This super easy homemade air fryer mozzarella sticks recipe is the best appetizer or tailgating recipe! Crispy, gooey, and delicious, they are a make ahead recipe to store in the freezer then quickly cook in the air fryer. Coated in crunchy panko, egg wash, and herbs, this hot finger food is a hit with adults and kids alike and healthier than traditional mozzarella cheese sticks. Perfect for New Year's Eve, Super Bowl game day, or any occasion!
One of my favorite restaurant appetizers is the mozzarella stick. I like to dip them in marinara sauce or really good ranch dressing (try it!) or even remoulade or garlic aioli. They're good with pretty much any sauce on earth. I could make a whole meal out of them.
Why you're going to love these air fryer cheese sticks
The best mozzarella sticks have a crispy coating on the outside (though not a crunchy batter covered surface) and are gooey and melty and stretchy on the inside. These air fried mozzarella sticks fit both perfectly.
I especially love this recipe because it uses simple pantry ingredients to make an appetizer that is worthy of any party spread.
Plus, they can be made ahead and stored in the freezer for a quick snack anytime of the day or night. They only take a few minutes to cook in the air fryer, so you can enjoy some yummy mozzarella sticks almost instantly!
What you will need to make homemade air fryer mozzarella sticks
- Mozzarella string cheese sticks - I suppose you could use cheddar cheese sticks or those swirly ones, but I prefer mozzarella. There are lots of different kinds of mozzarella sticks in the dairy case, but I prefer the whole milk kind for this recipe.
- All purpose flour - You need flour to coat the cheese and help the egg to stick during the dredging process.
- Egg - You need the beaten egg to make the bread crumbs stick during the dredging process.
- Italian bread crumbs - These give the cheese sticks a nice flavor. If you don't have Italian bread crumbs, you could use plain breadcrumbs and add ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning or ranch dressing powder. For a lighter and crispier breading, replace this with panko and add the seasoning to the mixture.
- Panko bread crumbs - Panko is a special kind of Japanese white bread that is made without a crust, and it can't be made in a home kitchen. Panko breadcrumbs are light and flaky and are often used for breading foods to be fried because it makes the crust crispy and light. Panko bread crumbs have virtually no flavor and absorb the flavor of the food they're applied to. Also, because it's made from flakes and not actual crumbs, panko bread crumbs don't form clumps like traditional breadcrumbs.
- Garlic powder - This gives the breading a nice flavor.
- Onion powder - This also gives the breading a nice flavor.
- Salt - The breading will taste flat without a bit of salt. You can also add a dash of pepper if you want.
- Sauce for dipping - I like marinara or pizza sauce, ranch dressing, remoulade, garlic aioli, or honey sriracha mayo.
How to cook air fryer mozzarella sticks
To prepare the cheese sticks
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Remove cheese from the wrappers and cut each one in half to create two shorter sticks.
- Create a dredging station with three shallow containers. Place the flour in the first container. In the second container, whisk the egg until frothy. In the third container, stir together the Italian breadcrumbs, panko, and seasonings. (See dredging note below.)
- Roll each stick in the flour, then in the egg, then in the breadcrumb mixture. If you like a thicker crust, you can dredge each cheese stick once or twice more. I prefer a thinner crust, so I only do one layer.
- Place the breaded stick on the prepared baking sheet.
- Freeze the breaded cheese sticks until completely frozen, at least two hours but preferably overnight.
To cook the cheese sticks
- Preheat your air fryer to 370ºF. Spritz the air fryer basket with nonstick cooking spray.
- Place the frozen cheese sticks in the basket in a single layer, making sure that none of them are touching. Spritz the cheese sticks with cooking spray.
- Air fry cheese sticks for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the wattage of your air fryer, until they are golden on the outside but not so long that the cheese bubbles through the crust. Repeat the cooking process in batches as needed, according to the size of your air fryer basket.
- Serve with marinara or pizza sauce.
Tips for creating a dredging station to bread your cheese sticks
How to bread the cheese sticks:
- Make a dredging station by putting the flour in a shallow bowl, the whisked eggs in a small bowl, big enough to submerge the cheese but not so big that the egg spreads out, and the breading mixture in a larger dish, preferably with a flat bottom. If you're right handed, you'll want the cheese on the far left, then the flour next, then the egg in the middle, and the bread crumbs mixture on the right. If you're left handed, do the opposite.
- When you are breading food, you will want to have a wet hand and a dry hand. In other words, you will take the cheese out of the flour and dip it into the egg with one hand, then remove it from the egg and drop it into the flour mixture with that same wet hand. Then, use your dry hand to coat the cheese with the bread crumb mixture, trying to avoid getting egg on the dry hand. Remove the breaded cheese and put it on the baking sheet with your dry hand. If your dry hand gets goopy, wash your hands and dry them very well. I hope that makes sense. It's an easy process, but if you get both wet and dry on the same hand, you'll end up with a big clumpy mess.
- If you like a thicker crust, you can dredge each cheese stick two or three times each. I prefer a thinner crust, so I only do one layer.
Tips for the best air fryer cheese sticks
Use full fat mozzarella cheese sticks. The low fat ones don't work very well, and fat free cheese is an abomination that you should stay far away from.
Make sure the cheese is frozen solid. It should be completely hard and dry when you put it into the air fryer.
Make sure you put frozen cheese sticks into the air fryer and cook them without thawing. When they are cooked from frozen, the breading will be crispier and the cheese won't ooze out. If you cook room temperature cheese, it will melt too much and make a huge mess in your air fryer.
Don't skip the cooking spray. This helps the breading to brown and also prevents the cheese sticks from sticking to the air fryer basket.
Be sure to preheat your air fryer.
Cook the cheese sticks in batches, and make sure there is plenty of space in between them in the air fryer basket. They should be in a single layer.
You can use any flavor of cheese including cheddar, Colby jack, or pepper jack.
Add ¼ teaspoon of sweet paprika, smoked paprika, or chili powder to the breadcrumb mixture for a spicy kick.
Add ¼ grated Parmesan cheese to the bread crumbs.
Use all panko and skip the Italian breadcrumbs. Add ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning to the panko with the garlic powder, onion powder, and salt.
Use all panko and add ½ teaspoon of one of the following:
How to cook homemade cheese sticks in the oven
If you don't have an air fryer, you can bake these homemade cheese sticks in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF and bake the breaded and frozen mozzarella sticks for 20 minutes, then flip and bake for 5 minutes more.
The outsides won't be as crispy as they will in the air fryer, but they will still be good.
Storing and reheating air fried mozzarella sticks
You can store the breaded mozzarella sticks in the freezer for up to 6 months before cooking. Keep them in the freezer on the parchment-lined baking sheet until they are frozen solid, and then transfer to a zippered freezer bag or other airtight container.
To cook frozen cheese sticks, follow the directions in the recipe.
If you have already cooked leftovers, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. When it's time to reheat them, put them back in the air fryer for 1-3 minutes or until hot and gooey again.
More air fryer recipes
I just got my air fryer, so I haven't had the chance to make many new recipes for it. Here's what I've got:
More delicious appetizers
- Mild Frank's RedHot Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Frank's RedHot Buffalo Chicken Dip in the Instant Pot
- Touchdown Taco Dip
- Quick & Easy Pizza Dip
- Cold Shrimp Avocado Cucumber Bites
- Classic Cheddar Cheese Sausage Balls