This recipe and photography were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com or in her cookbook, One Pan Whole Family.
Even if you’re not really all that into football, there is one thing most humans can agree on: tailgating food includes some of the best-tasting grub on the planet.
Webster’s Dictionary defines tailgating as 1. Driving too closely behind another vehicle and 2. Hosting or attending a social gathering at which an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in the parking lot at or near a sports stadium.
Hmm. With all due respect to Webster’s, I think there’s a lot more to tailgating than that. Excitement, camaraderie, fun and beverages, lots of beverages and lots of food to go along with it. Tailgating is one of our favorite pastimes. The food at a tailgate is super important as it needs to be not only delicious but hearty and filling as well. Finger sandwiches just will not do. The chow has to have POW! A tailgate is a time for queso chili dip if ever there was one.
Queso is the Spanish word for cheese and queso chili dip is essentially melted cheese with meat and flavoring tossed in for good measure. The standard queso dip consists of a block of Velveeta cheese and a can of chili and picante sauce. It’s good, but come on…Velveeta? I think we can do better than that with just a teensy bit of effort.
Let’s keep the easy can of meaty chili but instead of processed cheese, let’s melt some real cheese instead. I’ve tested a few queso dips in my day and I’ve found the perfect mix of cheeses to be Monterrey Jack, sharp Cheddar and cream cheese. It’s basically a trifecta.
How easy is it? I start off with a sauté of onion, jalapeño and garlic and stir in taco seasoning and flour. Then I add half and half to make a nice cream sauce base for the cheese to melt nicely. Once the cheese is all melted, a can of chili with no beans and a can of Rotel Tomatoes and Green Chilies is stirred in. Last but not least, a block of cream cheese melts in for a creamy finish. It’s a simple and delicious meal on a chip.
If you’re wondering how to keep this dip hot at a tailgate, you have a few options. Someone usually has a hot grill going nearby, so you can use it to warm the saucepan of queso for a few minutes. You can also dedicate a cooler to be a hot box. Just wrap a few bricks in aluminum foil and heat them in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes or until they are good and hot. Wrap them in towels and lay them in the bottom of the dedicated cooler. Set the metal lidded saucepan of queso on top and lay more towels on top of the pan to secure it and create more insulation. It will stay hot for hours. You could also transfer the queso chili to a crockpot and keep it hot at the game with a power inverter that can run off your car battery.
You will need an assortment of chips. I like a mix of blue corn chips and yellow corn chips for contrast. I once brought along a stack of those paper nacho boats so people could layer in chips and slather it all with queso so they could eat while they walk around. It definitely frees up space in front of the queso dip so everyone can dig in.
Sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers are all great at a tailgate, but the queso is the glue that holds it all together. Score a touchdown at your next tailgate with a hot pot of queso chili dip and remember, not everyone at the game is a football fan but most are definitely into cheese.
Chili Queso Dip
- 3 jalapeño peppers
- 1 small onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
- 2 limes
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 8-oz. Monterrey Jack, shredded
- 8-oz. sharp Cheddar
- One 10-oz. can Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies
- One 15-oz. can chili with no beans
- 8-oz. cream cheese, cubed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Sour cream and chopped avocado as a garnish
- Corn chips, as an accompaniment
- On a large cutting board, mince the jalapeño and garlic (keep the seeds of the jalapeño if you want it extra spicy. )Finely chop the onion. Chop the cilantro and set it aside. Quarter the limes.
- Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When it sizzles, add the jalapeno, garlic and onion. Sauté the vegetables until they are soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in the taco seasoning, flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Stir in the half and half and continue to stir until the sauce thickens and bubbles about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the Monterrey Jack and Cheddar cheese in increments, adding more as it melts. Stir in the Rotel tomatoes and chili. Once the mixture is hot, add the cream cheese, stirring until no lumps remain.
- Season the dip with lime, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with sour cream and avocado and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve hot with chips and extra lime on the side.