When it comes to pepper, the ground stuff just won’t cut it for those of us with serious taste. There’s some scientific backing for that too, but we’ll get into that in a moment. The best pepper mill is going to be easy to turn, give a consistent grind, and hold a lot of peppercorns for a long lasting experience.
We recommend the Peugeot 23461 Paris U’Select Pepper Mill, it’s a classic and has been around in one form or another for over a century. It’s a bit expensive, but really your mill is likely to be a once in a lifetime purchase as long as you take good care of it. We dug around and found five of the best, however, in order to ensure that you’ve got the right mill for any occasion or budget. Let’s hop in and get grinding, these are the best of the best.
If you want a pepper mill, then this is the way to go. It’s classic wood styling, lifetime warranty, and multiple settings make it our favorite of the bunch.
Top 5 Pepper Mills
|Peugeot 23461 Paris U’Select||6||5/5||Check Price|
|Touchless Automatic Electric||1||4.5/5||Check Price|
|Peugeot 32517 Stainless Steel||6||4.5/5||Check Price|
|COLE & MASON Derwent||6||4/5||Check Price|
|OXO Good Grips Lewis||2||3.5/5||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Pepper Mill
Peugeot 23461 Paris U'Select Pepper Mill
Peugeot is the name when it comes to pepper mills. They’ve been around for more than a century and their U’Select grinder is almost the same as their classic but comes in with six grinder settings to allow you to enjoy finer or coarser pepper as you desire.
There’s a five year warranty on the casing and a lifetime warranty on the mechanism. The burrs inside the mill are crafted from case-hardened steel, which isn’t suitable for salt but will keep things sharp for years to come.
It’s easy to fill and we didn’t find any jams the entire time we were testing it out.
The brand has stood the test of time, and most of the complaints that we’ve heard come from abuse or misunderstanding rather than flaws in the design itself.
Pros and Cons
- Six settings
- Available in a variety of sizes
- Time tested design
- Lifetime warranty on burr mechanisms
- Sometimes has minor trouble feeding peppercorns, just shake it
2. Best Home Electric Pepper Mills
Touchless Automatic Electric Salt and Pepper Grinder Set
While it comes in a set of two, we really liked these. They’re cheap, easily powered by four AA batteries, and have good ceramic burrs which keep them from corroding if you decide to do a salt and pepper set.
They also have lights, allowing you to see how much spice is being dispensed in darker areas. It’s nice to be able to see that you’re not oversalting your food during a romantic candlelight dinner after all.
They even have caps on the bottom to address one of the most common complaints with mills: that they leave things on the counter and in cabinets if you’re not careful to tap them out.
Unfortunately, they really don’t have too much longevity it would appear. Most people seem to have burned them out after five or six months of daily usage, but for the convenience and engineering at this price it’s pretty much expected.
If you insist on electric mills for your home use, then you may want to give these a close look. They won’t last forever, but they have a ton of little innovations that make them truly useful devices.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent price
- Easy to power
- Able to grind things other than pepper
- Comes in a set of two
- Longevity is questionable
- Takes quite a few batteries
3. Upgrade Pick
Peugeot 32517 Paris Chef u'Select Stainless Steel
If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, we love this stainless steel version of the U’Select. It’s the same great grinder, with the same six settings, but for a few dollars more you’ll be able to get a stainless steel exterior which avoids the problems with moisture that you can run into with wooden models.
Like the wooden model it also comes with case-hardened steel, making it more than suitable for taking care of peppercorns and ensuring the longevity of the mechanisms contained within.
It’s the same great interior, with a touch of extra on the outside. We prefer it over the wooden model as far as longevity goes, but we aren’t sure if the extra cash is worth it in the average kitchen.
Regardless, if you’ll only settle for the best of the best then the stainless steel version of the u’Select is picture perfect.
Pros and Cons
- Great, time-tested design
- Stainless steel exterior
- Two step crushing and grinding process
- Avoids moisture problems
- Rather expensive
- Not available in as many sizes as the wooden model
4. Best Ready-to-Go Set
COLE & MASON Derwent Salt and Pepper Grinder Set
If you’re looking to just get up and running with a couple of refillable mills then you’ll be quite pleased with this set. It produces finely grated pepper, with the bonus of coming with a container for salt as well. You may not get extra flavor out of the salt, but it’s nice to be able to adjust the coarseness.
Both of the mills are pretty high quality for the price. We found that they worked readily, and while they’re rather small it’s a well priced set that seems pretty hardy overall.
They’re also quite airtight, keeping your spices away from the moisture and air which will prolong the life of the peppercorns and keep salt from matting up.
If you’re looking to pick up a set without having to fuss or spend a lot of cash then you should take a closer look at this gift pack. It’s a pair of high-quality mills for a great price, but for a dedicated pepper connoisseur it may not be enough.
Pros and Cons
- Great price
- Comes with two mills
- Six settings for the pepper grinder
- Airtight containers to prolong freshness
- Some quality control issues
- Outer markings wear off with time
5. Best Budget Pepper Mill
OXO Good Grips Lewis Pepper Mill
While it’s definitely not our first pick, the OXO Good Grips is a fantastic way to get good pepper without having to spend a ton of money. It only has two settings, fine and coarse, but it’s easy to use and relatively long lasting despite it’s plastic casing.
OXO makes a lot of good products, and we stand behind our pick of this pepper mill for the price. It’s a little more prone to jamming than the higher end models… but it’s also roughly a quarter of the price and it definitely gets the job done.
The crank is also remarkably easy to turn, being a nonslip variant with a long lever to give you a good amount of crushing power without taking any effort at all.
For those who just want a solid grinder and don’t mind being limited in their settings the OXO Good Grips is a great way to go.
Pros and Cons
- Great price
- Easy to use
- Durable construction
- Extended, non-slip handle
- Only two settings
- Probably not a “once in a lifetime” purchase
The Science Behind Pepper
If you’ve only used ground pepper before, you might be surprised at just how much you’re missing out on. There’s a reason that people with gourmet tastes prefer them exclusively.
Peppercorns have an array of volatile components. While the piperine, which is the component responsible for the spiciness, remains good for around three to four years after cracking the pepper there are a ton of different phytochemicals which are volatile and begin to fade off almost immediately after the pepper has been cracked.
Volatile elements of taste are thus lost with even the most high quality pre-ground pepper. These elements make for a spicier, richer experience overall even when you’re using the humble black peppercorn which comprises the vast majority of the spice.
You also have to deal with oxidation of some of the components. The majority of pepper’s taste comes from ingredients which are both volatile and susceptible to oxidative damage due to being complex organic molecules.
Freshly ground pepper has more character to it, essentially.
It’s even more essential for other varieties of pepper to be enjoyed properly, since almost all of them will end up tasting like black pepper a relatively short period after being ground. This is quite unfortunate.
The truth is that pepper is actually an amazing spice, but due to being traded primarily in ground form it’s become something of a “staple” spice, especially combined with salt, rather than allowing it to be appreciated for its own unique characteristics. Instead it’s mostly used to liven up bland foods.
While some people have enjoyed the pre-packaged pepper mills which are out there, the truth is that their blades are inferior when it comes to to grinding the pepper and it’s really only about halfway to the real thing.
A good pepper mill is a purchase that will last for a lifetime.
Who Should Buy a Pepper Mill?
Let’s face it, there are people out there who don’t particularly care about the food they’re eating. In that case, pre-ground pepper is probably just fine.
But for those looking to expand the horizons of their taste, a pepper mill can be an absolute godsend. There are tons of varieties of pepper available to the end consumer, each with their own distinct character. All of this can add up to an amazing amount of experience, without having to import specialty spices and instead being able to move forward with some commonly available spices.
If you’re unsure try one of those little disposable mills from a grocery store.
We don’t recommend sticking with these, often the peppercorns have been improperly stored for long periods of time which reduces the flavor components but it’s still better than having pre-ground pepper since the shell acts to reduce air exposure.
If you find it better than regular pepper, even a little bit, then you’ll probably enjoy your kitchen that much more with a pepper mill.
What to Look for in a Pepper Mill
When you get down to it, pepper mills are remarkably simple devices. You twist the mill, gravity keeps the peppercorns against the burrs, and the burrs grind them into powder.
That said, it still doesn’t keep designers from making a few common errors which prevent their mills from being great. We looked at all of the following to ensure that we brought you the best.
Cheaper mills have a serious problem: they tend to clog or lock up. When this happens it can range from annoying to truly frustrating depending on how easy the design is to clean. We avoided any of those that were commonly reported as having this problem.
We also looked for those which were easier to turn. Wasting a ton of manual effort in order to get just a tiny bit of pepper wasn’t our idea of a good time.
Manual vs. Electric
Unlike coffee grinders, we favored manual pepper mills. For the average person seeking fresh pepper, there’s just not a whole lot of point in getting an electric grinder for their pepper. They’re more expensive and tend to produce more volume than you’ll find need for in the average kitchen.
On the other hand, for commercial kitchens or really large families they can be quite handy. Some of our reviewers also noted they liked to crush up a good amount of pepper all at once in order to ensure that they had it through the week.
If you’re going to go that route make sure to use an airtight container to store the pepper, but an electric grinder may be the way to go if you don’t mind footing the upfront costs.
The various presets which come with most grinders are a big deal to some people. With pepper ranging from fine to coarse depending on the dish and their own personal taste.
It’s not just the amount of presets, however, it’s also the range. If you like coarse pepper, for instance, then you won’t be pleased with a grinder that delivers medium-ground pepper on it’s coarsest setting and vice versa.
We found that six or so settings was often enough, allowing a fine gradation from super fine to crackly pepper.
While it’s a rare occurrence, we’ve heard of some of the wooden pepper mills which dominate the market cracking. It seems particularly true for the top portion of the mill.
It’s a rare concern, but if you’re particularly worried about it there are several stainless steel models out there which shouldn’t ever break as long as you aren’t exposing them to excessive amounts of heat and oxidation.
Speed of Action
We measured the speed of the grinders by placing them over a bowl with a mark. Some are quicker or slower than others, but it also seemed to depend a lot on the presets which we used for those which had them.
Altogether an electric model is the best for those who are concerned with speed, even the slowest pepper mills grind things up pretty quickly and outside of a commercial kitchen we see no need to be rushing your pepper to such an extreme degree.
Maintaining Your Pepper Mill
For the most part, your maintenance is going to be minimal with a pepper mill. Especially if you go with one at the upper end of the quality scale.
There are some definite “don’ts” however, which can help you to avoid any serious problems:
- Don’t put salt or any other type of spice through a pepper mill. There are specially made mills for grinding other spices, and salt requires a stainless steel or ceramic set of burrs in order to avoid corrosion.
- Check your peppercorns for moisture before you put them through. This is especially important for the various types of pepper other than black which have a higher water content. You should mix in a little bit of black with these most of the time in order to avoid any clogging issues.
- Don’t use the dishwasher to clean your mill. In fact, don’t use water to clean them at all or you’re going to be facing problems with rust. Just tamping them out is usually good enough.
- If you’re not going to be using your mill for an extended period of time then you’re going to want to ensure that you remove the peppercorns from it.
- With wooden mills, try to avoid getting the exterior too wet. A small amount of water and soap can be used if they get particularly dirty but actually immersing them in water is just asking for problems.
You’ll also want to place just a bit of mineral oil on the top nut once every few months to keep it moving easily so you can refill it.
Sooner or later you’re going to run into a jam with any pepper mill. It’s just a fact of life.
Fortunately, they’re quite easy to clear for the most part.
Your first shot should be to remove the top of the mill and turn it upside down. Tap it out gently on a rag over the counter or other soft surface. This is often enough to get things cleared up, especially if it’s just a peppercorn in an odd placement.
If that fails you, then you may have to consult your manual(you kept it, didn’t you?) in order to disassemble the grinding mechanism to get the offending powder or peppercorn out. Most of the time this can be done in just a couple of minutes.
As long as you’re careful the risk of damage to your mill is pretty minimal, just try not to attack it with a hammer while you’re solving the problem and things will be just fine.
Types of Peppercorns
Our first thought when we got a mill was to try out different types of peppercorns. If you’re as excited as we were consult the following table and you’ll be able to find all of the common varieties, where they come from, and roughly what they taste like.
|Black Peppercorns||Unripe and roasted peppercorns from piper nigrum||Pungent, spicy, and bold|
|Green Peppercorns||Unripe peppercorns from piper nigrum||Spicy and bold, less pungent than black pepper|
|White Peppercorns||Ripe berries with their outer skin removed from the piper nigrum plant||Hot and creamy, not as pungent or aromatic as other varieties|
|Pink Peppercorns||Dried berries from the Schinus molle plant||Light taste, but quite hot and similar to black pepper|
These aren’t the only varieties, and pepper from different origins has become quite a hobby for some people. You’ll want to spend some time familiarizing yourself with at least those, however, if you’re planning on getting serious about your pepper.
As we said before: pepper is a complex spice, and finding your perfect match is definitely an adventure in tastes.
When it comes time to get serious about pepper, we’d hope that you would take our recommendations into mind. There are a lot of grinders out there which are simply subpar.
If you go with our top pick, the classic Peugeot 23461 Paris U’Select Pepper Mill, you can be assured of a pepper mill with a long lifespan and rare problems with jamming. It’s still the best around, and probably has been since their initial inception.
So, it’s time to take your taste buds to a new plane with the world’s most common spice. There’s no reason not to pick up a mill and give it a shot, and the adventure can last for a lifetime when you consider all the varieties of pepper you just opened your world to.