A step-by-step guide to setting up the perfect nacho bar

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Setting up a nacho bar is perfect for any party or get-together. They’re fun, relatively no-fuss to prepare and allow everyone to make their own plate exactly how they like. Learn how to set up the ultimate nacho bar that’ll be the hit of your next event.

Nacho bar set up on a table.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Setting up a nacho bar is a great way to add some fun to any party. It’s easy to put together and lets your guests create their own perfect plate of nachos.

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about setting up a nacho bar, broken down into manageable steps. From selecting the right chips and cheeses to arranging a variety of toppings, these tips will ensure your nacho bar is a success.


Corn tortilla chips are the go-to for nachos because of their crunchy texture and ability to hold up to a variety of toppings. Estimate about a handful or two of chips per person.

If you’re not serving them immediately, keep the chips in airtight containers. This will help to retain their crunch.


Choose a mix of cheeses for variety. Sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack for some heat are all great options.

For the perfect melt, shred your cheese using a box grater. Don’t use the bagged kind, if possible. Freshly shredded cheese often melts better.

You can also prepare a cheese sauce for a smoother, creamier option. Guests can ladle the cheese sauce right on top of their chips.

Prepare the nachos

Choose either baked chips with melted shredded cheese or a cheese sauce. Each method is a convenient option for your nacho bar.

Mexican nachos on a baking sheet.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.


If you’re serving a group all at once, baking the nachos may be your best bet. It quickly yields a generous batch of chips and melted cheese, ready for everyone to serve and add toppings to. Follow this method for baking them:

  1. Spread the chips out on a large baking sheet.
  2. Evenly distribute the shredded cheese over the chips.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 F, and bake the chips and cheese for about five to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.

Once baked, place the baking sheet where guests can help themselves. They can serve themselves by pulling chips directly from the tray.

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Cheese sauce

Preparing a cheese sauce is also a great option. This method is especially handy for guests who prefer to drizzle their cheese or for those who might arrive later and still want warm, melted cheese. Follow this method for making and serving the cheese sauce:

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Once the butter has melted, add 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Stir them together to form a paste, cooking for about a minute.
  3. Gradually pour in 1 ½ cups of whole or 2 percent milk. Constantly stir to avoid any lumps. Keep stirring until the mixture becomes smooth and starts to thicken.
  4. Reduce the heat to low. Add 2 cups of shredded cheese and stir continuously until the cheese melts completely. Season with salt, pepper and spices like garlic powder, paprika or cayenne pepper.
  5. Transfer the cheese sauce to a slow cooker or rice cooker. Set it on a low or warm setting. Place a ladle with the slow cooker so guests can scoop the cheese sauce over their chips.

Keeping nachos warm

Keep your nachos warm throughout the party. Here are a couple of easy ways to do that:

  • Warming trays: Perfect for keeping a large batch of baked chips and cheese warm.
  • Oven method: If you have space, keep a tray of nachos in the oven at a low temperature.
  • Slow cooker or rice cooker: Keep the cheese sauce on low or warm in a slow cooker or rice cooker to maintain its creaminess.


A plate of nachos with black beans and onions.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Like a baked potato bar, the charm of a nacho bar is the toppings. Provide a combination of classic and creative choices:

  • Proteins: Seasoned ground beef, shredded chicken, black beans and refried beans.
  • Veggies: Diced tomatoes, sliced jalapeños, black olives, corn and chopped onions.
  • Dairy: Sour cream, guacamole and extra shredded cheese.
  • Sauces and salsas: Salsa, queso, hot sauce and green tomatillo salsa.
  • Extras: Cilantro, lime wedges, diced avocado and pickled red onions.

Prepare your toppings in advance and keep them in separate containers. Estimate about ¼ cup of each topping per person, adjusting as needed for larger groups.

Food safety tips

Place toppings like guacamole or sour cream in a smaller bowl and then set those bowls on top of larger bowls filled with ice or in a large pan full of ice. This helps maintain their freshness.

“I love to make a good nacho bar. We did this for both my kids for their graduation parties, and it was a huge hit. I placed shallow bowls of cold ingredients like cheese, tomatoes and green onion in roasting pans filled with ice.”

— Michelle Price, Honest and Truly

Be mindful of how long toppings are left out. If they’ve been out for more than two hours, especially if it’s warm, play it safe and swap them out for fresh ones.

Serving tips

Organize your nacho bar logically: start with the baked chips and cheese or the chips then the cheese sauce, followed by the proteins and veggies and end with cold items and condiments. Consider using labels for each topping to help guests navigate their choices.

Offer plates, napkins and serving utensils, as well. This will ensure a tidy and efficient serving process.

Complementary dishes

If you want the nachos to serve as a side or an appetizer, pair them with a main dish. Consider serving:

  • Tacos or fajitas: They’re a great match for nachos and bring an extra layer of variety to your meal.
  • Mexican rice: A flavorful and comforting side that complements the spices in the nachos.
  • Refried beans: A classic nacho side dish.
  • Fresh salad: Offering a salad is a great way to balance the richness of the nachos with something light and refreshing.
  • Grilled or baked vegetables: Consider something like baked sliced zucchini, which can add a light and nutrient-dense element to the meal.

Complementary drinks

To complete your nacho bar, choose drinks that enhance the flavors of your meal. Here are some great options:

  • Margaritas: A classic choice that pairs well with nachos.
  • Beer: Select a variety, like a light lager or a Mexican cerveza.
  • Agua fresca: A refreshing and fruity drink that balances out the heat of the nachos.
  • Iced tea: Offers a simple, non-alcoholic option that is easy to whip together or buy store-bought.
  • Lemonade: A solid choice that’s especially popular if you’re hosting kids.

Final thoughts

That’s all you need to set up a great nacho bar for your next event. With a simple setup, a variety of toppings and these tips, you’ll be ready to host a fun and engaging party. Just lay out the chips, cheese and extras, and let your guests enjoy making their own creations.

Sara Nelson is the food blogger behind Real Balanced, a site that shares easy and balanced recipes. Since 2017, she has shared delicious, nutritious and allergy-friendly recipes with thousands of blog readers and social media followers. Sara lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two children and their dog.

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