Want to impress your cheese-loving friends and family? Wow them with this pretzel cheese dip that stays in liquid form when serving it! It's a game-changer! AND... it only uses 3 simple ingredients!
This recipe is perfect for serving with soft pretzel bites, but it's also perfect with tortilla chips and as a cheesy dip for bread, vegetables, and even fruit!
The main difference between this cheese sauce and others you may be familiar with is it uses REAL cheese and not processed cheese! It's really easy to get a smooth velvety cheese sauce when using cheeses like American cheese or Velveeta because they are processed, meaning they have additives added in already that change the texture when melted.
However, if you try to melt milk and cheddar together, you end up with a clumpy mess. Or, you have to start off with a roux (combination of flour and fat) or use a cornstarch slurry. Not anymore!
With this recipe, you can make smooth cheese sauce using your favorite cheese and it stays liquid at room temperature or you can serve it warm in a small crock pot! It's amazing and I'm beyond excited to share it with you. Oh, one more thing... if you like beer cheese, you can use this recipe with your favorite beer and you'll have the BEST beer cheese ever!
Suggested Kitchen Tools for Cheese Sauce
- Small saucepan or any appliance you can simmer in
- Wooden or Silicone Spoon
- 8 ounce jar or container
- Cheese grater
Ingredients & Substitutions
The cheese is the star of this dip and because it uses chemistry to keep the cheese smooth and melty, you can use just about any cheese you want. I have tested the recipe with several different kinds of cheeses, so I can give you first-hand knowledge of several of them.
Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese is what I used in this recipe, but I've also made it with Sharp Cheddar. Mild Cheddar will also work just fine.
I've made it with a Monterey Jack blend straight out of the bag, already shredded, and it worked like a dream. Pepper Jack would work great if you like your pretzel cheese spicy!
I've also made it with pre-shredded mozzarella straight from the bag and added in some minced garlic and Italian seasonings and it was great.
The cheese sauce should work great with Swiss cheese and would be a super easy way to make a Swiss cheese fondue!
I have not tested the recipe with soft and crumbly cheeses like blue cheese, feta, or gorgonzola, but they are on my list to try! They tend to melt fairly well with just milk and low heat, so I'm not sure if there is any advantage to using the sodium citrate or not, but I will be sure to let you know once I test it out!
This is the magic ingredient and what is responsible for allowing the cheese to melt evenly and smoothly. It is used in processed cheeses like American cheese and Velveeta.
So, what is Sodium Citrate exactly? Well, it's an emulsifying salt that is made from a combination of citric acid and baking soda.
I tried to create the same results using various combinations of citric acid and baking soda since both are so easy to find at local grocery stores, but never quite got the right combination down. If you are a chemist or just feel like experimenting (and don't mind wasting cheese) you can probably figure it out, but for me, it was more of a hassle than just buying the sodium citrate.
I haven't seen sodium citrate in grocery stores, but you can purchase it on Amazon. Here is the brand I use: (affiliate link)Spice World Sodium Citrate
If you are in the UK and want to purchase it, this is the brand I found: (affiliate link)Nutricost Sodium Citrate Powder
I have not tried it, though, so I can't speak to how it works; although, it should work the same.
If you are in Canada and want to purchase it, you can find the same brand I use: (affiliate link)Spice World Sodium Citrate
The brand probably doesn't matter that much, but make sure it is ONLY sodium citrate and that it is food grade.
I recommend using water when making this cheese dip for the purest cheese flavor. Literally, all you taste is cheese and it's wonderful!
Beer is also a great option if you want the flavor of beer in your cheese sauce. I have done this with a light beer and it was really good, but haven't tried it with a darker beer. Any light beers should work fine, but if you are a dark beer drinker, give that a try! Your cheese dip will be darker of course, but full of flavor! You can also use flavored beer, like apple beer or pumpkin beer to put a fun spin on your creamy cheese dip!
Feel free to try other liquids and please let me know how they work! I have heard you can use whole milk (2% or skim should be fine as well), but I haven't tried it. I would also think you could use white wine, apple juice, or any other thin liquid that you want to flavor your dipping cheese.
Now the fun begins! Get creative and add different spices and ingredients to make your perfect cheese dip. I'll give you some of the recipes I have tried later in the article, but here are some ideas that have been floating around in my head and I'm anxious to try them!
One idea is to use a combination of Swiss cheese and Monterey cheese for the base and then add in some ranch seasonings and garnish with chopped green onions. I think this would make an amazing pretzel cheese sauce OR for a chicken cheesesteak!
I also want to make a Swiss Cheese sauce with white wine to pour over chicken cordon bleu!
Or, white cheddar with apple cider beer for a flavorful dip for fresh vegetables and fruit.
Another idea I have is to make the cheese dip with either Mozzarella or Monterey cheese and then stir in hot sauce and blue cheese crumbles for a buffalo-style cheese dip or as a wing sauce. Can you imagine? Air fryer chicken wings coated in a delicious buffalo cheese sauce! Sign me up!
You know the saying, the world is your oyster... well, this recipe is just that. Explore, get creative, and try new things because you can and it's easy.
How to Make Liquid Cheese Sauce
Mise En Place (prep)
- Shred the cheese if you aren't using pre-shredded
- Measure out the water and the sodium citrate
Making the Cheese Sauce
Even though this recipe is super quick and easy, I did find that it's important to do the steps in order.
I used the Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooker & Air Crisper for this recipe video because I have an overhead camera that looks down into it, but I have also made it on the stove using a small saucepan. Either works fine.
Add the water and the sodium citrate to the inner pot or into a saucepan and heat on high until simmering. Stir while heating to dissolve the sodium citrate.
Once the water is simmering, turn the heat down to low and add in the shredded cheddar cheese. Stir every 30-60 seconds until the cheese melts.
It will look super runny and even a bit clumpy at first. Don't freak out, it becomes as smooth as silk in just a few minutes!
Keep stirring every 30-60 seconds until all the cheese is melted and smooth. Continue to cook on low until it reaches the desired thickness you want.
It will thicken as the water evaporates and I usually let it cook on low for about 7-10 minutes, but that depends on how you plan on using it.
If you want it thicker for macaroni and cheese, then you might want it to cook for 10-15 minutes. If it gets too thick, you can always add a little water to thin it out.
Remove the cheese from the heat when it is slightly thinner than how you want to serve it because as it sits, it thickens slightly.
Definitely serve this cheese sauce with your homemade pretzel bites!
Here is my recipe: Air Fryer Pretzel Bites
Variations of Cheese Sauce
Since you can use almost any cheese in this recipe, the variations are endless. I've tried a few and wanted to share them with you.
Nacho Cheese Sauce
Make one batch of the regular cheese sauce using your favorite type of cheddar cheese and, once the cheese has melted, but has not yet thickened, add in the following spices:
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- chipotle powder or cayenne powder for spice
Italian Bread Cheese Sauce
This one is great for dipping bread sticks into!
I did notice that the mozzarella cheese did get a little thicker as it sat, so I made some adjustments to the pretzel cheese sauce so it stayed liquid at room temperature.
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon sodium citrate
- 6 ounces shredded mozzarella (I used the bag kind)
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Heat 1 cup of water on the stove in a small sauce pan (or you can use your Ninja Foodi or Instant Pot on sear/sauté) over high heat and add in 1 teaspoon of sodium citrate and the minced garlic.
Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Add in the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Add in the Italian seasoning and stir until combined.
This sauce will thicken quicker than the cheddar cheese sauce, so it only needs a few minutes on the stove.
The garlic is barely cooked, so it is quite strong. If you prefer a milder garlic flavor, use less or use roasted garlic instead (at least 1 full bulb).
Liquid Beer Cheese
This is the one that shocked me! It stays liquid in the refrigerator! The other ones solidify some and once refrigerated need to be reheated in the microwave to be pourable again. Not this one!
You follow the same instructions for Pretzel Cheese and instead of ¾ cup of water, use ¾ cup of your favorite beer. That's it! Enjoy!
Storage & Reheating Instructions
How to Store Leftover Cheese Sauce
The cheese sauce can be left out at room temperature for up to 2 hours based on food safety guidelines.
You can keep it warm for longer periods of time if desired.
Place leftover cheese sauce into an airtight container and refrigerate up to 7 days.
I like to use an 8-ounce canning jar, but any container is fine.
You can also place the cheese sauce into freezer bags for longer storage.
Make sure the cheese is cold before freezing for the best results.
Another option is to freeze the cheese sauce into ice cube trays and then place the frozen cheese cubes into a freezer bag. Anytime you want a small amount of cheese sauce for veggies or mac and cheese, just grab one or two and allow to thaw or gently heat from frozen. Sous vide would work great for this.
How to Reheat Cold Cheese Sauce
I'm not much on the microwave, but it works great for reheating cheese sauce after it's been in the fridge and solidified slightly.
Make sure it is in a microwave-safe container and microwave on high for 15-30 seconds. Every microwave is different, so you may need to adjust the temp and time.
Stir every 15 seconds for even heating.
Place the cheese sauce into a saucepan and reheat over low heat while stirring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, pre-shredded cheese does work in this recipe.
Nope! That's the magic of it! At room temperature, this cheese sauce will stay liquid and smooth.
Once refrigerated it does solidify some, but never becomes clumpy.
Straight out of the refrigerator, it's soft and spreadable, but not pourable unless you use beer instead of water. With beer, it stays pourable.
Absolutely! Just use double the ingredients and the same instructions. It may take just a little longer for the cheese to melt and become smooth.
While cheese sauce can be used for much more than just appetizers, I figured that since you like pretzel cheese dip you probably are a fan of quick snacks and appetizers.
Here are some of my favorites!
Pretzel Cheese Dip Recipe
- ¾ cup water
- 1 teaspoon (affiliate link)Sodium Citrate
- 6 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese sharp or mild is fine
- If you are using a block of cheddar cheese, grate it and set it aside.
- Place the water into a small saucepan on the stove or into the inner pot of your Ninja Foodi or Instant Pot. Turn the heat on high and add the sodium citrate. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.¾ cup water, 1 teaspoon Sodium Citrate
- Once the water is simmering, reduce the heat to low and add the shredded cheese.6 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
- Stir to combine and let the cheese melt. It will look clumpy and watery at first. Stir every 30-60 seconds until it becomes nice and smooth. Keep cooking it over low heat until it reaches the consistency you want. The longer it cooks, the thicker it will get as the water evaporates.
ABOUT THE RECIPE AUTHOR, LOUISE LONG
Louise is a full-time recipe creator and food blogger @ The Salted Pepper. She has over 30 years of experience with cooking and recipe development. She owned a restaurant for several years and was a full-time RN until retiring to blog full-time.
She published her first cookbook in the Fall of 2018 and is very interested in writing several more.
Louise is also the creator of an online Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooking Course with over 100 instructional step-by-step videos. People absolutely rave about the course and all the value they have received from it.
Louise has several very active Facebook groups that help people with the basics of cooking and getting the most out of the Ninja Foodi.
Louise is also a YouTube creator and you can find most of her recipes in video format on The Salted Pepper YouTube channel.
She is very responsive to messages and eager to help in any way she can. Get more Information about Louise & contact information
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