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My easy broccoli cheddar soup is deliciously thick and rich with the perfect mix of smooth and creamy cheesy soup and texture from shredded carrots and broccoli. This comfort classic tastes just like the classic Panera broccoli cheddar soup and takes only 30 minutes to make!
You know how you get kids to eat broccoli by melting down a slice of cheddar cheese over them and it turns it into a savory, delicious side that they'll devor happily?
This broccoli cheddar soup recipe is that times infinity. I love getting the broccoli cheddar soup from panera bread but I am not braving 12 degree weather! Between the velvety texture and the rich, delicious flavor, I can proudly say this may beat panera’s broccoli cheddar soup.
Soup recipes are a winter staple, but this one may take the top spot at our house. Not only is it a great recipe for busy weeknights, but it's full of veggies (just don't tell my 8 year old) and it's a top contender for best meatless monday dinner especially on a snowy winter day.
Origins of Broccoli Cheese Soup
From my research, broccoli cheese soup is a dish made popular by Campbell's in the 1990's after the success of their new cream of broccoli soup during the "Get President Bush to Eat Broccoli' recipe contest campaign.
Yes. That was a thing.
In fact, it was the biggest reason why I wanted this origin story here because I couldn't be the only one who learned about this!
Anywho, Campbell's had huge success with their creamy broccoli soup lines in the 90's, with cans of broccoli cheese soup, chunky chicken and broccoli cheese soup, and cream of chicken and broccoli cheese soup flying off shelves. If you didn't have canned soup as a child, were you really a 90's kid?
Seeing the popularity of broccoli cheese soup booming, many restaurants including Panera Bread, Einstein Bros. Bagels, and Subway jumped on the bandwagon. And the broccoli cheddar soup trend was born.
How to Make Broccoli Cheddar Soup
You know why I call this the best broccoli cheese soup? Because it's a quick soup and one of my top contenders in the best comfort food for fall and winter.
For really nice, thin carrot and onions that basically melt away, I use the shredding disk on my food processor. You'll have really nice shredded matchstick carrots and thin onions that the kids will never notice.
Sauté them in a large dutch oven with the garlic in some fat, I like using butter and a little olive oil for flavor. Layers of flavor, y'all. We want to cook down the raw garlic and onion and get some color on the onions.
Then add the all purpose flour to coat all those vegetables. This is what thickens the soup up along with all that good cheese. If you are gluten-free however, you can swap the flour for other thickeners, I go over that more in the FAQ section.
Splash chicken stock or chicken broth (though vegetable broth can be used if you're ovo-lacto vegetarian) into the flour mixture and whisk in some whole milk or half and half. Let that baby come to a simmer and then add the broccoli.
Now, the biggest reason why we add the broccoli so late is because it is a cruciferous vegetable. These veggies are those super healthy 'leafy greens' like spinach, brussels sprouts, asparagus…you know, the ones full of glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds responsible for that really rank smell when you overcook them.
No one likes overcooked broccoli, hon.
So we're just looking for tender broccoli that has been cooked through, still a bright green color. This will most likely take longer if you're using fresh broccoli than if you're using the frozen broccoli. I like using those because they're very easy to find at any grocery store any time of the year and I can add as much broccoli as I want without having to chop up the fresh heads into florets.
Now this next part is totally optional, but if you like a smooth and creamy soup give it a little blitz (off heat! That's important!) with an immersion blender to break up those big chunks of broccoli. This is especially great if you have a lot of broccoli stems because I may or may not be picky when it comes to the stems.
Now, the next tips are important: for not just 'good soup' but great soup shred your own cheese and stir it in at the very end. Do not turn the heat back on, okay? Just do it by the handfuls and stir in each time before adding more shredded cheese.
Why shred your own cheese? That pre-shredded sharp cheddar in the bag is covered in cellulose, which is great for keeping the cheese from clumping together in the bag, but awful for melting cheese into a pot of delicious soup. So do yourself a favor and use that shredding disk in your food processor again (clean it first!) or take a block of cheese to the ole box grater.
Lastly, taste and season that baby up. A little salt and pepper, a little red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper for some spice, some mustard powder for a boost of cheesy flavor, you know, just whatever you like.
Serve it up with some crusty bread as we do all the best soup. Or better yet, a bread bowl just like Panera!
It's a recipe the whole family will love; I don't know a single kid who doesn't love their broccoli covered in cheese!
Ingredients for the Best Broccoli and Cheese Soup
Fats of choice, I use some salted butter (love me some Kerrygold better, whew!) and olive oil for that good flavor. We don't need high smoke point oils like vegetable oil, avocado oil, etc. because we're not doing any searing or high heat, but if they're what you prefer or have on hand, use them!
Yellow Onion. This is the best cooking onion, in my opinion. It cooks down perfectly for that classic mellowed and sweet onion flavor you get when using them in any cooking situation.
Carrots. You can use one large carrot or two medium carrots. If you're not too much of a carrot fan, just use one. I like them for their sweetness and texture in this recipe. Without them, it really just feels like something's missing.
Garlic. Always garlic! If you're not a big garlic fan, use about 1 teaspoon of garlic powder instead of the fresh boys. If you're a garlic lover like me, then use as much garlic as the ancestors tell you to.
All Purpose Flour. You need a thickener for this soup, and this is the guy who'll do it. If you are gluten free, you can use cornstarch, arrowroot, or another gluten-free thickener. I talk more about it in the FAQ section.
Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth. This is will bring serious flavor to your soup, instead of using water use a broth or stock! Beef broth's flavor is a little too strong for this recipe, so I suggest chicken or vegetable broth.
Your dairy of choice: whole milk, half and half, maybe some heavy cream. I'm not saying you can't use skim milk, you can, but your cheese may not melt as smoothly since the fat in whole milk and half and half helps the cheese melt and not separate or become gritty.
Frozen Broccoli Florets. The ones that come in the steaming bags are perfect for this since they're already blanched and are in small pieces, so they cook pretty quickly. You can use the ones with the stems in them if you like as well.
Sharp Cheddar Cheese. For the classic broccoli cheese soup, you'll want to use sharp cheddar cheese. There are plenty of different cheeses you can mix in for different spins on it.
Spices. Always spices. Season your food.
Best Cheeses to Use
The best cheese for broccoli cheese soup are ones that are both flavorful and melt well. You can use more than one, especially some of them as 'helper' cheeses to accompany harder to melt cheese. A few of my favorites:
Monterey Jack Cheese. buttery, mild flavor. It has a high fat and moisture content which makes it an excellent melting cheese. I'll say Colby-Jack is exactly the same here.
Havarti Cheese. Buttery, tangy, and a really great melting cheese. You'll most likely find it in slices but you can ask for a block of it at the deli area of
Young Gouda Cheese. Another 'helper' cheese to mix with another! Young gouda is easily found with a red wax rind and is super melty. It tastes rich, sweet, and a little caramel-like. Aged gouda would be more difficult to melt, so it would need a helper cheese to ensure it melts evenly.
White Cheddar Cheese. Totally works just as well as the yellow one, hon.
American Cheese. A great, great helper cheese for melting especially if you're using a harder, aged cheese like parmesan or an extra sharp cheddar.
What goes with Broccoli Cheese Soup?
One of the great things about this recipe is that it's basically a whole meal in itself between the cheesy soup and the vegetables, but let's make it even more hearty and satisfying. My favorite thing is to serve it in a tasty bread bowl, bonus points for sourdough!
Another is a salad with a light vinaigrette or citronette, a kind of palette cleanser for that rich soup.
Okay, now I want you to stick with me on this one: buy some gnocchi (or make your own gnocchi, they're really easy to make!), boil them and then add them to the soup. Like a potato-broccoli-cheese situation, it's so good. You have to try it!
Let's talk about preventing grainy broccoli cheese soup.
So the soup got grainy? Most likely because of the cheese. There are a few rules about cheese that need to be followed (which I learned through much trial and error in recipe development):
First, that cheese needs help melting. The best things that help it are emulsifiers (like the ones added to american cheese) or fats like in the dairy (especially if you use half and half or add in a little heavy cream or butter with the milk). These protect the molecules in the cheese from separating, becoming a homogenous mixture with your soup.
Next, melting the cheese in the hot soup off the heat. Do not add the cheese if your soup is boiling or bubbling and don't add it while the heat is still on.
High heat can cause the cheese to separate, making the soup oily and gritty. So turn off the heat, put the pot onto another burner even, and start adding the cheeses.
And lastly, do not use pre-shredded cheeses! Pre-shredded cheese is great on pizza and in southern baked mac and cheese, but it does not do great in cheese soups or sauces.
The bagged pre-shredded cheese you find in the store is coated in cellulose, potato starch, and natamycin, which is a non-toxic anti-mold agent. This coating makes it really hard for the cheese to melt at lower temperatures, so you crank up the heat….and the cheese separates instead. A huge bummer for soup and sauce making.
It's a whole lot easier to simply simmer and reduce the soup before you add the broccoli and cheese, so if you notice that the flour isn't making the soup even the slightest thicker before adding the broccoli (maybe you added more liquid than in the recipe?) let it simmer down some for another 5-10 minutes.
Okay, so maybe you missed it then and now your broccoli cheddar soup is too soupy. You can thicken it by adding a cornstarch slurry of 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 1 tablespoon cold water. It's basically a 1:1 equal part mixture.
Pour the water into the cornstarch, stir it together, throw it into your soup and stir over low heat until the soup thickens up nicely within a minute or two. If that wasn't enough slurry, do it again until the soup thickens.
You can also do this if you're gluten-free and don't use flour.
Okay so let's say you want to make this a keto soup, right? Or maybe you can't use flour or cornstarch for whatever reason. Hey, I got you, babe.
The cheese will thicken the soup and so will blending the broccoli up with an immersion blender, but it might not create that thiccccness you're looking for.
You'll want to use konjac flour, which has been around for centuries! It's great for thickening gravy, soups, and stews and easy to find and use. Use a small amount (½ tsp), sprinkle it on top of the broccoli soup, and stir it in. Repeat until the soup is thick enough for you. So easy!
The short answer: it can be dangerous because dairy products are low acid ingredients, and this soup is majority dairy. If you want to store this easy broccoli cheese soup recipe for long term, I suggest freezing it.
How to Store, Freeze, and Reheat
storing in the fridge
Pour soup into an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. To reheat, put it in the microwave with a splash of milk stirred in, stirring every 30 seconds so that the soup gets warmed up evenly. You can also reheat it in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring in a little milk to loosen it up.
Let the soup cool to room temperature (no more than two hours!), before putting serving sizes into vacuum seal bags or freezer-safe zip top bags. Flatten the bag out as much as possible (and remove as much air as possible from the bag) before freezing flat. Not only does this make for more efficient storage, but it'll reheat quicker as well.
thaw and reheat
My favorite way to thaw and reheat soup with dairy in them is with my sous vide circulator. I put the vacuum sealed soup in a water bath with it and let it warm up for a couple hours at around 130 degrees F until the soup is warmed through. Super easy.
Another way is to let the soup thaw in the fridge overnight, then reheating over medium heat on the stove top in a saucepan, stirring frequently until it's hot and ready to eat.
More soup recipes:
- The Best Traditional French Onion Soup
- Cozy Chicken and Dumplings
- Creamy Tomato Soup (Better Than Campbell's!)
- Classic Chicken Noodle Soup
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- 3 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
- ½ medium yellow onion, small diced or shredded
- 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup (50 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (473 ml) chicken stock
- 2-3 cups frozen broccoli florets
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon mustard powder, optional
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 ½-2 cups (350-473 ml) half and half or milk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 cup (120 g) sharp (or mild) cheddar cheese, grated
- In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the shredded onions and carrots in the fat for 5-6 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. At this point add garlic and let cook for one minute.
- Add in flour, and stir with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to cook out the raw flour, about a minute or so. Make sure to stir constantly so the flour doesn't stick to the bottom.
- Gradually add the chicken stock to your roux, about ¼ cup at a time, mixing constantly. It will seize up before it gets smooth, so don't worry if it looks clumpy as you stir in the stock. Finish adding in the stock, then add the broccoli florets to the pot.
- Throw in the kosher salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, mustard powder (if using), and paprika. Then add half and half or the milk of your choice. Stir well, then turn the heat up to medium-high until soup begins to come to a lively simmer.
- Let cook for 13-15 minutes, or until the broccoli florets are completely tender. If you want a smooth soup, puree either some of the soup or the entire pot of soup with an immersion blender before adding the cheese.
- Turn the heat off, and add the cheddar cheese to your soup. Stir it in until completely combined, handful by handful, then taste it (super important! Don't want bland soup, right?). Season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve hot in soup bowls.
If you are new to melting cheeses, sharper or harder cheeses like sharp cheddar can separate when exposed to high heat. To avoid separation (that grainy, oiliness that happens when the cheese is overheated) make sure to remove the pot from the heat before adding your cheese, stirring in small handfuls at a time. You can also add American cheese along with the cheddar, which has ingredients that helps cheese melt better.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 202Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 28mgSodium: 436mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 5gSugar: 3gProtein: 9g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.