Hi there! It’s me, your air fryer! Remember you bought me (or asked for me as a gift, or just found me wrapped under the tree) and had all kind of big plans for us, and then you left me sitting in a box. Well, now it’s time for us to make the magic happen.
I am just getting to know my air fryer. Just scratching the surface. I’ve made fries a few times, from actual potatoes, and I did a battered dipped cauliflower thing that was so delicious and decadent (batter, panko, a serious mayonnaise-like sauce dripped all over everything) that the fact that it was made in an air fryer was if not irrelevant not a huge bragging point. And then I made these.
My friends at PureWow ( a very fun website that regularly features my recipes) came over to see my new kitchen studio and asked if we could shoot some video while they were visiting. Sure, why not? Then they asked if I had any good air fryer recipes to play with. That was all I needed to release the little person inside of me who had been loudly whispering, “Make mozzarella sticks! Make ALL the cheese sticks!” One of the happiest moments for all of my boys at a certain type of restaurant is when they spot mozzarella cheese sticks on the menu, and I wanted to bring the magic home.
Easy Mozzarella Sticks
Dip, roll in coating, place on air fryer rack, close lid, push button. More specific directions await, but if you thought making air fryer cheese sticks at home was going to be tricky, you are in a for a very lovely surprise.
Less Oil for Healthier Mozzarella Sticks
Have you ever fried mozzarella sticks? Or seen them fried in a restaurant? If so, you know that while these are by no means health food, they call for WAY less oil than conventionally fried mozzarella sticks.
Different Kinds of Cheese Sticks
The first thing I did was buy about a half dozen kinds of cheese sticks: Colby, cheddar, good old string cheese, and of course mozzarella, the leader of all of the cheese sticks. Why are mozzarella sticks the best? Or if not the best, why are they the self-appointed king of the cheese sticks? It’s just the way the cheese melts and stretches, giving that perfect cheese pull each and every time (as long as you allow it to get warm enough, but not too hot). Magic. Not to mentioned Instagram gold.
(Ok, please tell me I am not the only one who heard the word “cheese sticks” in this song, and then had to be gently corrected).
But that shouldn’t stop any of us from playing with other cheese sticks. The stretchy pull might not be as dramatic (I was getting up to a couple of feet of stretchiness with the mozzarella) but the flavors are amazing. I also sliced up some halloumi into stick-shaped pieces.
Dipping Batter for Cheese Sticks
You can use a plain beaten egg to dip the cheese sticks in before the coating, just seasoned with salt and pepper, or you can go to town. I added a few different things to different batches: hot sauce, Dijon mustard, Buffalo Sauce. Or skip the egg mixture, and play with other somewhat thick liquids, like maybe ranch dressing.
Cheese Stick Coatings
I made some with plain Panko, and then I mixed Panko with creole seasoning. You could also mix it with an Italian seasoning herb blend, or some Old Bay Seasoning (or New Bay seasoning!), or maybe a curry blend, or anything that strikes you. Or use plain bread crumbs instead of panko for a finer coating, and season them similarly (or buy seasoned Panko or bread crumbs).
Other coatings I played with that were delicious: fairly finely crushed saltines, pretzels, and potato chips. If you can crush it and roll a cheese stick in it, it’s fair game. You want it fairly crushed and crushed but not a powder; a little texture is nice. You can do this in a blender or food processor, or by placing the items in a sturdy zipper top bag and using a rolling pin or a wine bottle to roll and gently pound everything until it reaches the desired consistency.
And you can also make gluten-free mozzarella cheese sticks by simply using gluten-free bread crumbs or gluten-free Panko or another gluten free coating. Homemade cheese sticks are a real gift to a gluten-free family member or friend.
Once you have your flavor situations picked out for the batter and the coating, match up a great dip. I mixed mayonnaise and a miso gochujang sauce which was very interesting, and I also used a buttermilk dressing dip, a blue cheese dip (I know – cheese on cheese, crazytown), classic marinara sauce (which is always perfect), and salsa.
3 Tips to Perfect Air Fryer Mozzarella (and other cheese) Sticks
Here are the secrets to great air fryer cheese sticks every time:
First Coating of Flour:
Rolling the cheese sticks in flour before dipping them in the egg allow the egg to adhere better. I would also play with different types of flour in the future (good to think about if you are gluten-free as well), and maybe season the flour with some different spices, but it’s just a thin coating on the cheese stick, so not a big flavor component.
Two Coatings of Egg and Crumbs:
I tried a bunch with just one dip in egg, and one in Panko, or whatever crumb coating I was using, and unless you caught the cheese sticks just at the moment of melting internally, they melted pretty completely, and dripped right through the rack. Go for the second coating of bread crumbs.
Place them in the freezer for 30 minutes after they are all coated so that they firm up, which will allow them to cook more evenly in the fryer with the outside getting crisp and browned just at the same time the inside gets super soft and melty.
And, no you do not have to preheat your air fryer for mozzarella sticks!
So, here’s what you do, for your basic mozzarella/cheese sticks:
Air Fryer Mozzarella Sticks
- 6 cheese sticks such as mozzarella, cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 cup Panko or other crushed coating such as crushed crackers, pretzels, or chips; see recipe intro for more information
- Dip of your choice to serve such as marinara sauce or salsa
- Unwrap your cheese sticks. Have a plate or small tray or baking sheet at the ready.
- Place the flour in a shallow bowl. Place the eggs in another shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place the Panko in another shallow bowl.
- Roll the cheese sticks first in the flour, then the egg, then the Panko, then the egg again and then the Panko one more time. Use one hand to roll the cheese sticks in the wet ingredients, and the other to roll them in the dry so you have less clumpiness and mess (it will still be a bit clumpy or messy, which is the way it goes). As you complete each cheese stick place it on the waiting plate or tray. When they are all coated place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Set up your air fryer with the rack inserted, on the level vs. tilted setting (if applicable). Place the cheese sticks on the rack with space in between them. Set the temperature to 400°F if applicable, or press the cheese stick button if not. Cook for about 8 minutes; this is a very inexact number, you really have to watch and keep checking. If you see the ends or any part of the cheese stick start to slump through the rack, pop open that lid and get them out.
- Serve the cheese sticks hot with the dipping sauces of your choice!
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