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There's nothing like freshly ground pepper to top off your meal. It can turn what could have been just a pretty good meal into a flavor-packed one. But is there really such a big difference between pre-ground and freshly ground peppercorns when it comes to spicing up your cooking? Yes, it turns out. Once spices are ground, they start to oxidize and their aromatics evaporate quickly, so you'll get the most flavor and aroma out of them when they're ground right before you prepare or consume your meal.
But not all pepper mills are made the same. The difference between a cheaply made pepper mill and a higher-quality one can mean inconsistent grinds, clogged or loose grinding mechanisms, and pepper spilled everywhere. So how's one to choose?
Here, we've compiled the best pepper mills so you can make an exciting meal in no time.
While most grinders have their grinding mechanism on the bottom, this one has the grinder on top when it’s not in use, so you won’t be leaving bits of ground pepper behind when you set the grinder down. The coarseness selector is easy to see on the side of the grinder and easy to adjust, so you can grind fine pepper on your salad, then quickly switch to coarsely ground pepper to coat your steak, without fiddling with small knobs.
The clear acrylic body looks modern while it also lets you see how much pepper is left at a glance, so you’ll never run out of pepper mid-recipe or mid-dinner. Filling it is simple, too, since you just turn the grinder over and unscrew the cap while the grinder stands sturdily on its head. You’ll be ready to use this right away since it comes filled with black peppercorns but you can also empty it and refill it with salt or whole spices you want to grind fresh.
Not only is this an efficient and adjustable pepper grinder, but it’s also classically pretty with a brushed stainless steel finish that will stand up to kitchen use and still look pretty on our table. No need to baby the finish—the stainless steel will easily stand up to kitchen spills and subsequent cleaning. This mill first cracks, then grinds the peppercorns for the best flavor. You can select one of six settings from fine to coarse, or choose a setting in between those, for precise control of the grind. Peugeot mills are made in France and each mill is tested before it leaves the factory. As a result, you’re likely to find peppercorns or ground pepper in the mill when it arrives, so you can be sure the mechanism will work exactly as it should.
If your philosophy with kitchen gadgets is that they should look just as great as they work, this vintage-inspired pepper mill is the perfect pick for you. In addition to the grinder's unique design, reviewers love that it grinds a lot of pepper at once, so seasoning your dinner moves more quickly. You can also grind your pepper directly into a small drawer to put on your table for your friends and family to season, or if you need to add a specific amount for a recipe. It's easy to adjust the coarseness of the grind to your liking, and reviewers say refilling the mill with whole peppercorns is also a breeze.
This simple grinder has a budget price, but it’s packed with features that will likely make it your kitchen favorite. It’s simple to fill and holds more pepper than you can imagine, while the clear face on the filler door lets you see how much pepper is left. It’s also simple to open the door and shake out a few peppercorns when you need them whole for a recipe.
The crank is easier to operate when you need a large quantity of pepper than a twist top that can be a little tiring, and top knob is comfortable to hold. The base holds ground pepper for you if you don’t want to grind directly onto the food, and it keeps your counter neat since errant bits of pepper won’t escape from the bottom of the grinder when it’s not in use. This has a ceramic grinding mechanism, so you can use it with any type of peppercorn, or even for grinding coarse salt.
This attractive acrylic dual-grinder is ready for your kitchen or table as soon as it arrives since it comes filled with salt and pepper. Simple to use, both sides work the same—just hold the bottom and middle and twist to grind. Then flip it over and hold the bottom and middle and twist again to grind the other spice. A simple adjuster knob lets you switch from coarse to fine grinds on each end. To fill, you simply unscrew the entire grinding mechanism from the body of the grinder so you have a wide opening to pour in the salt or pepper, and since the body of the grinder is clear acrylic, you can see at a glance how much salt or pepper is left.
Wooden pepper grinders look classic, evoking old-world craftsmanship and high-end steakhouses. This wooden grinder has that vibe and looks like it would be right at home next to the family cuckoo clock since it’s made in Germany from a 100-year-old design. But everything old is new again, and this would look just as comfortable in a modern setting. It’s made from solid beechwood, lathe-turned, and operates with a metal crank. Inside, it has a very modern ceramic grinding mechanism that’s guaranteed for 25 years. This grinder has six positions to adjust the grinding coarseness, so you’ll have just what you need, from fine to coarse. Filling is simple—just unscrew the knob and remove the top.
These grinders have gone high tech, with push-button operation and an LED light that brightens up the view so you can easily see how much salt or pepper you’ve added to your soup or salad. This is a set of two grinders; one for salt and one for pepper. A holder is included, so you’ll always have a neat place to keep the grinders, and to keep any stray grindings off your counters. Coarseness is selected using a knob on the bottom of the grinder, and the spice container twists apart easily for refilling. This operates on batteries; rechargeable batteries are not recommended.
Dreamfarm, known for clever and quirky product names, has named their pepper grinder the Ortwo because it can be used with one hand or two. When one hand is busy or messy, it’s easy to grab the Ortwo and squeeze the handles to dispense pepper where it’s needed. Two-handed, grasping one handle in each hand, squeezing can be much faster, so it’s great for grinding a larger quantity of pepper to fill the mise en place bowl or to generously pepper a steak. The Ortwo is incredibly easy to fill, too, since it attaches to a glass cup with a mouth that’s wide enough to fill without spills. The grinding can be set for six different sizes from fine to chunky for every recipe. The angled cylinder lets the grinder rest upright on the counter or table without spilling ground pepper haphazardly. Not just for pepper, this can be used for a variety of spices and seeds, and the clear glass jar makes it simple to see which is pepper and which is allspice.
Great for cooks who have ogled giant steakhouse pepper grinders, this 17-inch grinder will certainly make a statement at the table as it's being passed around. It’s handcrafted in the US by a family-owned company, made from sustainably grown wood, and designed to last a lifetime. This has a two-step grinding process that first crushes the peppercorns for the best release of flavor, then it finishes the grinding in the second step. It can be set for as many as 33 different grind sizes from fine to coarse and has a pop-out grinding mechanism that makes it easy to clean if it’s ever necessary. This is available in several different stains, and the company also makes smaller pepper mills as well as salt mills, to suit every dining table.
These little grinders are ready to travel, whether it’s to work, on a road trip, or just to Grandma’s house to surreptitiously add some flavor to lunch. They’re also adorable to put at each place setting for a party, and to give as party favors when dinner is done. They’re easy to use one-handed, so they’re great in the kitchen, too, to add a finishing touch to plates as they’re headed to the dining room. These are clear, so it’s easy to see which is salt and which is pepper, and they come with a clear stand to keep them neatly in place wherever they rest. They also include a small pouch so they can be tucked into a backpack, a pocket, or luggage without worrying about accidental grinding and spills. A sample of sea salt and pepper comes with the set, so they’re ready for grinding when they arrive. This set is also available in stainless steel.
The OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder, Stainless Steel is our top pick because of how easy it is to use. Plus, it features a coarseness selector and a clear body so you can see how much pepper is left. If you're going for a classic, high-end aesthetic, try the Zassenhaus Speyer 5.1-Inch Dark Stained Beech Pepper Mill: the wooden, German-made grinder evokes old-world craftmanship.
What to Look for When Buying a Pepper Mill
by Sara Tane
Pepper mills work by using a combination of gravity and sturdy mechanisms that grind the peppercorns. The best pepper mills are made of either ceramic or high-carbon steel because they’re strong and will not flake into the food. The acrylic grinders found in grocery store pepper mills tend to be weaker, more inconsistent, and have the chance of shredding particles into the food. It’s important to note that salt mills are only made of ceramic because salt can oxidize and corrode steel, so don’t add any salt to a steel grinder that you might have laying around. That said, salt mills are not entirely necessary because salt tastes the same whether it’s been pre-ground or freshly ground (after all, it is a rock). Peppercorns are completely different and highly benefit from being freshly ground.
Because stainless steel products can be subject to corrosion, ceramic is the ideal material. It will stay sharper ten times longer than a stainless steel blade (ceramics are second to diamonds when it comes to sharpness) and you likely won’t need to replace it, while you may need to sharpen stainless steel. When it comes to the consistency of grind, ceramic produces a slightly less consistent grind than steel because of the grinding mechanism.
In addition to the material of the grinder mechanism, the material of the body can also affect how your pepper mill works. While it may seem advantageous to have a transparent (typically plastic or glass) body because you can see when you’re getting low on peppercorns, you should keep in mind that spices need to be kept in a cool, dry place. If you keep your clear pepper mill on a kitchen counter that receives sunlight, this can cause the peppercorns to lose their flavor and aroma more quickly than if they were inside a wooden or opaque body.
Pepper mills can be as small as 3 inches to sometimes 24 inches in height. The size that’s right for you depends on the space you have in your kitchen and where you plan on storing the mill. Of course, a pepper mill that’s 2 feet tall is more on the unpractical side, although it may be a fun statement kitchen piece to admire. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. The bigger the mill, the more peppercorns it can store (which means you’re replacing peppercorns less frequently), although keep in mind that if they sit too long in a mill, they will lose their freshness. It may sound silly, but holding a few mills in your hand and cranking it is a great way to decide which mill is for you. Some cooks prefer an hourglass shape, while some may prefer something more cylindrical. Grinding pepper is a lot about feel and comfort, so if the size doesn’t work with you, it’s not going to feel right.
While all pepper mills rely on gravity and a grinder to mill the peppercorns, the way you refill the peppercorns differs depending on the mill. Some have a screw-off top that requires you to remove the head in order to refill the body with peppercorns. In others, there may be a chute that pops off to the side, allowing you to refill without completely dismantling the head from the body. Some mills have their grinding mechanism at the top of the mill (so you have to turn it upside down when you go to grind pepper), and the refilling apparatus is at the bottom, allowing you to prop the mill upside and refill it that way.
Some models offer a dial at the bottom of the mill that allows you to set how coarse you want the pepper to be milled. This gives you the option to crank out pepper so chunky that you can feel it between your teeth or so fine that you can barely see it in your dish. In some models, you can still adjust the coarseness; however, the mill may not have a preset dial, thus requiring you to tinker with the knob at the top of the head and keeping grinding until you’ve achieved your desired texture. This can require a little bit of a learning curve, but with enough practice, you will understand how to achieve the coarseness that you’re looking for.
You can find a pepper mill for less than $10, or you can spend upwards of $100. A good benchmark for a pepper mill that will last you a lifetime is around $40. You want a mill with a sturdy grinding mechanism so that you’re not constantly replacing it. Typically, brands like Peugeot and Fletchers’ Mills offer lifetime guarantees on their grinding mechanism, so it might be worth it to opt for a pricier brand given the warranty program. Anything pricier than $40 is usually just for aesthetics. Remember, you want something that is rustic and durable enough to keep up with you over a hot stove or a crowded kitchen, yet something that you can also place on the table without it being a complete eyesore to all of your guests.
Types of Pepper Mills
Electric pepper mills can be pretty divisive. Peppercorn purists might argue that relying on a button rather than grinding or cranking by hand can take some of the magic out of fresh pepper. On top of this, electric mills tend to have a slower output than if you were to do it by hand, produce inconsistent grinding sizes, and are more susceptible to breaking down or needing repair. Not to mention, you’ll not only need to replenish peppercorns, but you’ll need to stay on top of batteries (up to six). They also tend to be a bit noisier than a manual mill.
Some electric models have coarseness settings while others don’t, so you may need to tinker with them a little before you start grinding to find your desired coarseness. Because of their design, electric models are usually much heavier, which can be slightly annoying in the kitchen (especially if you accidentally drop it). It’s not uncommon for an electric model to have an LED light at the bottom, which gives you a better idea of how much pepper you’ve ground. Many home cooks find this feature to be unappealing, distracting, and straight-up unnecessary. While you can still find an electric model that’s cheaper than a manual, it’s important to consider these drawbacks. These mills can be a nice tableside option or a solution if you want to go a bit easier on your hands and wrists, but for the most part, they are not very desirable.
Knob Twist vs. Crank
This is another design option that comes down to personal preference, but most home cooks opt for a classic knob twist. Cranks can be slightly more difficult and yield less pepper per crank. Not only are knob twists simply more aesthetically pleasing, but they’re also way more stable and generally easier to use than a crank. That said, if the crank models feel more comfortable for you, then they’re a perfectly practical choice.
Not only was this the first brand to create a pepper mill, but still today it is one of the most desired brands when it comes to both performance and design at the benchmark $40 price point. Known for its unmistakably consistent grind and sleek yet practical look, this is certainly the pinnacle of pepper mills. Its pepper mills are also known for churning out the most freshly ground pepper with the least work possible.
With products ranging on the cheaper end of the spectrum, this is a great budget option. It offers many mills with transparent bodies, if seeing how many peppercorns you still have left is important to you. Its signature mill also has its grinder at the top of the body, so you don’t have to worry about a ring of ground pepper gathering wherever you place the mill down on your counter.
Like any well-loved kitchen tool, pepper mills are going to get dirty. Get into the habit of occasionally wiping down the exterior with a hot, damp cloth, and if it’s extra greasy and dirty, go ahead and scrub a little dish soap on it, too. You’re likely going to be grabbing this thing with sticky, greasy hands, so stay on top of the cleaning. If you’re planning to use any colored peppercorns, it’s a good idea to throw in some black peppercorns to the mix in order to avoid any jams around the grinder. Never add salt to your stainless steel pepper mills, and make sure to keep any moisture far away from the grinder (this can lead to oxidation and rust). When it comes to re-filling the mill with more peppercorns, be mindful not to fill it up to the brim because this makes it harder for the mill to grind the pepper and can lead to jams.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Freelance food writer Donna Currie is an expert on all things food, from cookbooks to cooking gadgets. She's also an author of her own cookbook, Make Ahead Bread, and loves to test out her favorite kitchen gadgets and appliances when it comes to developing her own recipes. She also has an extensive blog where she details said recipes.