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.
PROS: Best results, even heating, easy to use, regulate grill height and heat
CONS: Cost, takes longer to heat
(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
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!