I Used My Cast-Iron Skillet as a Panini Press, and It's the Only Way I'll Be Making Paninis From Now On

Skillets truly make the Southern cooking world go 'round.

Cast Iron Skillet as Panini Press
Photo: Emma Phelps

The beauty of a cast-iron skillet is not a new concept to Southerners. I didn't truly understand the value of a cast-iron skillet in a Southern kitchen until my best friend gifted one to me for my sixteenth birthday – that's what I call true dedication to the art of cast-iron cooking. My trusty cast-iron pan made the journey with me from Virginia to Alabama when I moved after college, and has more than proved its worth as a staple in my kitchen.

From baking apple pies to frying bacon, I was already convinced there wasn't much I couldn't make in the kitchen with my cast-iron pan in tow. I recently learned from another editor that a cast-iron pan could be used as a makeshift panini press, and, of course, I had to put my cast-iron skillet to the test. The panini station at my university's dining hall was my go-to lunch station, so I was not about to pass the opportunity for replicating a hot and crispy sandwich in my own kitchen.

I searched the internet to learn how other people use their cast-iron pans as panini presses before I began my panini-making experiment. Spoiler alert: The result of my experiment was a compact and wonderfully crisp sandwich. After having tried this method a few times, here are my tips for how to press a panini with a skillet:

One cast iron pan is sufficient.

Some sources said to use two cast-iron pans: one on the burner cooking your sandwich and the other placed on top of your sandwich. Since I only have one cast-iron pan, I placed a non-stick pan on the burner, and it got the job done.

Allow the pan to heat up before adding your sandwich.

I waited to add my sandwich until I knew the pan was hot – about medium heat – since you'd typically wait for a panini press to heat up.

Additional weight on top of the cast iron skillet isn't necessary.

Online sources also suggested placing additional weight on top of the cast iron pan. I didn't find this necessary as my sandwich wasn't piled high. If your cast-iron is balanced properly on top of the sandwich, the gentle pressure should be enough to evenly toast the bottom slice of bread.

Be wary of oil.

I spread pesto on my sandwich to make a turkey caprese, and the oil from the pesto leaked onto the pan as the sandwich warmed. If you're not a fan of one side of your sandwich being less toasted due to an oil slick, just use a smaller amount of your condiment of choice when making your sandwich.

Heat each side of your sandwich for approximately 3 minutes.

If you allow your pan to heat up before adding your sandwich, each side of the sandwich only needs a small amount of time to toast.

The result should be a delicious, toasted sandwich that makes you question the necessity of a separate panini appliance. The bottom of your cast iron pan shouldn't be soiled unless your cheese spreads onto the pan while toasting. When you're done cooking, be sure to wipe off your cast iron. If you do need to wash your cast-iron skillet, make sure to properly season it afterward.

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