|Alternative names||Panini, panino imbottito|
|Place of origin||Italy|
|Serving temperature||Warm or room temperature|
|Main ingredients||Bread (not sliced bread), filling (salami, ham, cheese, mortadella)|
|Cookbook: Panino Media: Panino|
Examples of bread types used for panini are baguette, ciabatta, and michetta. The bread is cut horizontally and filled with deli ingredients such as cheese, ham, mortadella, salami, or other food, and often served warm after having been pressed by a warming grill. There is widespread availability and use of sandwich presses, often known as "panini presses" or "toasted sandwich makers".
In Italian the word panino [pa'ni:no] is the diminutive form of pane (bread) and refers to a bread roll. Panino imbottito (stuffed panino) refers to a sandwich, but the word panino is also often used alone to refer to a sandwich in general. The plural form of "panino" in Italian is panini.
Although the first U.S. reference to panini dates to 1956, and a precursor appeared in a 16th-century Italian cookbook, the sandwiches became trendy in Milanese bars, called paninoteche, in the 1970s and 1980s. Trendy U.S. restaurants, particularly in New York, began selling panini, whose popularity then spread to other U.S. cities, each producing distinctive variations of it.
During the 1980s, the term paninaro was used in Italy to denote a youngsters' culture typical of teenagers supposed to eat and meet in sandwich bars such as Milan's Al Panino and then in the first US-style fast food restaurants opened in Italy. Paninari were depicted as fashion-fixated, vain individuals, delighting in showcasing early 1980s status symbols such as Moncler accessories, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Timberland shoes, and articles from Armani, Coveri, Controvento. They were lampooned in the Italia 1 comedy show Drive-in by Enzo Braschi. A track entitled "Paninaro" appears on Pet Shop Boys' albums Disco and Alternative.
Panini sandwich grills
A panini press or grill is a type of contact grill designed specifically for heating sandwiches, meat products, vegetables, or specialty menu items. Almost exclusively powered by electric elements, it comprises a heated bottom plate that is fixed, with a heated top plate that closes on, and comes in contact with the food. The function of the Panini grill is to heat food to an appropriate internal temperature with desirable external characteristics (i.e. food safe, melted cheese, crisp finish, grill marks).
Designed for countertop use, these appliances meet the operational need for fast, consistent production of a la carte or small batch cooked products. Commercial Panini grills are a system of three main characteristics: (1) Platen Geometry and Material (2) Electrical Power, and (3) Hinge Mechanism and Contact. The various combinations of these individual aspects affect the performance of the grill. Performance is defined by such aspects as cooking time, finish of the cooked product, ease of operation & maintenance, and durability.
Platen geometry, material and finish
The most important consideration is what the finished food product needs to look like – with grill marks or without. As noted above, distinct grill marks are the hallmark of true panini sandwiches and add aesthetic appeal to meats and other foods. Platens may be available with grooves on both sides, flat on both sides, or with a flat bottom and grooved top. Typical sizes for commercial applications are 14 in (356 mm) square, or double-sized units approximately 28 in (711 mm) wide and 14 in (356 mm) deep with a single bottom platen and 
Cast iron has the highest heat capacity and the greatest mass, and therefore has better heat retention for cooking products that demand a greater heat load, including meats, proteins and frozen products. This material also has three times the weight of an equivalent aluminum platen, which can be useful if it is desirable to ‘press’ the product firmly. A Cuban sandwich is one food product where this is desirable.
Aluminum has the highest heat transfer rate – nearly five times that of cast iron. As a result, the surface temperatures of an aluminum platen will be more consistent, and recovery from load can be more rapid, depending on the type of thermostat controls and the wattage rating of the heating elements. Because aluminum is much lighter than iron, the top platen is not as heavy and will not tend to "press" the product, which is a desirable characteristic for more delicate products like tortillas, quesadillas, burritos, wraps and grilled sandwiches like the Melt and Reuben.
Non-stick coatings such as Teflon are also available for some panini grill platens. These coatings are typically applied to aluminum surfaces for optimal adhesion and durability, and facilitate kitchen cleaning operations. Extra care must be taken to prevent damage to such surfaces, which can be scraped, abraded and flake off if not cleaned properly and consistently.
Countertop panini grills are most often rated for 120-Volt (common to most homes and businesses in North America), 208-Volt and 240-Volt service. Power is measured in watts (or kilowatts), and is directly related to the applicable voltage and the current draw. Power, in watts, is the product of voltage (in volts) and current (in amperes), so a unit operating at 120 volts and 15 amperes draws 120 x 15 = 1800 watts of power. This can be important in determining operational needs if other factors are equal, as well as the size and rating of wiring and circuit breakers.
Panini grills with aluminum platens often do not require as much power as a cast iron unit with the same geometry. Because of the its high heat-transfer rate, high power draw in an aluminum plate could result in excess temperatures that burn the exterior of a food product before the interior has been heated to the desired temperature. Higher power ratings for the heavier cast iron platens are required due to their greater mass and heat capacity.
Hinge mechanism and contact
The type of hinge mechanism and the manner by which the top platen contacts the food product is one of the most important characteristics of a Panini grill, though it is often overlooked. The hinge on a Panini must be large enough to accommodate thick bread and tall sandwiches, as well as flat buns and thin cooked products. The hinge mechanism is a common failure point where components tend to degrade and loosen over time. The hinge and platen construction also dictate the manner in which the platen contacts the food – either flat, or at an angle. Both of these factors change operating characteristics and cooking quality of the appliance.
There are two basic styles of hinge commonly used, and more advanced, patented styles available through a variety of manufacturers.
The torsion spring is the most commonly used hinge style for this product category, and the least expensive. It is the default standard for residential grade products, though heavier versions are found in light-duty commercial grade Panini grills. Life expectancy of a commercial torsion spring hinge may be as high as 100,000 cycles, depending on the manufacturer, and considerably less for residential grade grills. Best suited for light-duty, low-volume applications where cost is a factor.
The counterweight-style hinge utilizes bearings or bushings at the pivot point, and an additional weight opposite the platen to balance the load. The resulting balanced weight of the platen, typically 3 lb (1.4 kg) to 5 lb (2.3 kg), is enough to maintain good contact and compression on sandwiches and meat products. This mechanism has fewer failure modes and will last considerably longer than torsion spring versions, with tests on some models exceeding 1,000,000 cycles.
Disadvantages to torsion spring and counterweight hinge mechanisms can be the steep angle the top platen makes to the bottom platen when making contact with the food product. Platen contact at this angle has two detrimental effects on the cooked product: Uneven compression, which tends to displace internal contents of sandwich products, and uneven heating of the cooked product which results in uneven coloring and even localized burning. Alternative construction methods tend to mitigate these problems.
A "floating head" design allows platen heads to self-level when in contact with the food, which reduces the tendency to displace sandwich contents, and generally improves heated contact between top and bottom platens. Level of the top platen will be affected by the food products, and if uneven by geometry or placement, the top platen may still contact at an angle.
Other hinge and platen mechanisms optimize food product contact with a modified lift mechanism that maintains parallelism between the top and bottom platens over a prescribed distance, and then inclining at an angle similar to those of typical designs. This technique ensures consistent contact over the entire surface, and tends to be more durable than other designs due to reduced mechanical stress. Typically used in high-volume applications where these characteristics are important, and offset the increased cost of the construction.
In popular culture
- In Rectify S2E4 ("Donald the Normal"), Daniel Holden, recently released after having served 20 years in prison, encounters his first panini bread sandwich while lunching with women he's just met at a museum in Atlanta. He is pleasantly surprised and remarks how good the "unusual bread is, and when his table mate says she is over "panini bread", he remarks that the "palini bread" is unusually fresh.
- Cheese sandwich, an American sandwich
- Croque-monsieur, a French sandwich
- Krampouz, a panini machines manufacturer
- Middleby Corporation, a panini sandwich grill manufacturer
- Pani ca meusa, a Sicilian sandwich
- Sandwich toaster, a press for alternative sandwiches
- Submarine sandwich, an American sandwich
- Zeldes, Leah A. (October 28, 2009). "Eat this! Panini, Italy's answer to grilled cheese". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
- "What is a Panini Press". indoorgrillreviews.com. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- "What is a Panini Grill". wisegeek.com. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- "10 Best-Rated Electric Panini Press & Grill Makers: Review 2013/2014". foodtips.org. Retrieved 2014-04-13.
- "Panini Grill". recipetips.com. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
- "About Panini Grills". paninigrills.com. Retrieved 2014-04-13.
- "Double-Sided Cooker Gallery". Food Equipment Reports. 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
- "Star Mfg. Pro-Lift Hinge". Objex Design. 2008. Retrieved 2014-04-21.
- "Rectify S2E4: Donald the Normal". Netflix.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Panini.|
- Katsigris, Costas & Thomas, Chris (2008). Design and Equipment for Restaurants and Foodservice: A Management View (Third ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 978-0-470-44082-7.
- Strahs, Kathy (2013). The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook: More Than 200 Perfect-Every-Time Recipes for Making Panini – and Lots of Other Things – on Your Panini Press or Other Countertop Grill. Harvard Common Press. ISBN 978-1-55832-792-4.
- Tripodi, Anthony Tripodi (2011). The Everything Panini Press Cookbook. Adams Media.