Over the years I’ve grilled all kinds of things besides sandwiches on the panini maker – from peach salads to duck breasts to ice cream cones and everything in between. Especially with hot summertime weather approaching, I thought I’d try a new “How To Grill ____ on a Panini Maker” series where I can share tips and techniques for cooking indoors without having to heat up the oven.
First up: Hamburgers.
Ummm…Kathy…isn’t it easy enough just to grill burgers outside on the barbecue in the summertime?
Well, of course! When you’ve got a crowd coming over for a cookout nothing could be easier than putting a whole bunch of burgers on the outdoor grill. But on a weeknight when it’s just a few folks at the dinner table and you don’t feel like firing up the big grill, you can grill juicy burgers (with grill marks!) in about 7 minutes on your panini maker.
With heat coming from both the upper and lower grates, grilling hamburgers on the panini maker takes about half the time as it does on the outdoor barbecue. Just like with any burger you want to start with good quality beef (I prefer to go with 80% or 85% lean for a really juicy burger), season it well and form your patties without over handling the meat. From there, here are the steps to making a great burger on the panini maker:
Step 1 - Make the Patties the Same Size
You’re cooking all the burgers at once, so to make sure they’re all done at the same time it helps to make them all the same size. It’s especially important to form your patties with the same thickness so the upper grate makes full and equal contact with all the burgers when you close the lid. If some are really thick while others are really thin, the grill will rest on the tallest burgers, leaving the short ones in the cold. Make them all the same height and everyone gets the heat.
Step 2 – Use a Meat Thermometer
There’s no shame in it. A meat thermometer makes it incredibly easy to tell when your burgers are done – when it reaches the temperature you want (the USDA recommends cooking raw ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F for food safety; I prefer a pink center so I usually go a bit cooler than that) you pull the burgers off the grill. A lot of people can tell when their burgers are done by sight or by pressing the center, but with the panini maker you don’t really want to be opening and closing the lid too often to check. The upper grates make contact with the meat during grilling, which gives those nice grill marks, but if you open the lid too early you risk having the meat stick to the grate. It’s best to just leave the lid closed and rely on your meat thermometer. NOTE: All panini makers heat differently, but I typically will grill on a “medium-high” setting.
Step 3 – Scrape the Grill While It’s Hot
Once the burgers are done – mine generally take 6 to 8 minutes to get to medium doneness – transfer them to clean plate to rest while you tackle the mess that’s on your grill. Not to worry, the grates usually clean off rather easily if you give it a good scrape down while the machine is still hot. Both the Breville and Cuisinart panini makers come with a little grill scraper – just unplug the grill and scrape off any remaining grease and cooked on bits. Once the grill is completely cooled you can go in with a soapy sponge (or, if you’re using the Cuisinart, you can snap off the grates and pop them in the dishwasher).
That’s all it takes! Your burgers are done in less time than it would take to heat up your barbecue grill. If you’d like to toast your hamburger buns as well, just toss them on the grill after your burgers are done (leave the lid open) for a minute or two.