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For the seasoned chef with ample time for preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a panini press may not be the most important kitchen tool. But, for the rest of us, it’s pretty darn handy. Especially if you’re a frequent enjoyer of the classic panini, an ideal quick lunch or dinner.
Even if you’re not a big panini person, though, it may be worth considering. A panini press is essentially just an electric grill with two sides, meaning it makes many cooking tasks easier, not just panini. You can grill burgers or veggies or chicken breasts, cook a quick round of hash browns, or even make small desserts. And, when that grilled cheese craving hits, you are always prepared.
It's important to keep in mind that not all sandwich presses are the same. You'll need to consider whether or not it needs to be stored in between uses, and if not, how much counter space you can allot to it. There's also the question of size, with bigger households likely needing more surface areas so you can cook multiple sandwiches at once.
Whether you want a mini panini press for the dorm room or are ready to splurge on panini press/grill/griddle combo, here are the best panini presses.
Best Overall: Hamilton Beach Electric Panini Press Grill with Locking Lid
What We Love: Compact, sturdy, floating lid prevents smooshed sandwiches
What We Don’t Love: No extra features
This overall pick is excellent if you're looking for bona fide pressed panini without having to leave your kitchen, and is made by a brand that you already know and love. The Hamilton Beach Electric Panini Press Grill is a great option for a family that enjoys a quickly grilled meal but wants something durable and easy to store.
The sandwich press's 10 x 8-inch nonstick surface can fit two sandwiches at once. Though it does not offer temperature control, a timer, or other electronic features, this model does have a floating lid, which means your delicate panini or beautiful piece of grilled salmon won’t get as smooshed as it otherwise would. And, its upright storage option makes it easy to store on the counter or in a nook of your cupboard. There are several color options—the red feels like it belongs in a little café in Naples—but no matter which one you pick, this is a very solid model.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 11.6 x 12.6 x 4.5 inches | Weight: 5.8 pounds | Wattage: 1400 W
Best Overall, Runner-Up: Cuisinart GR-6S Contact Griddler with Smoke-less Mode
What We Love: Sear function, durable, floating lid, dishwasher-safe plates
What We Don’t Love: Expensive
Are you really looking for an indoor grill that doesn’t smoke up your home, but will also handle grilled sandwiches? In that case, consider the Cuisinart Contact Griddler with Smoke-less Mode. It’s on the pricier side, yes, but has plenty of upgrades to offer.
First, the removable cooking plates offer several cooking surfaces and can be thrown into the dishwasher for easy clean-up. It has temperature control from 175 to 425 degrees, a dedicated sear function, and the floating lid can be fully opened if you need more than the 11.25 x 8.75-inch surface. In fact, there’s separate temperature control for the upper and the bottom plate. It has four preset modes: beef, poultry, fish, and pork, with everything set via the built-in LCD screen. So, yes, it’s more expensive than some others, but thanks to its versatility, it has more than earned a spot on my favorites list.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 11.5 x 10.5 x 7 inches | Weight: 10 pounds | Wattage: 1500 W
Best Budget: George Foreman 2-Serving Classic Plate Electric Indoor Grill And Panini Press
What We Love: Small, easy to store, iconic sloped surface for grease drainage
What We Don’t Love: Flimsier than other models
Buying a compact panini press shouldn't blow your monthly budget, and the George Foreman 2-Serving Classic Plate Electric Indoor Grill And Panini Press is, frankly, kind of a steal.
At just 10.5 x 7.5 inches, it’s definitely meant for small households too. You can cook up to 2 servings at a time and this is designed to take up 31 percent less storage space, meaning there’s likely room for it even in the tiniest of kitchens. It can be adjusted for different modes—flat is for panini and the classic George Foreman tilt is for lean grilling—and the durable nonstick coating makes for a quick wipe down to clean. It’s a bit flimsier than some of our other picks, but really can’t be beaten for the price.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 10.5 x x 7.5 x 3.1 inches| Weight: 3.6 pounds | Wattage: 760 W
Related: The Best Electric Griddles
Best Mini: Dash DMG001BK Mini Maker Portable Grill Machine + Panini Press
What We Love: Super compact, very lightweight, budget-friendly
What We Don’t Love: On the flimsier side
Be warned: upon opening the Dash Mini Maker Portable Grill Machine box, you may find yourself squealing “It’s so cute!!!!!,” especially if you opted for one of the more colorful models. And, honestly, it is very cute.
This is a great cooking device for college students, folks in RVs, those in smaller households, or anyone who doesn't want to pull out a full machine for a quick lunch. Intended to cook one serving on the 4-inch cook surface, it even comes with a recipe booklet to give you the full scope of what you can use it for. Along with paninis, it’s great for burgers, small cuts of lean meat, grilled cheese sandwiches, or individual s'mores. In other words, it’s cute AND functional.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 5 x 6 x 2.8 inches | Weight: 1 pound | Wattage: 350 W
Related: The Best Indoor Grills
Best Splurge: Breville BGR820XL The Smart Grill
What We Love: Highly versatile, easy to clean, interchangeable plates, floating lid
What We Don’t Love: Heavy, very expensive
The Breville Smart Grill & Griddle is the priciest on our list, but it's also the panini press/griddle/grill most likely to have your back, thanks to some top-of-the-line technology. It heats quickly and evenly and stays super hot if you want it to, thanks to Breville's proprietary technology that reacts automatically to temperature drops like if you open the top and a burst of cool air hits the griddle.
This converts from an open grill or griddle to a closed contact grill by simply adjusting the floating hinge that can also accommodate foods of different thicknesses, from Cubanos to a mini sandwich. The removable nonstick plates, which measure 13 x 10 inches, can be tossed in the dishwasher when everything's done. It’s a little heavy, but super smart and easy to use for many cooking applications.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 16 x 15 x 7 inches | Weight: 21.8 pounds | Wattage: 1800 W
Related: The Best Bread Knifes
If you're looking for an affordable sandwich press that can be easily cleaned and stored away, the Hamilton Beach Electric Panini Press Grill with Locking Lid (view at Amazon) is a surefire bet. Something more versatile is the Cuisinart GR-6S Contact Griddler with Smoke-less Mode (view at Amazon), but that may require dedicated counter space.
What to Look for in a Panini Press
Believe it or not, there are quite a few factors to consider when shopping for the perfect panini press. From materials to maintenance to the bells and whistles, here’s what you should consider before you commit.
Panini presses can come in aluminum, cast iron, and nonstick versions. Usually the most budget-friendly option, aluminum plating heats up quickly. It can be heavy and aluminum doesn't retain heat well. Cast iron can be even heavier than aluminum but are nonstick and easy to clean (just give it a wipe). They do require a bit more care, but they’re durable and will last forever. Nonstick surfaces can be a little fragile so you have to be sure not to scratch them, but do make for easy cleaning and require little to no oil.
Once you get out of the budget territory, most panini presses will be designed for easy cleaning. Either the plates will be cast iron, requiring a mere wipe down, or they may even have removable plates that can be thrown in the dishwasher. It does depend on the model, though, so check the cleaning instructions before you buy.
Special features of sandwich presses include floating hinges, timers, and precise temperature control. A floating hinge does what it sounds like—allows the top of the press to hover above your sandwich without crushing it. To be fair, even the presses without floating hinges don’t usually damage what you’re grilling, but if you’d like a gentler touch, go for the floating hinge.
For some, a timer may be unnecessary. If you find yourself multitasking through dinner prep, though, or find that a lot of what you cook ends up burnt, a timer could be a good option.
If you’re just making the occasional pressed sandwich, you may not need more than an on-off button. Not all panini presses have temperature control beyond an on/off button, but if you plan to use your press a bit more creatively, such as for grilling meat, it may be worth it to spring for one with temperature control.
What bread is the best for panini?
Generally, spongier, slightly denser breads are best for panini. Traditional Italian breads like focaccia or ciabatta are great options.
What other foods can you make on a panini press?
There are many foods that can be cooked on a panini press, including bacon, waffle cones, hash browns, and other crispy potatoes, chicken, veggies, and more. If you can grill it, you can probably cook it on a panini press.
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Christine Clark is a writer, cheese educator, and home cook. When she’s not writing about food, she’s generally cooking it. She loves a simple caprese panini, especially when made with summer tomatoes.
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