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 maker, 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 maker, 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?

2017 Panini Presses Comparison Chart

2017 Panini Presses Comparison Chart
  • Product
  • Features
  • Specs
  • 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

Our Top Picks for the Top Panini Makers

Breville BGR820XL Smart Grill

If you want your Panini press to not only make great grilled sandwiches, but also want a real multi-tool in the kitchen, the Smart Grill by Breville is the way to go. Not only does it come with completely removable and dishwasher-safe plates, but it comes with a drip tray for all your greasiest foods.

With adjustable heat settings and six different height settings for the floating hinge, you can cook pretty much anything, no matter how ridiculously tall it is. However, even if you don’t want to press your food, The Smart Grill also opens flat for full BBQ grill mode.

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DeLonghi CGH800 Contact Grill and Panini Press

The DeLonghi has almost everything you would want in a great Panini press as well as a contact grill. It has a high rising floating hinge that allows it to accommodate tall food, and its adjustable thermostat allows you to cook your sandwiches as well as your meat to your perfect specifications while still getting those great grill marks. However, the one thing that it doesn’t have is removable plates. The non-stick surface does allow for easy for easy clean up via wiping off and it does have a grease drain, but not as easy to clean as removable plates.

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T-Fal GC702 OptiGrill

The T-Fal may not have the heat control of other grills that allow you to put the grill on specific temperatures, but it does have six setting for specific food such as sandwiches, red meat, burger, sausage, fish, and poultry. However, what sets it apart from the pack is that it automatically adapts its grilling cycles to adjust to the thickness of the food. This means that your sandwich will never have near-burned bread without the cheese even melted in the middle again.

The great part is that it actually works quite well. The adjustable floating hinges let you put some pretty tall food in and it has audible beeps for the specific cooking settings. As well as having a drip tray, the T-Fal also has removable plates for easy cleaning.

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Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe

The Cusinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe is, like many Cusinart Panini presses, is multiple grilling tools in one neat package. The best part about multi-grills is that they almost exclusively come with removable plates to go with its number of grilling options. However, the real benefit of this model is that it only has one set of reversible removable plates so you don’t have to keep track of a number of different plate options. As it turns in a grill, a griddle, and a Panini press, the Griddler Deluxe also comes with fully adjustable dual-zone temperature control for the best controlled cook you can get.

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Breville BSG520XL Panini Duo

The Breville Panini Duo is a step down from the previously featured Breville model, but you get the comparable functionally for a fraction of the price. While it lacks removable places, it does have all the other basic features of a great Panini press. The floating hinge, while not adjustable, rises high so you can get the perfect press on your food while the four heat settings are enough for almost anything that you need to cook. Essentially, this is the Panini press for those that want to keep things simple without going outside of their price range.

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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.  Also, keep in mind that a name panini maker brand, while a little bit more expensive, will actually be a leader in the industry and provide you with (probably) a better scrumptiously deliciously hot, toasted sandwich:  Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach, Breville, Krupps, Frigidaire, and of course, George Foreman.

 

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 maker 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 maker 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.

PRO-TIP:  Some of the easiest presses to work with have removable plates!

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