FOOD & WINE - The 5 Best Grill Presses for Smash Burgers and More, According to Chefs
Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with four decades of experience in the food industry. His written work appears in Food & Wine, Tasting Table, Serious Eats, and other publications. For this piece, he consulted Conner Gilbreath, Chef de Cuisine of Eberly in Austin, Texas, on what to look for in a grill press.
Factors to Consider
Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel
This answer lies in personal preference. Aesthetically, cast iron is timeless but ages into a patina, whereas stainless steel is shiny, but the finish can dull over time. Stainless steel is lighter weight, which may be a good option for people with strength or mobility issues, but it may be too lightweight to smash your burgers or press your sandwich to your liking, whereas cast iron removes all doubt of that. Cast iron heats evenly and has excellent heat retention, and stainless steel, unless clad, is an inferior heat conductor. Finally, stainless is easier to clean, as cast iron requires methodical cleaning and oiling to keep it rust-free. Weighing all the above factors, Conner Gilbreath, Chef de Cuisine of Eberly in Austin, Texas, says, “I vote cast iron. The upkeep is a little more tedious but worth it.”
Ridges vs. Smooth
This decision depends on your use and expectations. Ridges give grill marks, but the space between them also channels away grease and moisture, ensuring you’re grilling your food instead of steaming it. So, if you’re going to use your press with burgers or something similar, ridges are a good idea. You may also like the aesthetic of grill marks. On the other hand, a smooth design focuses weight and heat across the press, giving more even cooking and pressing. “I prefer a smooth design; it helps keep bacon completely flat while cooking for maximum crisp levels,” says Gilbreath. If crisp bacon or the flattest smash burgers are your goal, you might want to go with a flat press.
The number one question about a handle is whether it’s far enough from the press to keep your hand safe. If it’s too short, your knuckles will be up close and personal with the press’s body. From there, looks and comfort takes over. Gilbreath prefers “a wooden handle because it looks clean and sleek.” Wood is also durable and doesn’t conduct heat to the degree that metal does. But it will get hot, and if you’re not careful, it will burn. A plain metal handle will conduct heat but will also last longer. A coiled metal handle provides some temperature relief and is generally more comfortable. Rubberized grips are also good but are subject to temperature restrictions to prevent them from melting.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can you use a grill press for?
“The best use for a grill press is to ensure even searing or grilling on different proteins,” Gilbreath says. What does that mean? If you like extra crispy bacon, a grill press is your best friend, as it keeps the bacon from shriveling as the fat renders, keeping the lean part of the meat in contact with the pan or griddle for the entire cooking time, yielding crisp bacon. The same principle applies to smash burgers. A press can give them the crispy exterior this burger style is known for. You can also use them to press grilled cheese or panini to get that perfect combination of crisp and melty from your sandwich.
How do you use a grill press?
It’s a good idea to preheat your press, leaving it in the pan or on the skillet while it also preheats. Then, add your meat or sandwich to the cooking surface, place the hot press on top, and apply the appropriate pressure. That pressure varies depending on whether you’re toasting a sandwich or smashing a burger. You can just place the press on top of the strips for bacon without extra pressure. Gilbreath likes to use them on smash burgers “since it lets me get a nice even sear all the way across.”
When should you not use a grill press?
“Don't use a grill press with proteins that easily dry out. They can force out moisture. Proteins like chicken breasts are not ideal for the grill press,” says Gilbreath. Likewise, you’d probably avoid lean cuts of pork or beef, as they’re dependent on keeping moisture in for the best texture and flavor. Finally, never, ever use one on a piece of fish.