How to make panini sandwiches

Today I thought I’d share how I make paninis, since multiple readers have been asking me about this.

Paninis are a great way to use up odds and ends of food (yay for avoiding food waste!)…you can use pretty much any combination of meats, vegetables, and cheeses and still end up with a tasty sandwich.

I don’t imagine that my method is THE correct panini-making method (if there is such a thing!), but it works for us.

I start with a loaf of homemade French bread.

You most certainly can use other breads, though…I’ve used sandwich bread and whole wheat bread in the past, and the sandwiches were delicious. And if you aren’t inclined to make your own bread, a sturdy purchased bread will work well too. Just make sure that the bread isn’t too soft, or it will squish down into nothingness when you try to make it into a panini.

I don’t actually own a panini-maker…I have a pan with ridges in the bottom that I got as a hand-me-down, so I put my sandwiches in that and I use a cast-iron skillet as a weight to do the, um, squishing.

I am sure there is a better term for that.

Maybe “pressing”?

Anyway, while I’m prepping the sandwiches, I put both pans on the stove over medium heat.

I cut the bread into slices about 3/4 inch thick.

You can also slice the bread lengthwise, as I did in this older post (scroll down to see the sandwich). This is a little more authentic, I think, but we all kind of prefer our paninis to be made with regular slices of bread.

I lay my bread slices out and put sliced cheese on each piece of bread. You could put cheese on only one side but I find that having it on both sides helps the sandwich to stay together a little better.

After that, I add whatever filling I happen to have around.

Roast beef and mushrooms are my husband’s favorite.

I had sauteed peppers and onions left from our Chicken Tacos, so that’s what I put in mine.

Incidentally, I’m having a love affair with sauteed onions right now. I don’t really love raw onions, but my goodness! When they’re sauteed with a little butter and sprinkled with a bit of salt, they are so, so good.

Cilantro pesto with chicken makes a good filling (I usually add some mayo when I use that combo), and so do ham and cheese. In the summer, I like to combine chicken, fresh, seeded tomato slices, sauteed onion, and basil. And of course, just cheese works very well too.

Anyhow. I close up the sandwich and then butter both sides of the sandwich.

I then place the sandwich(es) into the heated grill pan.

And I put the heated cast iron pan right on top of the sandwiches. This would work a little bit better if I had a larger cast-iron pan, but my other one is so big, it won’t fit into my grill pan.

I cook the sandwiches for 3-5 minutes, or until they look browned, and then I flip them over, place the cast iron skillet back on top, and cook them until the cheese is melted and the underside is browned.

So tasty! I kind of want one for breakfast now (speaking of which, you can make paninis with eggs and cheese for breakfast).

If you don’t own a ridged pan, you can make your paninis in a regular, flat frying pan. Just use something heavy (bricks wrapped in foil work as well as a heavy pan) to weigh the sandwiches down.

Of course, there’s also the option of buying a real panini press (if you want to go that route, Cook’s recommends a Krups version for $73), but since using what you already have is free, I’d recommend giving that a try first. ;)

How do you make paninis? If you’ve got another alternate cooking method, do share! And if you’ve discovered a particularly tasty filling combination, share that too…I’m always looking for new panini ideas.


  1. says

    Your recipes are fantastic! Just wanted to let you know that I tried your chicken tacos yesterday BUT pressed them in a pannini and they came out delish! I used a soft tortilla, filled them with cheddar cheese and the chicken taco mix, pressed them and they were delicious. A side of sour creme (low fat) and salsa and the meal was complete.


  2. dogear6 says

    I use my George Foreman grill to make pannini’s! It’s also great for grilled zucchini when the weather is too nasty to be outside on the grill.

    • Kristen says

      No, I don’t think so! My ridged skillet is just a plain non-stick kind of pan…I just use a cast-iron pan as a weight, since it’s so heavy.

      Foil-wrapped bricks could substitute as a weight, and I know you can also buy a panini weight (I think it’s called a panini press, but it’s just a heavy, flat thing with a handle, not an electric panini grill).

    • Kristen says

      You could totally do these for a Meatless Monday meal…the one I made with just peppers, onions, and cheese was soooo good.

  3. BarbS says

    Those look yummy! Making me hungry already :-)

    I do have a question for you, though. How do you clean your grill pan? I have a cast-iron skillet thingie (it goes over two burners on the stove), and the under-side is shaped like your grill pan. I find cleaning it to be quite a challenge. Any suggestions?

      • BarbS says

        Yes, it’s reversible. It’s flat and fits over two burners on the stove. One side is smooth, and I use it for pancakes. The other side is ridged, like Kristen’s grill pan. But boy oh boy, cleaning out all the greasy ridges is a pain. I’ve only used it once, because the time it took to clean out the hamburger grease just wasn’t worth it to me.

        But for pancakes, it’s fantastic!

  4. says

    I use our Foreman grill for panini with great success. Our favorite has salami, provolone, and spinach from the garden. I also brush the sides with olive oil instead of butter; it seems to be a little easier (for me, anyway).

    I found a brand new, in-in-the-box panini grill (Krups, I think) a few years ago at a yard sale for $8! I couldn’t believe they were selling it, but people at that house couldn’t have gluten so didn’t make panini. I gave it as a wedding present because we already had the Foreman grill.

  5. says

    I make paninis all the time. I agree that they are a great way to use up leftovers. Slice up a leftover pork chop or chicken breast, add a bit of BBQ sauce, some grilled onions and cheese. Very good. Pretty much anything you’ve got leftover can either be used in a panini or quick burrito. I love quick meals!

  6. WilliamB says

    If you like sauteed onions, have you tried carmelized onions? They’re easier to make in large quantities; excess can be frozen. More info available upon request.

      • WilliamB says

        The trick is dependent on the fact that onions sweat a lot of liquid as they cook. So a lot of onions sweat a lot of liquid. A pot of onions with a lot of liquid won’t burn. Therefore, slice up enough onions to 3/4 fill a big pot with a lid – I use a 3 qt Le Creuset pot. Heat a couple T of fat in the pot, add the onions, toss to distribute the fat, cover, and cook at medium-low heat for a long time (40 min?), stirring every 5-10 min. At first nothing will happen, then it’ll look like they’re boiling themselves, then the liquid will start to disappear (I don’t know if it evaporates or get reabsorbed but my money is on the former). Just keep stirring every now and then.

        Eventually the liquid will be gone and your easy ride is over, but the onions should be light or medium brown already. Now you have to stir the onions every minute or so, or maybe even more frequently – sorry I can’t be more specific, I’ve never timed myself. If you want them to carmelize faster, add 1-2 t. sugar. As the onions get darker and darker, you have to stir more and more to keep them from burning. They also get sweeter and sweeter, till you can’t grasp the fact that they used to be harsh-tasting tear-inducing raw onions. They’re done when you like the color/texture/taste or you’re bored stirring.

  7. says

    Good heavens, those look divine! Amazing how something so frugal can look (and taste) so good. I’m totally inspired to have paninis for dinner tonight.

    And I’m with WilliamB–sauteed onions are delish, but caramalized onions are heavenly. I’m not much of a fan of raw onions either, but I can eat an embarrassing amount of sauteed or caramelized ones.

    Oh, my, I’m so hungry now! Good thing it’s lunch time!

  8. Jan says

    I make mine with the George Foreman grill that I don’t use otherwise (because it’s a nightmare to clean). Speaking of caramelized onions: you can easily make a batch in the crockpot. Or mushrooms, if you get a bunch on sale that you want to use (and not waste?)

    • says

      The best and easiest way I’ve found to clean the Foreman grill is have a damp rag ready, and when you finish, lay the rag on the grill, close it and turn off the heat. It will steam everything and when the rag cools to where you can touch it, most everything will wipe right off! You will have to wring out the rag a few times and keep wiping until it’s clean. I finish up with a clean, damp rag to make sure everything is cleaned off.

  9. says

    We used to use our George Foreman to make them, but I hated cleaning it. A few months ago we were at Homegoods stalking a set of end tables and found a grill pan like yours, but square that came with a “panini press” which is the same as the bottom of the grill pan with the ridges, but slightly smaller so it fits inside the pan and has a cool touch handle on top. So you heat your pan with the “press” resting in place in the pan, then remove the press, add your sandwiches and replace the press. Voila, no flipping required! We use the grill pan without the press to grill veggies on the stove top as well. The whole thing cost $20 I think.

  10. Susan McIntyre says

    Please don’t laugh, but I use my Black & Decker Waffle maker for these! I know it sounds crazy, but it works just fine. The only difference from a panini maker is instead of lines, you get little squares! :-)

    • says

      Please don’t laugh that I think that’s a great idea! Honestly, I’ve been trying to justify purchasing a waffle maker. We love waffles but rarely ever go out for breakfast (and haven’t found a good waffle place in our city anyway), but I’ve had a hard time rationalizing buying a waffle maker! Maybe I’ll just make paninis with it, too, and call it a multitasker. :-)

  11. says

    I have one of those little mini grills that have the switchable plates. Mine has waffle, panini, flat and pocket plates. I got it for christmas and I use it for these delicious sandwiches. Even just for grilled cheese when I don’t want to wash a pan. The plates come off and are easy to rinse. Mine is a procter silex.

  12. says

    Yay! Thank you for this recipe! I’ve been waiting for a new one to try. I’ve tried just about all of the other ones that you posted and they are instant favorites :)

  13. says

    Thanks for the great tutorial, Kristen. We love grilled cheese sandwiches, and will have to get more creative and try these. I could see this becoming one of my husband’s specialties. He does the pasta dinners and also homemade pizza on friday night.

    Also, I look forward to the apple pfannekuchen recipe, because we have an anniversary party to attend and the guests of honor are a couple from Germany. I know my friend (their daughter) will ask me to bring a dessert and this one sounds perfect.

    Oh, and carmelized onions are so easy and I love them and used to hate onions. They make almost any dish taste better. Just thinly slice onions and saute in olive oil for a LONG TIME. You can actually cook them up to an hour or more. At some point they carmelize, and then at another point they become crispy. Both are delicious in different ways.

  14. CathyG says

    I have to comment on the buttering of the bread – I do it a different way that doesn’t get any on your hands:

    Butter 2 slices of bread, then stack them together with the butter on the inside, like you are making a butter sandwich. Put all your toppings on top of the stack. When you are ready to grill, lift up the top piece of bread with all the toppings and place it in your pan. The butter will be on the bottom. Then put the other piece of bread on top of the stack with the butter on the top. Voila – no butter on your hands.

  15. Stephanie says

    These look delicious! It’s a simple enough recipe, and being able to use store-bought bread with anything in the middles?! Awesome! MIght have to try for lunch tomorrow!

  16. says

    I use my little George Forman grill… it has ridges and squishes :) the sandwiches very well. I hate using it for meat, but it works super for paninis. I like sourdough, with my leftover herb baked chicken and some onions and provolone… very scrumptious!

  17. Lynnessa says

    FYI – They had panini grills at my ALDI this week for only $25. I was tempted to buy one after this post! Thanks for the panini ideas :)

  18. Stephanie says

    Just got done making some of these, and DELISH!!! I made “pizza paninis” with a bit of pizza sauce, pepperoni, and mozzerella cheese. I used olive oil on the outside, and let me tell you, they were a HIT! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

  19. Rebelmum says

    Thanks for this – I came across it while looking for bread recipes for our new bread machine, and this was a perfect way to use up some of the trial breads!
    My 3.5yo son and I enjoyed paninis for lunch today, and I did it exactly the same way you did – perfect!
    Didn’t oil or butter the bread though, just used cheese and ham, and it was still delicious.

  20. Sarah says

    Panini’s are delicious! I make mine on the George Foreman grill and it works great. Latest one, sourdough bread, pepper jack cheese, cajun deli turkey, tomato and avocado. DELICIOUS!

    Great website by the way. Very helpful with the pictures!

  21. Peter says

    I love that the first Google search result which pops up when I needed to figure out how to make panini is my old piano teacher’s blog. Thanks Kristen, I’m eating well tonight!

  22. Nick says

    Once you eat a perfect Panini (it takes just once) to be addicted to this specialty sandwich. My addiction and craving arising from the lingering memory of the perfect panini I had once makes me yearn for this beloved food. I scour the internet looking for every trace, mention, recipes, books, blogs, utensils etc that will lead me to a perfect panini again…. and then to be evermore intensified in my panini addiction. Then I discover your (old) blog, which is still as new as ever.

    Kristen, your blog (May 26, 2010) pictorially laid out the steps to making a great panini. It was also a fabulous enabler to my panini addiction. It incited my craving to devour another panini. Please don’t think you did anything wrong. This, my only addition, is the best of all the additions anyone could have :)

    Panini: The best of all sandwiches. Buttery crisp and crunchy on the outside with nostalgic grill marks. Inside deliciously soft and gooey and a bite into pleasing veggies and satisfying meat of your choice.

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