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November 2000
Short Report

Panini Grilling, Double Time

Whether grooved or flat-surfaced, today’s panini grills give you superior double-sided cooking ability to make those nifty sandwiches—and more—in a jiffy.

By Lisa Schwartz

Paninis—toasted, grill-marked sandwiches stuffed with ingredients—are popping up all over, as are the grills used to prepare them. And no wonder: Paninis are easy to make, and the countertop, grooved-surface grills can go just about anywhere.

But that doesn’t mean you should saunter out and plunk down money on any panini grill that looks good to you. We’re aware of seven suppliers selling this type of grill—Anetsberger Bros., Equipex Ltd., Lang Mfg., Silesia Grill Machines, Star Mfg. Co., Taylor Co. and Toastmaster—and among them we count 20 basic models. That’s quite a field.

So we’ve gathered info on key materials and operating features to help you sort out the options. We quizzed manufacturers, for example, about platen adjustment, heating elements and temperature control. And we noted special features and options.

“Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun…”
By definition, a panini grill cooks both sides of a sandwich simultaneously and makes those distinctive grill marks. Most panini grills feature grooves on both the top and bottom platens, although you can order a grill with just one grooved surface. And a grill with a smooth lower surface increases your versatility by allowing you to cook breakfast items, tortilla breads, Reubens and other sandwiches that don’t require grill marks.

All the electric models shown here are countertop units that can also be mounted on stands. You can order virtually any combination of flat or grooved surfaces for top and bottom platens for most of these models. And temperature adjustment for platens varies; some grills let you control upper and lower temps separately, while others only allow for one temp to be set top and bottom.

Before we look at models, consider how much product you expect to serve. Will you be grilling an occasional sandwich or loads of them? Big-time panini makers may need a larger grill and a higher voltage—say, 240V instead of 208V or 120V—which helps speed recovery.

Further, if you’re panini-ing in large volume, you’ll want to move the product through with efficient repeat-loading, which means using an upper platen that adjusts in a way that’s convenient for your staffers. Also consider who will be operating the machine. In operations with high turnover and lots of new people in training, you may want a unit with a timer.

You should think, too, about grill surfaces and which type will best suit your needs in terms of heat retention and recovery time. Materials used to cast platens include aluminum, iron and stainless steel, and sometimes these are nonstick coated. Remember that aluminum heats quickly but can lose heat quickly, too. Cast iron takes longer to heat but retains that heat a long time. And stainless steel, the most durable material of the three, heats quickly and distributes heat efficiently.

Panini Models From A To L

First up alphabetically, Anetsberger offers one model, the CG2000 GoldenGrill Two Sided Grill, with a variety of grooved and smooth steel platen combinations and a detachable Teflon sheet for the upper platen. The 220V, 12kW CG2000 is designed for high-volume production; six serpentine heating elements embedded in both the top and bottom platens ensure consistent temperature from corner to corner. The compact unit’s footprint measures 20 1/2”W x 33 1/4”D.

The CG2000’s upper platen is counter-balanced with springs and is adjustable to control downward pressure on sandwiches of differing heights.

Anets features include a solid-state digital controller that tracks time and temperature. Upper and lower grill temps can be controlled separately.

Daily maintenance involves cleaning the bottom plate while the grill is still warm and removing and washing the upper nonstick sheet. Depending on usage, that sheet may need to be replaced periodically.

Equipex offers three Sodir brand grills with fine-grain cast-iron platens, whose quality and density provide for consistent cooking. The Majestic, the papa bear of the line with a footprint of 24”W x 16”D (208V/240V, 4kW), has two independently controlled upper platens and is available in various combinations of grooved/smooth surfaces. The Panini, a 17”W x 16”D (120V or 208V/240V, 3kW) model, and the smaller Savoy, with a footprint of 13”W x 16”D (120V, 1.74kW), also come in grooved/smooth upper and lower combos.

Heating elements, laid down in a square shape around the periphery of the platens, are attached with pressure plates. The combination of the cast iron and the configuration and location of the heating elements allows Sodir grills to achieve surface temps up to 570
ºF, says the company. Controls set the same temps top and bottom.

On each Sodir model, the upper platen is counter-balanced by means of a tension spring at the back of the unit. The ease of platen lowering or lifting can be adjusted by loosening or tightening screws also at the back of the unit. As a result, an upper platen can be draped lightly on top of a sandwich or pressed down firmly.

After original seasoning of the unit, daily maintenance includes cleaning with the scraper provided for larger food pieces or wire-brushing the leftover greasy bits. If a more thorough cleaning is required—stripping with water or chemicals—reseasoning is recommended. Notable Sodir features include optional timers on all models.

The grill line from Lang gives you two Pane Bella options, the 25”W x 16”D model PB24 with two upper platens, and the 11”W x 16”D model PB12 with a single upper platen. The self-leveling cast-iron platens can be ordered with both smooth and grooved surfaces, and each grill section is independently time and temp controlled. The PB24 requires 208V or 240V and 3.2kW or 4.3kW, the PB12 120V or 240V and 1.62kW.

Lang heats its platens via sheathed tubular elements that are bolted to the cast iron in a spiral configuration. The elements are also insulated, and overall they’re designed to radiate more energy into the iron than into the air, says the company.

The upper platen is one counterbalanced, cantilevered assembly. Each Pane Bella ships with a lower hood stop that has four height positions, which allows you to stop the upper platen compression at whatever height you may need for more delicate fare.

Recommended daily maintenance includes thorough scraping and use of a liquid cleaner specifically designed for griddles.

Titans, Stars And Masters

Silesia Grill Machines sells five Titan models with cast aluminum, nonstick-coated platens: the T1G single with grooved top and bottom; the T1S single with smooth top and bottom; the T2G double with all grooved cooking surfaces; the T2S all-smooth double; and the T2C double with one side grooved top and bottom, the other smooth top and bottom. Single grills measure 15 6/8”W x 20 1/2”, while double models measure 31 3/8”W x 20 1/2”D.

Silesia’s energy inputs make its grills suitable for across-the-board volume situations. The T1G and T1S each run on 120V, 1.75kW or 208V/240V, 2.9kW, while the T2G, T2S and T2C, all 208V/240V, 5.8kW, deliver the higher power needed for greater volume.

There are no springs in the Silesia platen hinges, which means you can lower the upper platen to the product and adjust the platen vertically and laterally, applying more pressure on a sandwich than a spring mechanism might offer, says the company. The upper platen and hinge allow for any height and any thickness, accommodating up to a 5”-thick product.

Features on the Titan line include electronic timers. Cleaning requires scraping with a metal scraper into a large-capacity grease tray at the back of the grill.

Then there’s Star Mfg., the supplier in this group offering the most model options. If you count units by individual model numbers, you’ll come to more than 25. But that’s because the six basic models come in various grooved/smooth surface combinations and with optional timers, and each unique combination gets its own model number.

So the basic Star story is this: You can order single or double grills, with grooved and smooth upper and lower platen options. Those platens can be cast of iron or aluminum. Overall, grill dimensions range from 11 3/4”W x 21 1/8”D to 30”W x 24 3/4”D. And all heating elements are embedded within the platens in a serpentine pattern. Electrical requirements range from 120V, 1.8kW to 240V, 7.2kW.

Among notable Star features is the counter-balanced hinge system used to lower the top platen. The cantilevered design allows the top platen to float up and down easily on two points, and the upper platen accommodates a sandwich height of about 3”. Star models also let you set the top and bottom grill temps separately, or power the bottom grill only.

For all Star grills, daily maintenance includes seasoning in the a.m. and cleaning with hot soap and water. A stiff nylon brush can be used on grooved surfaces, a grill scraper on smooth surfaces.

Taylor/Carrier offers two models, the QS12 single grill and the QS24 double, with options for grooved upper and lower platens or a grooved/smooth combination. The QS12 is a 12”W x 35 1/2”D model, the QS24 a 24”W x 35 1/2”D unit. More importantly, the QS line is modular, meaning you can put a 12” and a 24” surface together, or fit a single upper platen on either the left or right side. Electrical requirements are standard, and total kW input runs between 9.6 and 15 depending on the number of upper platens.

Each Taylor platen is one single stainless casting with three embedded individually controlled heating elements. Thermocouples sense if a product is on a particular part of the grill, which in turn provides consistent heat and even temperatures even if you are using only part of the grill. Upper and lower grill temps can be set separately. Also, the upper platen is fitted with a detachable Teflon sheet to prevent sticking.

Gas cylinders mounted to the back of the lower plate are used to reinforce the arms and move the upper platen up and down. This allows you to raise the upper platen, leave it up, and then bring it down to rest on a product on the lower plate. And an infinite gapping mechanism on the upper platen accommodates varying product thicknesses up to 7.8”. So you simply turn a handle to a marking for the height adjustment you need, lock in place and lower.

Daily care includes a wipe down with a high-temperature grill cleaner, which helps dissolve grease accumulation and carbon buildup.

And finally, Toastmaster/Middleby offers four A710 models with a combination of grill surfaces, including one with grooved upper and lower platens. All models run 15 1/2”W x 18 7/16”D and are available in 120V, 1.65kw; 208V, 1.24kW or 240V, 1.65kW.

Cast-aluminum platens feature a DuPont SilverStone Supra nonstick coating. Heating elements are compression clamped to the grill areas to provide even surface temps. A three-position rocker switch lets you operate the top and bottom grills simultaneously, or the bottom grill only.

Each Toastmaster grill has a height adjustment knob at the back that holds the upper platen in place. The adjustment can be set for a specific sandwich height, from paper thin to 2” thick. Daily maintenance includes wiping down the nonstick surfaces with a paper towel and emptying the grease trough.

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