Whether served at a Super Bowl party or as a post-skiing snack, nachos are always a hit. And despite how easy they are to make, there is a huge gap between mediocre and great ones. We’ve all had the lame kind with a pile of naked chips under a meager outer layer of cheese. The best nachos, however, have a perfect cheese-to-chip ratio so that every bite is a delicious balance of crisp crunch and pure ooey gooey joy. The most awesome nachos also include bright, fresh garnishes to balance the richness of the cheese, and they keep the salsa on the side to prevent the chips from getting soggy. Follow the tips here, and your nachos will always be supremo.
- Choose your chips. They should be sturdy and not too salty. For supermarket brands, we like Santita and Utz. Even better: freshly made chips from a Mexican restaurant or specialty food market or ones you make yourself.
- Include a good melter. Try mixing coarsely grated Cheddar for flavor and Monterey Jack for meltability. Really like ‘em oozy? Add a little mozzarella, American, or Muenster to the mix.
- Nacho Math An easy cheese-to-chip ratio is to have twice as much cheese by weight as chips. That means that for a large sheet pan (or similar-size platter), figure on 8 oz. (about 12 cups) of chips to 16 oz. of cheese. If adding meat or beans, use 2 to 2-1/2 cups total for a large sheet pan; scale down if making less.
- Stick to a (mostly) single layer. Start by laying chips on a heatproof platter or baking sheet with no overlap. Sprinkle a little less than half of your cheese over the chips. Cover any gaps in the chip layer with more chips. Top with meat or beans, if using, and then the rest of the cheese.
- Beef (or bean) them up, if you like. Use your favorite chili, or give some cooked meat or beans a quick Tex-Mex treatment (see the Chicken Chili Nachos).
- Bake in a hot—but not too hot—oven. Too hot, and the cheese can separate into an oily mess. A moderate (350°F) oven for about 8 minutes melts the cheese nicely.
- Finish with fresh garnishes. Sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, shredded lettuce, and diced tomatoes all add color, flavor, and refreshing texture. Jalapeños add a bit of heat, too, and—if pickled—a tangy bite that helps cut the richness (as in these Pulled-Pork Nachos).
- Serve piping hot. Keep the nachos on the hot platter or baking sheet to retain heat, and serve them right away. They will be gobbled up before the cheese has a chance to cool.
- Invite salsa, sour cream, and guacamole to the party, but keep them on the side. Don’t plop them on top of the nachos, or they’ll make the chips soggy.