What is a Panini Press?

Examining the Electric Panini Press

As you will see, panini presses are awesome kitchen appliances and are very versatile cooking tools. It’s a two-sided sandwich grill. In its simplest use, a panini press grills and presses your sandwich simultaneously.   Think of it as two grills on opposite sides pressing and grilling large, oddly shaped sandwiches neatly and evenly.  However, depending on how creative you dare to be, a panini press can be used in a variety of unique ways.

Sandwich maker vs panini press

A common misconception is that a panini press is just another sandwich maker and that all sandwich makers do the same thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While sandwich makers may be cheaper and more convenient for some people, a simple sandwich maker can never do a fraction of what a panini press is capable of.

Sandwich makers are great if you like to make a lot of grilled cheeses or grilled ham and cheeses.  Unfortunately, you can’t fit much more than one or two ingredients inside a sandwich maker.  Panini presses, on the other hand, can handle very large sandwiches and lots of ingredients.  Another key difference between sandwich makers and panini presses is in the way they cook.

Sandwich makers only toast your bread, whereas panini presses actually grill your bread, giving your sandwiches beautiful grill marks and a much better taste.  When using a sandwich maker, you will find that you can only use sliced bread.

With a panini press, you can use any kind of bread you want to use, and panini presses are much more versatile than sandwich makers.  As you’ll see, non-sandwich recipes are endless with a panini press.  Please, skip below to the section titled “Meal Ideas” for some great tips on how to maximize the use of your panini press.

Many people already own sandwich makers and are very happy with them.  Sandwich makers are great to have, but once you own a panini press you will likely never use your sandwich maker again.  You’ll either be throwing it out, be donating it to your local Goodwill, or selling it at your next garage sale.

History of the panini press

Breville, an Australian manufacturer, was one of the first manufacturers to popularize the sandwich press grill.  Breville released original sandwich press in 1974 and the product was an instant hit.  The name Breville comes from the founders, Bill O’Brien and Harry Norville, combined their names to form Breville in 1932.

However, while Breville enjoys the recognition of having commercialized the first sandwich press grill, the original inventor was an American named Thomas Edison.

Edison’s first prototype was a sandwich grill that consisted of two metal plates hinged together.  The plates would heat up when plugged in, clamp shut, press the sandwich together, and heat it on the inside.  Though paninis were not known in the United States in Edison’s day, other large sandwiches, such as Cubanos, were already popular.

Prior to Edison’s invention, the only toasting options were either an electric toaster or a griddle.  However, Edison’s ingenious invention might have been a little ahead of his time, because the model was discontinued in 1932 due to its unpopularity.  Unfortunately for Edison, Breville would get most of the recognition for the invention.

Panini press in the modern age

In the 1990s, the popularity of the panini press quickly blew up following the success of the famous George Foreman Grill and other sandwich makers.  However, panini presses have had more long-term success in the American marketplace, because panini presses are different than sandwich makers and are more widely used.

For example, a panini is an Italian sandwich made with non-sliced bread, usually substituting ciabatta, baguette, Italian, or michetta bread.  Because of their size, these sandwiches won’t fit into a traditional sandwich maker, especially if you plan on putting anything between the bread.  Panini presses can handle larger contents.  Furthermore, sandwich makers don’t press or heat up the insides of the sandwiches they cook, nor do they grill the bread.  Sandwich makers only toast the bread.  Generally, panini presses are preferred to traditional sandwich makers because of their versatility.

However, you’d  be selling yourself short if you limited yourself to sandwiches.  Panini presses have a wide range of applications, and you’d probably be amazed by all the different things you can cook with one.

 

What can you cook with a panini press?

Here are a few meal ideas to get the creative juices of your mind flowing.  Of course, you’ll enjoy your panini press most when you experiment with it at home.  Indeed, you can cook almost any meal with a panini press.

Breakfast

In the morning, throw a few strips of bacon on your press, and close the lid.  In just two minutes, you’ll have perfectly cooked bacon (cook less if you want less crispy bacon).  Leave the excess bacon grease on the grill.  Throw on some spinach leaves, peppers, mushrooms, and add egg.  Close the lid.  In just 90 seconds you will have the perfect breakfast omelet with bacon.

Lunch

How about pizza for lunch?  You don’t have to order out or buy one of those high sodium store-bought pizzas.  Make or buy your own pizza dough, press it out flat, brush a little olive oil on both sides, lay it on your panini press, add your favorite toppings, and voila!  Six minutes later you’ll have a healthy pizza.

Dinner

For dinner, the possibilities are endless!  Use your favorite marinade or rub to season your chicken breast, burgers, fish, or steaks.  I advise letting your meat marinade at least 24 hours before cooking for optimal taste.  One of the great benefits of cooking your meat on your panini press is that the panini press will lock the flavors in.  Your panini press will sear those delicious flavors deeply into your meat, providing mouth-watering meals every time.

Of course, no dinner is complete without a side of fresh veggies.  Asparagus (my favorite), squash, and zucchini cook incredibly well on a panini press.  Leave some of the leftover fat from your meat and throw on your favorite veggies for one minute.  If your veggies aren’t done after one minute, close the lid and let them keep cooking, checking every twenty seconds until they’re done.

Snacks and Dessert

Preheat your panini press to 400’.  Melt a small amount of butter, just enough to coat your press’s plates.  Throw on some apple, mango, or peach slices and cook for one minute.  Add your seared fruit to your favorite ice cream, cake or pie.  Enjoy.

Tip: Until you are comfortable with your panini press and cook times, depending on what you’re cooking, it might be wise to open your press frequently so you can keep a close eye on the contents.  This is especially true of certain vegetables that only take a few seconds to sear.

What makes a great panini press?

Durability

When choosing the right panini press for your kitchen, you should definitely find one that is of heavy-duty metal construction.  Not only do these handle damage and accidents better, but more solid tops usually grill and press better.

Size

Try to find a panini press with a large surface area for cooking more food at once, especially if you will be cooking for more than one person at a time.

Ease of Use

I like simplicity.  Find a panini press with few or no controls.  All you really need is a temperature control knob.  Some of the more recent electric panini press models come with additional features, such as LED displays, timers, and fat collector trays.  It’s up to you to decide what style you like.

Additional Features

I also prefer panini presses that come with separate grill plates for easy removal and cleaning.  Some presses even come with interchangeable plates, such as flat surface plates, so you can cook a variety of foods with your press, some of which might not need the ridged plates or grill marks.

I also prefer the floating lid type.  These make for even pressing and allow you to fit larger sandwiches inside the press.  Some models have adjustable hinges so you can raise the cover to accommodate thicker contents.

Electric panini presses are made out of different materials than stovetop models are.  These materials are often made to be non-stick, making them easier to clean and low maintenance.

So that’s the scoop on panini presses.

Photo by Shanice Garcia on Unsplash 


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