The Making of a Perfect Panini
What is the Panini Maker for you?
We all have a passion for sandwiches which led me to writing my book 200 Best Panini Recipes. What is a panini but a pressed, grilled sandwich? Yes, but so much more. Some call a panini gourmet at it’s finest, others may think instantly of comfort food. I think of a panini as a signature sandwich with all the ingredients you crave and zero limitations. I found a panini can be a combination of any flavor profile you would like. Perhaps, savory for any breakfast, lunch or dinner meal or a melding of sweet ingredients for the perfect dessert. Once you step outside of the panini “box,” you’ll find that there are a million irresistible possibilities.
When building your signature panini I would like to share my research on equipment and ingredient options.
You have a few different options when it comes to choosing a panini grill, each with its own pluses and minuses.
Panini Pan and Press
This product is a two-piece panini grill, usually consisting of a nonstick pan that offers even heat retention and a heavy-duty press with a loop handle that provides added pressure on top, giving the tops of sandwiches grill marks. These grills are usually made of cast iron, with a porcelain enamel interior and exterior, and are available in many colors. They are oven-safe up to 500°F (260°C). The nonstick surface cleans easily, though washing by hand is usually recommended. This type of panini grill is great for grilling meats, vegetables and fruits, as the ridged bottom brings the pleasure of outdoor grilling indoors, with authentic grill marks for steaks, chops and burgers, not to mention panini.
Electric panini makers can be found at superstores, at specialty kitchen shops and even at higher-end grocery stores, at prices ranging from $35 to $130.plus. Specialty brands at gourmet kitchen stores are pricier. I didn’t mind paying a bit more, as the more expensive brands have added features for different cooking methods and menu items. Panini makers are perfect for grilling sandwiches, and some models also allow you to grill meats, vegetables and fruits. Be careful, as most panini makers get very hot on the outer surface. I always use a potholder when I open and close the grill.
The surface area of an electric griddle means several sandwiches can be grilled at one time. However, if you use a griddle, you will need a pressing device to press the sandwich into a true panini. I used a clean brick wrapped with heavy-duty foil or my grandmother’s cast-iron skillet, which I was lucky enough to inherit. The obvious drawback is that several bricks, or a couple of skillets, are needed; it could work, but it doesn’t seem like the most logical option. Therefore, an electric griddle would not be my choice for panini grilling, even if the upside is volume.
Features to look for in a panini maker
Many panini makers offer a retro look, with stainless-steel housing. These look nice on countertops, and as I always say, if it’s stored away in a box, chances are you won’t use it.
A floating hinge can be adjusted so that it is level, rather than at an angle when shut. This feature is useful when your panini contains ingredients that might ooze out if the sandwich was pressed at an angle.
Pop-out plates are easy to remove and dishwasher-safe. Some models come with two types of plates: grill plates and flat griddle plates allowing you to choose between grilling and toasting. This is by far my favorite feature as this creates multiple uses in one appliance.
Some models offer a larger surface area than others. Select a panini maker that fits your needs. Typically panini recipes are for 2 servings.
Indicator lights, adjustable temperature controls, heat-resistant handles and hidden cord storage are all great features.
Plastic scrapers will help you scrape up all the yummy cheese that inevitably melts onto the plates. If your panini maker doesn’t come with one, and is nonstick, make sure to use a plastic or wood spatula to scrape the plates, as metal will damage the nonstick surface.
Many grill plates are designed to drain grease away from food, for much healthier cooking. Drip cups are a valuable feature if you intend to use your panini maker to grill meats or juicy veggies in addition to making panini.
An upright storage design allows you to stow your panini maker in more compact spaces.
is a nationally recognized culinary professional and currently serves as culinary spokesperson for the Texas Beef Council. Tiffany has taken culinary information and messages directly to consumers, specializing in food, entertaininment and fitness. She has captivated audiences at home shows and has made numerous national media appearances, including Good Morning America, HGTV, Home Shopping Network and E! Entertainment Television. Her new cookbook, 200 Best Panini Recipes, is dedicated to transforming the humble sandwich into something spectacular.
Buy her book today at www.amazon.com