This old-fashioned pimento cheese dip recipe will take you back in time! Ready in 5 minutes and you only need 5 ingredients!
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Pimento cheese dip takes me back to my childhood. It's a recipe steeped in nostalgia, a homemade treat that was ever-present at barbecues, family gatherings and all manner of parties and get-togethers.
How does this simple combination of cheddar cheese and pimentos create such a magical flavor? Someone please explain it to me. Maybe it's the mayonnaise...yes, probably the mayonnaise.
I wanted to make a pimento cheese dip recipe that is what I would consider traditional, authentic, old-fashioned, whatever you want to call it. Make it the way I grew up eating it. And that means it's made without cream cheese!
Shocking, I know. Omitting the cream cheese creates a much better texture, and really lets the flavor of the cheddar shine through. And it must be sharp cheddar, trust me on this (you know I would never lie to you.)
My pimento cheese dip is adapted from chef Edward Lee's recipe from his cookbook, Smoke & Pickles.
- The best pimento cheese dip is fast, easy, and has the old-fashioned flavor you remember!
- The fascinating history of pimento cheese dip
- Ingredients you'll need
- What are pimentos?
- Suggested tools and equipment
- How to make pimento cheese dip
- How to serve homemade pimento cheese dip
- Other ways to use pimento cheese dip
- What can you substitute for pimentos in pimento cheese dip?
- Storage instructions
- More southern food recipes
The best pimento cheese dip is fast, easy, and has the old-fashioned flavor you remember!
- Uses the pimentos and the liquid from the jar, for full-blown pimento flavor!
- If you grate the cheese in a food processor, you can literally make this in about 5 minutes.
- Dip almost any kind of chip or veggie into it!
- Smooth and creamy, yet there's NO cream cheese in it.
- You only need 5 ingredients for that old-fashioned flavor.
- Gluten free and vegetarian!
The fascinating history of pimento cheese dip
If you're familiar with pimento cheese dip at all, you probably think of it as a Southern food, and it is—now. But the truth is, the odyssey of pimento cheese began in the North! New York to be exact.
According to Serious Eats, the origin of pimento cheese dip is a crazy mixed up combination of new food products (cream cheese), imports (pimentos), marketing (of course), and the new science of Home Economics in the early 1900s. And there was no cheddar to be found in it anywhere.
For over 100 years pimento cheese continued to evolve from a homemade product, to a pre-packaged product, and back again. It somehow made its way to being a Southern staple, though no one knows exactly how that happened.
Check out Robert Moss's exhaustively researched article for the full story. It's a truly incredible account of an iconic American recipe.
Ingredients you'll need
You only need 5 ingredients to make homemade pimento cheese dip. You'll notice that I have not listed salt here at all, because you probably won't need it. The cheese and the mayo both have a decent amount of salt.
I suggest making the recipe as instructed, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. You can always add more salt, but you can't take it back out! (You can add freshly ground black pepper, too if that's your jam.)
- Sharp cheddar cheese: I like SHARP cheddar for pimento cheese dip and I suggest you invest in a really good one, too. I use Tillamook because the flavor is outstanding and it has the perfect texture. It holds up in the food processor without disintegrating, giving you nice pops of pure cheddar in every bite.
- Pimentos: Of course. You will usually find jarred pimentos near the olives and/or pickles in the grocery store.
- Mayonnaise: Any true Southerner is probably going to tell you to use Duke's Mayonnaise. It has no sugar, and contains more egg yolks than most other brands, giving it a smoother, richer flavor. Because we're making our pimento cheese dip without cream cheese, this particular brand of mayonnaise will add that creaminess that you're looking for without making it too heavy.
- Hot sauce: I used Louisiana hot sauce, but use what you like, Cholula, Tabasco, etc.
What are pimentos?
Pimentos are a small, round red pepper, often referred to as a cherry pepper. They are sweet and mild, with almost no heat. These are the little red peppers that you find in the center of olives, but they can be used for so much more!
Suggested tools and equipment
- Food processor and microplane grater: You can grate the cheese, add the pimentos and other ingredients, and mix the dip together all in the food processor! We'll use the microplane to grate the garlic for better texture in the finished product.
- Box grater, mixing bowl, silicone spatula, and chef's knife: If you do not have a food processor you can use a box grater to grate the cheese, give it a rough chop and mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Still fast and easy!
How to make pimento cheese dip
Step 1: Grate the cheese
Fit the food processor with the grater attachment and grate the cheese, or use the large holes on a box grater.
Use a microplane grater to grate the garlic.
PREP TIP I prefer to grate the garlic before it goes into the processor (or bowl if not using one) because it distributes the garlic more evenly. You'll get a milder flavor and don't have to worry about biting down on a big chunk of garlic. Don't get me wrong, there's a place for biting down on a chunk of garlic, but that place is not in this dip.
Step 2: Mix in pimentos and other remaining ingredients
Remove the cheese from the food processor and insert the blade attachment. Add the cheese and all remaining ingredients back into it. Pulse a few times until the mixture is incorporated and until the cheese has broken down into smaller pieces, but is still crumbly, we still want big boulders of cheese.
PREP TIP If you're making this with a box grater, you can just give the cheese a rough chop with a knife to break it down a bit before adding it to a bowl and stirring in the other ingredients.
How to serve homemade pimento cheese dip
You can serve pimento cheese dip with just about any dipper, but here are some favorites.
- Butter crackers: This is probably the most classic Southern way to serve it.
- Try it with old-fashioned ridged potato chips.
- I love pimento cheese dip with corn chips.
- What kid doesn't love it on celery sticks?
- Put it on a cheese board or crudité platter.
Other ways to use pimento cheese dip
Aside from a dip, one of the most classic ways to use pimento cheese is to make pimento cheese sandwiches. Go even further and make them into little finger sandwiches as a fun idea for wedding and baby showers, or afternoon tea.
You can also add it to omelets and grits for breakfast or brunch, incorporate into deviled eggs, spread on crostini, put it on burgers, and melt it on top of french fries.
I am a purist, and I like my pimento cheese recipe the old fashioned way: very simple with just 5 ingredients. But you can add a variety of ingredients to suit your tastes. Try these ideas!
- Chopped green onion
- Diced jalapeño
- Grated onion
- Onion powder
- A dash of worcestershire sauce
- Smoked paprika
- Garlic powder (instead of grated garlic if you want a milder flavor)
What can you substitute for pimentos in pimento cheese dip?
Try jarred or homemade roasted red peppers, which are delicious in other dips, too. They will add a smokiness and a nice punch of sweetness. You can also try jarred piquillo peppers, which are a small Spanish red pepper, with a similar flavor to red bell peppers.
Contrary to popular belief, no, you CANNOT leave pimento cheese dip out on the counter forever. It's got mayonnaise and cheese in it, for crying out loud. If you left it out overnight and then ate it as a kid without getting sick, well, you got lucky.
Mayo can last 8 hours, but cheese shouldn't sit out more than 4. So when serving pimento cheese dip over the course of a long day or evening, its best to serve smaller amounts and refill as needed. Don't put all of it out at once.
Homemade pimento cheese dip will keep in the refrigerator for quite some time if stored it in an airtight container, about 7 - 10 days. While you can freeze it, the texture will change quite a bit when thawed, so it's not recommended.
More southern food recipes
- Slow Cooker Pulled Pork is an overnight situation that I promise will be worth the wait.
- Jalapeño Spoonbread makes a great gluten free substitute for stuffing at Thanksgiving.
- Succotash is a super-simple side dish that I zhuzhed up with some homemade taco seasoning.
- We always make a Low Country Boil when we visit our family in South Carolina.
Pimento Cheese Dip
- food processor or a box grater, mixing bowl, and spatula.
- 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese
- ¾ cup mayonnaise preferably Duke's
- 1 clove garlic grated
- dash hot sauce
- Fit the food processor with the grater attachment and grate the cheese, or use the large holes on a box grater. Use a microplane grater to grate the garlic.
- Remove the cheese from the food processor and insert the blade attachment. Add the cheese and all remaining ingredients back into it. Pulse a few times until the mixture is incorporated and until the cheese has broken down into smaller pieces, but is still crumbly, we still want big boulders of cheese.
- If you're making this with a box grater, you can just give the cheese a rough chop with a knife (or not) to break it down a bit before adding it to a bowl and stirring in the other ingredients. It's really up to you.
- I prefer to grate the garlic before it goes into the processor (or bowl if not using one) because it distributes the garlic more evenly. You'll get a milder flavor and don't have to worry about biting down on a big chunk of garlic.
- Any true Southerner is probably going to tell you to use Duke's Mayonnaise. It has no sugar, and contains more egg yolks than most other brands, giving it a smoother, richer flavor. Because we're making our pimento cheese dip without cream cheese, this particular brand of mayonnaise will add that creaminess that you're looking for without making it too heavy. But you can absolutely use other brands if that's what you have.
- Adapted from chef Edward Lee's recipe from his cookbook, Smoke & Pickles.
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