If there were a Hall of Fame for foods to eat while watching football, nachos would be among the first inductees.
Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, we sought wisdom from chefs who work at restaurants across North Carolina known for their nachos.
These experts told us making nachos at home can be as easy or as labor intensive as the cook wants it to be.
An ambitious cook could braise shortribs, roast a pork shoulder or cook a pot of beans to top nachos. (Or even make homemade tortilla chips.)
A cook who doesn’t want the fuss could buy a pound of barbecue at a favorite restaurant for chopped or pulled pork-topped nachos and pick up the rest of the toppings at the grocery store, including salsa, guacamole and queso.
Our panel of nacho-making experts includes John Scarangella of The Raleigh Times Bar and Adam Harvey of Queen City Q, both renowned for pork barbecue nachos (Scarangella’s staff makes up to 700 orders a week); Marty Heller of Charlotte’s Pacos Tacos and Tequila, known for Texas-style nachos; and Michael Casey of Raleigh’s Cantina 18, which serves a variety of nachos, most notably tortilla chips loaded with chunks of braised shortribs, goat cheese, black beans and roasted bell and poblano peppers.
Preparing the chips
Scarangella prefers Mission brand tortilla chips, which are thicker and less salty than other brands. Since he’s not frying the chips at home, as he would at the restaurant, Scarangella has an interesting trick for getting a similar flavor: sprinkling Molly McButter on the chips and baking them in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes to crisp the edges. “For some reason, it has a just-came-out-of the-fryer flavor, ” he said.
The cheese choice
Many chefs opt for shredded cheese, but chefs Casey and Harvey insist on queso, a spicy cheese sauce. Harvey says making queso is easier than you think. It’s equal parts milk and shredded cheese melted in a slow cooker, double boiler or metal bowl perched over a pan of simmering water. Season with diced jalapenos and chopped tomatoes as desired.
A layered approach
All the chefs agreed with Harvey on this point: “Nachos are all about layering. Nobody likes to get to the bottom and just have plain chips.”
But they diverged on the best way to build them. Scarangella suggests a layer of chips, meat, cheese and then repeat. Harvey adds lettuce, cilantro and diced tomato to his second layer. “When I eat nachos, I think it’s like taco salad, ” he says. Meanwhile, Heller insists on Texas-style nachos, where each individual nacho chip is dressed with toppings: refried beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo and a jalapeno slice.
A nacho bar
With all this advice, we like the idea of turning the Super Bowl smack talk into a delicious competition for your party guests.
Set out an array of toppings and let your guests compete to see who can make the best platter of nachos. Best part of all: The host’s work is done well before kickoff. The guests can assemble rimmed cookie sheets full of nachos for a quick broil in the oven and then everyone gets to enjoy wave upon wave of this game-day favorite.
Other nacho topping ideas
Here are a few suggested toppings from our nacho experts:
Cheeses: queso, cheddar, Monterey jack, pepper jack, goat cheese.
Beans: Black or pinto beans from a jar or make your own. Place beans in a large pot covered by 3 inches of water and let sit for 6 hours or overnight. The next day, bring beans to an initial boil and then turn down heat to a simmer. Cook for an hour and a half or longer until tender. You may have to add water. Do not salt the beans until they are tender.
Red onion: Diced or slices charred on the grill
Sliced green onion, white and tender green parts only
Sliced black olives
Peppers: Diced or roasted on the grill, such as sweet bell peppers or poblano
Jalapenos: Pickled slices from a jar or roasted whole jalapenos
Sour cream, or try Mexican crema if you can find it at your grocery store
Salsa: Buy your favorite jarred variety or make your own, such as a roasted corn and black bean salsa. Spread corn kernels on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 500-degree oven until they look blistered, about 20 minutes. Combine with 1 (15-ounce) jar of black beans, drained and rinsed, 4 sliced green onions, 1 minced garlic clove, juice of 2 limes, 1/4 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Pico de gallo: To make your own, combine 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced red onion, 1 tablespoon diced jalapenos, juice of 2 limes, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.
Meats to top those nachos
Here are suggested recipes. If you prefer vegetarian nachos, use our recipe on 4D to make a fresh pot of beans.
Ground beef: Saute 1 pound of ground beef with 1 tablespoon chili powder in a large skillet over medium heat until no longer pink. Drain the seasoned beef on a paper towel-lined cookie sheet before assembling nachos.
Pork: Place a Boston Butt or Picnic cut of pork in a 5-quart slow cooker with a quartered onion and 1 1/2 cups of your favorite beer. Cook on low 6-8 hours until meat falls apart. We recommend crisping up the pulled pork before using it to top the nachos. Spread 1 or 2 cups of pork out on a rimmed baking sheet and cook in a 400-degree oven until desired crispiness, or sauté in a hot skillet until crispy.
Beef Short Ribs: Season the short ribs with salt, pepper and chili powder. Sear on all sides in a saute pan. Place seared ribs in a roasting pan. Add 1 diced onion and enough water to come halfway up on the meat. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 4-5 hours until the meat easily falls off the bone.