A panini grill is a generally a small counter-top sized grill, comparable in size and function to a waffle iron. Heat is applied on both sides, but unlike the waffle iron, this grill is generally ridged, which produces an aesthetically pleasing set of brown bars on the top and bottom of the panino, the sandwich it grills.
Some confusion about the name panini grill exists. In Italy, where this appliance first became popular, the grill is simply called a panini. The grilled sandwich it produces is called a panino, or panini in the plural. The English translation has resulted in the sandwich, whether singular or plural, being referred to as panini. The grill used to make the sandwich is a panini grill. To make matters more confusing, panino in Italian can also refer simply to a round bread roll.
The panini grill is often seen throughout Italy at coffee carts, where one can get a hot sandwich filled with Italian meats like salami or ham, and cheeses like provolone. Bread used in Italy tends to be either the flat focaccia, or round, somewhat flat rolls. The panini's popularity in the United States continues to swell. Even fast food manufacturers like Jack-in-The-Box now offer a variety of these grilled sandwiches.
In the US and parts of Europe, one may order the traditional Italian panini, or panini with more exotic fillings. Well-known chefs have created panini recipes with chicken, sole and other meats, as well as vegetables, to add variety to the already popular Italian style. The panini grill has become a must-have appliance in the kitchen to create these warm and wonderful sandwiches with fillings of one’s choice. They are relatively inexpensive, ranging in price from under 100 to over 200 US dollars (USD). The standard grill can be used to make two sandwiches at a time, though for more money, one can purchase a larger panini grill.
The panini grill has the advantage of grilling a sandwich without adding additional fat, unlike grilling a sandwich in a pan. For those watching their weight, the panino can be grilled with low calorie ingredients, but still provide flavor and interest over the typical cold sandwich. Different breads with fewer carbohydrates can be substituted for white flour breads, as well. Cooking time is also quick; most sandwiches are grilled in a matter of minutes.
If one does not own a panini grill, there are several allowable substitutions. Panino can be prepared on a griddle or in a frying pan, although it will not look quite the same as one prepared in a grill. One also has to flip the panino when preparing the sandwich in this way, so both sides are equally hot.