There are some things in your kitchen that you never really knew you needed until someone introduces it to you. One night, my former boss Derrick Tung and I were making small talk while I was on a shift. He casually mentioned a device I’d never heard of, a sandwich grill that compressed two pieces of bread together to create sort of a grilled cheese pocket.
Tung said he used it regularly to make after-school snacks when he was growing up, and it allowed him to experiment with food as a kid, which eventually led to his fascination with cooking. Years down the line, he ended up opening a restaurant (three, in fact).
One day, he handed me a box. “I got this for you,” he said. Yes, dear friends, it was a sandwich grill, the very one he was talking about.
This device, to be specific, is called the Cuisinart Sandwich Grill. It can make up to two sandwiches at a time, and it works by squashing two pieces of buttered sandwich bread on top of each other firmly, until they’re nicely grilled shut. The mold shapes each sandwich into two triangles, which you can tear or slice apart once the whole thing is done being toasted. You then have a supremely easy grilled cheese pocket that’s the perfect shape for holding and munching on or dipping into sauce or soup.
The Cuisinart Sandwich Grill has no controls. It doesn’t even have an on-or-off switch. After you plug it in, the indicator light on top stays red when the grill is coming up to temp, and switches to green when it’s ready to cook. Then you shove your sandwich ingredients right in, and shut the lid and clamp it shut using its latch.
The light will turn red again, indicating it’s cooking. Then, you know the sandwiches are done when the indicator light switches back from red to green. Red light, green light!
Nothing that comes out of this grill will be picturesque, because it’s like an elephant with a scorchingly hot ass sat on your sandwiches. But that’s okay. The upside of this is that the bread ends up crisp, toasted, and flat, which gives each pocket a fun texture when you take a bite. This high-pressure clamping feature turns the bread more into a shell rather than just toast.
Plus, it’s (un)scientifically proven that triangle-shaped sandwiches taste so much better than sandwiches cut any other way.
Of course, you can also stuff the sandwiches with anything you want, though I caution you to not overload them with fillings, because the Cuisinart Sandwich Grill doesn’t have a lot of room inside of it.
The easiest thing is adding a single slice of whatever deli meat you have on hand. But it doesn’t even just have to be cheese and meat. Peanut butter and jelly works too. Nutella and Marshmallow Fluff, anyone? What’s great is the simplicity: anything past two ingredients and you’re already risking ruining your sandwich. This forces you not to overthink it.
Of course, two ingredients doesn’t mean it has to be two simple ingredients. I put leftover bulgogi in with some American cheese to create a Korean cheesesteak pocket. Now that’s a Hot Pocket I can get behind.
Here’s the obvious thing, however: the Cuisinart Sandwich Grill is a total unitasker. I know how many of you feel about having a one-purpose item in your kitchen, and I don’t blame you. But, and this is a big but, if it’s within the range of your vision, you might find yourself reaching for the thing way more often than you thought you would.
Normally I keep it tucked away in a cupboard above my refrigerator (so supremely out of the way), but when I bring it out, I end up using it 4-5 times in one week, for meals and snacks. My fiancée always gets excited to see it, and for a work-at-home lunch, it can’t be beat. Hell, you could probably even bring one to the office and keep it on the counter for everyone to use.
One unfortunate issue I have with the Cuisinart Sandwich Grill, however, is that it’s a beast to clean. If cheese leaks out the back of the machine, good luck, grease is going to get stuck by screws, the hinges, in all the nooks and crannies you wouldn’t expect. You’re going to need a toothpick to get all that stuff out, and at some point you’ll probably get so frustrated you’ll just let sleeping dogs lie.
I think in the end, you should have at least one or two things in the kitchen that make you happy, even if they aren’t always utilitarian. I’ve got my penguin bowl for soup and noodles, and I’ve got my trusty Cuisinart Sandwich Grill, which provides a different version of comfort, just between two slices of pressed and toasted bread.
I’ll worry about cleaning it out another day.