What Is the Difference Between a Panini Grill & a Press?

If you have ever enjoyed a patty melt of grilled cheese, you have tasted an Americanized version of a panini. Unlike American grilled cheese, panini are not pan-toasted in a skillet. The hallmark of a panini sandwich is the grill marks on both sides. This comes from using an outdoor grill to cook the sandwiches. Indoor cooks have to rely on a panini grill or a panini press.

Two halves of grilled cheese sandwich
credit: Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Grill marks on the bread elevate a simple grilled sandwich to a panini.

What's in a Name

The terms panini grill and panini press are often used interchangeably for the same product. Other names used include indoor grills or panini makers. The basic construction is the same. Two plates with a raised grill on each one are heated with an outside heat source or electricity. Technically, if the appliance creates heat to grill the panini, it should be called a panini grill. If it only presses and holds the sandwich as it cooks over an outside heat source, it should be called a panini press, since it only presses and does not cook the sandwich. Rather than examining the differences between a panini grill and press, look at how the manual and electric versions of these are different.

Manual Grill Press

A grill press can be thought of as a manual panini press for use when you camp or cook on top of the stove. The press needs a heat source to heat the cast-iron plates to warm the interior of the sandwich and toast the bread. These are used like camping waffle irons. Heat the press in a campfire or on top of the stove for five to 10 minutes before opening the plates and inserting the sandwich to finish cooking it. With the plates closed, you can flip the entire grill halfway through cooking to ensure both sides of the bread get toasted.

Electric Panini Grills

Electric models are often called panini grills, since they actively grill the food within the unit and do not need an additional heat source. These use nonstick grill plates that can be removed on some models from the appliance for easy cleaning. You need a nearby electric outlet to plug in the appliance and heat the plates for cooking the sandwich. If you have one of these models, you can also use it to grill thin pieces of meat to go on your sandwich. Thoroughly clean the grill after cooking meat on it to prevent cross-contamination.

Selecting a Model

The choice of a manual panini press or an electric panini grill depends on how you plan to make the panini. If you camp out frequently and would like to add paninis to your camping menu, opt for a manual panini press that can be used over an open fire. These are also good to have on hand if you have a fireplace and need to cook in a blackout. Electric panini grills take up more room in your kitchen, and, unless you use it often, the higher cost of the electric model might not be worth it. If you enjoy panini frequently and will use the grill for other meals, you might want to invest in an electric panini grill.