No matter how you feel about football the sport, I think we can all unite around football the culinary genre. Now that football season has arrived, I have a recipe for you that’s part classic game day, part nostalgic childhood comfort food, and entirely delicious: homemade baked Mozzarella Sticks.
If your childhood sleepovers (or late night college festivities) were anything like mine, you likely remember mozzarella sticks as deep fried, greasy, gooey on the outside, and crispy on the outside. I never felt particularly well after eating them, but that wasn’t the point.
Well, these are what I like to call my “grown-up, healthy mozzarella sticks.” (Well, healthy-ish anyway!)
Unlike the mozzarella sticks you’ll find in a freezer box or on a bar menu, today’s homemade version is baked, not fried (just like these tasty Jalapeno Poppers).
They’re just as golden and crisp on the outside and delightfully stretchy, and cheesy on the inside as the fried kind. And, of course, they’re still ideal for dunking in your favorite dipping sauce.
Childhood Erin would have opted for ranch dressing as her dip of choice. Grownup Erin prefers her mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce…though if you passed her a plate of them with ranch dressing at a football party, I doubt she would say no.
Homemade mozzarella sticks start with another fixture of my childhood, string cheese, which creates the ideal ultra-gooey center.
I lightly breaded the cheese with seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs, as if I were making my favorite Baked Chicken Parmesan.
These will be a hit with everyone who tries them (including you!). Let’s make BEST mozzarella sticks recipe ever.
The History of Mozzarella Sticks
The history of our favorite little gooey, cheesy snack is quite interesting. They’re believed to date back to a recipe from 15th-century France (!!). While this original recipe would not resemble the mozzarella stick of today, the basic ingredients and instructions are likely linked.
Mozzarella sticks earned their status among the fried food hall of fame in America during the 1970s and 1980s when popular hang out spots (sports bars and bowling alleys, for example) started serving them to customers. Once people tasted crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside fried cheese, the dish spread like wildfire.
How to Make Baked Mozzarella Sticks
Making mozzarella sticks without frying them is easier than you might think! The recipe uses simple ingredients to yield deliciously cheesy and golden goodness. Don’t be surprised if your game day party guests gobble them all up long before kickoff.
- Mozzarella Cheese. The most important of all the mozzarella sticks ingredients! I like to use part-skim mozzarella string cheese for convenience (and string cheese is actually a fairly wholesome snack), but you can also make mozzarella sticks without string cheese. For this adaptation, use regular mozzarella cheese cut into 4 ½-inch sticks.
- Flour. Using flour is important for making those yummy breadcrumbs stick to the string cheese. I found that all-purpose flour was the best for this recipe.
- Egg and Egg White. The all-important binding agents! For this recipe, I found that one egg and one egg white was the perfect combo. Since the egg mix is critical for sticking the breadcrumbs to the string cheese, I have not tried to make mozzarella sticks without egg.
- Breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are the key to the most crispy homemade mozzarella sticks exterior. For this recipe, I used a mixture of Italian seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs and whole wheat panko breadcrumbs like these. The panko makes the mozzarella sticks extra crunchy, while the regular breadcrumbs ensure every bit of cheese is coated.
- Italian Seasoning. The secret weapon in these baked mozzarella sticks! Italian seasoning gives them nostalgic pizzaria flavor.
The recipe steps are straightforward, but you’ll want to plan ahead. In order to avoid a molten, gooey mess, the cheese needs to be frozen completely prior to breading, then again for a few hours after the breadcrumbs have been added. DO NOT SKIP THIS PART.
- Grab your string cheese, and slice each in half cross-wise so you end up with 24 pieces. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid, which should be about 1 hour.
- Once your cheese is frozen, place your flour in a shallow bowl. Grab another small bowl and whisk the egg, egg white, and water until combined. In a third bowl (select a shallow one), mix your breadcrumbs and seasonings.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lay it near your three bowls.
- Now, dip the cheese in each of the three bowl ingredients, making sure to coat it on all sides. First, the flour. Second, the egg mixture, and third, coat in the breadcrumb mixture to finish. Repeat until all string cheese pieces are laid out in a single layer on the baking sheet. TIP: use one hand for the “wet” bowls and one for the “dry” bowls.
- Place the baking sheet into the freezer for at least 2 hours. Again, this is VERY important for making the best mozzarella sticks!
- When you’re ready to bake, move the sticks to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Give the top of each a light coating of nonstick spray or mist of olive oil (we want that crispy, golden goodness).
- Place the baking sheet in the bottom third of your oven and bake at 400 degrees F for about 6 to 8 minutes. Heated cheese and golden breadcrumbs mean it’s ready. Serve with your choice of sauce, and DIG IN!
How to Store Mozzarella Sticks
- To store. Mozzarella sticks are best enjoyed immediately after making. You can try saving the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then reheating them gently in a 350 degree F oven until warmed through.
- If you have leftovers, they would be delicious dipped in a big bowl of Crock Pot Tomato Soup. YUM!
- To prepare ahead. Cheese sticks can be prepared through Step 3 and frozen overnight. Bake directly from frozen as directed.
- Once the cheese sticks are breaded, you can freeze them unbaked for several months. No judgement if you spend an afternoon preparing a significant stockpile of these mozzarella sticks frozen.
What to Serve With Mozzarella Sticks
While these mozzarella sticks are deliciously cheesy on their own, they also make a great appetizer, side dish, or addition to your party spread.
- Salad. For a meal that has nutrition and a little something fun for the kids (and you!), try pairing these mozzarella sticks with a filling salad. This Italian Farro Salad, Antipasto Salad, or Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad would all be great.
- Pasta. Who wouldn’t love the classic combo of cheesy breaded sticks with pasta? Try these mozzarella sticks as an appetizer to Chicken Pesto Pasta or Farro With Burst Tomatoes and Parmesan.
- Other tasty apps. If you want to make these a part of your game day (or other party) spread, serve them with a mixture of these other delicious appetizer options. Baked Chicken Meatballs, Crock Pot Turkey Meatballs, Tater Tots, Ham and Cheese Pinwheels, Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders, and Bacon Jalapeno Poppers are all HUGE party hits.
Recommended Tools to Make Mozzarella Sticks
- Rimmed baking sheet. One of my most used and trusted kitchen warriors! It’s great for making other tasty appetizers like Zucchini Fries.
- Small Whisk. This smaller-scale whisk is ideal for stirring ingredients together and not splashing all over the counter. I love it so much that I bought two and almost never use a standard size whisk any more.
Whether you are looking for an appetizer for your next game day party or simply want to relive a little of your own childhood magic, these easy baked mozzarella sticks are a slam dunk! Crispy, golden nuggets of melty cheese… talk about a crowd-pleaser! :)
- 12 sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg white
- 2/3 cup Italian seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1/3 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Olive oil cooking spray or an olive oil mister like this one
- Marinara sauce for serving (or ranch dressing if that's more your style)
- Slice each piece of cheese in half cross-wise so that you have 24 shorter pieces. Arrange the cheese in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet or plate, then freeze until completely solid, about 1 hour.
- When ready to bake, place the flour in a shallow bowl (a pie dish works well). In a separate shallow bowl, whisk the egg, egg white, and 1 tablespoon water until well combined. In a third shallow bowl, combine the whole wheat bread crumbs, panko, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Arrange the plates in line (flour, eggs, breadcrumbs). Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Working no more than 2 to 3 cheese sticks at a time, dip the frozen cheese sticks in the flour, shaking off excess, then into the egg, then place in the bowl with the crumbs and lightly pat to coat (if you tackle too many cheese sticks at a time, the egg will freeze right onto the cheese and no longer be sticky enough for the crumbs to adhere). Place the breaded cheese sticks on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining cheese sticks. Place cheese back into the freezer for at least 2 hours or overnight (this is a MUST or the cheese will melt before the crumbs turn golden).
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with the olive oil spray. Arrange the frozen cheese sticks on the sheet, leaving about 3/4 inch between each. Lightly coat the tops of the sticks with the oil.
- Bake in the lower third of your oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cheese is heated through and the crumbs are golden. Let stand 3 minutes. Serve warm with marinara sauce for dipping. (I like to heat the sauce up first.)
- Regular mozzarella cheese, cut into 4 inch by 1/2 inch sticks, can be substituted for the string cheese.
- TO MAKE AHEAD AND FREEZE: Cheese sticks can be prepared through Step 3 and frozen overnight. For longer-term storage, transfer the frozen sticks to a ziptop bag and freeze for several months. Bake directly from frozen.
- TO STORE: Mozzarella sticks are best enjoyed immediately after making. You can try saving the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then reheating them gently in a 350 degree F oven until warmed through.
- Nutritional information has been calculated with half the amount of flour and bread crumb mixture, as not all of it is used, but you do need extra on each plate to be able to completely coat the cheese stick.
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