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For many cuisines, black pepper is an essential seasoning. Many of us grow up with black pepper sitting on the table next to the salt. But, for many of us, that black pepper is purchased in a pre-ground powder that gives a kind of dusty spice and not much else (aside from a sneezing fit if you accidentally inhale it).
It's worth noting that pepper mills and salt mills are not interchangeable. With salt, you just want an accurate grind or crush, whereas pepper mills release the oils from within the peppercorn while breaking down the pepper. (It’s a subtle difference, but still a difference.) Once you discover freshly ground black pepper, it’s hard to go back. Old favorite dishes become even more beloved—scrambled eggs, cacio e pepe, steak au poivre, and more.
Most pepper mills aren’t wildly pricy, or at least they won’t set you as far back as, say, an excellent blender. The priciest option out there may hover around $100, but many, if not most, are far less expensive. But what exactly should you be looking for? A few things, it turns out, which we had our writer and product tester Bridget Shirvell put to the test in her home cooking.
First, she looked at how easy each pepper mill was to load and operate. The grind size should also be accurate—ideally, there will be several grind sizes, from fine to coarse, and the size of the actual ground pepper pieces should match the grind setting. Plus, the grind quality should be consistent every time the mill is used. She also considered how easy it was to clean and whether extra tools were needed to fully clean it. Finally, slightly less essential but still worth considering: How nice was it to look at? After all, your pepper mill will be occupying prime real estate in your kitchen and on your table. In the end, the Peugeot Paris u'Select 9-Inch Pepper Mill won out for both looks and quality.
After days of home testing and data collection, here's our list of the best pepper mills.
Best Overall: Peugeot Paris u'Select Manual Pepper Mill, 9-Inch
What We Love: Classic design, made of strong materials, easy to adjust grind coarseness settings, works quickly
What We Don't Love: Expensive, size may make it awkward to store, needs extra tools to clean
Think pepper mill, and you're likely picturing the Peugeot Paris u' Select Manual Pepper Mill whether you realize it or not. Peugot, which has been making pepper mills since 1840, has given this 9-inch mill an iconic look. It's made out of solid wood, and with a hardened steel grinding mechanism, this is a pepper mill that will last you years.
For starters, loading the mill is simple: "It's very easy to open the screw-off top to fill with peppercorns," Bridget notes. There's also a plastic insert that helps to keep the grinding mechanism stable. She has a caveat, however: The wood, which gives the grinder its classic look, also means you can't see inside the gadget to tell when it needs to be refilled.
But, the grinding mechanism itself is the star of the show, and it performed excellently, Bridget discovered. "The grind is very consistent in this knob-twist style pepper mill. And while its size might make it awkward for those with smaller hands, it's very efficient, making it suitable for both cooking and for serving," she observed after testing.
This efficiency is thanks to this pepper mill's hardened steel grinding mechanism, which made quick work of Bridget's peppercorns. "It cracks and then grinds [them], making it pretty quick," she raves, adding that this mill has one of the easiest-to-adjust coarseness and fineness grind settings: Rather than figuring out how the top screw somehow correlates with grinding size, there is a dial on the bottom. She also highlights the six different grind sizes, which make the mill incredibly versatile for both cooking and serving.
However, at 8.7 inches high and more than 2 inches in diameter, it may be a bit awkward to hold for those with smaller hands or to store in a cabinet, says Bridget, "but, it would probably work on most kitchen countertops." We also see this working well on the dinner table.
Just note that, when it comes time to clean, this mill has plenty of nooks and crannies, so Bridget advises using a small brush or pipe cleaner to do so.
Material: Beechwood, case-hardened stainless steel grinder | Dimensions: 2.3 x 8.7 inches | Capacity: 3 tablespoons | Number of Grind Settings: 6
Best Budget: Trudeau Seville 6-Inch Pepper Shaker
What We Love: Affordable, size makes it very versatile, easy to use even when hands are slippery
What We Don't Love: Not easy to tell what grind size you're on
You will not find a better pepper mill for the price of the Trudeau Seville Pepper Mill. With a classic design in a sleek ebony finish, this shorter pepper mill is ideal for nay things: storing in kitchen cabinets, on countertops, and setting out on a dining room table.
While this pepper grinder requires a bit of twisting to open up the screw-off top filling station, its chamber is wide, making it easy to fill up with almost no peppercorn spillage, according to our home cook. She notes, however, that because it's made out of wood, it's not possible to see inside to track when the mill needs refilling.
The corrosion-resistant carbon steel grinder both gives a reliable, consistent grind, says Bridget, who adds that they will likely stay sharp. Plus, "it's very easy to use whether your hands or wet or slippery and easily produces a good amount of pepper." The only downside to its grinding mechanism is the adjustable knob on top—tightening it creates a finer grind, and loosening it creates a coarser one. Thus, it's not always easy to see which grind size you've landed on, and it can take a bit of fussing to get it right, Bridget observed.
Still, with the capacity to hold almost three tablespoons of peppercorn and an easy hand-crank, this mill works well while cooking or for serving. It's relatively easy to clean too, our tester says, although you'll need a small brush. And there's really nothing out there like this for the price. If you're on a budget, we think you'll be pleased with this option. Plus, this mill comes with a lifetime warranty.
Material: Wood, carbon steel grinder | Dimensions: 2.3 x 6.8 inches | Capacity: About 3 tablespoons | Number of Grind Settings: Depends on how much the nut at the top of the pepper mill is tightened
Best Electric: Eparé Electric Battery-Operated Grinder
What We Love: Incredibly easy to use, the LED light is an excellent addition, see-through container lets you know when it needs refilling, sleek design
What We Don't Love: Not easy to refill without spilling peppercorns, construction feels flimsy
Whether you have a hard time twisting or cranking traditional pepper grinders, prioritize speed, or simply prefer it, an electric pepper mill is convenient. This one from Eparé is one of the most budget-friendly options.
It's easy to use—there's a button atop the grinder that you press for grinding, and out the pepper comes, as well as a twist nob on the bottom that let our tester easily adjust the coarseness settings. She does note, however, that "all of the settings felt finer than some of the others on the market, so this might not be the best grinder for those that prefer a coarse pepper."
With a roughly 5-tablespoon peppercorn capacity, you won't need to refill it constantly, but it does come with a see-through acrylic container to keep an eye out for when you need to reload it. But despite this clear container, our product tester says that during her tests, "reloading it without spilling peppercorns is near impossible." She also takes a point off because "its plastic, ceramic and stainless steel materials feel flimsy." Eparé claims this mill can also grind salt, herbs, and other spices, though we imagine it won't work as well with larger items like whole nutmeg.
Still, this pepper mill's stainless steel finish will work with most modern-style kitchens and dining rooms. If you plan to use it mainly as a serving piece, its LED light lets you see how much pepper you're really grinding onto your food—perfect for those romantic candlelight dinners. It takes four AA batteries, though, which take up a good deal of design space and make the grinder feel heavier than other non-electric grinders.
"Activated with the push of a button, it's incredibly easy to operate this pepper mill. It comes with a built-in LED light." — Bridget Shirvell, Writer and Product Tester
Material: Stainless steel, plastic, ceramic grinder | Dimensions: 2 by 8.75 inches | Capacity: 4 tablespoons
Related: The Best Electric Can Openers
Best Wooden: Cole & Mason 12.5-inch Forest Capstan Pepper Mill
What We Love: Beautiful and sturdy design, large capacity, carbon steel grinder both slices and grinds
What We Don't Love: Tall, narrow shape can make holding and storage tricky, not the most efficient of the grinders tested
With its willowy silhouette and lifetime guarantee, the Cole & Mason Forest Capstan Pepper Mill is an excellent alternative to the Peugeot. Made out of stained beechwood, it complements traditional kitchen decor well. "It reminds me of the kind you see at Italian restaurants, where the waiter comes over and grinds the pepper over your pasta," says tester Bridget.
Not only did she find the mill's classic design noteworthy, but Bridget also found it very easy to unscrew the top knob to fill with peppercorns, and the opening is wide enough to easily fill without peppercorns spilling out. However, she notes that, just like some of the other mills on this list, it's made out of solid wood, so it's not easy to see or feel when it needs refilling.
Furthermore, because of its tall design, she says it felt awkward to twist. "[It] required several twists to get a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper," she explains. Still, the quality of the grind itself is consistent, she says. "You can adjust the grind by turning the top knob for fine or a coarse. ... It has a carbon steel grinder that both slices and grinds," meaning you'll be able to extract as much flavor from the peppercorns as possible, Bridget adds.
While the slight trickiness with operating this pepper grinder means our tester wouldn't necessarily recommend this one for frequent cooking, she believes it's an excellent addition to a table setting, especially if you love hosting big gatherings. It boasts a tall, grand appearance and large capacity—it holds just over four tablespoons of peppercorns.
If you love the look of this one but are worried about where to store it when not in use, there is a smaller (6.5-inch) version of this same model.
"This pepper mill reminds me of the kind you see at Italian restaurants, where the waiter comes over and grinds the pepper over your pasta." — Bridget Shirvell, Writer and Product Tester
Material: Beechwood, hardened carbon steel grinder | Dimensions: 2.7 x 12.5 inches | Capacity: About 4 tablespoons
Best Vintage-Style: Crystalia Black Pepper and Spice Grinder, Manual Pepper Mill with Handle
What We Love: Eye-catching vintage design, can be used for a variety of spices, very easy to refill and clean, consistent grind
What We Don't Love: Barely fits a tablespoon of peppercorn, tricky to adjust coarseness settings
If you're looking for something a little more eye-catching, consider this handmade and fully engraved spice mill and pepper grinder from Crystalia. Seeing it sitting on your dining room table will put a smile on your face.
It's built for various spices, including pepper, salt, cardamom, mustard, coriander, and cumin. While pepper and salt grinders aren't interchangeable, it's OK to use a general spice grinder for your pepper (because the goal remains to crush the pod while dispersing the oil inside the pod for maximum flavor).
Bridget found it very easy to refill this mill in her home testing; the filling chamber has a little door on it that slides open. She notes, however, that the opening is narrow, "so it's hard to add a bunch of peppercorns in at once.
The mill was also very easy to operate both with wet and dry hands, Bridget notes. Still, it's made as a serving piece, not for cooking. Firstly, the freshly ground pepper collects in the mill's bottom compartment, instead of being deposited out at the bottom. It also takes a bit of time to get more than a touch of pepper (not to mention it only holds about a tablespoon of peppercorns). And getting the grind setting you want is tricky as the grind setting is located inside the bottom of the grinding compartment. Still, "once you have it to the size you wish the peppercorns to be, it is very consistent," says Bridget.
Like other pepper mills, this one is not dishwasher-safe, but our home tester found it easy to clean thanks to the size of the openings. "You should dry it right after washing," she adds. And did we mention this pepper grinder comes in four sleek finishes? And, it's budget-friendly?
Material: Food-safe nickel, stainless still grinder | Dimensions: 1.4 x 4.2 inches | Capacity: 1 tablespoon | Number of Grind Settings: 2
Related: The Best Spice Grinders
Best Gift: Peugeot Olivier Roellinger Manual Pepper Mill with Handle
What We Love: Unique design, easy to refill and clean
What We Don't Love: Not made to be the workhorse of your kitchen,
Maybe you're looking for a gift that will impress your favorite food lover. Or, perhaps you are just in need of a bit of kitchenware treat. Meet the Peugeot Olivier Roellinger Pepper Mill, made from solid beechwood and inspired by the company's iconic coffee mills. This unique-looking pepper mill will be a conversation starter anytime someone spots it in a kitchen or on a dining room table.
The steel hand crank deposits into a small drawer, which feels fancy, like you're a Parisian chef, but it's also pretty handy—you can choose exactly how much of your freshly ground pepper you'd like on your food and where you'd like it dispersed. But be forewarned, says Bridget: There's a learning curve in terms of adjusting the coarseness of the grind, and it takes a bit of cranking to get a decent amount of ground pepper. You need to lift the spring tab and turn the thumbwheel (clockwise for finer grinds, counter-clockwise for coarser grind), but as it's not marked, it takes some practice," she explains. The hand-cranked mill is, however, easy to use and very consistent once you have the setting you want. The pepper is then deposited into the pull-out slide at the bottom of the pepper mill.
This pepper mill's squat design means it'll fit in cabinets, on countertops, not that you'll want to tuck it away—its unique design is one you'll make to show off. Plus, it's large enough to hold roughly 3 tablespoons of peppercorns, so you won't feel like you have to refill it constantly.
This is a lovely piece that will make your kitchen feel extra special.
"This was the easiest of the mills I tested to clean. Because of its wide opening, you don't need a small brush or pipe cleaner. You should, however, wipe it dry after washing." — Bridget Shirvell, Writer and Product Tester
Material: Beechwood, stainless steel, case-hardened steel | Dimensions: 5.2 x 5.2 x 5.2 inches | Capacity: About 3 tablespoons | Number of Grind Settings: 6
Related: The Best Spice Racks
If you're looking for that iconic look and a quick and consistent grind, look no further than our top pick, the cult favorite Peugeot Paris u'Select 9-Inch Pepper Mill (view at Amazon). If budget is a concern, you can't go wrong with the Trudeau Seville 6-Inch Pepper Mill (view at Amazon). It has a reliable grind and will look great in your kitchen.
What to Look for in a Pepper Mill
Before you click add to cart, there are a few things to consider in a pepper mill, whether you're buying it for yourself or as a gift. The first among those is to determine how you plan on using it. For instance, is the pepper mill mainly going to be used while you're cooking, or is it going to have a regular spot on your dining room table? Knowing the answer to that question will help you determine a few other things, like how much capacity you need and if you need or want it to match your serving ware.
One thing you'll likely want in a pepper mill, no matter how you plan to use it, is the ability to set different coarseness settings (and to do so easily without having to look up the instructions). A few other things to think about are what it's made out of (wood ones may crack if they get wet), what the grinding mechanism is made out of, and how easy it will be to clean. Finally, you may want to go to a brick-and-mortar store to pick up and try out a pepper grinder. You want it to be easy to twist and feel good in your hands, something that's hard to know from online reviews.
What's the difference between a salt and pepper mill?
While they appear similar, salt and pepper mills are not interchangeable. That's because the mechanisms inside a salt mill and a pepper mill are often made of different materials. Pepper mills are usually made out of hardened steel or ceramic, whereas salt mills need to use a material that won't corrode, typically stainless steel.
Is a pepper grinder worth it?
In our opinion, freshly ground black pepper is always the way to go, and for that, you need a pepper grinder. Grinding your own pepper means it'll be fresher and the flavor more robust than the pre-ground stuff. Having a pepper grinder also gives you more control over the pepper you'll be able to use. If you're looking for pepper that's sourced directly from farmers, our home tester Bridget suggests buying from companies like Diaspora & Co. or Burlap & Barrel. Plus, pepper grinders aren't overly expensive or hard to store. This one is a definite buy.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Writer, podcaster, and professional cheese nerd Christine Clark grew up with powdered black pepper, and when she discovered that one could grind black pepper fresh, it was a revelation. She’s never looked back (although she does keep around the powdered stuff for scrambled eggs and cheese because it’s nostalgic) and keeps three to five types of black peppercorns around. Each is special and important!
Bridget Shirvell, who has been writing about food and wine for more than a decade, tested our top picks and updated this piece. Her work has appeared on Food52, Foodprint, Martha Stewart Living, and more. Bridget is always looking for kitchen items that will make cooking and baking with her toddler easier—while keeping her kitchen tidy.
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