There’s never a wrong time for cheese dip.

Sports competitions might be canceled for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy one of the principal culinary dishes of yearly play-offs: cheese dip. Whether it’s warm and bubbly or chilled and refreshing, cheese dip is always a welcoming snack at social gatherings. And even though social distancing dictates a temporary halt in gatherings until COVID-19 is under control, you can still use this party favorite to make your quarantine experience all the more festive. Use this guide to practice whipping up dips for future gatherings, to work on perfecting your existing recipes, or simply to make a tasty, warm and cheesy treat that the whole family can enjoy.

Bacon, Swiss, and Caramelized Onion Dip image
Credit: Caitlin Bensel; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Karen Rankin

Step One: Choose Your Cheese

Naturally, any good cheese dip begins with choosing your cheese. And really, there’s no way to go wrong here. Any type of cheese can be incorporated into a dip as long as it’s prepared correctly. When choosing your cheese, you’ll want to think about whether the finished dip will be hot or cold. Cheeses that melt easily—like Velveeta, cheddar and colby—will do better for hot dips, while cottage cheese, ricotta and cream cheese are better served cold. Some cheeses, like goat cheese, will go well in either type of dip. Feel free to experiment and find out what works best for you.

If you decide to go with a hot dip, then a slow cooker or Dutch oven will be your best bet for slowly melting the cheese and incorporating your other ingredients. Cold cheese dips, on the other hand, are best made up in a food processor or with a hand mixer. Some dips may need to be cooked first and then cooled, depending on the types of cheese and mix-ins used. In those cases, cover the cheese dip and refrigerate at least a couple of hours before serving.

Warm Cheese-and-Spicy Pecan Dip
Credit: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step Two: Choose Your Mix-Ins

Once you’ve decided on your cheese—and consequently, your dip temperature—you'll want to pick out some spices and other mix-ins to make your dip more delicious. For hot dips, cans of mushroom soup, tomatoes, and sauteed onions are common add-ins, but nearly anything can spice up a cheese dip. Meats like sausage, bacon and chicken can be added to hot or cold dips to make them heartier and more delicious. Roasted vegetables are also a tasty choice, especially when paired with a creamy cheese like goat cheese. Various herbs, like basil, chives, rosemary and thyme, can also be used to lend nuanced flavor to a cheese dip. By playing around with your favorite ingredients, you can not only make each dip memorable, but also find unusual combinations that will leave family and friends begging for more.

Crock Pot Cheese Fondue image
Credit: Caroline Arcangeli; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Anna Theoktisto

Step Three: Choose Your Dippers

Now that you’ve put your dip together, you’ll want to decide what to dip in it. Fruit, vegetables, tortillas and bits of toast are obvious choices, but you can also of course provide other dippers, like chicken fingers, fries, and pretzels. As long as it tastes good covered in cheese, you can bet that it will go well with the dip.

Additional Cheese Dip Styles

How to Make Baked Cheese Dip

If you don’t have a slow cooker (or the time that a slow cooker would take to make cheese dip), then you can still make a delicious dip in the oven. For an oven-cooked cheese dip, stir your cheeses and mix-ins together and put them in an oven-safe dish. Set the oven to about 350°F and cook for at least 15 minutes, checking periodically to make sure the cheese isn’t getting too brown. Some cheeses, like cheddar, may need closer to 20 or 25 minutes. Feel free to set timers at intervals and check your dish while you’re working to figure out the best cooking time for your dip.

How to Make a Dessert Cheese Dip

Cheese dips don’t always have to be savory. If you’re feeling like serving up a sweeter cheese dip, then think about using cream cheese or some other mildly sweet cheese to make your dip. Fruits and sweet extracts, like vanilla and orange, can also be stirred in to make the dip more flavorful. Serve with fruit, pretzels, graham crackers, or with a sweet bread, like French toast, for an unconventional and fun meal finisher.