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Get To Know Queso

Stacy Bailey

Ooey-Gooey Origins

Queso dip has been a popular restaurant menu item dating back to the 19th century when Tex-Mex cuisine originated. An abbreviation for chile con queso, this melted cheese dish has maintained its traditional molten makeup over the years—and evolved with flavor trends.1

Found in homes, quick service, fast casual and even fine dining restaurants across the United States, the first recorded queso recipe dates back to 1896.1 Texas food expert Lisa Fain writes in her book, QUESO: Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip, that the first published recipe was in a California magazine article featuring Mexican food titled The Land of Sunshine. In decades that followed, menus from San Antonio through Texas and Alabama shared chile con queso.1

In its pure form, queso contains a soft-cheese base, typically with queso chihuahua or American cheese, and originally included cayenne or chili peppers. It is heated to the popular liquid consistency that’s perfect for dipping chips, tortillas and even sliced vegetables. Queso works well alone or with countless add-ins—from meats to vegetables and spices.

Queso’s popularity swelled in the ‘60s and ‘70s with the growth in television shows featuring cooking at home.1 And since it’s still ever-present at backyard barbecues, on football Sundays and on restaurant menus, there are numerous benefits to adding queso to your lineup.

Versatile & Customizable

  • James Beard Award-nominated chef Ford Fry is fond of the ever-popular diced tomatoes and green chili with American cheese preparation, but experiments with flavor builds by adding charred tomatoes, onions and serrano peppers over a hot wood-burning grill to “capture the smokiness.”1
  • International fusions provide exciting twists on the traditional. Dallas chef Sandy Bussey combines the flavorful tang of Korean kimchi with processed cheese to create kimchi queso, and Austin restaurant Whip It swaps chiles for Indian-inspired jalapeno chutney.2
  • Chef Tim Love of Texas’ Lonesome Dove Western Bistro adds venison for a unique flavor: “I love using ground meat from deer that we harvest in the fall and winter, which is perfect timing for football season. You can’t watch the game without a big bowl of queso and fresh corn chips or tortillas. Period!”1

Viral Popularity

While it might seem like a seasonal comfort food, the summer 2021 TikTok grilling trend featured queso front and center—highlighting its year-round relevance. Audiences combined everything from ground meat, sausage, chorizo, American cheese, queso chihuahua, Monterey jack, cheddar, diced jalapenos, purple and white onions, and diced tomatoes and green chili in foil pans, melting the ingredients together after a few hours on the grill. In fact, over 42 million people used the hashtag #SmokedQueso last summer.3

Convenient, consistent and easily customizable, queso is truly one of the most dependable and low-maintenance dishes—making it perfect for today’s labor shortage challenges. Quick service restaurants like Chipotle and Moe’s Southwest Grill have joined the trend launching a “queso war” in 2020.

Beloved for both its traditional and excitingly modern iterations—all the while maintaining its craveable consistency—queso is here to evolve and stay! Whether you’re looking to menu queso for your first time or aspiring to innovate a new flavor, Surlean Foods offers the customizable cheese, meat and ingredient options you need.

To start a conversation with our team, visit

  1. Amex Essentials “A Matter of Taste: Queso Dip Explained”
  2. Eater “Queso is the World’s Most Perfect Food” August 2017
  3. Good Morning America “Smoked queso is the beloved grilling TikTok trend of summer 2021
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