stir constantly for 5 minutes, or until the cheese sauce has smoothed out and thickened (it will look pretty gnarly at first). If the sauce is too thick, add additional evaporated milk until it reaches the consistency you like (add in small amounts until the sauce looks right to you).
- If you have a multi-compartment Nesco-type food warmer, place the meat mixture in one compartment and the cheese sauce in the other at the lowest setting (or use 2 crockpots). You can also serve from the stovetop, with both the meat mixture and cheese sauce on the lowest setting (stir the sauce frequently). Set out bowls, chips, the meat and cheese, toppings, and condiments and let guests serve themselves (I always advise my guests to give the cheese sauce a stir before scooping it up). Enjoy!
- Absolutely DO NOT use pre-shredded cheese for this recipe: these contain additional starch to prevent the shreds from clumping up in the bag. It's impossible to calculate the necessary adjustments for accommodating that extra starch: suffice to say, it will destroy your sauce. Instead, buy good-quality block cheese and grate it yourself with a box grater (you can do this in advance and keep the cheese in a ziploc until "go time").
- Keep any extra evaporated milk in a plastic container in the refrigerator in case the sauce needs to be thinned out (particularly when reheating).
- To reheat the sauce, either add to a saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth and heated through, OR microwave at 50% power, stirring every 2 minutes until heated through.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g
Pico de gallo: A zippy, spicy Pico de Gallo recipe that is perfect for football parties and potlucks. Serve alongside a bowl of sturdy tortilla chips!
Salsa Verde: Fresh Salsa Verde gets its great flavor from charred green peppers, tomatillos, and onions. It’s a great weekend cooking project that results in a delicious sauce that serves not only as a fantastic dip for chips, but also as the base for such wonderful meals as Green Chile Pork and Huevos Rancheros Salsa Verde.