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How To Thicken Cheese Sauce ⋆ The Easy Way ⋆

Cheese sauce is simply delicious; there is no denying that! Whether you toss it on top of a bed of fries, cook in some pasta, enjoy it with a bag of tortilla chips, or simply eat it by the spoon (I’m not judging!) – it’s great in every form. 

However, it is also true that it has to be the right consistency. A sauce that’s too runny won’t give you the richness and flavor you want. 

It won’t adhere to your chips or fries the way you want it to; this will cause a cheese soup with a sidelines situation, which isn’t what we’re looking for here. 

So how do you thicken cheese sauce? First, try to reduce your cheese sauce by cooking it for a bit longer by simmering it on the stovetop. If you need a quicker fix, you can try adding a thickening agent, roux, egg yolk, or more cheese to thicken it up

The bottom line is if you made cheese sauce that’s too runny, you don’t have to toss it out and start from scratch. 

You can hopefully salvage it with a few simple tricks.

However, you need to be a little careful with cheese since cooking it at too high heat will burn it up, and adding too much starch will ultimately lead to a clumpy sauce that you don’t want.

Now before we jump into tricks to fix it, let’s see why your cheese sauce went runny to begin with.

Why Is My Cheese Sauce Thin?

Your cheese sauce might be runny for quite a few reasons; firstly, you might not have cooked it for as long as you were supposed to; secondly, you might have added too much liquid to the mix

If you’re making a cheese sauce for the first time, I suggest using a recipe to make sure you have the proportions right. 

It’s easy to mess up the milk to cheese ratio, which might end up in a sauce that’s too runny or too thick.

The second thing you need to be wary of is cooking times! 

You need to let the cheese melt and do its thing with the milk, and then you need to slow cook it on low heat until it’s all incorporated and smooth.

Sometimes, people like to swap out whole cream milk with alternatives like skimmed milk or half and half.

While it might be okay to do that, you need to adjust the quantity because those have lesser fat content and more water content, which might ultimately lead to a runny sauce.

If the recipe calls for chicken stock or vegetable stock, make sure you’re using the exact amount. Adding too much will again lead to a very liquidy sauce.

So now that we know why your cheese sauce is too thin let’s talk about how thick it actually has to be.

How Thick Should A Cheese Sauce Be?

Cheese sauce should be midway between thick and thin; while it should have a liquid consistency, you want it to stick to the spoon when you turn it upside down.

Nevertheless, how thick your cheese sauce needs to be will ultimately depend on your personal preference and what you need it for.

Different dishes call for different consistency of the sauce. 

You need a thicker sauce if you’re using it as a dip or on top of fries, while the sauce you use to make pasta might have to be a tad bit thinner.

As a general rule of thumb, stir your sauce and then bring the spoon down in the middle; it should make a faint line when you do that. 

Make sure your sauce isn’t too thick, or else it will be clumpy and will be inedible as soon as it gets cold. When you scoop it up in a spoon, it should be able to run back into a pan slowly.

What Can You Use To Thicken Cheese Sauce?

To thicken your cheese sauce, you can use a thickening agent like all-purpose flour or cornstarch dissolved in water. Some people also recommend making a roux or adding egg yolks for a thicker consistency. 

If all else fails, you can always add some more cheese!

If you have neither of these things at hand, the best you can do is try to reduce the liquid by simmering the sauce on low heat.

How To Thicken Cheese Sauce – Step By Step

You can thicken cheese sauce with the addition of thickening ingredients like starch agents, egg yolks, or cheese. Or you can do it by cooking it for a longer time.

Here are some methods you can use to thicken your cheese sauce; you can use one that seems less daunting to you or whatever your time and pantry allow!

Just remember to allow adequate time for each method to work before trying something else.

Also, remember that the sauce thickens up once it cools down, so allow a margin for that to happen.

Method One: Let It Simmer On Low Heat

The easiest way to reduce the amount of liquid in your sauce is to let it evaporate! 

You can do so by cooking the sauce on low heat for a longer time while stirring it or whisking it continuously.

If you don’t stir it from time to time, it might end up sticking to the bottom or forming clumps, neither of which we want.

To quicken the process, try transferring the sauce to a wider pan, so the surface area in contact with heat increases, and then whisk until it comes to your desired consistency.

Method Two: Add A Thickener

If you have cornstarch or an all-purpose floor at hand, try making a little slurry and adding it to the sauce. Here’s how you do it

  • Step 1: Take 1 tbsp cornflour or all-purpose-flour in a cup
  • Step 2: Add 1 tbsp water to the cup
  • Step 3: Mix it until it dissolves
  • Step 4: Slowly pour it into the sauce while whisking it continuously
  • Step 5: Let it cook for a little while

For this particular sauce, I recommend being careful with the number of thickening agents you use. 

Adding too much will take away from the overall flavor, making your sauce taste bland and doughy.

It will also be very clumpy once it cools down, requiring frequent reheating.

So it’s best to start with little amounts at first and then add more if you feel like you have to.

Method Three: Make A Roux And Add It To The Sauce

For a more nutty flavor and better texture, you can opt for making a roux to thicken the sauce.

  • Step 1: Melt 2 tbsp butter in a pan
  • Step 2: Once melted, add 2 tbsp all-purpose-flour to the butter
  • Step 3: Whisk until combined
  • Step 4: Once it’s incorporated and makes a kind of paste, turn off the heat
  • Step 5: Add the roux to the sauce
  • Step 6: Whisk until it completely dissolves
  • Step 7: Let it cook for a while

You need to let the sauce simmer for a minute or two before the roux comes into effect! 

Make sure you stir it frequently to ensure it’s well-incorporated.

Method Four: Add Egg Yolks To The Sauce

If you don’t have cornstarch or all-purpose flour available, you can simply use an egg yolk to thicken the sauce!

  • Step 1: Separate an egg yolk and add it to a measuring cup
  • Step 2: Whisk it
  • Step 3: Add the cheese sauce to the measuring up until it hits the 1 cup mark
  • Step 4: Whisk it to make sure it’s well incorporated
  • Step 5: Then add this mixture to the remainder of the cheese sauce in the pan slowly while mixing it
  • Step 6: Let it cook while stirring until it’s your desired consistency

Method Five: Add More Cheese

Another easy method to fix the sauce is by simply adding more cheese (no such thing as too much cheese, am I right?!). 

While your sauce is still on the stovetop, add your choice of shredded cheese to it and then mix until it melts.

Make sure you adjust the rest of the seasoning after adding the cheese to balance it all out.

Why A Cheese Sauce May Not Thicken

A cheese sauce may not thicken because you’re not letting it cook for long enough, which allows this to happen, you’re not using quality ingredients, or your sauce simply needs more thickening agents or cheese.

Sometimes a cheese sauce might not thicken even if you have tried one of the tricks mentioned above.

If you’re using a slurry or roux to thicken the sauce, you have to allow the sauce to cook for a considerable amount of time (3-5mins) before it begins to thicken up. 

Don’t be hasty!

Secondly, check the expiry of your cornstarch and flour. 

Low-quality or expired ingredients won’t work the way you expect them to.

Lastly, maybe you need to add a little bit more of what you’re using to thicken up the sauce. 

For example, if you’re using a cornstarch slurry and you added one tbsp only, try adding another tbsp to see if that works.

What Do You Do If Cheese Sauce Doesn’t Thicken?

If no thickeners work, adding more cheese will definitely work to make the sauce more cohesive and thick. 

If, however, you don’t have enough cheese to thicken the whole sauce, try decreasing the quantity and freezing the remainder so you can fix it later by adding more cheese. 

For now, use the amount of cheese you have and adjust the consistency as you like it.

If it still doesn’t work, try adding a little salt and pepper, maybe a little paprika, pour it over a pan of uncooked or partially cooked pasta spread out in a baking dish. 

Bake the whole thing for 20-30 minutes to make baked pasta.

The pasta will absorb some of the liquid, while some of it will evaporate, making the whole thing a success!

Lastly 

Making cheese sauce is easy; you just need to get the proportions of everything right in order to make sure it’s a success in the end.

Usually, your thin cheese sauce can be salvaged by one method or the other without having to toss it. 

If nothing works, just toss it in with your favorite carbs, such as pasta, fried chicken, fries, and even nuggets, and enjoy the delicious treat.

Related Questions

How Can I Thicken Cheese Sauce Without Flour Or Cornstarch?

The best way to thicken cheese sauce without flour or cornstarch is to either cook the cheese longer to reduce it, or to add another thickening agent such as egg yolk or more cheese.

Want to learn how to thicken any type of sauce? Then check out my definitive guide: