The Secret to Spectacular Chili Cheese Fries

published Nov 13, 2021
Chili Cheese Fries Recipe

Chili cheese fries are one of those classic bar foods that you might not think to make at home, but they’re actually pretty simple to make.

Serves6 to 8

Prep20 minutes

Cook50 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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a tray of waffle fries with chili, melted cheese, sour cream, and onions.
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

Although you might not think to make them at home, chili cheese fries are actually pretty simple to make. To ensure success, I like building them as you would sheet pan nachos. A single layer of fries means each one gets all of the toppings (and all of the flavor).  

What Shape of French Fry Should I Use?

Sticking with frozen fries allows you to focus on the toppings. My pick? Waffle fries; all the nooks and crannies will catch the chili and cheese for a much more satisfying bite. Sturdier cuts like crinkle fries works great, too.

What Toppings Are Best for Chili Cheese Fries?

Many homemade chili recipes involve chunks of meat swimming in a rich stew. This makes sense when you’re eating it out of a bowl, but isn’t as successful when ladling it over fries, as it becomes a soggy mess very quickly. Instead, I make a quick and thick stovetop chili. I let the ground beef brown on one side for flavor, then break it up so that no large chunks remain. I also prefer black beans to kidney beans because they’re smaller.

When thinking about cheese, I weighed the pros and cons of topping the fries with grated cheddar or a cheese sauce. In the end, I decided why not both? I took another cue from building sheet pan nachos and topped the base layer with a layer of melted cheese. It provides flavor plus a bit of insurance to help the fries from getting soggy. After the chili comes a generous drizzle of a rich cheese sauce for that ultimate ooey-gooey factor. It’s really the best of both worlds.

When it comes to toppings, I stick to the traditional chili toppings, but you can really go all out. Some ideas are as follows:

Credit: Meleyna Nomura

Can I Make Chili Cheese Fries Ahead of Time?

Once assembled, you should really serve chili cheese fries immediately. But you can actually do the bulk of the work ahead of time. Both the chili and the cheese sauce can be made up to three days ahead of time and stored covered in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to eat, all you have to do is bake the fries, reheat the toppings, and assemble. Perfect for any gathering or game day!

Chili Cheese Fries Recipe

Chili cheese fries are one of those classic bar foods that you might not think to make at home, but they’re actually pretty simple to make.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info


For the chili and fries:

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 2 cloves


  • 1 (about 15-ounce) can

    black beans

  • 1 tablespoon

    unsalted butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    chili powder

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground coriander

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    chipotle chili powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper

  • 1 pound

    ground beef, preferably 85% lean

  • 1 tablespoon

    tomato paste

  • 1 (8-ounce) can

    tomato sauce

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    soy sauce

  • 1 (24-ounce) bag

    frozen waffle fries

  • 4 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

For the cheese sauce:

  • 8 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

  • 1 tablespoon


  • 1 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1 teaspoon

    yellow mustard

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    onion powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    smoked paprika

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For garnish:

  • Thinly sliced scallions

  • Small diced white onion

  • Sour cream


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to according to package instructions for the waffle fries, usually 425ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Finely chop 1 small yellow onion and 2 garlic cloves. Drain and rinse 1 can black beans.

  3. Melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute.

  4. Push the onion and spice mixture to one side of the pan. Add 1 pound ground beef to the other side, breaking it up into pieces as you add it to the pot. Sprinkle the beef with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and cook undisturbed until the meat begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir the onions into the beef, breaking the meat into small pieces. Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened in color, 3 to 4 minutes.

  5. Pour in 1 (8-ounce can) tomato sauce. Fill the can about halfway with water and add the water to the pan. Stir to combine, scraping up any stuck pieces from the bottom of the pot. Add the beans and 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer while you prepare the fries and the cheese sauce.

  6. Place 1 (24-ounce) bag frozen waffle fries on the baking sheet in an even layer. Bake according to package directions, flipping the fries halfway through. If the fries don’t look crisp enough after the indicated cooking time, continue baking a few minutes longer until crisp and browned in spots. Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce.

  7. Shred 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of the box grater (about 1 cup) and reserve for topping the fries. Shred 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 cups) for the sauce, place in a medium bowl, add 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and toss to combine.

  8. Heat 1 cup heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbling around the edges. Add the cheese and cornstarch mixture. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Use a small whisk or spatula to stir until cheese is melted. Add 1 teaspoon yellow mustard, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting until ready to use, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching.

  9. When the fries are ready, remove from the oven. Sprinkle with the reserved 1 cup cheese and bake until the cheese melts, 2 to 3 minutes.

  10. Remove from the oven. Spoon the chili over the fries, then drizzle some of the cheese sauce on top. Garnish with scallions, white onion, and sour cream. Serve immediately with the remaining cheese sauce on the side.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The chili and cheese sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated in separate airtight containers. Reheat the chili on the stovetop over medium heat before assembling. Reheat the cheese sauce on the stovetop over low heat or in the microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring every 10 seconds.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: Extra-Cheesy Chili Cheese Fries