Want to know how to start a food fight in the living room? Start a debate about nachos. Depending on how you construct them, nachos can be an exercise in subtle restraint or in unbridled excess. You may like your nachos as individually topped, perfectly constructed bites, or as a big ol' pile with a slew of toppings. What's that? You wanna go? Don't worry, next month we're planning a full-on nacho war to determine once and for all which style is superior. But for now, we'll just hand you the fully tested, Serious Eats–approved recipes you need to make the nachos you want, whatever the style.
Fully Loaded Bar-Style Nachos
Sure, you can make good nachos by opening up a bag of chips, dumping them in a pan, sprinkling them with melted cheese, and tossing them in the oven. But if you want perfect nachos, there are a few extra steps you can take to bring them from good-enough-to-get-the-job-done to gets-the-job-done-with-flying-colors-and-maybe-even-does-some-extra-work-on-the-weekend-to-impress-the-boss-(and-the-boss-is-you).
Most national brands of store-bought chips are too thin, turning soggy soon after topping. To solve this problem, we start by frying our own chips from fresh corn tortillas. (If you have a good local source for fresh-fried chips, you're in luck.) Straight-up melted cheese quickly turns rubbery as it cools. We fix this by using a combination of grated cheese and gooey cheese sauce. The latter helps your nachos retain optimal texture to the last chip.
Our basic recipe uses refried beans, but you can load them up even more with some meat. Our pork carnitas, better-than-Chipotle beef barbacoa, one-pot chicken tinga, and chili sauce are all great options to upgrade your nachos from a snack to a meal. To make sure that every chip gets some toppings (nothing worse than that layer of dry chips at the bottom), we construct our nachos in two layers on a wide aluminum baking sheet, maximizing coverage and meltage.
Load up the baked chips with add-ons like crema, crumbled cotija cheese, cilantro, black beans, and pico de gallo. Make sure to leave a space in the middle of that tray for the sour cream and guacamole.
Texas is not known for being demure, but the original incarnation of nachos is exactly that—at least compared to the fully loaded version above. As with our bar-style nachos, our Texas nachos start with chips that we fry at home. In this case, that step is even more vital: With so few ingredients, there's not much room for low quality to hide.
We top each chip with a little dollop of refried beans (you could add some meat as well if you'd like), followed by a bit of grated cheese and a single slice of pickled jalapeño. After they emerge from the oven, you can serve them straight up with a side of guacamole, but I like to add a tiny scoop of sour cream and a little cilantro to each perfect bite.
Don't dig on meat or cheese? No worries, we've got you covered, too. I invested hours and hours of painstaking research in coming up with my recipes for vegan chili and vegan nacho sauce, mainly for the purpose of putting them together in my vegan nachos. Sure, they take some work, but they're so darn good, I'd stack them up against "real" nachos any day.