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Test Drive: Pepper Mills

With so many options on the market, how do you choose? We tested our way to the best of the bunch, so you can take your pick.

Fine Cooking Issue 105
Photos: Scott Phillips
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In most kitchens, the pepper mill can’t catch a break. Since not even a simple boiled egg or plate of buttered pasta is complete without salt and a liberal grind of pepper, the pepper mill is a daily workhorse.

A tool in such demand had better work well. A mill should be easy to fill, operate, and adjust, and capable of producing pepper in a range of grinds. The different grinds should be reasonably uniform, and they should reflect truth in advertising—the fine grind should be powdery, and the coarse, ideally, should approach the consistency of cracked peppercorns. We put many mills, both manual and electric, through their paces (so you wouldn’t have to). Here are our favorites.

Manual

Choose a manual model if you want a sturdy, battery-free, quiet pepper mill.

Best Features

Peugeot Daman (8-1/4-inch model)
$69.95 at metrokitchen.com

This acrylic and stainless-steel model is easy to fill (there’s a clever magnetic cap over the fill hole), easy to use, and produces impressively fine, medium, and coarsely ground pepper. Its U-Select grinding feature is a winner, with an easy-to-turn ring at the bottom of the mill body that’s used to adjust the grind. It clicks firmly into each of six grind settings, ranging from powder to coarse. This model holds 7 tablespoons of peppercorns and comes with a lifetime warranty on the internal grinding mechanism.

Best Buy

Unicorn Magnum Plus
$45 at unicornmills.com

This model hides its filling port behind a sliding cover on the side of the mill, making it not quite as easy to fill as some of the other models we tested. That’s a minor issue, though, as the mill holds a full cup of peppercorns. Among its other virtues are excellent grind quality and output, far exceeding that of other models, which means less grinding with more results. It’s also relatively easy to adjust by turning a small knob on the bottom of the mill.

Electric

Choose an electric model for easy grinding at the push of a button (or a tip of the mill).

Best Features

Peugeot Elis U-Select (8-inch model)
$119.95 at metrokitchen.com

Though pricey, this model offers many of the same advantages that endeared its manual brother (the Daman, see opposite) to us, namely excellent grind quality at each of its six settings and the terrific U-Select adjustment mechanism. It’s noticeably quieter than the other electric mills we tested, plus it includes a tray for the mill to sit on. A window at the bottom of the mill lets you gauge your pepper supply, and a light shines down onto the food as the mill grinds. It, too, comes with a lifetime warranty on the internal grinding mechanism.

Best Buy

Trudeau Graviti
$24.95 at chefscatalog.com

This gravity-activated electric model couldn’t be simpler to use—just tip the top of the mill downward and it begins to grind. It grinds well, too, producing powdery finely ground pepper and chunky coarsely ground pepper. It’s also simple to adjust via a large, prominent knob on the top. To fill it, you have to remove the battery pack, which is inconvenient but not difficult. This is a rather noisy model, but most electric mills are. It comes with a one-year warranty.

What to Look For

Keep these things in mind when shopping for a pepper mill:

Ease of filling
The size of the filling mouth and its position on the mill are key. Large mouths that are easy to fill (preferably at the top of the mill’s body) are best.

Capacity
The bigger, the better, because the more your mill holds, the less often you have to fill it.

Output
The faster the mill grinds, the less work you have to do. This is especially true when you have to grind a large quantity of pepper for a recipe.

Adjustability
Look for a mill with an easy-to-access mechanism for adjusting the grind.

How we tested

We tested 21 pepper mills, from classic wooden twist-top models to the latest rage: gravity-activated electric grinders. We evaluated each mill for how easy it was to fill and use, its capacity, adjustability, output, and overall design and construction.

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