A basic white sauce, or béchamel sauce, is the building block of many great recipes like homemade mac and cheese or lasagna. Considered one of the mother sauces, it elevates the humble grilled cheese sandwich to the delectable Croque Monsieur or enhances any casserole or soup with a rich creaminess.
This homemade white sauce recipe comes together quickly and easily on the stove with just a handful of ingredients. Butter, flour, and milk plus some salt and pepper are all you need for this simple sauce that comes together in just a few minutes! Quickly convert it to a cheese sauce by adding shredded cheese.
If you’ve ever read a vintage cookbook, you’ll know that homemade sauces were top on the list of basics for a home cook to learn. While modern cookbooks may direct you to open this can, shake in this mix, stir and be done with it, the old ways are some of the best.
And the cheapest!
After years of buying canned cream soups to make Cheesy Potatoes, I realized that those cans were just a basic white sauce, something so simple and delicious that you can make in minutes—without all the preservatives and junk.
The secret to great tasting casseroles, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and chicken recipes? The secret is in the sauce— the white sauce, that is.
How to make a white sauce is a key kitchen skill to master!
Why Make This
It’s simple. With only five basic ingredients: butter, flour, milk, salt, and pepper, you can pull together a great white sauce quite simply. It’s great to make when you have a lot of milk to use up.
It’s a versatile technique to learn. Once you master how to make a white sauce: prepping a roux and adding liquid, you’ll be set for making similar sauces, like Red Enchilada Sauce, 5-Minute Easy Gravy, and Easy Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup for Cooking.
It tastes amazing. Prepping a béchamel sauce for your recipes ups the flavor level to eleven. It’s totally worth your while.
It’s quick! You can make a homemade white sauce in fifteen minutes.
To make a white sauce, you need five basic ingredients:
butter – I use dairy butter, but you can use margarine or other plant-based butter if you prefer. Butter gives it the best flavor.
flour – Use unbleached all-purpose flour for best results. Scroll down for a gluten-free option.
milk – Dairy milk is classic for making a white sauce, but you can use broth or a plant-based milk if that is what you have. The flavor will be different, but still delicious.
salt and pepper – some folks recommend using white pepper so that the sauce is perfectly one tone. If white pepper isn’t something you normally keep on hand, don’t worry about it.
Learning how to make a white sauce is to conquer a really simple culinary technique that has all kinds of potential. You can flavor it any way you like (parmesan, spices, herbs, cheese, sauteed vegetables, chicken broth for some of the milk) to recreate any creamy sauce you desire.
Here are a few white sauce variations:
- Fresh herbs, finely chopped like parsley, basil, or thyme
- Grated cheese, like parmesan, asiago, or cheddar (technically, this will then be a Mornay sauce)
- White wine or sherry for some of the milk
- Chicken or vegetable broth for some of the milk
- Sautéed mushrooms or celery
- Caramelized onions
Gluten free white sauce – If you need this to be gluten-free, you can use a gluten-free baking mix. Not all mixes are created equal, though. I’ve tested this with Cup-4-Cup as well as Bob’s One-to-One gluten-free mixes. In both instances, you’ll need less mix to butter ratio, or thin the sauce with extra milk.
The process for making a homemade béchamel sauce is super simple.
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until bubbly and fragrant. This is called a roux. Combining the fat and flour first helps the flour to absorb liquid. Otherwise, your sauce can be lumpy if you just mix flour and liquid together.
- Slowly add some of the milk. It will froth and bubble and look a bit lumpy. That’s okay. It’s the flour and fat absorbing the liquid. Whisk until smooth.
- Add in the rest of the milk and whisk until smooth and creamy. Simmer until the sauce reaches your desired thickness.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and season it to taste with salt and pepper.
Use the sauce immediately in your recipe or store it in an airtight container in the fridge.
Making a large batch of white sauce and freezing it in 2 cup portions is a great way to buy yourself some time in the future.
To freeze white sauce: place it in a freezer-safe container. Chill completely in the refrigerator before storing in the freezer, for up to 2 months.
To thaw white sauce: remove the dish from the freezer and place in the fridge overnight. Reheat in a saucepan, whisking to recombine.
White sauce is delicious as a simple sauce for chicken and other cooked meats as well as for fish and noodles, but it’s also a great component for other recipes. That’s really all that canned “cream of” soup is—a white sauce enhanced with chicken broth, chopped celery, sautéed mushrooms, or whatever other flavor you want to “cream”.
One batch of this sauce, seasoned with salt and pepper and any of the variations listed can replace a can of creamed soup in your recipes. Yay for homemade!
Use this white sauce as a base for Chicken and Biscuit Pizza or the Béchamel sauce layer in a Croque Monsieur sandwich. (Béchamel is the French name for white sauce.)
It can be the gravy in Chicken Pot Pie or a replacement for the ricotta layer in Lasagna. Stir in a few handfuls of shredded cheeses and you’ve got a delicious sauce for Alfredo Mac and Cheese or Stovetop Mac and Cheese.
TLDR? Check out this How to Make White Sauce or Béchamel Sauce web story.
Alfredo is a white-colored sauce, but it differs drastically from a bechamel. While Alfredo sauce is typically made with butter, garlic, parmesan cheese, and cream, a white sauce is more like a white gravy—made from a thickened roux of butter and flour, with milk mixed in.
You can make a gluten free white sauce. Just substitute your favorite gluten free flour for this regular all-purpose flour in the recipe. Adjust the texture by adding more or less milk depending on how your gf mix works.
Yes. Just swap out the butter and milk for your favorite plant-based substitutes and you’re all set!
It’s super easy to freeze white sauce. Divide it into usable portions and store in airtight containers. Chill completely prior to storing in the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator and whisk to recombine prior to adding it to your recipes.
Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce to which cheese has been added.
Other Great Sauce Recipes
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How to Make a White Sauce
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 2 cup milk
- black pepper
- In a medium sauce pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and stir until well mixed, hot, and bubbly, about 2 minutes.¼ cup butter, ¼ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- Gradually whisk in the milk, stirring until smooth. It's okay if it looks lumpy at first. Slowly at in more milk while whisking and it will smooth out.2 cup milk
- Simmer until thickened, about 7 minutes, stirring.
- Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.salt, black pepper
- Use in recipes or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Store in the freezer for longer storage.
This post was originally published on March 31, 2015. It has been updated for content and clarity.
i used this resicipie for my cooking gcse’s and it got me a distinton would defo recomend
Potato soup is an easy go to for using a lot of milk. Cooking the milk will freshen it if it’s starting to get blinky.
Thank you so much! I used to have this recipe memorized but I hadn’t used it in a while and needed it today! I used the version with chicken broth for chicken noodle casserole today but I use the basic version in a lot of other things too like chicken a la king, chicken and biscuits, potato soup, etc.
Glad it was helpful!
I’d like to use this for chicken Alfredo, adding Parmesan cheese and chicken. How much should I make for 5 people? Double the recipe? Triple?
Leslie, I think it depends on how saucy your people like it and how much pasta. One batch is enough for a pound of pasta.
Any suggestion for sauce on cornbread dressing.
Do you mean gravy? That’s usually what we serve with dressing/stuffing. This is my go-to, 5-Minute Easy Gravy Recipe, similar process to white sauce but with some flavor changes.
Came out excellent! I added spinach, parmesan and asiago cheese and stuck with the rest of your recipe. Too good!! Thank you
Awesome! Those sound like great additions!
I’m wondering if almond milk can be substituted for dairy milk.
You can substitute any liquid for the milk. While it will change the flavor and color, it will make a thick sauce. Likewise, I have used oil instead of butter when I need to make a dairy-free gravy. Just use a bit less.
Just a note to say that you can omit the butter if fat is a problem, like it is for me. Just whisk/stir the flour into part of the milk until there are not lumps and then cook it ’til done. It doesn’t taste quite as rich, but it does work. You can also use the slurry method to thicken soups, etc. That is what this is, a slurry of the liquid and flour or other thickener. The secret, I think is to not use much liquid. You want something about like pancake batter, I think for the easiest mixing of the slurry without lumps.
Also, you can vary the flour to liquid ratio to control the thickness of the sauce.
Thanks for the tip!
I’m new to your website. I found it when searching for how to use up a gallon of milk. Can you freeze this? I have a gallon of milk that expired yesterday and I don’t want to waste it.
Hi Ashley! Welcome! First, expiration dates are not “the law”. Like for reals, the only product that is bound to give a hard and fast expiration date is for baby formula. You can read more about that here on the USDA’s website. Basically, it’s a guideline. If your milk doesn’t smell bad, you’re good to continue using it as you regularly would.
That said, the producer is giving you a “guesstimate” as to when it will taste best. You can absolutely make the white sauce or any of my “Cream of Soups” and freeze those. I recommend packaging them in 2-cup portions so that you can use them like you would a can of creamed soup. The texture looks a little clumpy upon thawing, but whisking it as you warm it should eliminate that. If using it in a casserole it won’t even matter.
For freezing, be sure to chill the containers in the fridge before putting them in the freezer. That will prevent ice crystals and freezer burn from forming. Hope that helps!
I’ll admit, I haven’t had flour in my kitchen in at least 2 years. Sad! But our work around for GF white sauce comes from a sneaky white sweet potato. It seriously works!
I use the microplaner to get a fine grind. I let the butter and 1/2 potato melt together for several minutes, whisk in 1/2 the liquid and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick. Then I thin out the sauce and viola! GF white sauce. I usually season with Organic chicken bullion, onion powder, and mustard powder. YUM!!
Thanks Allie. My daughter is celiac. I am excited to try this out!!
I really liked King Ranch casserole until
I soured on cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups. Now I’m wondering if I could use your white sauce instead? ?
Yep, you absolutely can. Or use this Homemade Cream of Celery Soup Recipe or this Easy Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup for Cooking
And for those that need to stay away from gluten, cornstarch or your favorite gluten-free blend works well too. I often make this with chicken broth only also.
If you want to make it chicken flavor, do you just add more flour since the chicken broth will thin it out? FYI: I don’t kike to use chicken bouillon–it has too many questionable ingredients.
No, I’d sub chicken broth for half the milk. And yes, I agree. 🙂
Thanks Jessica! I have been reading (and enjoying) your blog for a couple of years now–lurking actually. This was the first time I commented. Thanks!