How to Build the Perfect Plate of Nachos

Photo by Christina HolmesPhoto by Christina HolmesBy Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit

Nachos may flourish in sports bars alongside jalapeño poppers and chicken tenders, but I give them the consideration of a four-star meal. You can't just dump chips and cheese together and expect crunchy-melty-salty-spicy excellence. After years of experimenting for my annual nacho party (held during one very big football game), I've landed on a few rules for each component.

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The ideal specimen is medium-thick. Greasy, thin versions--like the ones some restaurants fry in-house--won't hold up here. I'm into Tostitos Simply Natural chips.

Liquid cheese, the kind that comes in a side compartment at the concession stand, tastes like candle wax. Gruyere? Save it for grilled cheese. I go for a blend of sharp yellow cheddar and Monterey Jack; they melt well and aren't overpowering.

You want shredded or pulled meat for easy building and eating. Pork is my gold standard--it crisps up nicely but remains juicy under blasts of cheese-melting heat. Try our carnitas, or buy pulled pork from a barbecue joint. Omitting the meat is fine, too; just don't anger the nacho gods with tofu.

As with any dish, balance is paramount. Meat and cheese beg for heat, freshness, and acidity. So I finish with radishes and cilantro and set out jalapeños, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream for garnishing.

Nachos leave room for personal preferences (switch up the fixings, use a different chip), but proper assembly is nonnegotiable. Start with a baking sheet: You need surface area, plus it makes a statement to present a tray of nachos that generous. Spread out a layer of chips, followed by an even distribution of meat and beans, then lots--I mean lots--of cheese. Complete coverage guarantees you don't commit the cardinal sin of nacho making: the sad chip with no topping. Repeat until you have an impressive tray a few layers high, then bake. Pour yourself a Margarita, let guests yank out a cheesy chipful, and watch them go nuts.

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Photo by Christina HolmesPhoto by Christina HolmesNachos with All the Fixings
Recipe by Chris Morocco
12 servings
Active: 1 1/2 hours
Total: 2 1/4 hours

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 9-ounce bags tortilla chips
Beer-Braised Carnitas (click recipe)
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1 large white onion, chopped
3 pounds shredded cheese (such as sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack)
8 ounces Cotija cheese or feta, crumbled
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
1 fresh cilantro leaves

Toppings (choose from the following)
Charred Tomatillo Salsa
Dried Chile Salsa
Pickled jalapeños
Pico de gallo
2 cups sour cream, thinned with 1/3 cup water
Hot pepper sauce

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray. Dividing evenly between baking sheets, layer chips, carnitas, beans, onion, and shredded cheese, mounding in the center. DO AHEAD: Nachos can be assembled up to 1 hour before baking.

Working with 1 sheet at a time, bake until cheese is melted, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with Cotija cheese, radishes, and cilantro. Serve with desired toppings.

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