A gooey on the inside, crisp and golden on the outside cheese quesadilla is a go-to snack for good reason. The treat requires only a few ingredients and it can be prepared in minutes: Just sandwich cheese between a couple tortillas and toast briefly in a skillet.
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When I recently set out to craft substantial, dinnerworthy quesadillas with complex fillings though, things got complicated. My early tests resulted in less-than-stellar specimens, starring underdone proteins, soggy vegetables, and ingredients that were completely obscured by the gooey cheese. As I contemplated which ingredients to incorporate, it became clear that I needed to establish a quesadilla framework.
After focusing on each element of the quesadilla, from protein to cheese, I homed in on the best way to choose and prepare these ingredients to ensure a substantial, flavorful, and structurally sound quesadilla. Along the way, I also made a simple but significant tweak to my cooking method to ensure these thicker versions would fry up just as crispy and sturdy as their cheese-only counterparts. Use my three recipes to whip up a dynamic, satisfying, and quick weeknight dinner—or use my component‑by-component testing notes below to build your own mealworthy quesadilla.
THE QUESADILLA RULE BOOK
Precook Your Proteins: Proteins are key to bulking up a quesadilla. To keep this recipe speedy, stick to quick-cooking choices, such as shrimp or chorizo, or precooked proteins, such as rotisserie chicken.
Use Melty Cheese: While any good melter can be used in a quesadilla, Monterey Jack is my favorite. It’s flavorful, melts beautifully, and doesn’t break when heated.
Concentrate Your Vegetables
Vegetables should be a source of fresh flavor and bulk, not sogginess. Here are easy ways to prep and incorporate them.
- Slice thin and sear (peppers, mushrooms)
- Wilt and drain (spinach)
- Shred and microwave (sweet potato)
- Use jarred (piquillo or roasted red peppers)
Boost Flavor with Pantry Staples
Adding a flavor-boosting pantry ingredient is an easy way to elevate a quesadilla. Here are some of our favorites.
- SPICE: Old Bay seasoning, cumin
- BRIGHTNESS: pickled jalapeños
- HEAT: chipotle chiles in adobo
Build Your Sturdiest Quesadilla
Building a substantial, flavorful filling is just the beginning: A dinner quesadilla must also be sturdy enough to stand up to its robust contents. Two tweaks to my standard quesadilla routine helped improve the fold’s structural integrity.
- Fold, Don’t Sandwich. Instead of using two tortillas to make my quesadillas, I opted to use one large, 10-inch tortilla folded in half. This way, the folded edge helps to contain the fillings and keep the cheese from oozing out. As a bonus, I can squeeze two quesadillas into my skillet at a time, reducing batch work.
- Don’t Skimp on the Oil. Even when folded, the tortillas were too floppy to support the weight of my fillings when I cooked the quesadillas in a dry or lightly oiled skillet. To address the issue, I took inspiration from a closely related dish, quesadillas fritas. It’s a deep-fried version of a quesadilla normally made with fresh corn tortillas that are filled, sealed, and fried to crisp, sturdy perfection. Rather than deep-fry, I cooked mine in 1⁄4 cup of oil in a 12-inch skillet. The thin layer of oil encouraged the tortilla to crisp and puff lightly, adding textural interest while cooking to an even, gorgeous brown that deepened its flavor. Most importantly, the lightly fried tortillas held their shape when cooked this way, even when stuffed with a heartier filling.