The Grill Method Smackdown

by on February 19, 2008


Do I need a panini press to make panini? Can I just use my Foreman grill? How about a grill pan or skillet? There seems to be quite a bit of debate on cooking forums over which grilling method makes the best panini? Oh, and people are very adamant that their method is the best. But, you know, I haven’t ever seen anyone mention that they’ve actually tried more than one method…so how can they truly know if one is better than the other? So I decided to make myself the guinea pig upon realizing that I actually had the tools on hand to make panini in three common ways. The truth is, all of these methods will work – BUT, I learned that some methods produce better results and are easier to execute than others. Want to know the pros and cons of each method? Read on!

THE TEST SUBJECT: Good ol’ basic grilled cheese sandwich – cheddar cheese on sliced sourdough, with melted butter brushed on top. I prepared identical sandwiches using each method.

NOTE: This experiment could hardly be construed as scientific, but will hopefully shed a little light on the differences between three popular panini grilling methods.

Panini Press

(model tested: Breville Ikon Panini Press, Williams-Sonoma, $99.95)
PROS: Best results, even heating, easy to use, regulate grill height and heat
CONS: Cost, takes longer to heat
Not surprisingly, the machine that was designed specifically to make panini produced the best results! What gives it the advantage is that it allows you to regulate both the grill height and heat, which are vital to making panini that are crispy on the outside, cooked on the inside, and adequately (but not overly!) pressed. My grilled cheese sandwich came out nice and evenly crispy on the outside with perfectly melted cheese on the inside. The grill produced shallow golden grill marks. And it was incredibly easy – just assembled the sandwich, put it on the grill, closed it and the machine did the rest. A perfect grilled cheese sandwich with little fuss – what more can you ask for?
What is the downside to this great gadget? Well, some would say the price. At $100, it’s not the cheapest appliance in your pantry. If you anticipate only making panini on very rare occasions, it will probably be difficult to justify the expense. Note that there are, however, a wide range of models available, many of which are less expensive. Also, compared to the other two grill methods I tested, the panini press took the longest to heat up initially and to grill the sandwich. So if time is of the essence, one of the other methods may be preferable.
George Foreman Grill

(model tested: The Champ GR10AWCAN, now discontinued)
PROS: Fastest, easy to use, even heating
CONS: Poor crisping, cannot regulate grill height or heat

Ah, the Foreman grill! So many of us have these tucked away in our kitchens and we love them. But can they make good panini? I would say, “Yes, but…” The model I tested, which I received as a gift about 8-10 years ago, heated up incredibly quickly – in about a minute. Just like with the panini press, it’s incredibly easy to use – just load the sandwich on the grill, close it, and wait. Because the heat comes from both the top and bottom it’s distributed evenly, which is essentially for good panini. However…

How could I tell the sandwich was done? By the sizzle of a whole lot of cheese that escaped and was bubbling all over the grates! Unfortunately, due to the fact that you cannot regulate the height of the grill (it’s possible this feature now exists on newer models – I’d welcome any comments on that), the sandwich was smushed too much, causing the cheese to ooze more than would be desired. Also, even though the heat was distributed evenly, I couldn’t regulate it (again, this may now be possible on newer Foreman grill models) so the sandwich cooked too fast and did not come out as toasted and crispy as it did on the panini press. If you’re looking to make panini and you’ve already got a Foreman grill, you may be able to make halfway decent panini without incurring the expense of a panini press.

Grill Pan + Cast Iron Skillet

(models tested: Calphalon One Nonstick 11-Inch Square Grill Pan, Amazon.com, $49.99; Lodge Logic 10-1/4-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet, Amazon.com, $12.99)

PROS: Cost (if you already have the pans), grills quickly
CONS: Uneven heating, challenging to regulate grill pressure, cumbersome, FIRE!!

Granted, some people may be more adept at executing this method – but I’m not exactly a novice in the kitchen and I had a really hard time coordinating the two pans to any degree of success and damn near started a fire in the kitchen! The most common reason people advocate this method of grilling panini – pressing a sandwich between two heated pans on the stove – is to save on cost. You’ve already got the pans, they say, so no need to buy any special apparatus to make panini. And, unlike with my Foreman grill, you can regulate the heat to some extent – at least on the bottom – by adjusting the flame on your stove. As a result, this can be a relatively quick grilling method if you raise the heat high enough.

Alas, due to the fact that you can’t regulate the heat on the top, I found I was left with uneven heating. As a result, my sandwich did come out nice and toasty with great grill marks on the bottom…but the upper half of my sandwich actually stuck to the skillet!! If you’ve ever tried to lift a hot 10″ cast iron skillet with one hand (that’s currently afflicted with tendonitis due to carrying around an infant!) and a spatula to scrape off half a grilled cheese sandwich in the other you’ll know that it is not an easy or particularly safe task! Also, because I was unable to regulate the pressure with which the sandwich was pressed, a lot of cheese escaped out of the sides. I may have had more success if I’d just used one pan – the grill pan – and flipped the sandwich mid-way through. But then I’d need something else heavy, like a foil-covered brick (which I don’t have lying around the house) to press it.

And, oh yes, the near-fire – after I’d preheated my skillet I went to lift it with potholders and one of my potholders must have gotten a little too close to the flame. Next thing I know I smell this fume-y odor and notice char marks on the potholder – yikes! I’m just saying…if I didn’t have to mess around with maneuvering the skillet (a task I try to minimize) it wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps you all are more coordinated than I 🙂

The bottom line…

You can make great panini with a panini press, a Foreman grill or a grill pan/skillet – it’s all a matter of taste and your preference for convenience, ease and cost. Disagree with any of these results? Try the smackdown in your own kitchen and let us know what you come up with!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:





>Ready to buy a panini press? Check out my Panini Press Buying Guide for the features to look for.

>Want more panini recipes? See my Recipe Index for a list of all recipes on Panini Happy.

>Traveling to a new city soon? Browse Panini Happy’s Great American Sandwich Guide to find the best sandwiches across the country!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dianna Ragan June 9, 2008 at 9:08 am

Hi, Kathy. I heard about your website from my daughter-in-law Laurel Newby. I love paninis and your blog! Pictures are beautiful and recipes sound yummy. I’m off to Whole Foods to buy ingredients and try some of the recipes. Is that Mike eating a sandwich in one of the pictures? I first met Mike during freshmen parents’ weekend at Dartmouth when he and Tyler were buddies. I have not seen Mike since Tyler and Laurel where married in 2000. Please tell Mike I said “hello.” Congratulations on your daughter and your blog.

Dianna Ragan

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2 caro August 13, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Hi, love the blog! I just wanted to let you know about an alternative to the unwieldy two-pan method you discussed. I have a Calphalon non-stick grill pan that came with a stainless steel panini press and I HIGHLY recommend it. The pan was originally $99.00 but I got it on sale at Macy’s for about $30. They also have an All-Clad version that looked really nice and had a nice, hefty press, but it’s a little more expensive. Just thought I’d let you know! 🙂
I’m off to the store now and I’m going to try making one of your recipes for dinner tonight!

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3 christine yoo November 10, 2008 at 11:59 am

the bigger version of the foreman grill (no idea the item number) it’s the one that can hold up to 4 burgers and it is all white (none of that irridescent multi colored i’m in college and have to eat-ness), it does let you put in quite a hefty sandwich without smushing it down, it works well with extra thick steaks too, well searing them, not so much cooking them, because on this model, surprise! you still can’t regulate temp, there is a red light connoting not ready yet and a green light connoting ready to cook food. just found your blog through tastespotting (the best food porn sight ever!)

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4 Candace December 8, 2008 at 10:18 am

Hi, I tried to email you but never received a reply. I think I may have typed your email address incorrectly. But I was curius about a method of preparing panini that I have seen Panera Bread do. I used to work there and they have these steam boxes (about the size of a mini garage fridge) that they use to steam the paninis for about an hour before they go on the panini grill. This method is really nice in my taste because it melts the cheese, and adds moisture to the contents of your sandwich. This way, when your sandwich is grilled, you get nice toasty grill lines on your bread but the inside is super moist and tasty(not soggy but moist). I was curious if you have any suggestions on how to acheive this, I would greatly appreciate it. You see, I can’t afford that costly appliance and I dont have the space for it, but love love love love love the results it provides. I thought about wrapping my sandwich in foil and giving it a steam bath in the oven (where you put the sand in a pan and put that pan in another pan, with about 1 or 2 inches of water in the bottom pan but not enough to flood into the top pan and soak the panini. But I am too terrified to try it for fear of ruining my panini. Please offer suggestions. I would be greatly appreciative!

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5 susan May 12, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Candace,
Did you ever try the steaming panini idea in the oven and did it work?

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6 Kathy May 12, 2009 at 12:39 pm
7 PaniniKathy December 8, 2008 at 11:41 am

Candace – I think you’re on to something great! Stay tuned for a steam-to-grill experiment…

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8 Drew December 21, 2008 at 9:43 am

Kathy,
Great post! I don’t actually have a panini grill at home and I’m going to attempt the two grill pan approach today.
I’ll let you know how it turns out – hopefully no fire.
🙂
Thanks.

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9 Melissa January 18, 2009 at 7:18 am

I have one of the on the stove all clad panini presses, luckily for me the price was right (free!). My parents bought a Breville and I inherited the stovetop pan. I make panini about every two weeks and I would say generally it makes very good panini. I can usually fit 2 sandwiches on at the same time. Sometimes it doesn’t press them as much as I like and I have been known to burn them when I’m in a hurry but cleanup is a breeze and it fits nicely in the cabinet.

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10 Rachel April 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Late to the party here… but panini’s are still hot – so to speak. Thanks for this comparison report. I’ve been trying to decide about a grill/press purchase. I think I will skip it. I have a Pampered Chef square grill pan and a weighty – grill hand press that I use with better than average results. It all depends on the heat source. I use olive-oil and butter mixed for best results – or occasionally a clarified butter to reduce smoking point. And then if you heat the pan with the press at the same time, to darn near red hot you are pretty good if you watch it. I flip them in the middle to get hash marks when I am being fancy – the top press cools more quickly too so that can help a bit. Like all things it just takes a little practice. I just don’t have any more space in my kitchen for gadgets. thanks again for the comparison!

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