To unleash the power of the press, you have to choose wisely.
Published Oct. 4, 2019.
Grill presses, sometimes called bacon presses or steak weights, are heavy metal disks or rectangles that are placed on top of food as it cooks in a skillet or on a griddle. These weights press food against the cooking surface, preventing the food from curling or buckling as it cooks and ensuring that it browns evenly and completely. In diners, it’s common for professional short-order cooks to use grill presses to pin down steaks, burgers, fish fillets, sandwiches, and strips of bacon on the flat-top grills from which the presses get their name. We wanted to find out if these tools had a place in home kitchens, so we bought nine models, priced from about $11 to about $38, and used them while cooking bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches, and panini and while pan-searing salmon fillets, steaks, and burgers.
Testers were wowed by almost all the food we cooked with the grill presses. Salmon emerged with skin that was perfectly crisped, with no flabby spots and no buckling. Steaks had deep brown crusts from edge to edge on both sides—an impressive feat, considering that it can be a challenge to get a great sear on the second side of a steak after flipping it. Grilled cheese sandwiches sported dense, uniformly brown, and crunchy exteriors.
Still, a few factors made certain models easier to use and helped them perform better than others. Shape didn’t matter—round and rectangular models were equally successful—but surface area did. In general, it’s a good idea to use a press that’s at least as big as the food you’re cooking; the press can’t weigh down food it doesn’t touch. However, bigger wasn’t necessarily better: Although large presses of 40 square inches or more—about the size of a salad plate—could sometimes cover two or more pieces of food at a time, they usually didn’t perform very well when they did, delivering wan, wet salmon fillets, steaks, and burgers. Why? After a little experimentation, it became clear: The larger presses acted like lids, trapping heat and steam above and between the pieces of food, inhibiting the food’s ability to brown before it was cooked through.
Since larger models couldn’t effectively press more food at a time, we found we preferred smaller presses that were easier to maneuver and balance on foods—especially foods with rounded or irregular surfaces, such as the salmon fillets. Smaller presses also allowed us to more easily see the food as it was cooking so we could judge its doneness. A surface area of about 30 square inches (roughly the size of a paperback book) was ideal—big enough to press a large steak without becoming unwieldy.
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.