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Pepper (and salt) mill buying guide for newbie

Hope this is the appropriate board to place this question.

I've finally understood the meaning of pepper. Being economical (read: poor student), I always relied on ground pepper (read: McCormick's) in my cooking. Fast, cheap, and efficient (or so I thought).

Now that I know just how mesmerizing the smell of whole peppercorns is, I am on the quest to find that worthy pepper mill. Obviously, I've never owned one so all thoughts and experience are welcomed.

I've looked around the net to check the brands, prices, and reviews but have failed to make a decision. Many of the reviews tend to be quite short, so I really don't get any insights on the small things that make the difference between one brand and another. So I thought you guys could help more. Replies I've found on this board are generally by far more informative in decision making.

If you don't mind, I'd like to know which pepper mill do you have and how it has worked out for you?

Oh, and are electric pepper mills worth it?

Thank you!

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  1. I've bought and used quite a few. Oh and there is no need to mill salt. Anyone who says otherwise is just being a foofy gadget head. Salt does not get stale, or oxidize sitting around so no need to grind it.

    By far, the best consistent brand of pepper mills is peugeot from France. Their cheapest model comes in either blond or dark wood for $25. The blond wood gets icky, dirty eventually so I would go with the dark. I linked to a listing for it on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/4-75-Peugeot-Pe...

    Promise you will not be disappointed and it will last for many, many years.

    12 Replies
    1. re: StriperGuy

      One other tidbit. All of the Peugeot mills have the exact same mechanism, the only thing that varies is the design and size of the exterior. Unless you eat massive quantities of pepper (bigger reservoir) or want something showier, the little $25 mill is the exact same grinder as all the others and holds enough pepper to last a normal mortal 6 months.

      1. re: StriperGuy

        Hey StriperGuy,

        About the no milling salt bit - how do you season the food though? I mean, isn't the salt going to be too coarse without grinding it up first? Just curious - I'm still new to it all. I've only been using packaged table salt and pepper.

        By you comments, does pepper get stale easily? What's the best way to store those precious peppercorns? I read somewhere that pepper loses its flavor and freshness within 6 months so it's best to buy in lower quantities instead of bulk. Are salt pigs good to hold them or should I stick to airtight spice containers?

        Thanks a bunch.

        1. re: Strangette

          Are you serious Strangette? Last I checked my salt shaker 99.999% of table salt in the supermarket comes pre ground . Only if you go out of your way to get rock salt is that not the case.

          Something like the Trader Joe's sea salt is tasty (pre-ground) and all you ever really need for salt. Though I do occasionally use Kosher Salt when I am curing fish or making pickles.

          The only possible exception is if you have some exotic rock salt for some special dish.

          Also, whole pepper does not go stale that quickly though you really should buy relatively small amounts an once lasts a long time. Keep peppercorns in a cool (not the fridge) dark place. Only already ground pepper gets flat quickly, thus the need for home pepper grinders.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            with all due respect, when it comes to salt it's not quite that simple.

            some of the more unusual or exotic varieties of salt come in rather large crystals that really do need to be broken down for better control over flavor/seasoning or measurement. granted, the average home cook doesn't typically keep this stuff on hand i the pantry...and one can certainly employ other methods to grind or crush it without having to purchase a separate grinder specifically for that purpose.

            now, do i think it makes sense for the op to spend the money on a designated salt mill? no, most likely not. but for some of us, it really is useful.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              striper:

              see the new thread [exotic varieities of salt] now on the home cooking board...

          2. re: Strangette

            I have some huge-grain sea salt and a couple of other salts that are sometimes too large of a grain for what I need. When that case comes up I just give them a quick grind with a mortal and pestle. I generally leave the remaining salt in the mortar which gives me quick access the next time I need a pinch or two of salt.

            1. re: Strangette

              Salt milling is cosmetic bull$hit. Peppercorns contain volatile oils that are released when ground and using whole peppercorns maximizes flavor. The peppercorns do lose quality over time. They don't go "bad" but they lose potency and maximum flavor.

              Salt is chemically the same whether it comes from a mine in Texas or the Himalayas. There are no oils that can be released by grinding and using table salt is no different than coarse or kosher salt (just different shapes of teh same thing). The mystique of sea salt or other "gourmet" salts is pretty silly marketing. All salt is technically sea salt and to call one salt superior to another in flavor is nonsensical. The "varietal" salts you see in gourmet shops carry trace minerals other than salt which may add "flavor" but the sad truth is sodium chloride is sodium chloride. The rest is marketing.

              1. re: ferret

                eh...why the anger?

                No, all salt is not the same. Yes, all salt is (mostly) NaCl, but that is the only similarity.

                Table salt has iodine in it, which has an unpleasant flavor to some. Plus, it is ground so fine that it leeches liquid out of meats.

                Kosher salt is pure salt and the grains are larger. It is easier to use in the kitchen and is preferred by most chefs. It is good/acceptable for most cooking applications (I can't vouch for baking).

                Other salts have different desirable attributes. Smoked salt can add an incredible smoky flavor to dishes. Sea salt contains other trace elements that add flavor. Plus, many salts have different texture that can be appreciated if not dissolved.

                1. re: joshlane4

                  It's true that all salt (NaCl) is formed as the result of two elements, sodium (a metal) coming into contact with chlorine (a very dramatic instantaneous reaction, BTW--maybe there are videos online?). But let me give you an analogy I like to use. Diamonds are formed from carbon, an element, and so carry its atomic symbol, C, i.e., they're pure carbon. But the fact of the matter is that relatively few of them are colorless and this is due to trace elements; this can result in some stunning colors depending on what else is present and in what quantities. They're all C, but aside from sharing other properties (luster, hardness, etc.) their colors can be very dissimilar. It's the same with various table salts--they're still NaCl but it's the trace elements that can make a difference, that and, I suppose, the conditions under which they're produced which I guess could result in different patterns of crystallization (I don't claim to be an authority on salt). I don't know if we can all taste all of the differences (including myself), but they're there.

                  1. re: joshlane4

                    I acknowledged that there are trace minerals in some salts -- as to whether they add any flavor is debateable. I have a container of smoked salt in my cupboard as well as truffle salt, both are excellent but neither occur naturally. I just think that the marketing of colored salts is taking the foodie movement to a silly extreme. When you're paying $15 or $20 for a small quantity of Himalayan salt you're buying a few pennies worth of salt and the rest is Eastern mysticism. It ain't about the food.

                    1. re: ferret

                      I do agree that there is a lot of mark up and "hype" around some salts as well as a variety of food products. That's why I use kosher salt 99% of the time. But I think some of the varieties have their specialized places in the kitchen. I personally have never spent much on fancy salt, but to each his/her own.

                      1. re: ferret

                        But color's part of presentation! Although, to be honest, as pretty as Himalayan salt is, I don't think I'd actually buy it--I don't think there are any claims that it tastes better. The color's lovely, though--it puts me in mind of tourmalines. I think it can be had for way less than $15 or $20, though.
                        I tried truffle salt at Dean & DeLuca yesterday; wonderful! I'm guessing it can be bought cheaper at Fairway, though.

              2. Vic Firth makes some of the most beautiful pepper mills anywhere, right here in the US! google him to get to his web site. He used to be the tympanist in the Boston Symphony, and made the mills for a hobby!

                1 Reply
                1. re: ChefJune

                  Did a little amazoning around and the Vic Firth mechanism does not seem on par with the Peugeot. Found several complaints about the mechanism:

                  http://www.amazon.com/Vic-Firth-MAR07...

                  It is for exactly that reason that I would only go with Peugeot.. They last for ever. Oh and to the OP above, Don't go electric, how hard is it to use a good pepper grinder and electric is just another thing to break.

                2. I am a proud new owner of a Magnum Plus pepper mill. Lots of positive reviews and I can tell you they are true.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    Hey all! Thanks for the responses.

                    Yeah it seems like everywhere I checked, Peugeot and Vic Firth had very favorable reviews. I just didn't know if they were brand names that were just that - the brand.

                    What do you think of the Chef'n Pepper Mill Ball? I just discovered it so wondered if it was just a at-the-moment type of gadget. The idea of one-hand usage is attractive. Sounds nice, but wary if it'll be one of those gadgets that fail after heavy usage...

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      With all of you folks chiming in about these Magnum mills, I took a look at their website and saw all of the rave reviews... I am willing to alter my pro-Peugeot fanatacism and say that those look like a respectable product as well.

                    2. Salt mills are all worthless except for one - Peugeot's got a wet salt mill that is as far as I am aware the only one of its kind. It's fiddly to use but is the only mill that will effectively grind wet sel gris/fleur de sel. Still, this is a pretty esoteric kind of gadget for someone just discovering fresh-ground pepper. You'll be fine with a box of kosher salt.

                      Avoid electric pepper mills.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: terrier

                        I have the wet-salt mill, and it is great. Particularly, for steaks I love very, grey (almost dirty looking) mineraly sea salt that I get from the Spice House in Chicago. The chunks are too big. The wet-salt mill does a wonderful job of grinding them. About every other month, the mill does need to be broken down and washed out with warm water (no soap!), left to air dry and then reassembled.

                        I do have a normal peugot salt mill also. Quite frankly, I find myself reaching into the salt pig for a pinch of kosher far more than I do using the normal salt mill.

                        1. re: terrier

                          Kyocera makes mills that are supposed to be great with wet salt. A number of positive reviews are posted on Amazon to that effect, some from owners of the Peugeot wet mill. At a list of $17.95 with free shipping as opposed to the much more expensive Peugeot, who could resist? I'm awaiting delivery because I use gros sel and don't want to spend an arm and a leg to grind it.
                          I've used my little Perfex for pepper for many years but they've gotten really expensive. Given that the mechanism is the same regardless of model. I'd heed the advice of others and go with a low-end Peugeot, especially if the grind is adjustable.

                        2. I second the Unicorn Magnum pepper mill. I went with the regular 6" model (the Plus being 9") as I wanted a pepper mill I could use at the stove and at the table when dining. A bit tricky to fill the first time as I spilled a few peppercorns. Then I thought of folding a piece of paper in half and dumping them on the paper and they slid right in to the chamber. Nice grind and feels like it should last for many years.

                          http://www.unicornmills.com/index.cfm...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: landfill101

                            That's the exact mill I use and love, after having gone through many. It's high output, meaning you don't have to grind and grind and grind to get enough pepper.

                            I find it easy to fill without spilling pepper corns all over the kitchen, just make a 'funnel' using thumb and forefinger. I've had mine for at least 5 years, no problems and wouldn't trade it for any other.

                            Pre-ground pepper may go 'flat' in 6 months, but I don't find that to be the case with pepper corns.

                          2. I also have a Unicorn Magnum, the larger "Plus" model. I've had it for years and I love it. My only complaint about it is that the Plus does not come with a little "tray" to stand on, so there are lots of bits of pepper in my cabinet where the thing stands. For that reason, I'd recommend the smaller 6" model, since it comes with a tray. Even the 6" model has enough peppercorns in it to last a long time.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: valerie

                              Valerie you can find small plastic tops like the ones that come on Crystal Lite tubes or maybe tops to yogurt containers that will work well as a tray. I used these on my other mills and it works well for the Magnum.

                            2. This might be worth looking at. A 4" Peugeot pepper mill on close-out for $10 from a reputable dealer.
                              http://bridgekitchenware.com/moreinfo...

                              1 Reply
                              1. Here’s another approach. JK Grence the Cosmic Jester posted about this on another thread. I think the idea is that you can use the spice mill to grind your pepper but you can also move it to the other jars to grind the spices you have stored in them.
                                http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/pro...
                                http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/pro...
                                This is only helpful if you have an Ikea close to you. They don’t mail order these. One nice thing is that the grinder is on top so you don’t need a saucer to catch leakage from the bottom. It has a ceramic grinder and you can buy 7 of them for the price of a fancy pepper mill.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: yayadave

                                  I second the IKEA recommendation. It's rather ugly, but it holds a full two ounces of pepper, and it's very easy to adjust the fineness of the grind. I've used on for 3 or 4 years now with no problems.

                                  On the other end of the price spectrum, you could use a Turkish-style coffee grinder. The consensus of coffee geeks is the best are made by a German company called Zassenhaus. The grinding parts are made of hardened steel and the rest is solid brass. Very pretty and will set you back $80 or so. Something to think about when your student days are over. I think they also make regular spice grinders, but they might be hard to find in the US.

                                2. I have the smaller Magnum and while it works fine, I sometimes wish I'd bought the Peugeot because it gives a more even grind and is easier to turn, at least the ones I've used. So I gotta say the Magnum is a bit overrated.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: luniz

                                    I use an inordinate amount of pepper and still love my old Bodum mill -- you hold it horizontally and twist both sides--works great!. They don't make this one anymore, however.

                                    Barring that, Olde Thompson makes great pepper mills and is readily availalbe at TJ Max, Marshalls and Homegoods--keeping in mind the OPs "poor student" status. Plu, I love a bargain.

                                  2. I am having pretty good luck with the OXO peppermill, pretty good grind variation, cooking quantity is easy, sits upright so the grindings don't litter your counter, has a plastic cap that gives a rough measure of pepper ground into it, see though glass reservoir for the peppercorns, only $12. Have several I paid much more for, including peugot mechanism versions, and was unhappy with. The Magnum series does sound worth a try, I am still looking for the very fine grind.

                                    1. i have a wooden zassenhaus pepper mill, which i have been using for about 5-6yrs now and totally love. definitely go with the larger size. it grinds the pepper very uniformly and just has a nice feel to it...

                                      1. I am a pepper freak. I have been through so many pepper mills and finally settled on the Magnum. I love love this pepper mill. It produces large volumes of pepper with out too much effort. I have not had a problem that some posters have mentioned with inconsistent pepper grinds. I had been using one of the metal Peugeot mills with the crank handle on top and the little door on the side for filling. I liked it but I could never keep the adjusting nut in the same position. It would loosen as I used the mill. Very aggravating.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Raymondo

                                          I have been using a Magnum for many years, and its still works perfectly. It fills pretty easily, can put out a prodigious amount of ground pepper in a short period, has ample capacity, and produces an even grind over a wide range. Also, although it doesn't have that comforting wood texture of , say the Peugeot,it's a cinch to clean. I agree with Raymondo about what I think was the Perfex mill, with the crank and he door on the side. Keeping the grind consistent was nearly impossible after a while, and it eventually fell apart, into a heap of crank and gears. My consolation: it motivated me to buy my Magnum.

                                        2. My favorite peppermill is the Peppermate Peppermill. Although it is a little pricey ($33.95 at Amazon or $34.95 at Cutlery & More), it has several benefits that made it worthwhile for me. It is easy to fill and use. You can adjust your setting from fine to coarse. Five easy turns of the sidekey and you have 1/2 tsp. of ground pepper for your recipe. There is a container on the bottom of the peppermill where you can store pepper as you grind it if you need a large quantity of pepper. I've noticed that both Ina Garten and Paula Deen use it on their cooking shows.

                                          1. I've been searching for a good coarse-grind pepper mill for a long time and found several good ones. My favorite is an old fashion brass coffee grinder which used to be promoted by the late Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith. I bought mine at a swap meet for about $20 but have seen them at gourmet store throughout Southern California. Also, I see McCormick has those disposable grinders which is pretty neat and does a decent job.