While the terms are often used interchangeably by manufacturers, don’t make the mistake of choosing a “grill” over a real “Panini press.” Typically the real difference comes down to the hinge type. The herald of a grill is a lid attached by a pivot hinge that makes the lid close down in the same way a cabinet door opens and closes. Unfortunately, while this may be fine for some grilled foods, it does not accommodate for size. If you put a particularly hefty Panini in such a model, you get one side of the sandwich that borders on burnt while the other is barely toasted, or worse, a sandwich that slides apart after closing the lid and creates an unmitigated disaster.
The hinge of a perfect Panini press will be a floating hinge, one that when lifted up will take the entire top and lift it up in the air. This allows you to put even the mightiest Scooby Doo-level sandwiches in the press and have them cook perfectly. As the floating hinge presses flat and venly each time, it makes for the perfect kitchen cooking tool.
Naturally, the surface area that a Panini press will be cooking on is one of the most important features. However, across the many different models out there, plates really only come in two types of material – cast iron and non-stick. You may also very rarely see ceramic presses.
For cast iron, it tends to be the sturdier plate material and it is significantly more resistant to scratches and other damage. The trade off is that cast iron makes for a heavier press and they tend to be more expensive.
Alternatively, non-stick plates are lighter and make the press a cheaper purchase, but the non-stick coating that you covet will wear away over time, leaving flakes stuck to your food as it gets older as well as more food stuck.
So which plate material is best? If you want your Panini press to do more than just make sandwiches, cast iron is a must, but if your press is going to be used for the occasional sandwich, non-stick will work just fine.
Ease of Cleaning
Cooking is fun. Eating is fun. Cleaning up after is less fun. Again, when it comes to how easy a press is to clean, plate material comes into play again. Non-stick plates typically require less scrubbing while cast iron needs to be dried very thoroughly afterwards to prevent rust. However, the most important feature that you will want when choosing a Panini press is that the plates are removable. It is much easier to remove and clean plates rather than fumble with the entire machine over the sink.
Another helpful feature is a drip tray to catch any grease. This won’t be a problem if you are only making pressed sandwiches, but if you want to use it for other things, having a drip tray, whether it is built-in or separate, as well as angled plates to guide the drip, is a feature that can’t be underestimated in its usefulness.
A variety of heat settings on a Panini press can be both a hindrance and a boon. On one hand, presses that come with preset temperatures are often the most reliable for cooking sandwiches. The presets are there to ensure that the sandwiches are neither cold in the center nor burnt to a crisp.
On the other hand, a press with a range of temperature options allows for more flexibility with the machine. Both models are good, and often when choosing, it is up to personal preference. Often you can cook a number of other things using a preset temperature, it just takes some experimentation to get the cook times right.
The safety of a Panini press is often a second thought, but with many presses able to reach temperatures of up to 500 degrees, that is more than enough to cause serious injury. When it comes to safety features, the most important one is insulated handles. This allows you to open and close the machine without oven mitts. Since you don’t often equate the handle of a press as hot, it is easy to forget that it might be.
Another good feature, particularly if you have kids, is that the plates aren’t exposed on the exterior. This makes it more difficult for kids to reach up and burn themselves on exposed sides. Finally, a locking feature is pretty handy, too, though less for safety and more for storage. It is particularly important if you have removable plates and store your press up high to save space. You never want to get conked on the head with a loose cast iron plate.
It’s important to not only get the Best Panini Press but to also be safe. Enjoy the best paninis and sandwiches any time you’d like with peace of mind.