These air fryer mac and cheese balls are crunchy, gooey, and full of delicious cheesy flavor! They are sure to be a hit with your kids or dinner guests, and you’ll get this recipe requested again and again.
It might be obvious by now, but I’m a huge fan of my air fryer! It makes cooking so fast and is a healthier option than oil frying. It’s the best of both worlds! If you have an air fryer and want to make other yummy appetizers in it, I have ideas for you! Try these Crispy Air Fryer Egg Rolls, my absolute favorite Air Fryer Fried Pickles, and these crunchy and flavorful Air Fryer Cream Cheese Wontons.
Mac and Cheese Balls Recipe
This recipe is the ultimate way to use up leftover mac and cheese. We all know that next-day macaroni and cheese doesn’t taste as good because it’s so hard to reheat. Here is the perfect solution! This delicious recipe needs refrigerated mac because they will easily form into balls. After you form it into balls, then you coat it in a delicious crust made from eggs, breadcrumbs, and a scrumptious blend of seasonings. You heat them up in the air fryer, and they become the ultimate leftover hack!
Before placing them in the air fryer, it is important that you place the balls on a pan in the freezer for about 20 minutes to harden. They should be stiff so that they won’t fall apart in the air fryer. This recipe is so fun to make and will turn into a family favorite appetizer or snack!
Before You Start!
When you make this recipe, you will need leftover macaroni and cheese. It’s important that it has had time to chill inside the fridge so they can be easily formed into balls. It is also important that you use the right type of mac to guarantee the perfect cheesy bite! My favorite homemade recipe is this easy and super cheesy Baked Macaroni and Cheese. Or, instead of a traditional mac and cheese recipe, you could switch it up and make them fancy with my Incredible Lobster Mac and Cheese or make them low carb with this yummy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese! Your favorite store-bought brand will also work great. You could also make this recipe gluten-free by using gluten-free noodles and bread crumbs!
If you decide to make the mac the same day, make sure it has time to chill and harden in the fridge properly. I recommend making it beforehand and refrigerating for at least 4 hours to ensure that your mac will easily form into a ball and stay together!
Ingredients in Mac and Cheese Balls
Here is what you will need to make these mac and cheese balls. Switch up the seasonings to create different flavor profiles that your family will love! Check out the recipe card at the bottom of the post for exact measurements.
- Leftover Macaroni and Cheese: You will use leftover macaroni and cheese for this recipe. Make sure it has chilled in the fridge for at least 4 hours before you use it.
- Eggs: I used large eggs in this recipe.
- Panko Breadcrumbs: I mixed the seasonings listed below with the breadcrumbs to make a delicious and flavorful crust!
- Salt: Add salt to taste. The macaroni already has salt in it so you probably won’t need too much extra!
- Garlic Powder: You need to use dry seasonings so that the flavors can blend evenly with the breadcrumbs.
- Smoked Paprika: This seasoning adds a pop of flavor that you would miss if you left out!
- Dried Italian Seasoning: You can buy this at the store or make this at home using this easy recipe.
Making the Mac and Cheese Balls
Since your macaroni is already prepared then you can whip these up in just 15 minutes! I love my air fryer because it makes cooking so simple. If you don’t have an air fryer, don’t worry! Scroll down to see my tips for baking or pan-frying.
- Form Balls: Once your mac and cheese is cold and chilled, use your hands to form balls that are about two tablespoons per ball. I was able to get about 15 balls using 4 cups of mac and cheese.
- Freeze: Place formed balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill in the freezer for about 20 minutes. The balls should be firm, but not frozen.
- Make Coating: To a medium-sized bowl, add the panko bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, salt, garlic powder, and paprika. Stir until combined.
- Whisk: To another medium-sized bowl, crack the eggs and whisk with a fork.
- Coat: Roll the chilled mac n cheese balls in the whisked egg, then roll the ball around in the panko mixture until completely coated. Then you can repeat the process until all the balls are coated.
- Spray: Place the coated mac and cheese balls in the basket of the air fryer in a single layer. Lightly spray the balls with non-stick cooking spray to help crisp them up.
- Cook: Cook in the air fryer at 380 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 minutes. Open the air fryer and flip the mac and cheese balls. Spray the other side with non-stick cooking spray and continue to cook for an additional 6 minutes or until golden brown on all sides.
Add a Favorite Dipping Sauce!
These ooey gooey mac and cheese balls are delicious on their own but can be taken to the next level with a great dip. Here are some of my family’s favorites!
- BBQ Sauce: This is my kids’ favorite. BBQ sauce goes great with these cheesy bites and adds a tangy and smoky flavor that will make your mouth water!
- Ranch Dressing: I promise these two were made for each other. You won’t regret making this homemade ranch dressing to go along with them!
- Fry Sauce: This classic mayo-based sauce is tangy because of the Worcestershire sauce and pickle brine. It’s surprisingly delicious and a perfect way to brighten up these mac and cheese balls!
Bake or Pan Fry Options:
It’s ok if you don’t have an air fryer. I can’t tell you how much I love mine, so I highly recommend getting one someday! These delicious mac and cheese balls are great baked or pan-fried! Follow the instructions below if you don’t have an air fryer…they’ll be just as yummy!
- Bake: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and heat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the coated mac and cheese balls on the pan and spray the balls with olive oil cooking spray. Bake for about 8-10 minutes. Flip the balls over, spray with additional olive oil spray and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until browned and golden.
- Pan-Fried: Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat. Add some canola oil and heat until nice and hot. Add the coated mac and cheese balls to the hot skillet and cook until evenly golden and crispy, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
How to Store Leftovers
These air fryer mac and cheese balls are better fresh, but if you do have leftovers, here is how you can store them.
- In the Refrigerator: Once cooled, I recommend storing these wrapped in foil and placing them in the refrigerator for no longer than 2-3 days. If they are stored in an air-tight container, they can get soggy and soft.
- To Reheat: Place the mac and cheese balls on a baking pan, leaving them wrapped in the foil, and then put them in the oven at 325 degrees until warm in the center. When you use foil, it will help them reheat evenly. If you reheat these in the microwave, the outside will get soft instead of crunchy.
Mac and Cheese Balls
- 4 cups mac and cheese, cooked and chilled
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- Once your mac and cheese is cold and chilled, use your hands to form balls that are about two tablespoons per ball. I was able to get about 15 balls using 4 cups of mac and cheese.
- Place formed balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill in the freezer for about 20 minutes. The balls should be firm but not frozen.
- Add the panko breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, salt, garlic powder, and paprika to a medium-sized bowl. Stir until combined.
- To another medium-sized bowl, crack the eggs and whisk with a fork.
- Roll the chilled mac and cheese balls in the whisked egg, then roll the ball around in the panko mixture until completely coated. Repeat the process until all the balls are coated.
- Place the coated mac and cheese balls in the air fryer basket. Lightly spray the balls with non-stick cooking spray to help crisp them up.
- Cook in the air fryer at 380° Fahrenheit for 6 minutes. Open the air fryer and flip the mac and cheese balls. Spray the other side with non-stick cooking spray and continue to cook for an additional 6 minutes or until golden brown on all sides.