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Pepper Mills: your picks and pans

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(Not exactly cookware, but seemed closer to me than gen'l topics...)

We're looking for a pepper mill that really does grind to a different coarseness when adjusted!

Let's pool our collective wisdom and compile a list of good choices and ones to avoid...

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  1. I always buy Old Thompson--they are highly adjustable and release a lot of pepper if you want a lot. I do and I cannot stand mills that take forever to rain pepper over my dish.

    Besides their adjustability and volume, the other great thing is the wonderful service from the company itself.

    A couple of years ago, my mill finally broke. I emailed them asking how to fix it. They said send a picture and they'd replace it with one like it--and they did just that.

    I often find them at Homegoods, Marshalls etc. for a good prce. They make good gifts when you know someone needs one.

    My two (+) cents.

    1 Reply
    1. re: SeaSide Tomato

      I was a huge fan of Olde Thompson for years. I'd send them a letter about why the old one failed, they were great- they never demanded photos, never demanded that I return the broken one, and they quickly sent me a new grinder- filled, mind you!- every time. Around the fourth or fifth (cheerful) replacement, I bought a stainless steel pepper mill that is just now showing signs of wear (not grinding the pepper fine enough), and it's been more than ten years. The OT grinders would last 2-3 years at most. If ou're up to the paperwork, Olde Thompson is a great company. Otherwise, look for the pricier grinders with industrial innards.

      1. Unicorn Magnum is my go-to-mill.. not the prettiest thing, but it works well..

        8 Replies
        1. re: grant.cook

          I recently bought the Magnum, and while plastic is not usually my thing, this is one great peppermill. The grind is consistent with no losening of a screw, ANC it showers a ton of pepper. It also hols a lot, and you have to refill it very infrequently.

          1. re: roxlet

            And it's easy easy easy to refill when you do finally need to. I got a Magnum a couple of years ago based on a recommendation here. I wanted a mill to stay by the stove, with my salt dish, and wanted something plastic or metal (easiy to clean thoroughly after handling with "cooking hands"). I'm impressed with the volume it produces with relatively little effort when a real quantity is needed, and the consistency of the grind. If it would go down to a slightly finer grind I'd be even more pleased, but it's adequate for my needs.

            Also, the little underplate is a wonderful touch, and I wonder why more table peppermills don't come with those.

            One of the most successful kitchen purchases ever; belated thanks to the recommenders.

            1. re: roxlet

              Does the Magnum leave little bits of pepper all over the counter? That's been my problem with all the peppermills I have ever had.

              1. re: shoes

                Don't most peppermills do that (leave bits of ground pepper)? Your best bet will be those of inverted pepper mills, where the opening is placed on the top at rest, for examples:

                http://reviews.crateandbarrel.com/725...

                http://theworldofjoyce.files.wordpres...

                http://www.superprod.com/product/-col...

                1. re: shoes

                  @shoes: No, it doesn't. It leaves them in the little fitted "coaster" that it comes with (what I was referring to in the post as an 'underplate').

                2. re: roxlet

                  Anyone know where they sell the Unicorn Magnum in Westchester? I only see them on line. Thanks!

                3. re: grant.cook

                  Add me to the Unicorn Magnum fans. My other mills have been no-names or Peugeot (which were also not bad), but the Unicorn Magnum adjusts better, grinds faster, loads easier. Only downside is that the black plastic makes it look more like Darth Vader than like a classy kitchen tool.

                  1. re: grant.cook

                    The very best peppermill I have ever had, would'nt have any other.

                      1. re: blue room

                        I like it to, except I am getting tired of cleaning up the pepper/salt that's all over my counter when the bottom falls out!

                        1. re: wincountrygirl

                          Do you have the newer Oxo Pepper Mill pictured in the link or do you have the older version with the button on the side to push to release the top to refill the peppercorns that is useless because it comes apart at the most inopportune times? I seems like you own the older one as do I.

                          1. re: John E.

                            No, there is no button. Call me a glutton for punishment but I do like these mills. I recently bought a new one and the bottom screws in a bit better - we'll see!!

                            1. re: wincountrygirl

                              Ikea sells a similar spice grinder that works great and never comes apart for only $6.

                              http://www.ikea.com/us/en/search/?que...

                        2. re: blue room

                          I bought this a few weeks ago and I like it. So far the bottom hasn't fallen out. You can regulate the grind from fine to coarse, with several choices in between. It was easy to refill. And it wasn't horribly expensive.

                          1. re: blue room

                            It does, when the bottom is not falling out and spilling salt or pepper all everywhere!

                          2. I have the 12" William Bounds bamboo pepper mill. You can definitely tell the difference when you change the grind size. However, the way you turn the little metal doodah on top seems counterintuitive. You tighten it to get a larger grind, loosen it to get smaller. I've owned it for five years, and I've never gotten used to that. But if that doesn't bother you, it definitely does what you're looking for.

                            http://www.wmboundsltd.com/shopexd.as...

                            1. Old school PEUGEOT mills are bomb-proof and deliver the goods.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Kagemusha

                                I agree. I've had a peugeot pepper mill for 30 years and it is indestructible. The grindy bits are made from the same high tensile steel that Peugeot automotive drive shafts are made of.

                                1. re: kagemusha49

                                  I own a Wm. Bounds acrylic pepper mill with handle. It has worked for several years, and has now become much less effective. I noticed at Williams-Sonoma that the same mill is carried there with the Peugeot name on it, instead of Wm Bounds. If the mechanism of that mill is the same as the one I own, I'd doubt seriously that it is made from high tensile steel. Perhaps higher end mills are, though.

                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                    I don't know whether or not Peugeot is currently also marketing other manufacturers' mills under its label. I do know that the old Peugeot mills (and surely some of the current mills) used automotive case-hardened steel and would never wear out.

                                    1. re: kagemusha49

                                      Right. I suspect that the older mills, or even the higher priced mills would be built better than the acrylicmodel. The acrylic mill was handsome, but it didn't last very many years. I am sure I must have bought it at Home Goods at some point. I wonder if Peugeot bought out Bounds? Or vice versa?

                              2. Great topic choice. I've had wonderful luck with brentwoodmills.com. Hand-turned wood mills, handsome, made in America, easily adjustable. I love them, and the guy who answers the phone is most helpful. They'll personalize the mills any way you want. Reasonable prices. I owned several quite inexpensive mills that worked poorly before I found Brentwood Mills. Can't say enough good things about them.

                                1. I collect pepper mills. Of all of those mentioned, the only one I don't have is the Unicorn Magnum. I have several William Bounds, Peugeot, Cole & Mason, Kuhn Rikon, Penzey's, Oxo, Ikea, and Vic Firth. The peppermill by the stove is the Ikea. The peppermill that I would recommend for various grinds and staying where it is set is the Vic Firth. When you adjust it's grind it does not change until you decide to change it (uinlike many other grinding mechanisms).

                                  11 Replies
                                  1. re: John E.

                                    John,

                                    I am looking forward to get a Vic Firth. Do you know which one you have? I am looking at these models:

                                    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000...

                                    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000...

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Chem,

                                      The Vic Firth peppermill that I got first is this one:

                                      http://www.target.com/p/Vic-Firth-Gou...

                                      The one I have does not have a Mario Batali signature on it or anything, but it looks like the one from Target. The other one is painted white with blue lettering "poivrer" on the side. I can't find it online anywhere so it must be discontinued.

                                      I bought both of them at Goodwill. Each time the screw at the top was cross-threaded. I have not had a problem with cross threading so I suppose someone thought it was 'broken' and donated it. I think most of the peppermills have been donated by people that did not buy them. I see a lot of Olde Thompson, Mr. Dudley, and other cheap peppermills but have never bought any of them. I have bought $80 Peugeot peppermills for $1. I think the Vic Firth's were either $2 or $3 each. The Vic Firths seem to have the best mechanism for locking the grind to exactly how one likes it and it stays there. I find most of the others loosen up with use. Of all the peppermills we have, the only ones that I'd pay retail price for is the Vic Firths (other than the Ikea which is still my go to peppermill when cooking and at $6 can't be beat on price).

                                      1. re: John E.

                                        "The Vic Firths seem to have the best mechanism for locking the grind to exactly how one likes it and it stays there"

                                        That is the problem of my current pepper grinder. It changes as I turn. In my case, it tightens when turn. I probably would like to get the non-Mario Batali version as well. I know the OXO pepper grinder stays put by using a discrete mechanism, but I am trying to look for a more traditional grinder. Thanks.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          I think they all have the same mechanism so you could just find the size and style you prefer and I'm sure you would be pleased with it.

                                          1. re: John E.

                                            I would rather not to have a celebrity chef's name on my pepper mill. :)

                                            Anyway, I did some more searches just now and found the Federal series:

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

                                            http://www.vicfirthgourmet.com/produc...

                                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Chem - My VicFirth looks a bit different than the one in the link, but I believe that mechanism is the same. I love mine, works as John said

                                        1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                          Thanks you two. I saw a good deal on Amazon yestersday for $19 and free shipping:

                                          http://www.amazon.com/Vic-Firth-FED06...

                                          I almost bought it except I later found out that I would prefer a 8 inch tall. I will look more carefully.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            I bought another Vic Firth today, this time a Jimmy Buffet signature pepper mill. It looks just like the Mario Batali 7" but has a Jimmy Buffet signature on it. A Salvation Army thrift store had it for $1.50. This appears to never have had any peppercorns in it. I may have to start selling some of these on e-Bay.

                                            Edit...after searching vainly for a Jimmy Buffet signature Vic Firth pepper mill I have come to the conclusion that it must be another pepper mill that I purchased today. It is likely that I have a Mario Batali signed pepper mill. Why then does his first name on the signature look like a 'J"?

                                            In my defense, Jimmy Buffet's drummer does use Vic Firth sticks.

                                      3. re: John E.

                                        Is that Vic Firth the drummer? I guess to go from making drumsticks to making peppermills wouldn't be that big a stretch...

                                          1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                            Actually I have a Vic Firth rolling pin. It got really good reviews. I bought it and like mine a lot. It is very solid and well made and inexpensive too. I guess it is a even smaller ump from drumstick to rolling pin. :)

                                        1. Magnum Unicorn.

                                          That's it. Unscrew it and you're getting 1/2 cracked peppercorns -- VERY coarse. All the way in it's grinding nice and fine. Also, it grinds fast! Ever try to get a tablespoon of pepper for a recipe? You'll be there for an hour with a Peugeot. Takes 8-10 turns with the Magnum.

                                          1. I love my Olde Thompson Bavaria mill. Really. I said that to my daughter the other day. This mill has the grinder at the top so pepper crumbs don't get everywhere. It easily adjust from a fine dust to cracked pepper corn size. Mine will be three years old at Christmas, is used daily both for cooking and fornthe table. It is still going strong. I have not had issues with worn parts, but they have a lifetime guarantee and I understand they will send a new mechanism should yours wear out.

                                              1. re: rasputina

                                                I have two Zassenhaus pepper mills, which I bought after reading MANY reviews some years ago and which are the best I've ever had. Both have crank handles - the wooden one is kept in the kitchen and the glazed ceramic one on the dining table. It was my good fortune to find the first in a thrift shop and the second on ebay, but they are available elsewhere!

                                                1. re: rasputina

                                                  I bought this very recently. I like it. I hope I can figure out how to fill it when the time comes, though.
                                                  I like the clean design and the functionality so far. I set the grind the way I like it and I like not having a jerky crank to work while I'm cooking.

                                                2. Apart from coarseness control (important of course), I find that a one-handed grinder in my prep/stove area is a must-have. One hand is often smeared with raw meat or fish, or holding a pan handle or spoon, and therefore unavailable to hold a grinder. I have an electric one, but the pepper ball affairs with two handles would work I guess.

                                                  1. l have a large Perfex and a Magnum, purchased due to what l read on Chowhound. The Perfex is the one l use and have for 30 years.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                      Perfex is GREAT for a totally unpredictable and uneven grind PLUS being a PITA to crank. Which just goes to show, "different strokes for different folks.". I have a Perfex and an old Peugeot. I am in the market for something else.

                                                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                          Sorry not to have replied earlier...we have made the Perfex a single use item. It creates both big chunks and powder, no idea how, which seems ideal to sprinkle on olive oil, along with salt, for dunking pieces of bread. Now that we have adapted our expectations to its output, we have a stable human to object relationship.

                                                        2. re: tim irvine

                                                          Tim's has been my experience as well: a very uneven grind combined with an unergonomic design -- could that dinky little handle with its small turning radius be any more awkward?

                                                      1. Right now we have three pepper mills. The wood one on the table was bought at a chain in the south 50 years ago--they sold the pepper mill that was on your table--it's an Olde Thompson and still adjusts fine. There are two by the stove. One is a tall wooden one with no brand that I got for $1 at Goodwill--we keep that one on fine grind. The other is big plastic TJs pepper with built in mill--we keep that on coarse.

                                                        1. Although it is a combo salt shaker/pepper mill, I have had this William Bounds model for over 20 years and still works great:

                                                          http://www.wmboundsltd.com/shopexd.as...

                                                          1. My absolute favorite is the Pepperball. It's a globe about the size of a baseball with rabbit ear handles on top- you just pick it up and squeeze. I've had mine for years so I don't recall the original price, but it was not at all expensive. In fact it was an impulse purchase; I had no idea I'd come to love the thing so much. Until I started using it.

                                                            Easy one-handed operation makes it an ideal stoveside companion, as Robin stated upthread. I would not willingly go back to needing both hands free and clean while in the midst of a cooking fugue, just for a quick dash of pepper. Simple adjustment of grind, and no rotation involved so the setting doesn't vary at all unless you actually turn the knob yourself. (I mostly use medium-fine to semi-coarse grinds and my experience, while entirely positive, has been primarily within the central 50% of its range. So I can't reliably speak to its ability at extremely fine or very coarse settings.)

                                                            It's made of plastic but has survived falls over the years, cleans easily and is super fast- effortless, really. Plus, it's transparent so I always know how much pepper is left. Despite a neat, sort of 60s-futuristic look, this thing's definitely not right for an elegant table setting. But in the kitchen, for convenience and reliable grind consistency, it can't be beat. They might even be making a metal one by now- a design this good deserves a deluxe version.

                                                            If anything happened to mine I'd buy another just like it.

                                                            PS: On reading this back it almost sounds like a sales pitch. Am not a salesman, just a guy who likes his peppermill a lot. In fact, I don't know who makes these or even where they're sold these days but I'm sure somebody must still be making them.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                                              When i worked in a kitchen store, I recommended this one for use by the stove. Works great for the one hand application but not something I would suggest for on the table.

                                                              1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                                                The one-handed application appeals to me. I'm a slow, mise-en-place cook, though, and rarely actually need it. For faster-moving cooks -- 90% of you -- Vic Firth also sells a one-handed mill, that's narrow enough to be put in an apron pocket. It's metal and plastic, so highly cleanable.

                                                              2. I recently picked up a vic firth pepper and salt mill. Couldn't be happier.

                                                                Pepper Mill:

                                                                http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003...

                                                                Salt Mill:

                                                                http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003...

                                                                The patented no slip nut on the top really does work and holds the grind setting perfectly.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: meadandale

                                                                  Ooh that pepper mill has a nice 1960's Danish Modern thing going on.

                                                                2. I love freshly ground pepper! I first bought a Zassenhaus from Penzey's and was disappointed in it (very fine grind). Then I bought a Perfex from Williams Sonoma. Still disappointed. Then a friend gave me a Unicorn Magnum Plus. Wow. This is exactly what I've been wanting in a pepper mill. The main thing I love about it is that it will SHOWER coursely-ground pepper on your food! Just a few turns provides a large amount of pepper. I've been using this one for several years now - no need to continue the hunt.

                                                                  1. I have, and like very much, a Perfex. It adjusts easily and accurately, and the setting stays put. It was made in France. I've had it for decades.

                                                                    1. We own this, a Zassenhaus: http://tinyurl.com/7mncqwm and an acrylic William Bounds. The Z is on the table, and Wm Bounds in at the stove. I have to confess I am not fond of either of these. I dislike the crank. I may have to buy a Magnum! Even the OXO looks good. I'll leave Mr. Sueatmo's Z alone because he doesn't like change, but I've never been fond of it.

                                                                      I bought the Zassenhaus from Penzey's long, long ago. They carry a different pepper mill now. Here is a link: http://tinyurl.com/8p96l These are supposed to be able to accommodate the larger Tellicherry pepper they sell. I imagine one of you reading this thread will be able to identify which sort it is.

                                                                      That's what I love about CH. People take their food tools seriously! I love this about Hounds, seriously.

                                                                      1. I have made this point on other pepper mill threads but if I were looking for a new pepper mill I would check the thrift and Goodwill stores. Today I bought a Peugeot pepper mill for $1.80.

                                                                        http://www.amazon.com/Peugeot-PM24178...

                                                                        1. Does anyone know anything about the Cole & Mason Derwent Gourmet Precision Pepper Mill? I'm thinking Unicorn Magnum, but Cooks Illustrated picks this one as the best. Any thoughts? Thanks!

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                            I have the Cole & Mason. Good output. Even grinds. Has 6 grind settings. You can tell when you are about to run out. Best part is you can refill without changing the settings. Only downside is I prefer a crank mechanism for when you need A LOT of grinds.

                                                                            1. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                              wincountrygirl, we have the Cole & Mason Derwent Gourmet Precision pepper mill and love it!

                                                                              We have several others, including three older Peugeots and an Oliver Hemming Spice Boy, but my favorite is the most recent Cole & Mason that I purchased at Amazon:

                                                                              http://www.amazon.com/Cole-Mason-H594...

                                                                              It is easy to load, has a nice hand-feel, holds its setting, is clearly marked for the various grinds and has a good output of pepper. I recommend this pepper mill without reservation.

                                                                              1. re: liu

                                                                                Thank you so much. I am so on the fence about the pepper/salt mills. The price is certainly better on this one than the Unicorn though!!! I like the fact that the settings are marked - the Unicorn is a guessing game from what I've read.

                                                                            2. Unicorn for sure. Great Mills. I have the smaller one and love it. A real workhorse!!

                                                                              8 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Nanzi

                                                                                  I love my Unicorn, too. I've had it for four or five years, and I'd replace it with another if I had to.

                                                                                  I have a small one and it fits my reltively small hands just fine. I think a larger one would be more convenient for larger hands.

                                                                                  1. re: bear

                                                                                    bear - how is it to fill? I've heard its a pain. And what about the size of the grind. Is it easy to figure out? Thanks!

                                                                                    1. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                                      The grind isn't easy to figure, but I find it easy to fill. Some people complain that it opens too easily, but I haven't had that issue. I do fill it over the sink or trash, though, since a few peppercorns can fall out, but that has more to do with the size of the container you are pouring out of. I find it quite simple and not annoying at all.

                                                                                      I had an old Oxo before which was much more aggravating to fill.

                                                                                      1. re: bear

                                                                                        Got my Unicorn Magnums the other day. A little sloppy to fill, but I'll figure out a better way. Love the output - it's amazing. No issue with unwanted pepper coming out the fill opening as I'm filling it up to below the hole. made,the right choice! Goodbye Oxo. Thanks all!

                                                                                        1. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                                          wincountrygirl, I'm glad to hear that you are happy with your purchase! Which one did you select?

                                                                                          1. re: liu

                                                                                            The 6 inch. Got a salt and a pepper.

                                                                                          2. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                                            So glad you like it! I use mine all the time. I'm pretty used to filling it, so I don't have many mishaps. Hopefully after a few times, you'll have better luck.