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Sep 30, 2007 04:13 AM

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:

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

    13 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


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

            2. re: StriperGuy

              I would like to start by asking you to do a mini buffet of different salts and taste just the salt. Table, or iodized salt is extremely harsh, whereas say a fleur de sel has a smooth taste and finishes well on the palate. Himalayan salt is quite mild and contains a number of essential minerals (about 84). It is mined from salt mines under the himalayan mountains and is estimated to be 300 million years in the making. A Hawaiian Alaea contains traces of red volcanic clay lending itself to a stronger, saltier flavor. I would recommend sampling several varieties and use what you like. Food doesn't have to be boring like Mortons table salt. There are so many salts with so many different tastes, be adventurous, try new things, get out of the rut.

            3. 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:


                    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.


                            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.