Melty Cheese Is the Cure for Chilly Spring Blues

Queso cooked on a grill is this chilly spring’s outdoor entertaining hack.

Queso Flameado
Photo: Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

It's a gorgeous Chicago spring night as I write this. Meaning, it's 35 degrees outside, I've got a fire burning in the fireplace, and my tomato plant seedlings are sulking like grumpy 10-year-olds, because no freaking way are they going out in that cold. We're all completely annoyed with this weather, and no wonder. With all due respect to my aunt in Inverness, it's positively Scottish out there.

You can laugh off the cold weather as a Chicago thing, but we're running about 15 degrees cooler than usual, and those few numbers on the thermostat are sorely missed. I'm not the only one feeling this way; friends around the country have been talking about how chilly this spring feels. We're all anxious to spend time eating and drinking outside, but it's too cold to pretend that a dinner outside is going to work; I did enough of those shivering 50-degree patio drink dates during the pandemic, thank you very much.

But if the weather isn't going to cooperate just yet, I'll harness a little sunny warmth by lighting the grill and hosting a Queso Flameado cocktail hour.

Queso flameado, sometimes called queso fundido, is a dish of melted cheese often mixed with chiles and chorizo and flamed with alcohol. It's thicker than chile con queso, with a texture similar to fondue. This particular recipe comes from the grilling expert and frequent F&W contributor Paula Disbrowe, who wrote Thank You For Smoking and Any Night Grilling, among other books. Her version calls for cooking Oaxacan and Asadero cheeses along with charred poblanos, onions, and a punchy salsa of serrano chiles, garlic, scallions, and cilantro. Disbrowe has you blacken the poblanos over direct heat on a hot grill, then heat a cast-iron pan on the grill while letting the peppers cool enough to peel and slice. You sautè the sliced peppers and some sliced onions in the hot pan on the grill, then layer in grated cheese and that spicy, garlicky salsa.

The queso is pretty fantastic even if you stop at this point, but if you're luring friends outside in this weather, go ahead and take the final step and flame the queso with a little tequila (carefully—we don't need the moment to be too memorable). Then, pour a round of drinks, tuck some pickled carrots and jalapenos, a plate of tortillas, or even a bowl of chips next to the grill, and dig in.

Just as you might gather around a fireplace to eat raclette or a bonfire to toast marshmallows, the grill is the centerpiece of this cocktail party. It keeps guests and queso toasty and spirits high. And for an hour or so, it can even make you feel like it's spring again.

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