Amazing things you didn’t know you could make in a panini press

If you received a panini press as a gift and feel a twinge of disappointment as you wonder why your loved one didn’t pick up on your Vitamix or Kitchenaid mixer hints, fret not. You may think this way-too-specific appliance is a dud because it’s designed to do one thing only, but I’d like to encourage you to think of its potential instead. Beyond pressing and grilling sandwiches, a panini press has the ability to function as one of the handiest helpers in the kitchen, maximizing your ability to whip up a variety of dishes better, more efficiently, and always with the innovative spirit at heart.

Intended purpose? Pshaw! Yes, sure, grill a sandwich with your panini press if you like. But you might be surprised to discover all the other amazing foods this awesome appliance can cook up if you’d only give it a chance. From everyday favorites like crisp bacon and golden hash browns to easy weeknight dinners starring chicken breasts and fish fillets to traditionally baked cookies and brownies, your seemingly mundane panini press is actually an efficient little beast in the kitchen.

Before you overlook your humble panini press and relegate it to some untouched corner in a tucked-away cabinet, take a gander at these creative ideas for how you can put it to excellent use. Like a secret sous chef, this benign sandwich press can help you achieve casual culinary stardom, handily cooking up proteins, veggies, and desserts like it’s no big deal. Ready, set, go.

Bacon

If you’ve only been making bacon in a skillet on the stovetop or in the oven, you’re missing out on the convenient experience of cooking your favorite pork strips in a panini press. Not only is this method fast and easy, the cleanup is so much faster! Simply arrange the strips of bacon in a single layer on the press, close the lid, and leave them alone. After about 10 minutes or so, you shall be rewarded with perfectly crispy bacon with most of its guilt-inducing fat rendered. If you clean the grooves while the press is still slightly warm, a brief wipe-down will do. The grease slides off immediately.

Need some guidance? Check out these helpful tips from Panini Happy and you’ll be cooking all your bacon in a panini press from here on out.

Hash browns

Crispy breakfast hash browns can be a reality any morning you like when you enlist the assistance of a panini press. Lay your potato mixture on the grill and press down. The built-in pressure from the lid and the intensified heat help the shredded potatoes caramelize quickly, resulting in picture-perfect golden brown edges and a crisp-tender center you can’t help but marvel at. Once you cook hash browns this way, you’ll never want to go back to skillet-cooking. Skip the hovering around the stove pressing down with a spatula and take the easy route to hash brown bliss.

For help on how to cook hash browns using a panini press, take a look at this streamlined recipe from Whole Made Living.

Brownies

This just in: you can make brownies using a panini press. Whoa. This game-changing technique lets you skip the oven and get straight to the brownies in much less time with way less effort. Not only can you whip up any old brownies in your trusty sandwich maker, you can cook up tasty ones that are decadently chocolatey, satisfyingly fudgy, and irresistibly chewy. Prepare the batter and transfer it to a round cake pan that’ll fit in your panini press, then close the lid and wait for the magic to happen. That’s it — eat brownies in about 20 minutes.

Go to Panini Happy if you need a specific brownie recipe.

Chicken

I kick myself sometimes when I think of all the years I wasted not cooking chicken on a panini press. While there is no shortage of ways to cook chicken, throwing a couple of breasts on a sandwich press is undoubtedly the easiest way to go. When you need grilled chicken to make Taco Tuesday happen, you just want to have the cooked chicken ready to go and not have to figure out a recipe right then and there. With the panini press, you only need to season the chicken with salt and pepper, then plop the cutlets on and close the lid. The machine does the rest of the work.

Omelets

As an unabashed egg lover, I’m always disproportionately ecstatic when I find new ways to prepare these delicious orbs. As such, I’m naturally obsessed with making omelets in the panini press. After all, this preparation of eggs is the most obvious thing when you think of it. Omelets are basically egg pancakes, making them an ideal food for a press of any kind. Simply prepare your whisked egg mixture as usual and pour over the grates, then close the lid. Remove the omelet and roll it up to enjoy. If you’re using veggie add-ins, grill them in the panini press first, then pour the egg mixture on top.

Let Alton Brown of Food Network show you how it’s done with this panini press omelet recipe that incorporates bacon and spinach.

Vegetables

Enjoy the warm weather feels of grilling food year-round when you use your panini press to cook vegetables 365 days a year. Achieve the impressive grill marks and charred smoky flavors of summer without going outside or cleaning your grill. Prepare your veggies by cutting them thinly, then arrange them in a single layer in the panini press. Close the lid and cook away. Whether you prep bell peppers, squash, or mushrooms, in no time your kitchen will smell like the best cookout in the neighborhood.

Get inspired to grill some seasonal veggies with your panini press with this easy-to-follow zucchini recipe from Food Thinker.

Burgers

In the vein of treating your panini press like a convenient indoor grill, try using it to cook burgers. Juicy, delectable burgers are a cinch to grill in the almighty press. Unlike cooking patties in a skillet, by using the panini press, you apply pressure to the meat uniformly, ensuring even cooking in addition to eliminating more of the fatty stuff. Healthier and delicious? Yes! You’ll revel in being able to achieve the smoky flavor of grilled burgers with little effort and easy cleanup.

Check out this panini press recipe from Good Stuff at Home for a little burger motivation.

Corn on the cob

Along with all the other amazing barbecue favorites you can cook with your panini maker, there’s classic corn on the cob. Brush the corn with butter or olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and spices as desired. Plop them in the panini press, close the lid, and cook. To get uniform grill marks, don’t forget to rotate them periodically. You’ll know you’re finished when the corn has clearly defined marks and the kernels have softened.

This recipe for Mexican corn from Mango & Tomato is spicy, bold, and rich. It’s certainly one vibrant direction to take your panini press corn.

Quesadillas

Like sandwiches, quesadillas benefit from applied pressure (usually from a spatula) to help intensify the heat and melt the cheese evenly. As such, they’re the perfect food for cooking in a panini maker. There’s no easier meal in the world than sticking some good melting cheese in between slices of soft tortillas and grilling in a sandwich press. Serve with your usual garnishes of chopped onions, cilantro, lime, and avocado for a meal that feels complete and takes less than 10 minutes to make.

Cookies

Yes, grilled cookies are a thing — and an easy one at that. I love baking cookies, but some days I just don’t feel like turning on the oven. On lazy days when I need a sugar fix, I flatten balls of cookie dough and throw them in the panini press instead. It’s a down-and-dirty method to help get cookies in hands as soon as humanly possible. I highly recommend you try this at home. By making cookies using your panini press instead of heating an entire oven, you save lots of energy. I mean, you only want to eat like, five cookies at a time anyway, right?

This recipe for chocolate chip cookies comes from Cook Kosher. Try it. Love it. Show others how to do it.

Cake

If making cookies using a panini press seems crazy, try making cake in one! The truth is that I often want cake, but maybe just not an entire 9-inch version all to myself. The good news? You can whip up some pretty adorable mini cakes using just a couple of ramekins and your reliable panini press. Prepare your favorite cake batter in a smaller quantity and transfer it to two greased ramekins. Place the cakes in your panini press and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Once they’re set, you can enjoy them individually or frost and stack them to create a small layered cake.

Need step-by-step instructions? Take a look at this panini press carrot cake recipe from the cake maven, Betty Crocker.

Flatbreads

Making flatbreads in a panini press seems like a natural thing to do when you consider that the intended purpose is to grill sandwiches, but it’s not the first thing that occurs to people. Let’s change that. You can make all varieties of quick-cooking flatbreads with your panini press. Whether you roll your favorite dough into perfect rounds or leave them misshapen and charmingly rustic, you’ll love the ease of being able to grill them in your press rather than worry about watching over them on the stovetop or overbaking them in the oven.

This recipe from Fine Cooking makes simple grilled flatbreads in the panini press that can be paired with veggies, meats, or whatever you want.

Waffle ice cream cones

If you’re feeling crafty, try making your own waffle ice cream cones using the panini press. While this DIY project may seem difficult, it’s actually quite easy. There are plenty of cone batters out there on the internets, so finding a simple one that uses everyday pantry ingredients isn’t difficult. Once you’ve whipped up an easy batter, just plop a few spoonfuls on the panini press and let them flatten and grill. When you remove them from the press, just roll them into a cone shape using a cut-out template while they’re still warm and hold the seam together to seal.

Try this delicious batter from Cupcake Project and have fun making cones from scratch.

Fish

Like chicken and burgers, fish is terrific food to cook using a panini press. Think of this awesome appliance as a useful indoor grill and take it from there. There are a ton reasons to incorporate more fish into your diet, yet people are resistant because it seems like a finicky ingredient to cook. Maybe but probably not when you opt to grill it with your panini press. Doing so makes preparing fish easy and makes cleanup a breeze, which might encourage you to eat fish even on the busiest of weeknights.

If you need a few pointers on how to grill fish effectively using your panini press, head on over to Livestrong.

Fritters

I understand they have no place in a healthy diet, but I have a weakness for fried foods. I want. The struggle is real. The concept of battered food fried in oil is gross slash appealing, but what if you want to skip the grease? Try making veggie fritters with your panini press instead of deep-frying them in a vat of oil, of course. Whether you opt for potato-based classics or shred zucchini or carrot instead, you’ll appreciate the ability of the panini press to deliver the savory, crispy fritter joy minus the guilt.

Whip up a batch of fritter batter like this veggie-forward one from Taste and cook them up in your panini maker. Oh, joy!

Starting to feel hopeful about all the possibilities for happiness in your relationship with your panini press? Good. Eating well doesn’t always have to be hard. Sometimes it’s straight up convenient and beyond easy.