Homemade mozzarella sticks are easy to make – no deep fryer needed! String cheese sticks are coated in batter and deep fried to golden, melted cheesy perfection. I've also included instructions for air frying, as well as my favorite small batch marinara sauce recipe for dipping. Add these to your Super Bowl snack must haves!
Baking Freak said: “THROUGH THE ROOF MOZZARELLA STICKS!!! Best mozzarella sticks I’ve ever had in my entire life ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐“
I think we can all agree that mozzarella sticks have to be crunchy on the outside with the perfect balance of flavorful herbs, and bursting with melty cheese on the inside. Lucky for you, I've perfected it and decided to share it with the world! Don't just take my word for it – check out the comments on this post and take a spin through Pinterest to see all the delighted readers who have experienced the magic that is fried cheese sticks.
If they're not like these, I don't want 'em. When I decide I'm going to eat mozzarella sticks… I make it count. Or in this case, when I make them at home and control exactly how many I make (read: indulge with reckless abandon).
The Super Bowl is the perfect example of a time I lose myself in some of my favorite recipes:
- these magical mozzarella sticks
- soft pretzels
- beer dip
- bacon wrapped kielbasa
- cheesy pizza pull apart bread
- Mozzarella string cheese sticks – I find that the cheaper brands don't turn out as well as some of the others and it's almost like they're stale, so they don't melt as nicely. I usually grab Sargento, Galbani or Horizon.
- All-purpose flour – This is part of the coating that will crisp up and protect the cheese during the frying process so it doesn't melt everywhere.
- Egg and milk – This combination is what you'll dredge the stick through after the first coat of flour to help adhere the thicker layer of bread crumbs.
- Panko bread crumbs – I call for panko bread crumbs for the best crunchy and crisp results, but in a pinch you could use plain or Italian bread crumbs.
- Grated Parmesan – This gets combined with the seasoned breading and helps that bread crumb coating stick together (plus, who is going to say no to even more cheese!)
- Salt, pepper, dried basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, garlic powder, crushed red pepper – This combination of spices and seasonings is what gives these such great flavor!
- Oil – This is for frying, and you want to ensure you use one with a high smoke point that's neutral in flavor, like vegetable oil or canola oil.
Easy Small Batch Marinara Sauce
The ingredients and process for making your own marinara sauce might be easier than you realized! These ingredients are thrown together in a saucepan to hang out and simmer – and that's it:
- Olive oil – I like to use extra virgin olive oil)
- Minced garlic – Fresh or pre-minced jar)
- Crushed tomatoes – This is the easiest to combine, but you could use diced as well and mush them with a mixing spoon or masher
- Dried basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt
How to make mozzarella sticks
Step 1: In one dish, combine flour, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.
Step 2: In a second dish, combine eggs and milk and whisk to beat and combine.
Step 3: In a third dish, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, garlic powder, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. Whisk to combine.
Step 4: Working with one piece of cheese at a time, dredge each piece of string cheese in flour mixture, shake off excess.
Step 5: Dip in the egg mixture.
Step 6: Coat in the bread crumb mixture, pressing to ensure it sticks.
Step 7: Repeat this process again for each stick, then transfer to a prepared baking sheet. Freeze for at least 1 hour.
Step 8: Fill a large pot with about 2″ oil over medium heat until a thermometer inserted in the oil temperature reaches 350°F. Working in batches of no more than 4, carefully drop sticks into hot oil and turn occasionally until they are golden brown and crisp (about 2 minutes).
Step 9: Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, and sprinkle with a little salt if desired.
8 tips for making mozzarella sticks
- Work with one mozzarella cheese stick at a time. Speaking from experience, if you try to work on multiple sticks at once, it can be easy to lose track of which step you've done, and if you've done the second coating or not.
- Be sure to coat the entire stick, all the way around. That includes each end! Any non-covered areas will leave openings for the cheese to melt out when you fry them.
- Be gentle when you're handling the sticks during the coating process. If you're moving too quickly and grabbing them too firmly, you might accidentally slide some of the coating off of the cheese.
- You'll notice we're coating each stick twice. This gives it enough of a bread crumb coating that it reduces the chance that cheese will melt out the sides when you're frying them.
- You have to freeze them before frying! For at least 1 hour. Absolutely, under no circumstance, and in no world, can you skip this step. If you don't freeze them and just skip right to frying them, they're going to disintegrate into a melty cheesy mess right before your eyes and you will be very, very sad. We're talking giant Disney character sad-eyes kind of sad.
- Don't save any leftover bread crumb mixture for later use. You've been dredging a raw egg and flour-covered piece of cheese through it… just toss it. It's okay.
- You want the oil to be as close to 350°F as possible for best results. I always use my favorite ThermoWorks ChefAlarm to keep an eye on the temperature.
- Be careful! Another thing that I hope goes without saying, but you're working with hot oil, so be careful when you're dropping the sticks in and removing them. Using long-handled tongs and a gentle touch works well.
How to make mozzarella sticks ahead of time
Mozzarella sticks are best served immediately after being fried, but they can be breaded up to 2 months ahead of time and kept frozen until ready to fry.
See below for more information about properly freezing and storing them!
How to freeze mozzarella sticks
Freezing before frying: After you've breaded each cheese stick and put them in the freezer for the hour as indicated around Step #6, you can transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or other freezer-safe container and keep them frozen up for to 2 months. When you're ready to fry them, you'll do the same thing you see in the recipe card, but you just might need to add a minute or two to the frying time.
Freezing after frying: Full disclosure, I actually haven't done that myself yet so I can't speak to the results personally – but others have told me they've done it with success by storing the fried sticks in a freezer-safe bag, and then baking them at 350°F for 10 minutes.
How to make homemade mozzarella sticks in an air fryer
You're going to follow all the step preparation steps as you would for frying them in oil, but the steps to cook them will be different.
- Double coating in the bread crumb mixture is still important: It's just as important to double coat each stick when you air fry, because if you don't they could potentially explode! And we don't want you to be trying to clean up that literal hot mess.
- Spray your air fryer basket with nonstick spray. This will keep them from sticking, and also a little bit of extra browning.
- If you have a toaster oven/air fryer combination unit, place a baking sheet lined with foil beneath your basket to catch any oil drips.
- Don't overcrowd the basket. Only add as many sticks at a time that will comfortably fit in the basket, and work in batches if necessary.
- Time to fry: Set the air fryer temperature to 390°F, spray the basket with nonstick spray, and cook for 7-9 minutes or until the mozzarella sticks are golden and crisp.
How to make marinara sauce
Step 1: Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, then add garlic and saute until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
Step 2: Add tomatoes, basil, oregano and salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Add red pepper (if using), stir and let simmer another 1 minute. Transfer to serving dish.
Other dipping sauces
If you don't like marinara, or can't get your hands on the ingredients to make it, here are some other stellar dipping sauce suggestions:
- Ranch dressing
- Pesto sauce (try making mine, but thicker than the recipe calls for – the combination is fricking awesome)
- Blue cheese
- BBQ sauce
- Buffalo sauce
- Honey mustard
How to dispose of cooking oil
First things first, if you know you're going to do more frying soon – just save the oil to use again! Let the oil cool, then use a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove any crumbs, and store in an airtight glass container in a cool, dark place.
But if you're not saving it for another round, make sure to take the proper steps to discard the oil at home:
- Pack it and throw it away. Let the oil cool completely, then pour into a non-recyclable container with a lid and throw it in the trash. Examples would be milk cartons, takeout containers, or other plastic or wax-lined paper containers.
- Pour it in the trash – carefully and strategically. Once the oil has cooled, slowly pour it into the center of your trash can on top of absorbent items like paper towels, or discarded kitty litter. You don't want it to pool into the bottom of the bag, because that could go south.
- Freeze it and toss it. Pour cooled oil into an old can (think of the kinds you'd have for black beans) and place in the freezer. Once it's solid, dump it into the trash.
How NOT to dispose of cooking oil
Don't ever do the following:
- Don't ever pour hot oil… anywhere. Always let it cool before you move forward with the disposal.
- Don't pour it down the drain. Any drain. Not the kitchen sink, the toilet, nothin'. It could clog the pipes, and also make the water nearly impossible to be treated – potentially polluting local sewers.
- Don't pour it into compost piles. Fats are bad for compost, and oil is nothing but fat.
How to get rid of the smell of cooking oil
The fried food was delicious while you were eating it, but it's less than ideal when you can still smell the cooking oil odors the next day. Here are some ways you can eliminate the smell (or help prevent the lingering smell altogether):
- Ventilate! As soon as you start heating the oil for frying, turn on the hood vents. Weather permitting, open the windows, too. Air circulation is your friend.
- Line the area around your workstation with newspaper. It will catch the splatter and help make cleanup easier. But be careful it doesn't get too close to the stove flames!
- Clean up immediately. As soon as you're done cooking, dispose of the oil (see above tips), clean the pot you used, and clean your stovetop and counters (and frankly, the wall behind the stove, too).
- Simmer some homemade potpourri on the stove. I like to fill a small pot with a couple of cups of water, a few tablespoons of vinegar, and an assortment of spices and fruit peels and let it simmer until the water has evaporated to help eliminate the oil odors. I'm a big fan of orange and lemon peels with a cinnamon stick.
- When all else fails, bake! It feels like as good an excuse as any to make a batch of cookies or some banana bread. Your kitchen will smell great, and you'll have even more delicious treats. Win-win!
As my friend Jim said about these fried sticks of heaven, “They have parsley on them. Which basically makes them a salad.”
Obviously, that's a joke… or is it?
110%, yes! Freezing them before frying is non-negotiable. For at least 1 hour. Absolutely, under no circumstance, and in no world, can you skip this step. If you don't freeze them and just skip right to frying them, they're going to disintegrate into a melty cheesy mess right before your eyes and you will be very, very sad.
Yep! You want them as cold and frozen as possible before you drop them in the oil to fry them.
This right here is exactly why we freeze them before frying! You need to ensure that the coating you put on the string cheese is fully covering every square millimeter of the cheese so that it doesn't have a place for the cheese to escape when it starts to melt.
A stick of mozzarella string cheese could technically be a mozzarella stick… but no :) Mozzarella sticks are string cheese that has been coated in a batter and fried.
I use vegetable oil or canola oil.
Marinara sauce! And I've included my favorite small batch marinara sauce recipe in the recipe card below.
You can dip your mozzarella sticks in the marinara sauce while the sauce is hot or cold – but I personally like it warmed up.
There are a couple of potential reasons:
1) The brand of string cheese you're using might be of lower quality and be more “rubbery” in texture and not melt as well as other brands.
2) The mozzarella sticks lose their “stretchiness” after they've cooled down to room temperature, which is why they're best eaten right after making them.
I bet you didn't freeze them for as long as I told you to ;) In all seriousness though, you need to freeze them for a minimum of 1 hour before frying, and you can to be sure the batter is fully coating the cheese so that there's nowhere for the cheese to escape as it melts.
You can! I've included instructions for air-frying mozzarella sticks in the recipe card below.
A minimum of 1 hour, but I encourage you to let them freeze for longer if you can.
When you're air frying, you can carefully flip them over and let them cook for another 1-2 minutes to let them get a deeper color on the bottom side – as long as they're holding together well enough to handle the flip!
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- 12 mozzarella string cheese sticks
- ⅓ cup all purpose flour
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 large egg
- 2 Tablespoons milk
- ¾ cup plain panko bread crumbs
- 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan
- ½ teaspoon dried basil*
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano*
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley*
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme*
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder*
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- Vegetable oil, or canola oil, for frying
- Marinara sauce, for dipping (see below for homemade recipe)
- Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In three separate shallow dishes, prepare the following:
- Dish #1: Combine flour, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.1/3 cup all purpose flour1/8 teaspoon salt1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Dish #2: Combine eggs and milk and whisk to beat and combine.1 large egg2 Tablespoons milk
- Dish #3: Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, garlic powder, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. Whisk to combine.3/4 cup plain panko bread crumbs1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan1/2 teaspoon dried basil*1/2 teaspoon dried oregano*1/2 teaspoon dried parsley*1/2 teaspoon dried thyme*1/2 teaspoon garlic powder*Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- Working with one piece of cheese at a time, dredge each piece of string cheese in flour mixture, shake off excess. Dip in egg mixture, then coat in bread crumb mixture and press to ensure it sticks.12 mozzarella string cheese sticks
- Repeat this process again for each stick, then transfer to prepared baking sheet.
- Transfer baking sheet to freezer and let freeze for at least 1 hour.
- Fill a large pot with about 2" oil over medium heat until a thermometer inserted in the oil temperature reaches 350°F.Vegetable oil
- Working in batches of no more than 4, carefully drop sticks into hot oil and turn occasionally until they are golden brown and crisp (about 2 minutes).
- Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, and sprinkle with a little salt if desired.
- Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce (try my small batch marinara sauce recipe below) and enjoy!
Easy Small Batch Marinara Sauce
- Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, then add garlic and saute until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.1 tablespoon olive oil1-2 cloves garlic
- Add tomatoes, basil, oregano and salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Add red pepper (if using), stir and let simmer another 1 minute.8 ounces crushed tomatoes1/4 teaspoon dried basil1/4 teaspoon dried oreganoLarge pinch of saltPinch of crushed red pepper
- Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Italian seasoning: If you don't have the individual spices (basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, garlic), you can substitute for 2 1/2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning mix (next time, stock up and make your own Italian seasoning mix).
- Marinara sauce can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Note: Nutrition info is just for mozzarella sticks and does not include marinara sauce.
- Make ahead instructions: Mozzarella sticks are best served immediately after being fried, but they can be breaded up to 2 months ahead of time and kept frozen until ready to fry.
- Freezing before frying: After you've breaded each cheese stick and put them in the freezer for the hour as indicated around Step #6, you can transfer them to a freezer safe bag or other freezer safe container and keep them frozen up for to 2 months. When you're ready to fry them, you'll do the same thing you see in the recipe card, but you just might need to add a minute or two to the frying time.
- Freezing after frying: Full disclosure, I actually haven't done that myself yet so I can't speak to the results personally – but others have told me they've done it with success by storing the fried sticks in a freezer safe bag, and then baking them at 350°F for 10 minutes.
- Air fryer: You're going to follow all the step preparation steps as you would for frying them in oil, but the steps to cook them will be different. Set the air fryer temperature to 390°F, spray the basket with nonstick spray, and cook for 7-9 minutes or until the mozzarella sticks are golden and crisp. See the body of the blog post for more details about air frying.
The provided nutrition information is generated by an automatic API and does not take variations across specific brands into account. This information is provided as a general guideline and should not be treated as official calculations. Learn more here.