Nacho cheese sauce turned out gritty... Why?

I love nachos and today I made this recipe from the Food Network:,1977,FOOD_9936_23568,00.html

Everything turned out fine except for the cheese sauce, whose ingredients I’ll list below:

I followed the procedure but the cheese sauce turned out kind of runny and more importantly, gritty. Where did I go wrong? I used skim milk (all I had, but perhaps it needs more fat?). Some of the reviews of the recipe suggested:

  • using less milk
  • using evaporated/higher fat milk
  • less flour
  • using cream instead of milk

I also used a 2% Mexican Blend of Kraft cheese instead of straight Pepper Jack. I also thought of perhaps using corn starch instead of flour to decrease the grittiness. Would any of these suggestions improve the cheese sauce? I’m also welcome to new recipes (as long as they’re fairly simple). Thanks. :slight_smile:

My guess is the roux (butter and flour mixture) didn’t cook long enough.


Off to Cafe Society.


Quite simply, you heated the sauce too much, too fast. As a consequence, the proteins in the cheese clumped and came out of suspension. The solution (so to speak) is to use lower heat, so the cheese melts more slowly. Once the sauce is smooth, you’re done.

Most likely you melted the cheese at too high a temperature. Typically the starch granules in the roux help to prevent the proteins in the cheese from seizing up, but that’s not always enough. When the cheese is overheated the long protein strands coil up into little balls, that’s the “grit” you are tasting. The coils squeeze out the fat and moisture form the cheese, which accounts for the runniness. Next time use a lower temp and do a lot more stirring.

You could also use a double boiler to really “hedge your bet” and try to ensure a good texture.

I second the unfinished roux hypothesis

Thanks! So the skim milk should still work? I’ll do some testing later today, with longer roux cooking and lower heat when adding the cheese.

Also, I’ve used double boilers before… When using a double boiler, would I follow the same recipe or would I just straight melt the cheese?

The amount or fat content of the milk is immaterial to your problem and only affects the viscosity and/or richness of the sauce (lots of skim will make a runny and non rich sauce while a little heavy cream will make a thick and rich sauce… you see my point I’m sure).

The roux is not relevant to your problem either. Once the flour particles are coated in fat, the roux is made and ready to do its job. This happens as fast as you can stir the two together, sometimes in as little as a few seconds. Cooking the roux does two things. You should cook the roux for two or three minutes no matter what just to get rid of the raw flour taste, but beyond that more cooking creates a darker and more flavorful roux but the longer you cook it, the less thickening power it has. For a cheese sauce, you want it to thicken, so create a roux and cook only a few minutes. Remeber that a roux does not reach its full thickening potential until a full boil is reached after you add the liquid (milk).

Your problem is that the bechemel/white sauce (butter + flour = roux and roux + milk = white sauce) was too hot when you tried to add the cheese and it “broke” making it gritty.

Here is my solution. Get an appropriate sized pot. Add some butter and melt it gently. Add an equal portion of flour to the butter and mix together. Heat at a gentle simmer for about 3 minutes - don’t burn it. Add the milk, crank the heat, stir, and wait for it to come to a full boil. Remove the pot completly from the stove and let it stand for a minute. Start adding the cheese in very small increments. Stir each increment in until it is melted before adding the next little bit. If the sauce gets to cool to melt the cheese, return it to the stove for just a moment until it heats up enough to melt more of the cheese you are adding then take it off the heat again.

The type of cheese does not matter. A traditional nacho cheese sauce would be made from a young cheddar or american or Velveeta type cheese.

Follow the same recipe, otherwise the melted cheese with no roux will congeal quickly as it cools. ETA: It will still thicken/congeal as it cools with the roux, but it will be a different texture and will take longer to do so. It’s also, IME easier to reheat. (Just add a bit of milk, and nuke or gently warm on the stovetop being careful not to scorch it.) ETA2: And StinkyBurrito also has good advice. Add the cheese in small increments to a base that isn’t too hot. Alton Brown agrees.

Make it in the microwave, and you will never go back.
Try this recipe, very similar to yours

Thanks StinkyBurrito. I tried that method and it came out much much better!

I believe Alton Brown covered the importance of adding cheese in small increments so the result would not be gritty in the episode this recipe came from.

I am a big Alton Brown fan, and I was going to mention perhaps using less roux in the beginning and coating the shredded cheese with cornstarch or flour. I guess it keeps the cheese globules separated more? But I have never tried it that way and never needed to either. I guess it is something you can experiment with if you feel so inclined.

Glad it worked out for you BrandonR, cheese sauce is yummy. Next up, you can try beer cheese soup. mmmmmm.