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Panini is an Italian word that translates to “bread rolls” or “sandwiches” (yes, it is specifically plural). It is also used to name a type of sandwich, truly one of a kind. Odds are you’ve had one before: toasty, crunchy, gooey with cheese. If you have been relying on shops to get yours, I have good news: you don’t have to! Here we’ll find the best panini press for making delicious sandwiches bite after bite!
See also: Looking for a good toaster oven to grace your counter? Check out our reviews of the best toaster ovens!
Getting To Know The Panini Press
While the original panini is made with Italian bread, you can go astray and use any bread you can get your hands on. What is not so optional, is the press: if it’s not toasty or at least warm, it’s not a panini!
Nowadays, all you have to do is type the right keywords into your search bar and you will be flooded with options for a panini press. But they are not all created equal! To make the right choice, you gotta know what traits separate one press from another. Shall we?
Certain presses combine mobility and position to cover additional duties in the kitchen: by swapping plates and placing them in a particular way, you can get, for example, a griddle to cook your eggs; some models will drip fat off your food. And some units will have a searing function, which essentially superheats the plates to somewhere around 500°F and keeps the temperature for just a couple minutes or so before returning to normal levels. This is especially useful when cooking steak.
You will also find that some features you might perceive as basic, are actually optional. These include on/off switch, timer, temperature control. Any extra feature and function will have its proper mention.
You can find them able to fit just a sandwich, and large enough to handle several burger patties in one go (indeed, your panini can grill more than just sandwiches!) This directly affects two things: cooking surface, and space required on your counter or for storage. If you want to go big, you should be certain you can fit your chosen press in the kitchen.
This ties in to what we were mentioning about mobility and position, but there’s more to just allowing the press to wear more hats in the kitchen:
1. Griddle: In some cases, the press will feature plates that can be swapped or reversed so you can go from making sandwiches to, say, cooking eggs. This has the potential of saving you some space.
2. Heating: Some panini press models will heat up only the bottom plate, with the top one serving only to apply pressure. This might potentially increase your cooking times.
3. Removable: Some times you will find that the plates are stuck to the unit, which will make a difference in terms of cleaning. If you can remove them, you might still have to take care of the washing personally. More on that below.
4. Dishwasher safe: Some plates do require cleaning by hand, which will consume some more of your time.
5. Non-stick coating: Your options will usually be ceramic or Teflon. The former is considered the most harmless, though it can chip away if not treated properly. Teflon, a popular choice for decades, carries with it a bit of controversy related to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a component involved in the manufacturing process. This chemical, also known as C8, has raised concerns about potential links to certain types of cancer; the American Cancer Society, however, considers this a very low risk, since C8 burns off almost completely in the process and its presence becomes negligible by the time Teflon-coated items come out of the factory floor.
Some articles with Teflon even come certified as PFOA-free. The choice, in the end, is completely yours.
6. Cast iron: It is somewhat rare to find presses with this material, but they are out there. While it often requires special treatment to attain (and maintain) non-stick properties and to stay rust-free, few materials are so good at retaining and transmitting heat.
This part can be either fixed, or floating (or café style). The latter is not restrained by hinges, which provides an even amount of pressure all over your food, and is also optimal for accommodating thicker sandwiches.
As with most appliances, this is measured in Watts. The higher this is, the better and faster it is when cooking. Most commonly you will find units going between 1100 and 1500 Watts.
Are you ready? Let’s see what we got!
This one’s lid doesn’t just float; it can be locked in position so it stays hovering at a fixed distance from your food. The green light turns on when it is done preheating, which takes about 6 minutes; red light indicates on/off status. Its stainless steel body should make it comfortable with just about any kitchen theme, though you can also get it in red. In terms of price it should be within reach for most budgets. 1400-Watt power. This may not be the best panini press on the market, but it certainly has some interesting features.
- Lockable floating lid opens up the ability to make foods where direct contact with the hot plate is undesirable, such as open face sandwiches.
- Can be stored vertically, which saves space.
- Temperature is fixed to a rather high level, often burning food if left unattended.
- No way to safely collect grease dripping off. This makes it ill suited for general food grilling, as it could get messy.
Yes, it is an unusual design; but it works! Cast iron remains one of the best materials for retaining and transmitting heat, and this press can be quite nice to have by the grill: you can use it to flatten your bacon, squeeze the fat out of your food, and cut your cooking time by about half. The best panini press might just be the simplest one!
Helpful when making quesadillas, flatbread, poultry and more. If you are familiar with the use and care of cast iron items, then you might find this Colombian made press a good pick. For best results, preheat using indirect heat.
- Hard to find a cheaper option.
- Naturally PTFE and PFOA free.
- It lacks the many conveniences of conventional electric presses.
- Requires special care to keep it rust-free and maintain its non-stick properties.
- The wooden handle has been known to be short lived.
The floating hinge on this fairly reliable, 1500-Watt unit, features 4 fixed settings for height. The built-in clip can be locked so it won’t open as you move it around, such as at storing time. The plates’ coating is non-stick and resistant to scratches. There are no knobs or buttons to operate it, only the standard red (on/off) and green (ready) lights. Includes recipes.
Since there is no switch to turn it on and off, it should always be kept in mind that, as long as the cord is plugged in, the plates are getting hot.
This one is rather peculiar in that the bottom plate is flat, intended for faster cooking; the ridged top plate is the only one that can create grill marks. This might force you to flip your food if you prefer marks on both sides.
- Quite easy to use, since there are no options to tweak.
- Given the simplicity of design, its asking price might feel too high.
You have no switch to control when it is on, but you do get to choose the temperature between minimum and maximum. The lid is floating style, and it can be opened a full 180°. Its plates, however, cannot be reversed, swapped or removed. Standard red and green lights to indicate on/off and ready status.
The ceramic non-stick coating on the plates is a proprietary element intended to be more durable and resistant to chipping, as well as to help cook faster. The feet can be adjusted to tilt the unit so loose grease can be led downwards. Includes 2 plastic drip cups to collect runoff, and a griddle cleaning tool. It is recommended to handle it with care when cooking, as the top will get rather hot.
- Price quite accessible, with a decent amount of added value in features and accessories.
- Not terribly hard to use.
- Lid is weighty and the coating slippery, frequently sending food off the appliance when trying to cook it.
- Coating can chip away with relative easy.
This one has the most usual features for an appliance of its type, but some are arranged differently. The temperature control, for example, comes with a level indicator behind a see-through window, with the on/off and ready lights nearby. The floating hinge helps fit thicker sandwiches, although it cannot be opened a full 180°. The surface is slightly tilted so grease will be gathered easily (with cup included), and the safety locking system keeps it closed for easy storage. In terms of looks, it might be quite easy to bring into your kitchen. Defiantly a contender for the best panini press out there!
- Plates are easy to clean in spite of being non removable.
- Fairly accessible, both by operation and price.
- Grease might not drain off properly, even with the tilt the unit has.
If you like to cook with cast iron but don’t have a surface to do it on (such as a grill), then this could be a good one. Requiring personal intervention to see the job through, the exterior is protected by a colored ceramic enamel, with the cooking surface featuring a matte black ceramic coating to provide non-stick properties. Since a pan is part of the mix, you can work with it on stovetops, including gas, induction, glass and ceramic. You can even use it in the oven, as long as you don’t go higher than 450°F. The knob on the lid is stainless steel, so it should be handled with care when hot.
- Variety of colors. As limited as it is, most other options don’t have it.
- An affordable way to gain the ability to make paninis.
- Fairly versatile, and easy to put away. It even has a hole on the handle, for hanging.
- Must be washed by hand. The inside might require special treatment to protect the black matte finish.
- Exterior enamel has been reported to chip away without too much difficulty.
Even though this 1800-Watt option does not feature any apps or internet access, it is not difficult to justify calling it “smart”. The digital display provides important information at a glance, such as current temperature in °F, and cooking time left. Temperature (including sear function) and timer are controlled by knobs.
One of the removable plates, intended for the bottom, is flat; the other one, ribbed. Non-stick coating is PFOA-free, dishwasher safe. They can swap positions for when the unit is wide open in BBQ mode.
Certain features unique to this appliance are intended to optimize cooking, such as proprietary sensors to detect drops in temperature, and increase heat to rapidly compensate; and heat elements that are embedded into the plates to minimize loss. Top plate is adjustable between 6 height settings. Includes removable drip tray, which should be washed by hand only.
Packed as it is with features, it does not have an on/off switch; it should be unplugged when not in use.
- Design is functional, and easy to handle.
- Special attention paid to heat management.
Not among the most affordable of alternatives.
Non-stick coating on the plates might not be as durable as with other options.
A good option to look into if you like functionality and money is not a huge factor. Aside from being quite potent at 1800 Watts, the detachable, reversible plates provide you with 6 cooking options: panini press, full griddle, half griddle, contact grill, top melt, full grill, and half grill. Its temperature control is dual zone, that is, you can control how hot each plate gets separately, via two knobs, with two buttons giving access to the sear function. Includes: drip pan, scraping tool and cookbook. All accessories are dishwasher safe.
- Quite a bit of added value, especially for a unit priced at mid range.
- Easy to operate.
- Reversible plates eliminate the need for spare ones, saving storage.
- Ample space required to use it, especially if the plates are set horizontally for cooking.
- It has drawn complaints about not lasting very long.
Your Sandwich’s Best Friend: Breville BGR820XL
If you can meet its price, this should serve you quite well: not only is it known to perform reliably, but it is designed with “smart” in mind, addressing little details that most other appliances won’t think about. From the digital backlit display (which even changes color to tell you overall temperature, cold or hot) to the embedded heating elements, there are plenty of reasons to feel confident about this unit. At 1800 Watts it is quite powerful, and since you can swap the plates around, grilling indoors is well within reach. For extra sandwich points, call yours a “panino”. That’s the actual, singular word!
See also: Keep up on your kitchen by learning how to keep wooden cutting boards clean, here!