Classic Cheddar Cheese Sausage Balls are super easy to make with only 5 simple ingredients: sausage, Bisquick, cheddar cheese, Parmesan, and milk. You are going to LOVE this quick and easy baked appetizer recipe! Make the sausage balls ahead and freeze unbaked for later. Includes air fryer and oven instructions. Great for breakfast, snacks, parties, and tailgating!
What are classic sausage balls?
Sausage balls are classic party food, and they're sort of like the intersection between a meatball, a sausage patty, and a cheddar cheese biscuit. They're hard to describe, but they're super delicious!
What you'll need to make classic cheddar cheese sausage balls
I prefer to mix sausage balls with my hands in a large bowl, but I have seen some people who use a food processor or stand mixer to create the sausage dough. If you want to do that, you will probably have to work in batches, measuring out a third to half of the ingredients and blending them together and then repeating for the rest of the sausage.
I prefer to use the small or medium scoop from my cookie scoop set so that all my sausage balls are the exact same size. This is important because if they are different sizes, they will cook at different rates, and some will be overdone before the rest are fully cooked. Since you are using pork sausage, it is very important that they are fully cooked inside. Uncooked pork can make you sick.
If you are cooking just a few sausage balls at one time, I would recommend using an air fryer because they will get really nice and crispy.
However, it would take approximately ten years to air fry the entire recipe because it makes about 80 balls. You can only air fry them in a single layer with some space between each one. My air fryer will fit about 10 balls at once if I make them with the smallest scoop. So 10 balls times 8 batches means 80 minutes of cook time, and you have to be there to add, turn over, and remove the sausage balls every 4-5 minutes. So air frying, while it makes the best sausage balls, is not the preferred method for cooking an entire batch. If you're cooking them all at once, put them on a baking sheet and go with the oven instructions.
- Bisquick - One time, my sister showed me a Facebook live of a lady named Kristen (I can't remember her last name), and she was hilarious, and she made sausage balls with Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix. We tried her recipe, and it was absolutely positively amazing and made the best sausage balls I've ever eaten. I wanted to share the classic recipe here, but do know that you can substitute 3 cups of Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix along with its spice mix for the Bisquick and get great results.
Also, if you don't have Bisquick or Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix, you can make your own with all purpose flour, shortening, baking powder, and salt. Here's a recipe for homemade Bisquick from My Baking Addiction.
- Ground pork sausage - I use plain ground pork sausage for this recipe, especially when I'm using Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix. But if you're using Bisquick, you could use hot sausage, Italian sausage, maple pork sausage, or any other flavor that you like to eat. If you wanted to reduce the calories, you could also use chicken sausage or turkey sausage. The only stipulation is that the sausage has to be ground sausage. It can't be smoked sausage or any other consistency. Must be ground up.
- Shredded sharp cheddar cheese - You could use any kind of shredded cheese, but the classic recipe uses sharp cheddar.
- Grated Parmesan cheese - You can use the powder stuff in a shelf stable can or the slivered stuff from the dairy aisle.
- Milk - Just enough to moisten everything.
How to make classic Bisquick sausage balls
As I said above, you can make these sausage balls in the oven or in the air fryer. If you are making a large batch, you will want to make them in the oven because the air fryer would take forever.
If you're making just a few sausage balls, I would cook them in the air fryer as they will get crispier and be really nice.
How to make sausage balls in the ovenPreheat oven to 350ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray with non-stick spray.
Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl with your hands until well mixed.
Use a small scoop and roll the sausage mixture into 1-inch bite sized balls. Place the uncooked sausage balls onto the baking sheet. You might have to do this in 2 batches or use multiple baking sheets.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown on the outside and 160ºF on the inside. Remove from pan and serve! We like to dip these in sweet chili sauce, ranch dressing, or BBQ sauce, but plain is really good too.
How to make sausage balls in the air fryer
- Preheat the air fryer to 320ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
- Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl with your hands until well mixed.
- Use a small cookie scoop and roll the sausage mixture into 1-inch bite sized balls. Place the uncooked sausage balls onto the baking sheet. You might have to do this in 2 batches or use multiple baking sheets.
- Place the sausage balls in the air fryer basket in a single layer with a bit of space between them. Fry for 5 minutes, then turn over and fry for an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown on the outside and 160ºF on the inside. Remember that all air fryers are different, so you may need to cook a little less or a little more time.
- Serve these hot with sweet chili sauce, ranch dressing, or BBQ sauce, but plain is really good too.
Can you microwave sausage balls?
I guess you probably could microwave them, and they would get cooked, but they would not be the sausage balls that you see in my photos. They would be balls of possibly greasy sausage, and they would not get crispy or browned at all.
Sausage balls variations
You can use pork sausage as I do, or you could use chicken sausage or turkey sausage. Also, you could try hot and spicy sausage, Italian sausage, or maple flavored sausage for a variation on the original.
You can add a teaspoon or so of salt and ground black pepper to the mixture if you think it's a little bland.
You can add a ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper in the sausage mixture for a spicy kick.
You can add 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite seasoning blend to the sausage mixture. I've tried dry ranch mix, cajun seasoning, fajita seasoning, taco seasoning, BBQ seasoning, or Old Bay. They're all different and all delicious!
You can vary the cheese. Sharp cheddar is my favorite, but you could use shredded Monterey Jack, pepper jack, colby jack, or even a combination of shredded cheese and room temperature cream cheese.
For gluten-free sausage balls, use gluten-free Bisquick, and make sure both your sausage and shredded cheese are labeled gluten-free.
Tips for better sausage cheese balls
Everything mixes together a little easier if you let the ingredients sit on the counter for a half hour or so instead of using them straight from the refrigerator.
You can mix the sausage, Bisquick, and cheese mixture in a food processor or stand mixer with the paddle attachment if you prefer. You'll most likely have to work in batches, separating the ingredients into two or three parts and mixing the portions separately.
Use an instant read thermometer to check for done-ness. Sausage balls get nice and golden brown on the outside before they've reached a safe internal temperature. A thermometer is necessary to ensure they're safe to eat.
Sausage balls taste best when they're warm. Serve straight out of the oven (after that 5-10 minute resting time) or line your Crockpot with paper towels and dump them in there on the warm setting.
Because this recipe makes a lot of sausage balls, I would not recommend attempting to cook them all in the air fryer at one time. Instead, you should freeze the whole batch and just cook a few as you need them, such as for a snack or breakfast. If you intend to cook all 80 at once, the oven is the better option. Use convection if you have it, and they will still get pretty crispy. (Not as crispy as the air fryer would make them, but reasonably good enough.)
How do you keep sausage balls from getting too dry?
There are 3 reasons that sausage balls get dry: overcooking, not using enough milk, and using pre-shredded cheese.
The most common reason is overcooking them. Pork is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF (according to the USDA food safety website). If you're worried about the balls getting dry, use an instant read thermometer and take them out of the oven as soon as they hit 155ºF. Let them rest on the counter for 5-10 minutes, and make sure the internal temperature gets up to 160ºF during that time.
The second reason that your sausage balls might get dry is not using enough milk. The uncooked sausage mixture should be moist, not dripping with liquid but not crumbly either.
The third reason that sausage balls get dry is because you used pre-shredded cheese. When you shred your own cheese, it has more moisture which helps the sausage balls to stay moist.
Why won't my sausage balls stick together?
They're probably too wet. Add a few tablespoons of Bisquick to the mixture.
On the other hand, if there's too much Bisquick, they won't stick together either. If they seem too crumbly, add another tablespoon or two of milk.
Storing sausage balls
Sausage balls can be made ahead and kept unbaked in the fridge up to 3 days.
Once cooked, they can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. They lose something when they're refrigerated after cooking; sausage balls taste the best when they're freshly baked or air fried. But if your choice is to throw them away or put the leftovers in the fridge, put them in the fridge.
Sausage balls freeze beautifully when they're frozen uncooked. Place the baking sheet right in the freezer, and keep them in there until they're frozen solid and dry to the touch. Then remove them and dump them into a zippered freezer bag, where they can stay for up to 3 months. When you are ready to bake, put them back on a lined baking sheet (still frozen) and cook them at 350ºF for 25-30 minutes.
You can also freeze cooked sausage balls, although they won't be as nice when you reheat them as they were when you first made them. You can keep them in an airtight container or zippered freezer bag for up to 3 months. Reheat in the oven or air fryer for maximum crispiness.
What goes with sausage cheese balls?
I eat sausage balls plain, but I know a lot of people like to serve them with a dipping sauce such as sweet chili sauce, ranch dressing, honey mustard, or BBQ sauce. You could also dip in lemon garlic aioli, horseradish aioli, sriracha mayo, remoulade sauce, or copycat Burger King Zesty Horseradish Sauce.
I like to serve sausage balls with other appetizer recipes, such as those below. Or, you can serve them for brunch, and those recipes are also below.
Check out these other easy appetizer recipes
- Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls
- Shrimp Avocado Cucumber Bites
- Mexican Black Bean, Corn, & Avocado Salsa
- Air Fryer Mozzarella Sticks
- Air Fryer Coconut Shrimp
- Air Fryer Potato Chips
- Touchdown Taco Dip
- Mild Frank's RedHot Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Frank's RedHot Buffalo Chicken Dip in the Instant Pot
- Quick & Easy Pizza Dip
Check out these other easy brunch recipes
- Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast Muffin Cups
- Baked Apple Pecan Pancakes
- Crustless Zucchini Quiche (Gluten-Free)
- Apple Ring Pancakes
- Cheese & Green Chile Frittata
- Sausage and Cheese Omelet Roll with Broccoli and Mushrooms
- Ham and Cheese Omelet Roll Up