The Best Ways to Use a Grill Press Beyond Smash Burgers
Chefs offer tips to flatten bacon, grill veggies, and make a perfect grilled cheese.
Some people might think of a grill press as a one-trick pony. And while the tool is certainly ideal to press down smash burgers and seer a steak, there are a ton of different ways to utilize a grill press—and you’re going to want to invest in one this summer.
Also known as a steak weight, the grill press is a cast iron tool that’ll bring your summer cookouts (or breakfast or lunch…) to the next level. Beyond that, it’s a great way to get picture-perfect grill likes on a panini, sear vegetables to perfection, and finally uncurl that bacon for your next brunch.
How to make the perfect smash burger
But let’s start with one of its most common uses: the burger. If anyone knows about perfecting the burger with a grill press, it’s Ty Goerke, the head chef at the restaurant chain Smashburger, and he’s more than happy to share his smashing best practices. He says that starting with a hot cooking surface of about 375 to 400 degrees is a must.
You’ll also want to warm up the press on the cooking surface itself or on a burner for about 10 minutes. Then put some unsalted butter on the grill which, Goerke says, adds a flavor boost and helps the meat get a little release from the surface.
When it comes to shaping your ground beef patties, Goerke recommends a blend of Angus and sirloin. It's not as much about the grade of beef as it is the fat-to-lean ratio. Since you want those burgers to be juicy and flavorful, he suggests going for 75-80% fat. “Anything leaner is going to lend itself to a little bit of a drier or tougher burger,” he says. Of course, if turkey or black bean burgers are more your speed, they still work with the grill press, too. It might also be helpful to use a grill press with edges that help contain the patties when they’re pressed.
Shape your ground beef into loosely packed patties to help their spreadability once they’re smashed. The second you place the patties on the hot surface, press down on them with your grill press, and then season amply with salt and pepper (and other seasonings of your choice).
“Once it starts percolating, it takes the seasonings and it dissolves them and it melts all of that season into the burger,” says Goerke. “So by getting that uniform thickness, it allows us to achieve uniform cooking, which helps bring all of the flavor and the seasons back into the burger.” Flip your burger—just once!—and top with cheese and you’re done.
Other meats you can use with a grill press
But grill presses are versatile tools beyond just burgers. Todd Ginsburg is an Atlanta-based chef and one of the brains behind Rye Restaurants which includes concepts like the sandwich joint Fred’s Meat & Bread and barbecue spot Wood’s Chapel—and he uses a grill press at all of them. “You get a much more consistent, golden crispiness, texture, and color when you use these weights,” he says.
Spatchcock chicken is one of Ginsburg’s favorite dishes to make using grill presses. He’ll typically get a pan hot over high heat and warm up some oil (think grape seed for a high smoking point) before putting the chicken in the pan skin side down.
“When you lay the chicken down in a pan, you’re going to weigh it. Then you're going to turn your pan down to medium, medium-high, and just let it get a slightly little bit of golden around the outside,” says Ginsburg. Then he’ll pop the pan into a 450-degree oven on the lowest rack for about 17 minutes before taking it out, removing the weight, and flipping the chicken over before possibly cooking it another minute or so.
The grill press is also a breakfast champion. Ginsburg, who uses the tool for crispy pastrami at his deli concept The General Muir, says that it’s a great way to keep bacon flat while cooking. Just place it on top of the bacon while it cooks in your pan and you’ll have an evenly cooked breakfast meat in no time (bonus points for reduced splatter, too).
Use a grill press for sandwiches, veggies, and fruits
Your summer fruits veggies can get a boost from the grill press, too. Bruce Hill, a chef and the inventor of the Chef’s Press, is a big proponent of using grill presses on vegetables. Just like some proteins need to be kept flat while cooking for an even sear, so do some veggies. Hill likes to use it on asparagus, which are thicker on one side than the other and therefore prone to not cooking evenly. Pineapples, sliced onion rings, peppers, and snow peas also can also benefit from the use of the grill press.
“Cauliflower is another one that’s really, really good because cauliflower is so dense. It needs some weight to hold it down,” says Hill. “We always love to recommend cauliflower steaks for people that are grilling.”
To prepare a cauliflower steak using the grill press, slice it through the core into about 4 pieces. Coat it in a thin layer of olive oil and season with the spices of your choice. Then place the cauliflower on a hot cooking surface and place the weight on top to help it cook evenly.
Hill actually invented his version of the grill press to cook grilled cheese sandwiches. “Any kind of sandwich that you want to toast on the outside, the Chef’s Press is amazing for that because you’re going to get a nice even browning,” he says.
If the sandwich is delicate, just one grill press will do. A bigger, heartier sandwich might call for additional presses for extra pressure. On Instagram, for example, food content creator Owen Han, whipped up a bresaola sandwich on a baguette. He placed the interior of the baguette on the pan and used a Chef’s Press to toast the inside before assembling the sandwich.
Of course, you could do this with any grill press at home, too, with any filling you desire.