Panini Press Buying Guide
Panini presses are truly one of modern life’s greatest luxuries, allowing us to make delicious grilled sandwiches at home in a matter of minutes. But even though these technological wonders seem simple, there are actually a lot of factors in play that you will need to consider before you make your final purchase. If you want to take all the hassle and worry out of the buying process, then check out the tips in this stress-free panini press buying guide.
This is going to be one of the most important factors you look at in all of the panini presses you come across, because it directly affects the performance of the press. The two most common types of materials you’re going to see are cast iron and coated non-stick, each of which has its own pluses and minuses. (LINK) Cast iron tends to be sturdier and more resistant to scratches, but is heavier and can be more expensive. Plates with a non-stick coating are going to be lighter and make the cost of the press less, but can wear away over time.
If you plan on making a lot of sandwiches or putting other types of food into the grill on a regular basis, you may want to consider a model with cast iron plates. On the other hand, if you only want a panini press to make the occasional sandwich, then a non-stick coating model should meet all of your needs.
Don’t worry, despite the way the name sounds a floating hinge is actually a good thing when it comes to panini presses. It refers to the ability for the press lid to move up and down to allow you to accommodate foods of different sizes. If your press doesn’t have a floating hinge, then you’re going to be limited in what you can put inside the press. While most standard sandwiches (like a grilled cheese or a tuna melt) on regular white bread or Italian bread should fit comfortably, the more food you add into the sandwich, or the thicker bread you use, the closer you’re going to come to hitting that upper limit.
There are some models that have an unmarked floating hinge that simply allows you to adjust the height in reaction to the sandwich, which is a pretty common setup. Other models will include specific height settings to line up with different functions of the press or sandwich styles, so think about how you plan to use the press in order to find the amount of float that will work best with your sandwich plans.
Other Cooking Functions
Just like with so many other kitchen appliances and gadgets these days, there are some panini presses out there that are so much more than just a panini press. Most commonly, you’re going to see models that also function as a grill, since the ridges on the plates do resemble the lines of a grill cover. In this setting, the press will literally unfold so that the lid is facing upwards, giving you two flat surfaces on which you can cook your food. Some models can also function as a contact grill, where you can cook meats and vegetables from both sides simultaneously.
More advanced models will allow you to also use your press as a griddle, typically by removing the plates and replacing them with ones that have a flat surface. Some models use completely separate plates, while others allow you to flip the panini/grill plates over to save on space. There are even some luxury models out there that will allow you to split the plates, so you can operate one grill and one griddle at the same time, opening up all kinds of cooking possibilities.
Commonly, panini presses feature heat settings that are a lot like the quick settings of a toaster oven, where you can set it to a specific meal type and then proceed from there. This is most common on the models that only function as a panini press or contact grill, since there is less need for that kind of cooking flexibility. However, you may want this feature if your press is able to convert into other cooking modes.
The good news is that unless you plan on performing a lot of complex and precise cooking on your panini press, you won’t need any highly detailed temperature controls. In fact, the presets can actually make it easier for you ensure that your sandwiches are properly cooked, rather than ending up cold in the center or completely burnt to a crisp.
Ease of Cleaning
As a mom with a husband and four kids that all hate to clean up after themselves, I can’t tell you enough how important it is to find a cooking appliance that is easy to clean. Models with a non-stick coating are usually great at preventing food from sticking, so you won’t have to do a ton of scrubbing like you might with a cast iron plate. There are also models that allow you to detach the plates and run them through the dishwasher, which is practically a cleaning dream come true.
Another feature that will help you reduce messes is a drip tray, which most commonly comes into play when you’re using a panini press that has a grill mode. This tray will catch any runoff grease or liquid from the food you cook, so it doesn’t stay on the cook surface or fall onto the countertop. I’ve seen models with built-in trays, as well as special angling modes that promote more drainage during cooking, both of which can really help out with some of the messier foods.
Panini presses can get incredibly hot, with some models reaching temperatures upwards of 500 degrees, which is definitely more than enough heat to cause some serious injuries if you’re not careful. One of the biggest safety features you should look for is insulated handles, since they will allow you to open and close the press without having to use any oven mitts or towels. Some models may have exposed edges where the cooking plates are not covered, so always keep this in mind if you have any young kids that might be reaching up towards the press to try and grab some food.
Also look for a press that has a locking mechanism, since you’re going to want to make sure that it will stay closed when not in use. This will also help with storing the press, since it means you can stand it on its side without the press falling open, which can be a great way to save some space if your kitchen is cramped like mine.
A Final Word on Size
One last aspect of panini presses that you should think about is the overall size. Remember that you’re going to need a good amount of counter space in order to set up a panini press and use it safely. That means that you can’t tuck it under a low hanging cabinet or try to squeeze it in next to any flammable materials or products. If you don’t have a lot of counter space, then you should look for more compact models or those that have fewer features, as they tend to be more economically sized.