This homemade queso recipe is made from scratch, using cheeses like Cheddar and Colby Jack, along with aromatic spices like garlic, onion and cumin, creating the best queso!
Even though I have a recipe for beer cheese dip on this site, I’ve been working on a different sort of cheese dip recipe for awhile now, queso dip! I’ve long been obsessed with the best queso recipe ever since I had some at a chain Mexican restaurant in my formative high school years.
Local chain restaurants were the only exposure I had to Mexican food growing up in the suburbs of a mid-sized Midwest city. And though that meant most of the Mexican food was pretty middle-of-the-road, one thing they did fairly well was appetizers, specifically Mexican-American style appetizers like queso dip.
What is queso?
Queso is a popular Tex-Mex appetizer cheese dip, one that appears in nearly all Texas picnics and barbeques. The common recipe that you find for queso is dead simple. A block of Velveeta, that super processed cheese product, and a can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles. Throw the two together in a microwave-safe bowl and cook away. Melted cheese nirvana awaits.
Despite the common version of queso featuring American cheese or Velveeta, there’s quite a lot of leeway in creating queso. In fact, there’s a who book on Queso written by Lisa Fain and the internet is filled with variant recipes of how to make your own queso.
How to make queso
Making queso from scratch is fairly easy, though you do need to chop a few things and grate some cheese.
First grate 8 ounces of cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is often coated with a substance that doesn’t allow it to melt as easily and can lead to a gritty cheese dip. So freshly grated cheese is worth the minimal effort.
Next mince some garlic. Chop some onions, green onions, a tomato, handful of cilantro, and a jalapeño or Serrano pepper if you like it spicy.
Sauté the garlic, onions and the white part of the green onion in a medium sized frying pan. Add the chopped tomato once the garlic and onions have softened and are cooked. Add a can of evaporated milk, cornstarch and some mustard and then some spices, like cumin and cayenne, once the whole pan is bubbly and thick.
Stir in the shredded cheese by the handful, waiting for it to melt before adding more. Top with the green part of the green onions, cilantro and chopped peppers, along with a sprinkling of cayenne or paprika. Serve with tortilla chips, soft pretzels, or anything else you think would be great covered in cheese!
What makes this the best queso recipe?
I’ve tested and developed four different versions of queso and the one that I liked the best uses canned evaporated milk (not condensed milk) in the mix. The intense milky flavor isn’t heavy and rich like dips that use cream or half and half, nor does it have a starchy consistency, which sometimes happens when you use a thickener like roux (a butter and flour mixture).
I use a blend of Cheddar and Colby Jack cheese and skip the American or Velveeta. If you like a more classic (but still upgraded) version of queso, you can substitute shredded American cheese for the Colby Jack.
Most queso thickens a bit as it cools down, but this recipe is also designed to not solidify when cool, meaning you can still dip into it at room temperature! Making it perfect for parties or game night.
Finally my version has fresh chopped garlic and onions for flavor, as well as dried spices like cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper. There’s also a touch of mustard which grounds the queso and gives it a little earthy depth. Both the mustard and the little bit of cornstarch work as emulsifiers to help keep the queso from getting grainy or gritty.
What sort of cheese should I use?
The classic queso uses American or Velveeta cheese. But making queso from scratch usually eschews those cheeses and uses yellow Cheddar. I use a mix of Cheddar and Colby Jack cheese here because I like the mild melty creamy quality of Colby Jack, which is a combination of Monterey Jack and Colby cheese.
That said, if you are feeling bold, you can substitute different cheeses for either of those. Keep in mind that the farther you go from Cheddar, the more folks will argue it’s not a queso, it’s a cheese dip! And yes, there are folks who will argue even using Cheddar cheese and not Velveeta means it’s not queso!
All that said, here are few other types of cheeses you can experiment with if you don’t like cheddar or Colby Jack.
- American or Velveeta, as I said above, this is the classic American queso cheese, mild, sweet and super melty
- Smoked Cheddar, a smoky version of the classic Cheddar cheese
- Monterey Jack, mild and melty
- Provolone, buttery with a slight tang
- Mozzarella, mild and milky
- Colby, nutty and mild
- Havarti, buttery and sweet
- Gouda, nutty and rich
- Edam, mild, nutty and salty
- Gruyere, complex and savory
- Dubliner, sweet, salty and nutty, a bit like a cross between Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan
How to store queso
Homemade queso lasts about three to four days in the fridge. Just store it in an airtight container, and heat it up either in the microwave or the stovetop to warm it up.
What sort of ingredients can I substitute in this recipe?
Substitutions in any recipe are always a difficult questions to answer, as it’s nearly impossible for me to test EVERY variation of the recipe. But here are a few potential substitutions that I think will work in case you don’t have the ingredients on hand, or don’t feel like chopping.
Keep in mind these are educated guess, I have not actually tested all these substitutions. If you have, please come back and let me know how they turn out! I’d love to add or expand to this section with your feedback.
- Jalapeño peppers: you can substitute in a different hot pepper like Serrano or Habanero, but keep in mind that both peppers are significantly hotter than Jalapeños so your queso dip will be spicier. If you can find Anaheim or Hatch chili peppers, they are generally more mild than Jalapeños so that will work as well. You can also omit the chopped Jalapeños and add a 4 ounce can of mild Hatch chilis in its place. If you don’t have a fresh hot pepper but still want to keep a bit of spice, increase the cayenne pepper or add red chili flakes to the queso. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon and then taste the queso with a chip. Add more, a 1/4 teaspoon at a time, until the level of spice is reached.
- Garlic: if you don’t feel like chopping, add 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic instead.
- Onions: if you don’t want to chop onions, use 1 tablespoon of minced dried onions or onion powder instead.
- Spices: if you’re missing cumin, cayenne and paprika or don’t feel like measuring out three different spice, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons of chili powder or taco seasoning.
- Evaporated milk: Evaporated milk is milk with less moisture in it. Do not use condensed milk, which has sugar in it. If you don’t have a can of evaporated milk, you can make some by simmering down 2%, 1% or nonfat milk to concentrate it. Just simmer 2 1/2 cups of milk until it reduces down to 1 1/2 cups. That said, if you want to skip the reducing of the milk, just use 1 cup of heavy cream, half and half or whole milk in the recipe, and increase the cornstarch to 4 teaspoons. The resulting queso will be richer if you use cream or half and half because of the added fat but will be equally delicious.
What to serve your queso with?
Queso dip goes well with pretty much anything! The classic combination of tortilla chips and queso are what is served at nearly every Tex Mex restaurant. But think beyond the tortilla chip and consider these options to serve next to the cheese dip.
- Homemade Soft pretzels
- Beer Pretzel Twist
- Slices of Olive Beer Bread
- Celery sticks
- Carrot Sticks
- Corn Chips
- Cocktail Weiners
- Bread Sticks
- Pretzel Thins
If you like this queso recipe, check out these other Mexican recipes on my blog
- Breakfast Tacos
- Spicy Guacamole
- Huevos Rancheros
- Tex-Mex Sheet Cake
- Esquites, Mexican Corn Salad
- Mexican Chocolate Pecan Pie
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 green onions sliced, green separated from white parts (about 1/4 cup)
- 2 medium garlic cloves minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 small yellow onion chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 Roma tomato or medium sized tomato divided (about 1/2 cup)
- 12 ounces canned evaporated milk not condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne more or less depending on your spice level
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 4 ounces grated Cheddar Cheese medium
- 4 ounces grated Colby Jack cheese
- 1 jalapeno chopped and divided (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro stems and leaves roughly separated (optional)
- Salt to taste
- Place the butter in a medium sized saucepan or skillet. Add the white parts of the sliced green onions, garlic and yellow onion to the saucepan. Cook on medium heat, until the onions have soften softened and turned translucent, about 3 minutes. Do not let the onions brown or caramelize.
- Once the onions are cooked, add the chopped tomato and cook for 30 seconds until the tomato starts to break down just a tiny bit.
- Add the evaporated milk, cornstarch, mustard, cayenne, cumin, and paprika. Stir and heat until the liquid starts to bubble and thicken.
- Reduce the heat to low and stir in a handful of grated cheese, let it melt before adding more cheese. Once all the cheese has melted, stir in half the chopped jalapeno and the cilantro stems.
- Taste the queso with a tortilla chip (or whatever you plan on serving the queso with). Adjust the queso seasoning by adding salt to it.
- Remove from heat, garnish the top with remaining chopped jalapeno, cilantro leaves, the reserve part of the green onions and a sprinkling paprika or cayenne. Serve while warm. Queso will thicken as it cools but won’t solidify, so it will still dippable even at room temperature.