Choosing a Panini Press or Griddler: Buying Guide
It used to be that choosing a panini press meant picking on of several similar appliances that produced paninis. Today’s panini presses come in two main types: small, basic appliances that are capable of producing one large or two small sandwiches at a time, and larger, griddle type appliances or “griddlers” that can make a meal for three or more people all in one go. Each type is distinct, and both come with special advantages. How do you go about choosing a panini press that’s right for you? Read on. This buying guide provides in-depth information about both appliance types, along with some specific information about several of the most popular panini presses and griddlers on the market.
Types of Panini Presses
If you’re in the process of choosing a panini press, you are probably aware that hot, melty panini-style sandwiches are fantastic any time of day. What you might not know is that some panini presses are designed to do more than make gourmet sandwiches, and still others are so versatile that they can be used as indoor barbecue grills. All panini presses are designed for countertop use. Some users enjoy their presses and griddlers so much that they give them a permanent home on the countertop; others elect to store their appliances in a cupboard and use them only occasionally.
Basic Panini Press – The basic panini press is a fairly small appliance that is fitted with a weighted lid that gently pushes food into closer contact with the cooking surface. Most basic panini presses have non-removable ridged plates that leave attractive toasted grill marks on food. Almost all panini presses and griddlers have heated upper and lower plates that allow you to prep your food, place it onto the appliance, close the lid, and come back in a few minutes to retrieve the cooked item.
Panini Press with Removable Plates – A step up from the basic panini press, these appliances have removable plates, often with a smooth surface on one side and a ridged surface on the other side. The removable plates let you do a bit more with your panini maker, and they have the added advantage of being a bit easier to clean. A few manufacturers have started to offer optional waffle plates, bringing even greater versatility to consumers.
Hinged Countertop Grills – Hinged countertop grills typically offer more versatility than the average panini press. These appliances can be used like a panini press to cook both surfaces of food at once, or they can be opened flat to double the amount of cooking area. Some models have non-removable plates, while others have grill plates that are removable and / or reversible. These popular appliances often come with drip trays to catch grease, and almost always have some level of programmability with regard to heat setting.
Quality Panini Presses Make Good Food
There are lots of inexpensive panini presses and cheap griddlers on the market, but these typically have plastic parts that break easily and when you go to read reviews, you find that people complain that they are flimsy, don’t cook evenly, and break down after a certain amount of time. Mid-level panini presses and griddlers usually have fewer bells and whistles than the most expensive ones, but they are more sturdily constructed. A mid-level panini press or griddler might only do a few things, but what it does, it tends to do well. The best panini presses and griddlers cost more than their low to midrange counterparts, but they have a lot of flexibility and interesting features that make them capable of takng on a variety of different cooking tasks. Where a compact appliance like the Cuisinart GR-1 Griddler Panini Press has a preset temperature designed to deliver paninis that are heated and toasted to perfection, a larger countertop grill such as the T-fal GC702D OptiGrill can be programmed several ways and is even equipped with a defroster and sensors that automatically adapt cooking time depending on food thickness and temperature.
While there are of course factors other than overall quality to consider, keep in mind that a good appliance is likely to last longer while delivering more satisfaction, meaning it ultimately pays for itself. A cheap machine that fails after a few uses or that delivers foods that are just so-so is likely to find itself hidden away in the cupboard, doing nothing more than taking up space.
As long as your budget allows, look for a quality panini press or griddler that is capable of doing the things you want it to do. If you’re just interested in sandwiches and you are not cooking for a crowd, a small panini press is probably going to make you very happy. If you are cooking for more than two people and like the idea of a countertop grill that lets you make lots of food at different times of day, consider a bigger griddler. Meat, fish, vegetables, and in some cases, pancakes and French toast are just some of the more popular things you can make with a big, versatile grill. Of course you can make paninis too; you’ll be able to do three or four at a time depending on the size of the appliance you ultimately choose.
Consider Your Reasons For Wanting A Panini Press
Maybe you’re tired of paying sky-high prices for unhealthy food and you want a quick, easy way to make great sandwiches at home after a long days’ work. Perhaps you and your family like paninis and you love the idea of being able to exercise your culinary creativity while making food with your favorite ingredients. It could be that you’re looking for a gift for someone else.
When choosing a panini press or griddler, take a minute to think about your overall goals for the appliance. If you are single and want a quick and easy way to cook a nice meal for yourself, a little panini press like the De’Longhi CGH800 might be just the thing. It has a drain cup to catch excess fat, and it has an adjustable thermostat so you can easily make a variety of foods. In addition, it snaps closed for storage and can be put in a cupboard vertically, saving space. It’s just right for making a meal for one or two people.
If you want a panini press or griddler that lets you do as many things as possible, look for one that has plenty of versatility built right in. The Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe is a great choice, as it has a totoal of 240 square inches of cooking surface and reversible plates that are ribbed on one side and flat on the other. This appliance opens up flat or closes to make paninis and grill foods on both sides at once, and it even has a setting that allows you to position the lid over food without making contact so you can make pizza and open face sandwiches. It’s a machine you can use for making breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it’s handsome enough to just leave out on the countertop.
Appearance and Footprint
Sure, looks aren’t everything, but it’s a good idea to pay at least a little attention to appearance when choosing a panini press or griddler. An appliance’s looks are often directly in line with its quality, and let’s face it; you’re more likely to use something you like looking at. You really do want to get the most out of your panini press!
Look for a panini press or griddler that appears to be durable and be sure you think it will look nice in your kitchen. Many of the best ones are stainless steel, so they go well with just about any décor.
Footprint is another factor to consider. If you have a large kitchen with plenty of counter space and lots of room to store things when they’re not in use, this might not be terribly important to you. If, on the other hand you are low on space, be sure that you check into the size of the panini presses and / or griddlers while in the process of choosing. The smallest units are compact enough to use anywhere and are popular for people who spend extended periods of time traveling in RVs and onboard boats, meaning they should be a good fit for a tiny kitchen, too.
The Cuisinart GR-4N 5 in- 1 Griddler is a nice choice for a larger kitchen, although it’s versatile enough to fit into a smaller area. Because it comes with reversible plates and as you can buy optional waffle plates to fit, it’s a machine that has so much versatility that its larger footprint might not really matter to you.
If space is at a premium though, a very small, simple panini press might be just the thing. The West Bend 6113 Grill and Panini Press has a tight, compact design. Even the drip tray is tucked away! Another option to consider is the Breville BGR820XL Smart Grill. It also has a roomy surface, and it offers the advantage of heating up to a hotter temperature than most other indoor grills to make food fast.
Another small, efficient choice is the Cuisinart GR-1 Griddler panini press. Its footprint is very small, just about the size of a sheet of paper. The Breville BSG520XL is just a little bit larger, however it is fitted with a height control function that lets you use it as an open toaster, giving you what basically amounts to three appliances in one.
One of the most important steps in the process of choosing a panini press or griddler is to read reviews. Nearly every model available comes with its own set of reviews and it would be a mistake not to take advantage of them. Taking a little time to learn what people have to say about the appliances you are considering will almost certainly pay off. Some tips for reading panini maker reviews critically follow:
- Look for reviews that talk about various features on the griddlers or panini presses your are considering, and don’t give a whole lot of weight to general reviews that simply say the appliance is good or bad without giving any details. You want to learn as much as you can about the units you are considering.
- Pick a few different panini presses and griddlers to compare, either in the same category or in different categories. Although this might mean choosing takes a little bit longer it will give you a better feel for what is available. You might even want to take a few notes so that you can keep the details about each machine straight.
- Look for griddler and panini maker reviews that break the machines’ features down and provide specific information about how they work. Do the grill plates come off? Does this have a grease trap? Are any parts dishwasher safe? You’ll be surprised at the details available in reviews.
Recognize that with all appliances, manufacturing defects are possible, and the same defects are likely to be repeated across the spectrum. Even the best panini presses and griddlers sometimes fail right out of the box due to a defect. Do not let a few bad reviews detract from the overall picture.
Where To Buy A Panini Maker or Griddler
While some big box stores keep a decent selection of kitchen appliances including panini presses and griddlers in stock, you are likely to find the best selection to choose from online at sites like Amazon. Remember to consider the unit’s cost, ease of use, features, and of course quality as you make your decision. After all, a good panini maker or griddler is a great addition to your kitchen. The right one will meet your budget, deliver delicious foods, and pay for itself by keeping you from paying steep prices for unhealthy fast food for a long time to come.