Is there anything better than an ooey, gooey pressed sandwich? You know the kind — yummy, melty cheese and fillings on the inside; buttery, toasted bread on the outside. I’ve been a fan of a classic grilled cheese sandwich (white bread, American cheese, of course!) since I was a child. When I got my first apartment, one of the housewarming gifts I received was a panini press. And boom! Instant elevation of my grilled cheese skills. You see the beauty of a panini press (or sandwich grill to some) is that it heats on the top and bottom, toasting the sandwich quickly and evenly, and the lid creates pressure — hence the term “press” — so the fillings blend perfectly together.
Since it first arrived in my kitchen, my panini press has become my most-used appliance next to my coffee maker. I use it to make all sorts of amazing sandwiches, experimenting with different types of cheese, bread, and fillings (my tip: just add arugula to any sandwich and it’s instantly gourmet!). Occasionally I even do breakfast sandwiches using waffles in place of bread — delish! But here’s the best part: I’ve figured out that I can use my press for so much more than sandwiches. Bacon? Check. Hash browns? Check. Quesadillas? Check. Garlic Bread? Check. Chicken and steaks? Check and check.
While the basic function of these presses is the same, there are some distinguishing features. Some have a simple on/off function while others have a variable thermostat. If you’re planning to make more than sandwiches, the ability to set the temperature may be important. I liking being able to adjust the position of the top plate, so when I’m using thick bread I can set it to not “smoosh” it too much. The locking hinge is also what allows me to grill open-faced sandwiches and garlic bread, with the top plate just hovering over the food. Genius! Because we want the whole world to begin making delicious sandwiches with us, we’ve rounded up the six best presses out there, whether you crave a simple grilled cheese or something fancier.
1. Cuisinart Griddler 5
You know when a product has 7,000+ reviews on Amazon, it’s got to be pretty great. Cuisinart has decided to eschew that old adage “you don’t mess with perfection” by redesigning its beloved Griddler this year, improving the small kitchen appliance with some high-tech enhancements. Fear not, the original’s five basic functions — panini press, contact grill, full grill, full griddle and half grill/half griddle — remain (as do the removable, dishwasher-friendly cooking plates). What’s new is the sleek stainless-steel design, an easy-to-use LCD display for task, temperature and timer, and searing functionality. While we’re using it as a 24/7 panini press and burger-griller, the Griddler 5’s ability to simultaneously cook eggs, bacon and pancakes for breakfast with WAY less mess than multiple pans on the stovetop is also a huge selling point! — Courtney Thompson, Contributor
2. Breville Variable Temperature Panini Grill
The hinged top plate has seven height settings so you can get just the right amount of pressure, whether you’re making a thin quesadilla or a super thick grilled cheese. The cooking plates are made of nonstick cast aluminum, so they heat evenly but are easy to clean. And best of all—the bottom plate is angled so fat drips away from food and into a catch tray.
3. Hamilton Beach Panini Press Gourmet Sandwich Maker
Just plug the unit in and wait for the green light on the lid to illuminate, indicating the nonstick surfaces are fully preheated. The floating lid means you can evenly press sandwiches of all sizes, thick or thin, or lock it in place for open-face sandwiches. There’s also a latch to lock the press so it can be stored upright.
4. De’Longhi Contact Grill and Panini Press
The non-stick cooking plates on this press have wider ridges than most—creating clear grill marks on your sandwich and making it easier to remove baked on food. The hinge on the lid can be set to accommodate food of any size, and the adjustable thermostat allows you to set the perfect temperature.
5. Chef Buddy Panini Press Indoor Grill and Gourmet Sandwich Maker
This is the most affordable press on our list—and maybe the cutest in that bright red color! The bottom plate is smooth, not grooved, so you’ll need to flip your sandwich if you want grill marks on both sides. Plug it in and it will begin heating immediately, but you can’t adjust the temperature or height of the top plate.
6. Bella Electric Panini Maker Press and Sandwich Grill
The company calls this “the Houdini of Panini” — how can you not love that?! The floating hinge handles everything from the thinnest to the thickest sandwiches, and the locking mechanism allows the lid to float over food as well. Use the simple dial to set your desired temperature, and then wait for it to light up when preheated.
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