small appliances

The 8 Very Best Panini Presses

They’re good for a lot more than just sandwiches.

The best panini press is the Cuisinart Griddler Grill, Griddle & Panini Press
Photo: Marcus McDonald
The best panini press is the Cuisinart Griddler Grill, Griddle & Panini Press
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

My previous experience with panini presses was limited to making after-school grilled cheeses as a kid. But after talking to enthusiastic panini-press owners for this article and reintroducing a couple of machines into my life, it became clear that what was once a uni-tasker for me can be, in fact, a pretty well-rounded appliance. There are mid-priced and higher-end options that allow you to fully open the grill into an electric flattop for cooking more than a couple of pancakes at a time, smashing burgers for a crowd, and making Korean barbecue. Then there are more affordable models that will still give you sandwiches with that particular smushed-in-a-good-way vibe, different from one cooked in a pan or broiled in the oven. And if kitchen space is tight, there are nonelectric presses that you can use with a skillet you already own. 

To get a full sense of panini presses on the market, I tested a couple of models myself (and even hosted a panini party where friends built their own sandwiches, and I took notes as I watched bread toast and cheese melt). Then, I reached out to experts — in this case, professional sandwich-makers and panini-shop owners, as well as recipe developers and cookbook authors with panini-making experience — about their favorite models. Here, you’ll find my picks, along with a few thoroughly vetted options. And if you’re interested in other cheese-melting cookware, you can also read my guides to the best skillets and toaster ovens.

What we’re looking for

Size

As is almost always the case, adding another appliance to your kitchen is a consideration of how much space you have. If you don’t plan to keep your press out on the counter at all times, you want to make sure it will fit in a drawer or cabinet. To that end, I’ve listed the dimensions of each model.

Opening mechanism

Some of the panini presses below open a full 180 degrees so that the top plate essentially becomes another bottom, creating a surface that is double the original size. Others only lift partway. One, the grill press, acts like a heavy block with a handle so you can weigh down on a sandwich inside any skillet you already own. Here, I’ve detailed the opening mechanism of each press.

Grate style

Like I stated before, you can find panini presses with grooved grates that will leave marks on your food like the ones you get from a grill, while others have a smooth surface. Some even have removable plates that let you swap. This is mostly an aesthetic choice.

Best panini press overall

Size: 13” x 11” x 6.5” | Opening mechanism: Opens fully | Grate style: Grooved and flat

The Cuisinart is a well-priced, reliable, do-it-all panini press. It can, of course, act as a sandwich smasher, applying pressure from the top and emanating heat from both sides. Then, if you want to turn it into one big grill or flat top, you simply press a button on the side that fully releases the hinge. When I tested the machine myself, I appreciated the variation in heat levels: low, medium, and high. Cheaper models tend to simply turn on and off, but this one allows for low heat (helpful when grilling a thicker sandwich where you want to make sure the inside becomes hot before the bread gets too dark), as well as medium and high, which both worked well for simple grilled cheeses. The bread on the outside of those got lighter golden brown and darker golden brown, respectively, by the time the cheese was done melting. It also has a warm setting I used when I left half a panini out for a while and wanted to re-melt the cheese without re-toasting the bread. And it has removable nonstick cooking plates (that come both grooved and flat), which makes it very easy to clean.

I’m not the only fan of the Cuisinart Griddler Grill. Kathy Strahs, author of the blog Panini Happy, loves this model for its flexibility. She uses it for grilling meats and vegetables or crisping up quesadillas (that don’t require flipping because you get heat from the top and bottom).” Writer and cookbook author Patricia Wells uses it for indoor grilling and making toast. “I have given away all my toasters,” she says. “I always felt that toasters just dried out the bread but the panini press allows it to maintain its moisture. I also love the grill marks.”

Max Blachman-Gentile, director of culinary operations at Tartine, used a slightly higher-end and more expensive version of the Griddler to test a lot of the menu items sold at the café and even put it to use in the shop for a while (it eventually wore down churning out 40-plus sandwiches a day, but that shouldn’t be a concern at home). The major difference is that his $160 model lets you select the specific degree you want each plate to reach, while the less expensive, more basic one above has only low, medium, high, and warm settings. “Let’s say you want to make four grilled cheeses for your family,” Blachman-Gentile says. “You’ll get a consistent result, instead of the first two looking good and the next two not. Some presses have hot spots, but the heat is generally very even over all the plates, as well.”

Best less expensive panini press

Size: 11.6” x 12.6” x 4.5” | Opening mechanism: Opens partially | Grate style: Grooved

This Hamilton Beach press comes in at an even more accessible price point — and though it lacks the customizable temperature control of the Cuisinart, I still found it to be a reliable machine that was simple to operate. When you plug it in, it turns on automatically. There are no switches, but it heats up very quickly, so if you want to unplug between grill sessions (as I did when a group of friends and I all spent an evening making and eating panini), there’s hardly any wait time between rounds. Every time I’ve used it to make a sandwich, the bread has turned out evenly toasted and golden brown. The cheese melts perfectly, too, regardless of how stuffed the sandwich is and what type I’m using. The plates wipe down easily with a damp cloth or paper towel, even when bits of melted cheese appear stuck onto the grill surface. And its relatively small size makes it less of an imposition to store than some other models on this list.

Best panini press with floating hinge

Size: 12.25” x 15” x 5” | Opening mechanism: Opens partially | Grate style: Grooved

If you only intend to press sandwiches, this Breville model is a straightforward and effective option. Strahs points out that it has a “floating hinge,” meaning it stays open at various heights if you want to check on whatever is inside. “I haven’t seen that on too many presses, and certainly not the less expensive ones,” she says. “They just rely on the thickness of whatever you’re grilling. But there are times when you maybe don’t want a top on there at all, or don’t want as much pressure.” You can fit foods besides sandwiches in it, too — say, meats and vegetables to put inside of your panini, as the company suggests — but the top won’t extend all the way around to create that bigger flat surface (so probably not the best for burger night). The surface area of a single plate, though, is a bit bigger than the plates on our best overall pick, the Cuisinart. And, in comparison to the Cuisinart, Strahs says that this one gets really hot, really fast. The plates aren’t removable, which can make cleaning a bit more “cumbersome,” as Strahs puts it — but like the Cuisinart, they’re nonstick, which means it shouldn’t be too much of a pain.

Best grill press

Size: 4.5” x 6.75” with handle | Opening mechanism: Stand-alone press | Grate style: Flat

Sometimes it’s simply inconvenient to have another appliance taking up space in your kitchen. In that case, I recommend a nonelectric grill press that can work with any skillet you own. Paige Lipari, owner of Archestratus Books + Foods in Brooklyn, uses one at her shop to turn out sandwiches day in and day out. In fact, she even switched out her Waring for an Avantco flattop and Lodge presses when she redid the kitchen. “They’re extremely inexpensive and very high quality,” she says, echoing the sentiment many professionals feel about the company’s beloved cast-iron skillet. To use the press, you can use any pan, lay down your sandwich, place the tool on top, and then flip it and do the same thing on the other side. “They have a nice weight to them,” she says, “heavy enough to press down fully and evenly, but still easy to wield.” She also notes that this particular size is perfect for most sandwiches, fully covering the bread and ensuring a uniform color.

Best less expensive grill press

Size: 4.3” x 8.3” with handle | Opening mechanism: Stand-alone press | Grate style: Flat

The manual press I own is this slightly cheaper one from Victoria, originally recommended by Spencer Rubin, the founder of Melt Shop. It works the same as the Lodge above but is a bit more rectangular in shape. While that might not be preferable if you consistently toast larger, squarer slices of bread, I like it even better for the more oblong shape of bread I usually buy. Plus, it fits nicely over fish filets (which I make often) — and both models work just as well for tasks like smashing potatoes, crushing cucumbers for a vinegary salad, crisping rice, and searing meat. (And, of course, these latter tasks are also ones that can’t be achieved with an electric press.) The other bonus: The handle is made from wood, as opposed to cast iron, so it doesn’t get as hot on the stovetop. It’s a bit lighter, too, so “you don’t end up pushing the cheese or ingredients out of the bread,” Rubin says.

Best high-end panini press

Size: 14.75” x 13.75” x 8.5” | Opening mechanism: Opens fully | Grate style: Grooved and flat

The functionality of this Breville is similar to that of the Cuisinart, but overall it’s more powerful and exacting (and thus, more expensive). While the Cuisinart has low, medium, and high heat modes, this one allows you to control the precise degrees of each of the plates at any given time, and overall boasts slightly more wattage, which means it gets hotter faster. It also has predetermined settings for panini, burger, and sear, convenient if you want to just click one button and let it go.

Food writer and editor Alyse Whitney’s s favorite way to employ it is completely open. “I have used this for Korean barbecue at home,” she says (though usually outside, since the sugar in marinades tends to get smoky). “Also pancakes and french toast for a crowd. I used to grill indoors in the sad, cold New York winters before I moved to L.A.” And — unlike any of the others on the list — it has waffle inserts you can buy separately to make it even more versatile.

Peter Doire, culinary director at Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe, uses an even higher-end Breville model: the Smart Grill & Griddle. It’s $120 more expensive and also has exact temperature control and high wattage, as well as a hinge on the back that pivots with the plates itself and lays totally flat. This is a favorite feature of Doire’s because it allows him to set the top evenly over his paninis without pushing all the ingredients out. The machine has a couple of additional benefits, too. If you’re using it as a flattop grill, it automatically reacts to temperature changes so that, for example, putting a steak down won’t cool the surface. And it has a timer, “which is super helpful when you’re multitasking,” Doire says. He also points out the grease pan beneath the plates is “easy to pull out, dump, and clean.”

Best professional-grade panini press

Size: 21.7” x 23” x 20.7” | Opening mechanism: Opens partially | Grate style: Flat

If you want to go hard at home, this Waring is a professional-grade grill, quite similar to the one head chef Clare Malfitano uses at Murray’s Cheese Bar in New York. There, the presses are even more intense and require special plugs, but Waring makes models for home use, too, including this one (and a nearly identical model with grooved plates). Like the press above, it’s made from cast iron. It’s not cheap by any means — but if for whatever reason you want to do most of your cooking on a panini press (say, if you’re remodeling, or living with particularly inefficient rental-kitchen appliances), it’d be the one to choose. “It’s so consistent in terms of heat,” Malfitano says. “It’s intuitive to use. Before we open for the day, we do prep work on it that isn’t making sandwiches — like charring meatballs or onions or carrots. Sometimes we use it to temper things we don’t need to fully melt, like cream cheese or butter. You can put it on a low setting and put those on there. We cook chicken on it. Occasionally, we cook eggs on it. It stays open if you need it to, so it can be hands free.” Before switching cooking methods at Archestratus, Lipari was also a fan of how “extremely versatile” it was (beyond the “really crispy panini sandwiches” it turned out). “Vegetables on it got almost barbecue-like with a charred flavor,” she says. “We had people do pop-ups, and they would employ it in other ways too — like one time, someone used it to make a cheese crisp.” Steven Saddoff, owner of New York City’s Ground Support, praises Waring’s customer service. If you have any sort of issue, “you get to talk to real people,” he says. “That’s rare and important to me.” But he also notes that for a regular consumer, a problem would be a rarity. “If you’re not running a café with it, it’ll last forever,” he says.

Best jaffle-maker

Size: 4.8” x 12.6” x 11.3” | Opening mechanism: Opens partially | Grate style: Jaffle-shaped

A jaffle is sort of like an Australian version of a panini (in Australia, they often call them “toasties”). As in, it’s a toasted sandwich that comes together in an electric press — only instead of the construction being two flat pieces of bread with fillings in between, a jaffle-maker secures those fillings inside of bread, pressing down so that they form into the concave shape of the plate and sealing the edges completely around. “They’re specifically made on soft, supermarket-style white bread,” Blachman-Gentile says. “A chef in Australia that I know uses one to cook eggs as well. It goes into the wells and kind of steams and makes perfectly cooked eggs in a minute-and-a-half.” Breville actually claims to have invented the first electric one (the original kinds worked on top of the stove, much like the Lagostina press). Theirs — the one that Blachman-Gentile has used — is on the pricier end, but there are cheaper options out there if you like the idea of playing around with this style of sandwich. “It’s not as versatile,” he says, “and basically only for one type of sandwich. But I just think it’s a cool machine.”

Some more multifunctional kitchen appliances we’ve written about

Our experts

• Max Blachman-Gentile, director of culinary operations at Tartine
• Peter Doire, culinary director at Flour Bakery + Cafe
• Paige Lipari, owner of Archestratus Books + Foods
• Clare Malfitano, head chef at Murray’s Cheese Bar
• Spencer Rubin, founder of Melt Shop
• Steven Saddoff, owner of NYC’s Ground Support
• Kathy Strahs, author of Panini Happy
• Patricia Wells, writer and cookbook author
• Alyse Whitney, food writer and editor

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The 8 Very Best Panini Presses