If your customers are tiring of the old fashioned sandwich and want something a little different why not offer something warm, delicious and filling; the perfect alternative to standard two slices of bread and an unimaginative centre. A Panini press (or contact grill) can allow you to create heated lunch items for your customers with any number of tasty and imaginative fillings.
Gone are the days of dreary cheese on bread or a plain old chicken salad. With a Panini grill you can serve fillings such as grilled vegetables topped with melted mozzarella or chicken and pesto dressing delicately topped with a grated, melted cheese all encased within warm toasted ciabatta or facaccia bread.
A Panini press isn’t only suitable for the lunchtime rush but can also be used for other menu items as well. These may include stuffed French toast for those busy business workers rushing to fuel up before work making them ready for the day ahead or grilled tortilla chips smothered in a sauce for late night revellers who want something quick but not greasy. What’s best of all is that the simple contact grill is compact and fits neatly into any size kitchen. The countertop size and the versatility of a sandwich press makes this a must have piece of equipment for any café, bistro or restaurant.
Choosing a Panini Press
Typically Panini presses will have either aluminium or cast iron plates. Both come with their own positives and negatives, points that may help you make the right decision for your business when making a purchase.
Best suited to kitchens looking for occasional use equipment, aluminium plates benefit from rapid temperature heat up and fast recovery. Generally a cheaper alternative to cast iron, aluminium offers effective heat transference however will be quick to cool down and will require some use of a non-stick oil or spray.
Cast iron plates are ideal for kitchens that anticipate continuous use. Providing even heat distribution and good heat retention for uniformed grilling results these plates, when correctly seasoned, can produce a non-stick finish. Cast iron grills are generally more expensive to buy and will require a little extra work to achieve a non-stick finish. The heating of the grill will take time so don’t expect to switch on the power and get straight to work.
There are sandwich presses available with a non-stick finish which offer the benefits of aluminium such as easy to clean and quick heat up with the non-stick properties of a seasoned cast iron plate. These surfaces however may be easily scratched or damaged reducing effectiveness and the ability to withstand sticking. Vitroceramic or glass ceramic models are ideal, benefitting from rapid heating times, smoke free operation and are very easy to clean, however they will often come with a bigger price tag.
Quite simply these grills form a press for the food inside and by combining both top and bottom heated plates the food is cooked simultaneously and evenly on both sides and through to the filling. Plates are available either with a smooth finish, giving an even end result, or ribbed plates that will leave distinct grill lines on foods.
Great for; sandwiches, burritos and wraps.
Smooth plated grills maintain complete and uniform contact with contents. Delivering a clean finish these models are often thought to be the easiest to clean.
Great for; meats, vegetables, fish and sandwiches that require distinctive grill marks to enhance their appearance.
The grooves on these grills mean that only the ridged parts of the plate are actually touching the food therefore creating authentic branding and marking. The advantage of these ribbed plates is that vegetables or meats can easily appear as if they have been cooked over an open flame. The cleaning of grooved grill plates, although relatively easy is not as simple as when cleaning smooth plates.
If you can’t decide on which sort of plate you feel is most suited to your menu you could choose a mixed option. These presses offer the option of one smooth and one grooved plate giving the best of both worlds.
Single or Double?
Both single and double grills are available to meet the demands of any catering establishment. Single units are ideal when Panini’s form only a small percentage of your menu. Double presses have a larger plate area and therefore are capable of higher production. If you find that your new Panini press is drawing in the crowds you may want to invest in a double model with split top to increase output without compromising on quality. Models with twin upper plates such as the Lincat LG2, can offer greater versatility with each half able to be heated, controlled and used independently.
Although Panini presses are relatively simple to operate there are a few features that will make use a little easier. Consider whether the proposed equipment has temperature control. Different fillings and uses will require different heats; something which is easy to remedy with a temperature control feature.
Also pay attention to the hinges. This may seem a peculiar feature to note, after all if something opens and closes it must have hinges, right? It’s not the hinges per se but whether they are adjustable or counter-balanced. Being able to adjust the press to different thicknesses will ensure that a full and varied menu range can be produced.
A Panini press could be one of the main items that your business needs to allow you to expand your menu range and add new lunchtime and snack items to entice custom through your doors. It’s compact design, durability and incredible versatility means that your business could make major profits on a relatively low investment.