Preparing tofu is a lot like playing the guitar.
Anybody can do it, but it takes practice, research, and dedication to truly master the craft.
In my earliest days of working with tofu, I didn’t do much (read: anything) to prepare it for recipes.
I’d cube a block fresh from the package, stir-fry it with some vegetables, and lament about how it didn’t come close to the tofu I so loved from my local Chinese restaurant.
I finally learned that good tofu was synonymous with dry tofu – by pressing water out, it made a better texture and made more room in the tofu for flavor through marinades.
So, I started pressing my tofu the way a lot of folks do at home – wrapping the blocks of tofu in paper towels or dish cloths and balancing some heavy books or a cast-iron pan on top to press the water out.
This got me closer to what I was looking for, but it still wasn’t perfect. On top of that, this method created a lot of waste between the paper towels in the trash and dish cloths in the laundry basket.
Perfection happened when I discovered the wonderful world of the tofu press. So much so, that when asked what single kitchen gadget has changed my life the most, the humble tofu press wins hands-down.
What is a Tofu Press?
So aside from being life-changing, what the heck is a tofu press, anyway?
At a very basic level, a tofu press is a contraption that removes the water from your tofu, resulting in a denser block of tofu with great texture.
By removing the water, you’re able to replace it with flavor via marinades and dressings, and the bone-dry protein is much safer to fry in oil since there is no water to create dangerous spattering.
It gets crispier, too! When your tofu is super dry, you can achieve that gorgeous golden crunchy crust on your tofu cubes.
Tofu presses come in two basic styles
some consist of two plastic or metal plates that you tighten using tension knobs, while other models use a small box with a spring-loaded plate that forces water out of your tofu.
Like anything, there are pros and cons to each style, and which one you choose comes down to your needs and preferences.
Plate Style Tofu Presses
You can think of plate-style presses like a vice for your tofu – the tofu is placed between two plastic or metal slabs, which are then tightened using 2-4 adjustable screws.
Plate-style tofu presses are simple, don’t take up much space in your cabinets, and tend to be the most economical option as far as tofu presses go.
While the plate-style press is a good option for people who don’t want to drop a lot of cash on something they aren’t sure they’re going to use, it does require more attention out of both models – you’ll need to tighten the screws every so often to accommodate for your shrinking tofu.
Ain’t nobody got time of dat!
Additionally, there is a bit of a learning curve to get the tofu placed just right as to ensure a consistently pressed, even final product.
On the plus side, in addition to its affordability, the plate-style press takes up basically no room on your counter or in your cabinets.
The structure of the plates means you can press any size or shape of tofu, making it a great option for people who make homemade tofu, or if you want to press a single serving at a time.
Ideal For: Anyone looking for something cheap – this is probably your best choice.
Box Style Tofu Presses
In these models of tofu press, your block of tofu is placed into a plastic or metal container, where a spring-loaded or heavily weighted plate pushes down on the block of tofu, pressing water out and creating a dense and chewy protein.
Unlike plate-style presses, box models can only take a standard size block of tofu – a perfectly rectangular one-pound block – without much flexibility for size or shape.
Using any other size, smaller or larger or squigglier, can result in uneven pressing, cracks in the tofu, and inconsistent results.
However, box presses are super convenient in that once they’re set up, they’ll continue to press and don’t require any additional attention from you, whereas you need to continually tighten the screws of a plate-style press
You can toss an assembled box press in the fridge when you leave for work and come home to a block of tofu ready for the frying pan – the spring/weight does all the work while you’re away.
Ideal For: Anyone looking for the best value and to save time – this is probably your best choice.
What Kind of Tofu Should I Press?
As I mention in our complete guide to tofu, tofu comes in many textures and consistencies, some better suited to pressing than others.
In general, you’ll only want to press tofu that you would use in stir-fry or salad.
Stick with firm and extra-firm varieties for the best results, since they will hold their shape throughout the pressing process.
Soft and silken tofu, which are best used for blending into creamy sauces and smoothies, will result in a unappetizing paste if you try to press them.
Recommended Tofu Presses
I’ve compiled a list of three solid products in varying styles and price points for you to consider as you’re thinking about which tofu press best meets your culinary and budget needs.
Best Overall Value – Top Pick!
I’ll be completely transparent here and say that I own, and love, the TofuXpress.
A good middle ground price-wise, the TofuXpress won’t make a big dent in your budget, but is of high enough quality where it won’t break (even if, like me, you’re using the thing several times a week).
One of my favorite features of the TofuXpress is that it is compact, and you can use it as is – no need for any baking pans to catch water, etc.
The TofuXpress also comes with a separate lid and doubles as a marinating dish. The spring-loaded press removes the most water possible from the tofu and allows the liquid to be easily poured off with minimal mess.
The one downside of this particular press is the size – it works perfect for evenly pressing a single one-pound block of tofu at a time. You’ll have to press anything larger in separate pieces, and smaller pieces tend to come out a little funny-looking unless you center everything perfectly.
However, I find it much easier to press the entire block at once and store the pressed pieces in the refrigerator for later use.
I’ve had my little press for years now, and even after using it several times a week since purchase, I still get consistently great results.Check Price on Amazon
The Ferrari of Tofu Presses (Very High Quality)
Made from stainless steel and applying 4.5 pounds of pressure to your tofu, the Ninja Press is the Ferrari of tofu presses, promising to remove 35% of the tofu’s weight in water.
The Ninja Press is an extremely high quality piece and will probably last you long enough to become a family heirloom.
However, at $100 a pop, it can be cost-prohibitive, especially if you’re not someone who eats a ton of tofu throughout the week.
People do note that this press comes in handy for more than just tofu – including squeezing water out of potatoes for home fries or shaping vegan sliders – but even then, a hundred dollars can be a lot of money to drop on a single kitchen gadget.
While it does an excellent job at creating a pressed slab of tofu, it doesn’t do much else, so this may be more than you’re looking to spend on a press.Check Price on Amazon
Best For Those on a Budget
The Super Tofu Press is an economical option for a first tofu press, made from two slabs tightened together by screws to press the water out of your tofu.
The plates are made from BPA-free plastic and promise to get the water out of your tofu in a mere 15 minutes.
It doesn’t take up much room on your countertop or in your cabinet, either, and is super easy to clean.
However, the Super Tofu Press can be a little messy to use, and it requires that you place the apparatus in a baking dish or on a plate to catch any liquid pressed out of the block.
Because you must also tighten each of the four screws individually, it can be hard to center your tofu within the contraption, and can result in some unevenly-pressed – and shaped – results.
If you’re not looking to drop too much money while you’re figuring out if a tofu press is something worth your money and time, this can be a good option to look into, but it is not as simple or straightforward as other models.Check Price on Amazon
Press Your Tofu, Change Your Life
While most people would say their Kitchenaid mixer or Vitamix blender was their most prized kitchen possession, no other appliance or contraption holds a candle to my beloved TofuXpress.
Without this, I would still be stuck in the days of sad, soggy tofu, completely unaware of the beautiful world that awaited me on the other side of the press.
So what can you do with your tofu once it’s been pressed?
Dense, chewy pressed tofu makes a perfect protein for stir fry – just heat some oil in your frying pan or cast iron skillet until it’s screaming hot and cook sliced tofu until golden brown, crispy, and delicious on all sides.
Alternatively, one of our favorite tofu dishes in my house is Buffalo Tofu Nuggets – place cubed, pressed tofu in a frying pan with some Earth Balance and hot sauce, toss to coat the tofu thoroughly, and serve alongside vegan bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks.
No matter which model you choose, you’ll immediately see the texture and taste of your tofu change – and who knows, you just may win over a self-proclaimed tofu hater.