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What to Look for in the Perfect Panini Press

They are toasted, compact, and sumptuous in their melty goodness – they are the venerable Panini. Not to be confused with your plain old grilled cheese, the Panini is a culinary contribution that comes from Italy, but the days of having to visit a reputable Italian restaurant for lunch to get one are long gone. Thanks to the advent of the Panini press, you can enjoy these delightful grilled sandwiches right in your home.

However, while this kitchen appliance is considered a true luxury, if you pick the right Panini press, it can be used for more than just pressed sandwiches. As Alton Brown says, the best kitchen tools are also multi-tools. The Panini press is one such multi-tool. You use it to make perfect crispy bacon, juicy burgers, and even some amazing French toast. Unfortunately, if you don’t know what to look for when hunting down the best Panini press, you are going to get something that has a fraction of the uses and still doesn’t give you those perfect pressed sandwiches that you crave.

That being said, what do you need to look for when buying the BEST Panini press?

Features to Consider

Hinge Type
Plate Material
Ease of Cleaning
Heat Settings
Safety Features

All of the above are important to a Panini press that functions well. However, many of the features are often up to personal preference.

Top Panini Presses in 2017

PressFeaturesSpecsCostMore Info
PressFeaturesSpecsCostMore Info


Breville BSG520XL Panini Duo

  • Flat bottom plate for fast, thorough cooking; ribbed top plate creates grill marks

  • Floating hinge; 4 height settings; on/ready lights; nonslip feet; locking storage clip



  • Measures 13 by 11-3/4 by 5-1/4 inches; 1-year limited warranty

  • 1500-watt panini press with nonstick, scratch-resistant Quantanium cooking surface

$$


Cuisinart GR-4N 5-in-1 Griddler

  • 5-in-1 countertop unit works as a contact grill, panini press, full grill, full griddle and half grill/half griddle

  • Brushed stainless-steel housing; sturdy panini-style handle; floating cover to adjust to thickness of food


  • Black Dials

  • 11.50" x 13.50" x 7.12"

  • 8 lbs

$$


Oster ECO DuraCeramic Panini Maker

  • Unique, innovative DuraCeramic non-stick ceramic coating, lasts 4 times longer, won't flake or peel and is PFOA and PTFE free

  • Cooks up to 20% faster to save energy and time


  • Silver Chrome

  • 15 x 6.8 x 13.6 in

  • 8.15 lbs

  • Stainless Steel

$


Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe

  • Six cooking options in one: contact grill, panini press, full griddle, full grill, half grill, half griddle, top melt

  • Removable, reversible and nonstick grill/griddle plates


  • Adjustable top cover with 6 presets & grilling surface - 240 square inches open

  • 13.3 lbs (16.4 lbs shipping weight)
$$$$


Proctor Silex Panini Press

  • Great tasting panini at home

  • Grills sandwiches of any thickness


  • 12" x 8.5" nonstick grids

  • 6.06 lbs

  • ultra light plastic but durable/sturdy

$

Hinge Type

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.

Plate Material

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.

Heat Settings

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.

Safety Features

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.

The Perfect Panini Maker

In conclusion, a lot of features in the perfect Panini press come down to personal preference and what you want to use it for. However, regardless of if you want it to be a multi-tool in the kitchen or just a way to make delicious sandwiches, your perfect Panini press should feature a floating hinge, removable plates, and insulated handles, at very least. The other features, like the plate material, heat settings, and any extra features that help with safety or clean up are much more flexible.

Tip for Making Great Panini: 6 Things You Need to Know

Cook with a GOOD Panini Press

With lots of panini methods, such as grilling, the heat and pressure on the bread/sandwich is pretty hard to control.  Panini presses are a specialized item…they’re meant to make great panini; grills are better for cooking burgers and steaks.

Of course, it will come down to your personal taste but a panini maker is the way to go.

Use Different Breads, Fillings and Condiments for the BEST Panini Results

Don’t paint yourself into a corner by assuming that since panini is Italian that you have to limit yourself to prosciutto, focaccia and other of the Vive Italiano ingredients.  Quite the opposite is actually true.  A truly great panini is one that makes those who eat it happy, right?  Experiment!  For dinner try having a “build your own panini night” with the family or as a fun date.  Lay out a bunch of meats, toppings, fillers, condiments…and let them create their own masterpiece.

Crunch that Bread, Baby!

Don’t forget that a true panini is about the bread.  Sure, you can do whatever you want to the inside of a panini but if the bread is not cooked correctly without the right heat and pressure then it just won’t turn out right.  Give your breads a nice little brush of vegetable oil (OIive Oil…yum!) for a golden brown, crunchy finish to that bread.  My mouth is watering and my stomach is starting to rumble already.

Soggy is Naughty

If there is anything worse than having bread that isn’t firm and crunchy for your panini it’s the opposite…a soggy panini is one that isn’t eaten or enjoyed.  Be careful when you use soft meats or certain vegetables as they tend to let off a lot of moisture when they cook.  Think, tomatoes and fish.  So, remove the pulp and seeds from tomatoes. Throw some breadcrumbs (panko, preferred) on that fish and ensure that your panini is crunchy and sturdy.

Straight, Sharp Knives are the Key

Whenever possible try to avoid using serrated knives to cut your panini bread.  This results in a more even, smoother finish to the bread and will help the heat and press to evenly distribute the heat and make your panini much easier to eat.

Save the Greens until the End

If you love using green leafy vegetable or anything that would wilt and sog under the heat, then add them at the very end to ensure a sturdy, leafy layer of greens is still present for you to enjoy.  This method is best used for lettuce, cilantro, parsley, chard, arugula, etc.

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