Cheesy broccoli is an easy, gluten-free side dish that the entire family will love. Fresh steamed broccoli is topped in a rich and creamy homemade cheese sauce.
This cheesy broccoli recipe is sure to please the entire family. Who doesn’t love freshly steamed broccoli that’s covered in a homemade, rich and creamy cheese sauce?
The best part is that the cheese sauce is made with just 3 main ingredients, and you don’t have to make a roux (a base made of butter and flour). That’s right, this recipe is gluten-free!
I’ve included three easy methods for cooking broccoli in the recipe card. Plus, this cheese sauce can be used in many ways – check out a list of my favorites below!
Ingredients and substitutions
Broccoli can be swapped with your favorite vegetable – cauliflower is a great option!
Sharp cheddar can be substituted with another smooth melting cheese like monterey jack, gruyere, or pepper jack cheese.
I highly recommend using freshly shredded cheese for this recipe. Pre-shredded cheeses are often coated in an anti-clumping powder. When melted, this makes your sauce grainy. For a smooth sauce, use a box grater or a food processor attachment and shred your own cheese from a block.
Light cream cheese or regular cream cheese can be used.
Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream must be used for this recipe. I’ve tried making this recipe with whole milk and the sauce turned out thin and watery – it will not work with milk. Whipping cream or half & half may work (I have not yet tested these) but your sauce will be thinner than shown.
Tips and tricks
Use a whisk – the cream cheese needs to be whisked into the heavy cream, or else you may be left with a few lumps. Using a whisk will ensure your sauce is smooth and creamy.
Use freshly shredded cheese – I mentioned this above, but it’s worth mentioning again. Using pre-shredded, bagged cheese may make your sauce grainy if it contains an anti-clumping powder.
Use heavy cream – I understand milk is likely available in your refrigerator right now. However, I tried this recipe with milk and the sauce was very thin. Even after cooking down for an extra 5 minutes – the sauce was still thin. Heavy cream makes the sauce rich, creamy, and thick, without needing any extra ingredients like a roux (butter and flour).
Serve immediately – This cheese sauce comes together in about 5 minutes and is ready to serve immediately. Your cheese sauce will continue to thicken as it sets, so I suggest serving it as soon as possible.
More ways to use cheese sauce
This cheese sauce is so incredibly easy, you’ll be looking for more ways to use it in your other recipes. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use this easy cheese sauce.
- Pour over other vegetables, like cooked cauliflower or carrots
- Use as a dipping sauce for chicken nuggets or fries
- Use as a nacho cheese with tortilla chips
- Swap sliced cheese on burgers with cheese sauce
- Add cooked pasta for an easy macaroni and cheese
Cheesy Broccoli (gluten-free)
- 16 ounces broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 ounces cream cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Broccoli (choose one method)
- Roasted broccoli – Spread your broccoli florets onto a lined baking sheet and bake in a 425 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for 18-22 minutes, or until easily pierced through with a fork.
- Steamed broccoli (stove top) – Add 1/2 inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan, bring to a boil, and add your broccoli to the water (broccoli will not be covered by the water – this is fine). Cover with a lid and steam for 3-6 minutes, depending on the size of your broccoli and your preferred tenderness. Strain broccoli and set aside. (If you have a steamer basket, you're welcome to use it for this method.)
- Steamed broccoli (microwave) – In a microwave safe bowl, fill the bottom with about 1/2 inch of water, then add your broccoli on top. Cover with a paper towel or a plate, then microwave on high for 2-4 minutes, or until broccoli is tender. Strain broccoli and set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add heavy cream, cream cheese, paprika, salt, and pepper to pan. Whisk and break apart cream cheese until sauce is melted and smooth (about 1 minute). Add shredded cheese and stir until melted.
- Remove from heat. If sauce looks thin, allow it to set off the heat for one minute. Sauce will continue to thicken as it stands.
- Pour over broccoli and serve immediately.
- Cheese sauce can be used on your favorite vegetable, like cauliflower or carrots, with pasta for an easy mac and cheese, or as a dipping sauce for tortilla chips, fries, or chicken nuggets.
- Leftover cheese sauce can be reheated the next day – add a splash of milk if sauce looks too thick.
- I do not recommend substituting the heavy cream – using milk will result in a watery, thin sauce.
- Sharp cheddar can be substituted with gruyere or monterey jack cheese.