Don't be deceived by appearances, pepper mills are made for more than just looking nice on your kitchen table. Once you invest in a good one, it's sure to be one of your most-reached-for kitchen items.
If you aren't already grinding your own pepper, it's time to trade in your can of pre-ground pepper for one of these top-rated pepper mills. Not only does freshly ground pepper bring a whole new layer of flavor to all your dishes, but it's also packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, among other health benefits.
We tested 7 of the best pepper mills on the market, according to home cooks and professionals alike. The results are in — we have determined the best pepper mills for every home cook, from brands like Peugeot, Cole & Mason, Le Creuset, and more.
If you've come here intent on buying a pepper mill, you're probably already convinced of the difference grinding your own pepper can make. But on the off chance you're still on the fence, here's what you should know:
Pepper loses much of its signature bite when exposed to oxygen, which is why pre-ground, canned pepper often leaves more to be desired. But when you grind pepper directly from peppercorns, the ground pepper has far less time to react with the oxygen, resulting in a richer flavor.
Not only does grinding your own pepper give you better flavor, but it also gives you control over how coarse your grains are. A fine grind is going to be great for blending into things like soups and sauces, while a coarse grind is great for crusting meats like steak. It's a small adjustment that leads to big results.
You'll find that most pepper mills allow you to adjust your grind size, but this adjustability can vary greatly across different models. Some pepper mills will have several presets to choose from, while others will require you to tinker with the knob until you reach your desired coarseness.
As is the case with most kitchen gadgets nowadays, pepper mills come in both manual and electric varieties. Electric pepper mills may be appealing to some consumers for their convenience — get freshly ground pepper with simply the touch of a button. However, pepper-purists argue that this takes away from the joy of hand cranking your pepper. But electric mills do make a good option for homecooks with arthritis or limited hand strength.
Manual grinders are far more common, as they give you more control, and tend to deliver a more consistent grind.
Most home cooks aren't going to need or want a large-capacity pepper mill. Not only will these be clunky and difficult to store, but also if the storage compartment is not airtight you are risking exposing your peppercorns to oxygen over a long period of time, which will result in flavor loss. If you are looking to invest in a large-capacity mill, be sure to note whether the manufacturer specifies that the mill is airtight.
This might go without saying, but you'll want to choose a pepper mill that will look nice. After all, it's going to be a permanent resident of your countertop and/or kitchen table. You can find pepper mills in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and finishes, from ornate to modern and sleek.
Allrecipes product tester Rachel Johnson ran whole peppercorns through each pepper mill, comparing the grains on a paper plate and testing the capacity of each peppercorn reservoir. She payed special attention to the following factors:
Many cracked peppercorns later, the results are in. Keep reading to hear Rachel's thoughts on the best pepper mills on the market.
In true OXO fashion, this mid-tier model provides all the function you need from a pepper grinder without anything extra: "OXO's grinder is a solidly middle-tier option, and appropriately priced for what it offers. While not as ornamentally designed as other models, it is efficient, simple, and fancier looking than plastic spice-brand grinders available in grocery stores," says Rachel.
This grinder includes five different grind levels that you can easily toggle between, and Rachel found there to be a clear gradient from the finest grain to the coarsest when tested. The clear plastic casing makes it easy to gauge when the reservoir is running low. Like all products from the Good Grips line, it features a rubberized handle, which may require frequent cleanings to wipe away dust and grime.
Buy it: OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder, $25; Amazon
Unlike the other pepper mills tested, this manual model from Kuhn Rikon uses a grind lever that must be cranked back and forth to grind pepper: "Grinding with this lever isn't quite as smooth or intuitive as more conventional rotating grinders, and the back-and-forth motion can feel a little awkward," says Rachel.
But if you're willing to trade-off the convenience of the traditional rotating model for this crank model, you can get a similar result at a much lower price. The base of the grinder can be turned to adjust your grind size from fine to coarse. "Kuhn Rikon's spice grinder is able to yield results that are quite comparable to higher end pepper mills, and at a significantly lower price point," says Rachel.
Buy it: Kuhn Rikon Adjustable Ratchet Grinder, $15; Amazon
This battery-powered option from Latent Epicure provides freshly ground pepper at the touch of a button. And to really make it feel like a kitchen gadget, this mill has an illuminated base that shows you directly where the ground pepper is landing.
But Rachel did find there were trade-offs to be had for the convenience of this model. While it does have a spectrum of grind levels, Rachel found the grounds to deposit rather slowly, requiring you to hold down the button for an extended period of time. It also has a somewhat limited capacity relative to the competition — about a quarter cup.
As with all battery-operated models, you lose some control over the grind production. However, this electric model would make a great gift for someone with arthritis or limited grip-strength.
Buy it: Latent Epicure Battery-Operated Pepper Mill, $22; Amazon
There is no brand name more synonymous with salt and pepper mills than Peugeot. The French manufacturer creates luxury spice grinders that are as top-notch in function as they are in appearance.
The base of the grinder rotates smoothly between six different grind settings, each of which can be further modified by tightening or loosening the screw atop the handle. For an even grind at any coarseness setting, you can't go wrong with this made-to-last grinder from Peugeot.
Rachel puts it this way: "The substantial price of this unit can be attributed mostly to its cosmetic appeal, but ultimately, the materials feel very well-made and the upscale presentation is quite considered. There's a good deal of variance offered with regard to grind levels, and this product would likely hold up for a long time in any user's kitchen."
Buy it: Peugeot Paris Chef u'Select Stainless Steel Pepper Mill, $50; Amazon
You can always count on Le Creuset to make classic cookware in the most visually-appealing array of colors. This model is available in at least eight different colors, including a number of ombre options.
Use the cast metal knob to adjust the grind settings — clockwise for a finer grind and counterclockwise for a coarser grind. But keep in mind the appeal of this model is most closely tied to the appearance and brand name, as it doesn't boast the versatility of comparable models: "For more casual cooks though, the steeper price point is largely tied to the brand name, and this pepper mill offers less versatility in grain size than other comparable models," says Rachel.
Buy it: Le Creuset Pepper Mill, $40; Amazon
Cole & Mason combines modern design with functionality in this best-selling pepper mill. The two-stage grinding process cracks and then shaves the pepper to release optimal flavor. It comes with six coarseness settings, and an easy pop-off refill mechanism. Plus, the translucent mid section allows you to easily see when peppercorns are running low, and the large reservoir can hold up to a half cup of peppercorns.
"The user's aiming control over where the ground pepper lands is a major advantage," says Rachel. "The ground pepper comes out quite evenly and feels less scattered than other pepper grinders, without dumping too heavy of a concentration in any one spot."
This smart design feels well made without sacrificing on style, making it our favorite design of all the pepper mills tested.
Buy it: Cole & Mason Derwent Pepper Grinder, $40; Amazon
This large-capacity grinder can accommodate up to half a cup of peppercorns, but it's wide, clunky design and cheap materials (the body is made from plastic and the grinder is ceramic, which dulls considerably faster than metal) kept it from competing with models of a similar price point: "From a volume and practicality standpoint, this product has its advantages; however, with the price point closer to some of the higher end brands' models, users may prefer to spend the extra $5 on a more stylish product that ostensibly has equal functionality," says Rachel.
Buy it: PepperMate Traditional Pepper Mill, $35; Amazon
More Product Testing from Allrecipes: