Smoked queso dip is truly a classic American recipe, found at any self-respecting sports bar or Mexican-American restaurant. And now, you can whip up this crowd-pleaser at home for your next party or football Sunday.
Do you ever wonder how restaurants get their queso so creamy? The secret: American cheese. It's not glamorous, but that's the truth.
Many of the queso dip recipes I've seen out there use pepper jack cheese. I tried that in one of my first recipes, but I found that it makes the queso taste cheap. If you want smooth, decadent restaurant-quality queso, white American cheese is the answer.
This smoked queso dip is the perfect recipe for gameday, tailgates, and camping--try making it over the campfire! Can't get enough of the cheesy apps? This Smoked Gouda Cheese Spread is super simple to make ahead, and it's a hit at every party!
Smoked Queso Dip FAQs
What is cheese dip at a Mexican restaurant made of?
That creamy, delicious queso at Mexican restaurants is typically made with white American cheese, which was formulated to melt perfectly without separating, achieving that silky smooth mouthfeel.
Is American cheese real cheese?
Yes, American cheese IS real cheese! It's made using a blend of cheddar, colby, and/or Swiss cheese, along with the key ingredient--sodium phosphate.
Sodium phosphate is an emulsifier, which means it helps keep the water and fat in the cheese from separating. Have you ever tried to melt cheese into a sauce and it turns into a stringy, watery mess? (That's exactly what happened the first three times I tried to make this recipe. Don't worry, you're not alone.)
It's easy to talk trash about American cheese, especially if you consider yourself a "foodie", but the invention of American cheese was truly a modern food science marvel; it was created specifically for smooth melting without any separation.
How do you thin out smoked queso?
In this recipe, I used cow's milk to thin out the queso. However, if you want to add more flavor and depth, try using beer! I typically use a full-bodied golden lager but feel free to experiment with your favorite IPA. A Bell's Two-Hearted would be delicious in this recipe!
Is there a substitute for liquid smoke?
If you're looking for a substitute for liquid smoke, there are quite a few options. A smoked lager would be an incredible substitute and could replace both the liquid smoke and the milk.
However, smoked lagers can be hard to come by, so the easiest substitute for liquid smoke would be smoked paprika.
You could also try melting in smoked gouda, but I haven't experimented with it yet in this recipe.
Obviously, it's ideal to use a smoker to achieve that perfectly smoked flavor naturally, but we don't all have the equipment or the time.
Is liquid smoke gluten free?
Yes, liquid smoke is gluten-free; the only ingredients in Wright's Liquid Smoke that I used are water and natural hickory smoke flavor.
The Dietitian's Nutrient Notes
Now I know, this isn't the most healthy or culinarily impressive appetizer you've ever made, but it's a crowd-pleaser and guilty pleasure go-to.
As a registered dietitian, my advice for this recipe is simple--enjoy smoked queso dip on occasion, in moderation. And don't stand next to this dish at the party--it's too easy to mindlessly eat for hours on end.
Reduced sodium vs. Low sodium
In this recipe, I chose to use reduced-sodium cheese because I've found that cheese-based sauces & dips easily become too.
It is also important to know that the cheese I used is labeled as reduced sodium, which is not the same as low sodium.
When you see the term low sodium on a food label, it means that the item has 5% or less of the daily value of sodium per serving. That means it would have to have 110mg or less of sodium per serving, which is pretty uncommon.
On the other hand, the phrase reduced sodium just means that the item has less sodium that the original version of the product.
In this case, the reduced-sodium white American cheese has 30% less sodium than classic American cheese, which saves us a total of 9,900 mg of sodium in this whole recipe, all without sacrificing taste. That's huge!
Yes, this smoked queso dip is high in calories--it's made primarily with cheese! The good news is, American cheese is slightly lower in calories. It has 100 calories per ounce, whereas a typical cheddar cheese has 110-120 calories per ounce.
The bottom line is, you're not eating smoked queso dip every day. Enjoy it in moderation and you're good to go!
Add in fiber, if you must
If you're struggling with how many calories this dip will cost you or just want an appetizer that's a bit more filling, mixing in beans is a great option. Pinto beans and black beans would be my top choices. Just make sure you rinse them before adding them to the queso.
Of course, dipping fresh veggies in the smoked queso dip is always an option, too. But we all know that tortilla chips are the ideal option here. Go big or go home, and do it with blue corn tortilla chips--they look the prettiest next to the creamy white queso.
Smoked Queso Dip Additions & Substitutions
One of the best things about this recipe is that it is highly customizable: you can change just about anything except the white American cheese. Here are a couple of ideas to help spark your creative mind:
- White American cheese vs. yellow American cheese. Either one works, they both melt perfectly! In my opinion, the white American cheese makes for a more sophisticated, restaurant-esque queso, while the classic yellow American cheese look is a tailgate fan favorite.
- Experiment with different flavors of liquid smoke. My favorite is hickory, but there are a variety of different brands & flavors out there.
- Make it with beer instead of milk. What's better than beer and cheese together?! I've tried this recipe with both a light lager and a full-bodied lager, and they're both delicious. But I think a smoked lager would take this recipe up a notch.
- Sprinkle in cilantro. Cilantro is great for adding both flavor and color. But because of the cilantro-soap phenomenon, I like to leave it chopped on the side for those who enjoy it.
- Beef it up. Mix in freshly-fried bacon bits, brisket, or pinto beans to add texture and protein.
Smoked Queso Dip Bonus Tips
- My #1 tip for this recipe: Use a fork to mix in the milk, don't use a whisk. The cheese is very sticky and will quickly gum up in a whisk, so it's easier to use a fork.
- The one downside to this app is that it must be kept warm to keep it dippable. Use a small crockpot or warming tray to keep the smoked queso perfectly silky.
- When reheating any leftover smoked cheese dip, it's best to mix in a dash of milk or beer to thin out the dip as it warms.
Planning a summer cocktail hour or barbecue? Shake up some Berry Watermelon Mojitos to enjoy with your queso--it's the perfect summer combo!
Looking for more appetizers for your cheese-loving friends and family? This Smoked Gouda Cheese Spread always impresses at every party!
All my love & a little butter,
Olivia Sokolowska, MBA, RD
Smoked Queso Dip
Smoked queso dip: it's a classic appetizer at any party. This crowd-pleaser rivals the creamy white queso at any restaurant, and it's a super easy appetizer to make--no smoker or grill required!
- ¼ cup poblano pepper, minced
- ¼ cup red onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon jalapeño, minced
- 1 lb. reduced sodium white American cheese (from deli)
- ¾ cup whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke
- Tortilla chips, for dipping
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
2. While the oven is preheating, mince the poblano, red onion, and jalapeño.
3. Carefully cut the cheese into ½ inch cubes.
4. Add all the minced veggies to an oven-safe glass or stone baking dish, and place the cubed cheese on top.
5. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, allowing the cheese to slowly melt.
6. After 20 minutes, remove the dish from the oven. Using a fork, slowly mix in the milk, one tablespoon at a time. Mix in the garlic powder and liquid smoke and return the dish to the oven.
7. Return the dish to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Transfer the smoked queso dip to a small slow cooker to keep warm and enjoy with tortilla chips.
Yield: 10 servings
Serving Size: ¼ cup
- You can find the reduced sodium white American cheese at the deli counter in your grocery store. Ask for a 1 lb. chunk, you don't need it sliced.
Serving Size¼ cup
Amount Per Serving Calories 175Total Fat 13.5gSaturated Fat 8.5gSodium 393mgCarbohydrates 4.5gSugar 4gProtein 8.5g
Please note that nutrition information is a computer-generated estimate and should not be interpreted as a registered dietitian's advice. Nutrition facts calculations vary based on brands, products, and serving sizes.
Did you try this recipe? Share your thoughts!