Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls

I have a weakness for cheese and if it’s fried, even better.

Growing up in Minnesota in the dairy heartland, and neighbor to the great cheese producing state of Wisconsin, I great up eating copious amounts of cheese, including fried cheese curds.

Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls - A perfect use for the leftover macaroni that gets cold and old in your refrigerator. Bread it, bake it, devour it! Easy recipe at

For those of you who have never had fried cheese, don’t start. It’s everything that coronary heart disease is made of and it tastes delicious.

Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls - A perfect use for the leftover macaroni that gets cold and old in your refrigerator. Bread it, bake it, devour it! Easy recipe at


Then I lived in Chicago where the Greeks fry and ignite their cheese in the form of flaming saganaki and boy, that makes me shout, Opa!

After moving to and settling in San Diego, I have access to so many wonderful Indian restaurants with their fried paneer cheese.

I’ve never met fried cheese I’ll say no to. Show me an appetizer menu at a restaurant and if there’s mozzarella cheese sticks on it, that’s what I’m having, extra marinara sauce for dipping. Extra of the extra, please.

Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls - A perfect use for the leftover macaroni that gets cold and old in your refrigerator. Bread it, bake it, devour it! Easy recipe at

But these cheese balls aren’t actually fried and instead I baked them. I don’t fry in my house because frying stinks it up for days and the next morning I do not want to smell fried cheese or fried anything. Or smell whatever it was that I fried five days later.

These cheese balls start out with good old all-American Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from a box. I had a box with Spongebob Squarepants-shaped noodles, and these cheese balls are what became of it. I boiled the macaroni according the package directions and added a handful of extra shredded cheese, and extra butter and extra cream because powdered cheese in a packet needs some doctoring up, even though I have a nostalgic soft spot for the blindingly bright orange powder. If you have a favorite homemade macaroni and cheese recipe, by all means make it, or use your favorite storebought variety.

After making your mac ‘n cheese, homemade or from a box, you must and I repeat must, put it into an airtight container and refrigerate it for at least 12 hours, up to 3 or 4 days because in order to shape the cheese balls prior to baking, and not have them turn into a literal cheesy hot mess in the oven while they bake, you need cold, thick, day-old mac ‘n cheese. I refrigerated mine for two days. It needs to congeal, set up, and get thick. If you’ve ever turned your nose up at cold, refrigerated, leftover mac ‘n cheese because it’s thick, gloppy, and solidified, that is exactly what you want. Now you know what to do what that kind of mac ‘n cheese in the future.

In the fifteen minutes preceding breading and battering, I put the container in the freezer so the mac ‘n cheese would be extra chilled prior to shaping the balls. When you’re ready to bake, get your assembly line of flour, two beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs lined up. I used Trader Joe’s breadcrumbs which aren’t seasoned, but use seasoned breadcrumbs or toss a few pinches of garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, or whatever sounds good for seasoning plain breadcrumbs if you prefer them seasoned.

Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with Silpats or aluminum foil and I really suggest lining your baking sheets for easier cleanup. Drizzle about one tablespoon of olive oil on each baking sheet and spread it around with your hands. Then, scoop out tablespoon-sized balls of mac ‘n cheese with a small cookie scoop. If you don’t have a cookie scoop, mine is $3.99 and I highly recommend it, but using a tablespoon and hand-shaping the mac ‘n cheese into domed mounds will work.  Whatever method you use, it’s a messy project; keep the paper towels handy.

Don’t make the mistake of initially scooping out or rolling your balls too large. What looks small before being breaded becomes much larger after the breading and battering process. You want your finished cheese balls in the golf ball-sized as opposed to the baseball-sized range.

Roll each ball through the flour, dip it briefly in the egg, and dredge it through the breadcrumbs. Repeat until your mac ‘n cheese is gone, placing about 10 balls on each cookie sheet. I made 20 balls in this batch from the 5.5-ounce box of mac ‘n cheese.

Bake for ten minutes at 425F, add one more tablespoon of oil to each baking sheet, flip all the balls over, and bake for another 7 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown, crispy, and crunchy on the edges.

Or bake until your smoke detector goes off and there’s a fairly high likelihood it will. There is something about baking at temperatures over about 400F and if any oil is present whatsoever, my smoke detector goes off and it’s so highly alarming. Pun intended. I hate that jarring, nerve-rattling screeching and I jump ten feet and my heart pounds. Just giving you a heads up so you can take a Zanax beforehand if necessary.

These cheese balls were worth the alarm bells. The outside was extra crunchy and crispy, which I attribute to the battering process as well as a very hot oven because the fiery and intense heat really sets up the coating and gives it crispness. The cheese balls need to get into, and out of the oven; no lingering in a moderate oven because there’s too much risk for the cheese to leak and ooze the longer they’re exposed to heat.

The macaroni noodles inside these golden nuggets lend texture and chewiness amidst the sea of molten, hot, warm, gooey and oozing cheese. Even with melted cheese, I like texture and the noodles gave me what I was looking for.

I ate them dipped in various condiments including barbeque sauce, ketchup, Ranch dressing, and Homemade Spicy Honey mMustard. I get around when it comes to condiments. Extra of the extra, please.

I really don’t think you’ll  have trouble polishing off a batch of these but if you do, leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated gently in the microwave or wrap them in plasticwrap and toss them into your lunch for the next day. Scott savored a few cheese balls the next day in his lunch.

I did all my savoring immediately after these photos were taken.

Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls - A perfect use for the leftover macaroni that gets cold and old in your refrigerator. Bread it, bake it, devour it! Easy recipe at

Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
I love cheese sticks and cheese balls on the appetizer menu in restaurants and this is a way to take everyday macaroni and cheese and turn it into cheese balls, which are baked rather than fried. Don't skip the step of using well-chilled mac 'n cheese prior to baking them because you want the cheese to melt in your mouth, not all over the baking sheets. I promise these crispy 'n crunchy yet soft 'n gooey cheese balls are worth the wait.
Serves: Makes about 20 to 22 cheese balls
  • 1 batch macaroni and cheese, prepared as directed and well chilled (1 box store-bought or your favorite homemade recipe, I used one 5.5-ounce box Kraft)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • about 1 cup breadcrumbs (seasoned if preferred; I used Trader Joe's which are unseasoned)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  1. Prepare mac 'n cheese according to package directions. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, up to 3 days; I made these after 2 days. Chilling the mac 'n cheese is an instrumental step and cannot be skipped because the cheese needs to congeal, solidify, and dry out a bit prior to baking the cheese balls. You may be able to speed this process up and shortcut it a bit by freezing the cooked mac 'n cheese, but I have not tested it.
  2. About 15 minutes prior to preparing the cheese balls, place the container of mac 'n cheese in the freezer for a quick cold blast. Meanwhile, place flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs in 3 separate small bowls; set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 425F and line two baking sheets with Silpats, parchment paper, or aluminum foil (line baking sheets with something to save yourself cleanup work). Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on each baking sheet, smear it around with your hands; set baking sheets aside.
  4. Remove mac 'n cheese from the freezer and using a 1-inch cookie scoop or tablespoon-sized scoop, portion out and shape the balls, taking care not to make them larger than about 1-inch in diameter because after battering and breading, they become much larger in size. Depending on the type of noodles in your mac 'n cheese, how cold, or how cheesy the mac 'n cheese is, lightly hand-shaping the noodles into balls may be necessary rather than replying solely on a cookie scoop. Roll each ball through the flour, dip briefly in the egg, roll it through the breadcrumbs, and place it on baking sheet. Repeat until all balls have been battered, placing about 10 balls per baking tray.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes (don't be surprised if your smoke detector goes off), remove trays from oven and add 1 tablespoon of oil to each tray and smear it around, flip balls over, and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until browned and golden. Remove from the oven and serve immediately; optionally serve with Homemade Spicy Mustard, prepared mustard, ketchup, chipotle mayo, or a favorite condiment.

Related Recipes

Double Melted Cheese and Red Pepper Dip – Make in the microwave in 5 minutes. It’s the fastest and easiest cheese dip I’ve ever made

Roasted Grapes with Balsamic Reduction (vegan, GF) with Cheese and Crackers – People make a big deal about reducing balsamic with very elaborate methodology, but simply add a little brown sugar to balsamic vinegar, and boil until it reduces by about half. I boil at a fairly rapid boil because I’m impatient and it literally takes 5 to 7 minutes from start to finish and costs pennies compared to store-bought. It’s wonderful drizzled over anything

Vegetable Lasagna Casserole (vegan, GF) – A noodle-less, non-traditional lasagna that’s made using a giant zucchini-carrot pancake-like ‘noodle’ and lots of veggies and cheese

Mango Basil Personal-Sized Tortilla Pizzas – Extra cheese, mangoes or pineapple, and hot pepper flakes are my favorite pizza toppings. These pizzas are personal-sized and easily customizable so everyone gets their preferred toppings

Chips and Cheese Chili Casserole (vegetarian/vegan, GF) – Chips and cheese, baked together, for a hearty and easy meal

Mini Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches – Everything tastes better when it’s mini. I love the texture and flavor of tomatoes in my grilled cheese, with ketchup on the side

Cheesy Taco Casserole (GF with vegan options) – Think of a taco with rice and beans baked into a casserole with cheese. Easy, cheesy, and comforting

Do you like cheese balls, cheese sauce, cooking with cheese, or eating cheese in general?

Feel free to link up your favorite cheesy recipes.

134 comments on “Macaroni and Cheese Baked Cheese Balls”

  1. I have the same aversion to frying things in our house. It just makes everything stink for so many days. My husband runs an extension cord out to the deck and does his frying there when he has the fried snack cravings. My youngest absolutely loves mac and cheese and that is all he usually orders at any place we eat out. He was in 7th heaven when we tried the fried mac and cheese balls at Cheesecake Factory. I am going to be the best mom when I make him this awesome baked version! These look delicious and very easy to do:-)

    • They’re a little bit of a project, just b/c you have to make all the balls and roll them, but if your son loved the CCF balls, you will definitely get mom of the year award for these! And what I wouldn’t give for a deck, yard, or anything. Urban condo high above the sky and whatever goes on in here, stays trapped in the walls! It’s just so gross to think about frying b/c it just lingers for like a week! Ick! haha!

      Keep me posted on if you end up making these!

  2. So you finally made them and didn’t even have to fry them. They look awesomeeeee! I know what you mean about frying. I fried last night and smelled it all night and now this morning as if it just happened. I need an industrial-strength exhaust in the kitchen.

    • And the smell just gets embedded!!! into my small little condo walls for days! The air is so dry here and everything is so dried out and porous, it just soaks it up and it’s soooo stinky for like 5 days later!

  3. oh wow! What an idea! Us southerners would be all over this. Just pinned them

    • Thanks for the pin and honestly, if I could have a real fried hush puppy right now, omg I’d be so happy! There are two regional foods I love that are fried…cheese curds from MN/WI and hush puppies from the South. Soooo good!

  4. These are great! I made something similar but in lasagna sized slices for an entree and put some marinara on top. I’m definitely doing these for our Christmas Eve appetizer spread!

    • They would be great with some of those fancy toothpicks with the fringe on top. Spear them with those and put them on a tray with some pretty bowls of dip/marinara and you’ve got yourself mac ‘n cheese gone fancy :) I love your idea of a bigger slices/pan-sized. Probably a time saver!

  5. Jason would LOVE those. He is all about some boxed Mac n’ Cheese LOL. I haven’t had friend cheese in eons. I always loved fried mozz sticks though.

  6. Boxed mac and cheese is one of those things you can never re-create yourself, there’s just something about that powdered cheese! And big balls of breaded and baked mac and cheese, sign me up!! : )

  7. What do you mean “if” there’s a fried cheese on the menu?!? You mean that isn’t standard in San Diego? Here, there are at least three different fried cheese options on every menu. I think it’s a state law. ;)

    I would be afraid to make these and bring them to any family affair, because I think I’d lose and arm. Everyone would be grabbing for them before I could set the plate down. I want these NOW.

  8. Normally I’d say why bake over fry but in this case I can see the benefit. I don’t mind frying but I do totally understand your gripe about waking up to the previous days smell lol.

  9. Yay! No more leftover mac & cheese problem! My kiddos will love these little bites. If I won’t eat them myself first, that is :)

  10. Haha I love that you warned us to take a Zanax beforehand. And I’m right there with you…I’ve never met a fried cheese that I don’t like. These would make me feel a smidgen better for indulging in them since they are baked. And they look just as good as fried, so hopefully I’ll fool my taste buds. :)

    • The sound of my smoke detector is SO ridic loud! I live in a condo and it just SCREAMS and bounces off the walls of the fairly small space and it’s just insanity! I mean it’s over the top! Hope you enjoy the balls and yes, you will definitely be able to fool your tastebuds with the baked not fried version!

  11. This is possibly the best thing ever. Ever!! TJ’s has mac and cheese balls as a frozen app that I LOVE but I’ve always wondered if I could recreate it at home… now I can and I’m SO doing this! Look how oozy and cheesy they are! And I love that you used Spongebob noodles. How come the shaped noodles seem to taste better than the regular ol’ elbow mac? Or is that just me? ;)

    • I totally think the shaped noodles taste better! I really do! I swear when they expeller-press out the shapes, it must do something to the molecules of the food making it taste better. I am not even just saying that; I think the pasta improves when it’s in shapes like that! And yes I know those TJs balls and I’ve never bought them but have stared at them many times in the freezer case and now, I can just make my own!

  12. My stepdaughter is having a few of her college friends over this weekend to watch movies and “hang out”. I was thinking I should make them a little something and this recipe came just in time! She loves cheese (so does my husband-a chip off the ole block!). So I’ll field test them on some 19 year olds. They sound great and fun to make too!

    • They’re fun to make, just messing. Rolling around noodles in flour and eggs tends to be that way :) But I think these will be a hit, especially with a bunch of college kids! You could even make them more ‘fancy’ and serve them on fancy toothpicks with the fringey tops. I love those kinds of toothpicks. Lol

      Lmk how they go over!

  13. fried cheese snacks are my weakness too, and I love to make baked versions myself. while I have had mac + cheese balls, I have never made my own… yours look fantastic!

  14. Wow those would be great as a side for thanksgiving…so many good ideas!

  15. I am a new WI resident and ABSOLUTELY OBSESSED with fried cheese curds. As in, I am on a mission to find the best ones the city has to offer. A tough job, I know, but someone has to do it. I’ve always wanted to try making them myself (because really, can I have enough fried cheese? Probably, but I don’t want to), but share your aversion to stinking my tiny apartment up for days on end. What a fun twist and a creative idea for the cheese lovers – fried or otherwise – among us. Love!

    • You live in WI now? Well, have fun eating your way thru all those cheese curds! The WI and MN (state fair!) cheese curds are my faves ever and I wish I could go back there just to have one bite – and then fly back to sunny San Diego. That weather….oh boy.

  16. What a fun recipe, my nieces would inhale these. :-) Cheese sauces are awesome, especially the raw vegan veggie-based blender versions.

  17. My cheese loving heart just exploded over here!

  18. I knew there had to be something I could do with that leftover Kraft instead of just let it sit in my fridge for a week. These look great! :)

  19. You’ve just made me crazy to taste fried cheese. I’ll be visiting my daughter in Wisconsin next week, so I have a feeling I can find some there, and then I’ll come home and make yours.

  20. I’ve only had fried mac n cheese once! And it was at this little tiny restaurant ACROSS THE STREET from my apartment. SO close to the fried cheese. Love it. And oh… you guessed it… I dipped them in ketchup. Oh dear god I’m strange. Averie, yours are SO gooey…. so cheesy… so photogenic! Geez, how do you make friend balls of cheese look pretty on camera? And kraft mac n cheese… nothing beats it! when I was growing up my mom would mix it with canned tuna and that was literally my FAVORITE dinner.

    I love cheese. Especially brie and goat cheese. Goat cheese on salads with dried cranberries and pecans. Brie cheese melted with crescent rolls and apple slices. HEAVEN. I dig cheese.

    • Suffice to say that this photo shoot was ummmm, not exactly point and shoot :) Girl. Well, you know. Brown. Fried, weird texture, highly contrasting colors, shiny yet dry, different surfaces. Yeah. FUN!

      Tuna + boxed mac ‘n cheese. Are you sure you didnt grow up in MN right next to me? I swear we have the same roots! My mom would make some mean canned tuna salad and Kraft. As a mom now, I get it :) Goat cheese, brie, dried cranberries. Ahh yes, this is the California good life. The rural MN life was all about some Velveeta, Jif, Kraft, and Chicken of the Sea :)

  21. AMAZING! Another reason why everyone needs to own a cookie scoop and a Silpat.

  22. This is heaven, in cheese form. I’m a HUGE fan of all kinds of fried cheese, but I’ve never had fried mac — going to fix that! :)

  23. Gotta love growing up in MN and WI! These look incredible!

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