Commercial contact grill buying guide
There is an extraordinary amount of choice on the market when it comes to contact grills, and a few pointers from our handy buying guide can help you narrow your options down quickly, save you a lot of time, and make sure you end up with the right product.
There isn't much to worry about in terms of size and dimensions - these are all counter top units with approximately the same footprint (400/500 mm by 300/400mm). Some are a little bulkier than others but the difference is never huge. If you do have strict space restraints, simply check the dimensions in our product pages for each grill.
What are you grilling? Plate design.
Probably the main choice you need to make in relation to your commercial contact grill is heating plate design. Depending on the type of food you want to cook most frequently on your grill, you should choose from either a smooth surface grill, one with ribbed contact plates, or even one with a lower smooth contact plate and ribbed top plates.
Bread products like paninis or toasted sandwiches will cook perfectly fine on a smooth grill surface, but if you want those attractive light scorch lines on your bread you will need a grill with at least one ribbed contact plate. Grilling with a smooth surface can also add a kind of polished finish to toasted sandwiches, which may seem slightly unnatural to some customers.
Whole cuts of boned meats like steaks and chicken breasts also cook well on ribbed grills, but when it comes to things like burgers, or bacon, you could be better off with a decent flat surface to maximise contact area. A ribbed grill could cause burgers to disintegrate, for instance, although as a compromise you could try one with a smooth lower surface and ribbed upper plate, so you still get those desirable grill lines.
If you're selling paninis, toasted sandwiches, or any foods with variable thicknesses you really need top plates with either a floating hinge or an adjustable swivel head, like the Buffalo DM902 or the Pantheon CGS2S. This will let the grill adjust to the food you're cooking, and without this feature you might find sandwiches placed towards the rear of the plates get flattened a lot more than those at the front, and some of their contents squeezed out onto your grill plate.
Next decide whether you want a level grill or a slanted grill. Slanted, rib-grilled contact cookers were made famous in the domestic catering appliance world for their fat reduction capabilities, and in a commercial setting too they are great for fatty and greasy meat products - the slope and the low parts of the ribbing allow the liquids to run off from the food itself. On the other hand, if you want to use your grill to cook with a little bit of oil, it's probably not that helpful to have it all run off, so again opt for a smooth, level grill.
Electric contact grills with dual grilling surfaces (top and bottom are heated) are far more effective that those with only a heated lower surface - you'll need to repeatedly turn your food and cooking time will be doubled.
Easy cleaning features
Hopefully, your contact grill will get a lot of use, and a lot of wear and tear goes with that. Really, for consistent high quality results you need to clean your grill thoroughly after every service session and that could be twice per day, so anything you can do to reduce the effort that goes into cleaning will be worthwhile. Easy cleaning features like stainless steel construction and drip trays to catch run off liquids are fairly standard, but some models go the extra mile, for example utilising ceramic heating plates for even greater ease of cleaning.
Other than that, most commercial grill options are rugged cast iron. If you're only using your contact grill for "light duties" then one with a synthetic non stick surface could make sense, but for very heavy use, and the very heavy scrubbing and cleaning that goes with that, a cast iron surface will stand up to the test more.
A programmable timer with multiple settings is a nice feature that will help you achieve consistency (once you have worked out the right settings for your core products). Other feature to look out for are energy efficient elements and a low KW energy usage figure, but bear in mind this may be at the cost of some speed when achieving cooking temperature.