A panini is a grilled sandwich that is traditionally made on Italian bread. Commercial panini makers, however, are used by chefs to grill and toast an incredible variety of products. In fact, they are one of the most valuable and versatile pieces of cooking equipment available today, able to cook everything from sandwiches and wraps to burritos, vegetables and quesadillas. That is one reason why they are so popular with smaller restaurants and cafés looking to expand their menu selection. Panini makers work by heating both the top and bottom plates to form a cooking press, which is why they are also frequently referred to as panini presses. The cooking plates of a panini maker are typically made of either aluminum or cast iron with fine-grain cast iron cooking plates providing the best cooking results.
The plates of a panini grill can either be smooth and flat, or they can have grooves cut in them that produce attractive grill marks on the finished products. Units with grooved plates are typically called panini grills and are used primarily for cooking meats and fish, though they can, and frequently are, also be used to grill sandwiches as well. Many units even give you the option of having mixing smooth and grooved plates so that you can sear just one side or cook different products on the same machine. If you are going to be creating a large quantity of panini sandwiches, you may want to consider getting a grill with a split top. Split-top panini makers essentially have two grills side-by-side. These models are usually larger than full-top units, so you will want to check and make sure there is enough countertop space available. Lastly, many panini makers require special voltages and a dedicated circuit, so it is important to make sure that model you are interested in is wired to match your establishment and that you have enough space in your electrical panel.