A panino (the singular version of the Italian word "panini") is a grilled sandwich made trendy in Milan, Italy during the 1970's. Soon they became popular in New York and quickly spread to other American cities, each making their own using favorite regional ingredients. They also are made using different types of bread such as ciabatta, focaccia, naan or even tortillas.
What is a Panini Press?
Simple to use, a commercial sandwich press has two heated plates made of cast iron, aluminum or stainless steel. The sandwich is pressed between the plates, melting the cheese and heating the meats and vegetables all the way through, while toasting the bread to make a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-in-the-middle sandwich. The cooking plates can have a solid smooth surface, or can be grooved to give that "fresh-off-the-grill" look to your menu items. These cooking plates are usually removable as well, making them easy to clean.
A commercial panini press has an electrically heated bottom plate, or can have both a heated bottom and top plate to decrease cooking time. These accommodate one or two sandwiches, and double, side-by-side presses can make twice the number of food items at once. Presses that offer side-by-side cooking surfaces have individual controls for each one so that items can be cooked at different temperatures at the same time.
Cast iron plates retain and distribute heat very well, providing consistent temperatures and nice grill marks when using grooved plates. They also tend to be quite a bit heavier than other plate types, making for a better pressing of the ingredients.
Stainless steel is another popular, durable cooking plate material. Stainless steel is durable and easy to clean. Often, stainless steel plates will also come with an easy-to-clean non-stick coating straight from the factory. With a corrosion-resistant surface and minimum maintenance requirements, stainless plates are a common and affordable solution.
Because aluminum is less dense than cast iron, aluminum plates offer nearly five times the rate of heat transfer. As a result, aluminum plates heat up quicker after each use. Most aluminum plates are also coated with a non-stick surface for easy cleaning.
Care and Maintenance
All presses have cooking surfaces that have been treated at the factory to some degree to make them non-stick. That said, they should still be wiped down with a soft, clean cloth after each use. This is particularly important when cooking different kinds of foods, not only for flavor transfer but also to avoid cross-contamination. Many of your patrons may have food allergies, so keeping your cooking plates clean is more than a courtesy, it is a health concern. Be careful when using sharp utensils on cast iron or stainless steel plates as these can cause small dents or pits in the surface which can cause food to stick or allow rust or bacteria to form.
Depending on the thickness of the food you will be cooking, you will need to consider the space between the plates. Check the manufacturer's specifications to see the minimum and maximum amount of space a grill will allow.
Some presses have a programmable feature which will enable you to set a standard cooking time in order to produce a consistent product. This can be very useful, especially in kitchens with less experienced cooks. Additional capabilities that help you keep your grills clean and avoid flavor transfer are splash guards and drip drawers or trays, which will come in handy when you cook messy foods on your unit.