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Most beginner cooks don’t pay much attention to the quality of their pepper (or, yikes, its expiration date). After all, those shakable plastic cans of black flakes are often just used as a finishing touch on most dishes. But we’re guessing your palate and kitchen skills have leveled up a bit since then—and freshly ground pepper is a great way to take things to an even higher level. Spices like peppercorns are at their most powerful and fragrant when they are just cracked or milled; the longer you wait to use them, the more their flavor recedes. A pepper-forward dish like cacio e pepe, for example, is nearly unrecognizable when you use fresh stuff versus stale grounds. 

But how do you choose the best pepper mill for your needs? Start by poring over this expert-sourced guide to learn the differences between electric, manual, and even one-handed models. Once you taste the difference between freshly ground pepper and the stale stuff, there is no going back.

Features to Keep in Mind

Types of Pepper Mills

There are two major classes of mills: manual and electric, the names of which are pretty self-explanatory. The type of grinding mechanism also varies. “There are burr grinders, with two interlocking gears that crush the peppercorns, or blade grinders, that have a spinning blade that chops the peppercorns,” says Ethan Frisch of single-origin spice company Burlap & Barrel. Whether you like the feel of a manual or electric is ultimately a matter of personal preference—according to Frisch, the most important feature is that the grinding mechanism is high quality. “Look for one made of ceramic or stainless steel with a lengthy warranty policy so that you know the company stands behind the quality of their product,” he says.

Grind Size

“Grind size refers to the particle size of the ground pepper as it comes out of the grinder,” Frisch says. “Most high quality grinders will be adjustable, which means you can change the distance between the burrs to allow larger or smaller particles to come through. A finer grind size will produce a more powdery pepper, while a coarse grind size will produce larger pieces of peppercorns with a crunchier texture.”

Refilling

Some models have a “door” to load in the peppercorns, while others refill from the top of the cylinder. “The classic, top-twist grinders are easiest to fill,” says John Ondo, executive chef of The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. “Look for ones with large openings to pour your peppercorns in, so that they actually go into the mill instead of all over the floor.”

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Peugeot Paris u’Select Pepper Mill

If there were an emoji for a pepper mill, it would probably look like the classic Peugeot. After all, the French brand has been making its sleek wooden models since 1840. Each mill features a patented grind control system made of durable steel that can crank out six levels of pepper coarseness. The beechwood exterior features those classic pepper mill curves for easy gripping. Peugeot also stands behind their product with a lifetime warranty.

Best Value: OXO Good Grips Radial Pepper Grinder

Many of today’s pepper mill options have plenty of extra features, but ultimately all a mill needs to do is grind pepper well. If you’re looking for a model that’s easy on the wallet but performs that one job as well as the fancier ones, look no further than OXO. Its standout features include a large, no-slip crank, a ceramic grinder that can adjust from coarse to fine, and a clear door so you know when it’s time to refill. The price is also just about unbeatable.  

Best Salt and Pepper Duo: Willow & Everett Stainless Steel Salt and Pepper Grinder Set

Sometimes you just want everything on your table to match. Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice quality in a pepper mill just to obtain a coordinating set. Willow & Everett’s sleek salt and pepper duo is made out of glass and stainless steel, ensuring easily visible measuring and a powerful grind. We also love its clever design: The grinding mechanism is at the top of the mill instead of the bottom. This means when you’re storing the duo, salt and pepper stay inside the vessel and don’t spill all over your table or counter. When it’s time to reload, the top screws off to a wide mouth for mess-free refills. 

Best Electric: Cuisinart Rechargeable Salt, Pepper, and Spice Mill

If you’re serving a large group, cracking a substantial amount of pepper can be quite the wrist workout. Enter: The electric mill. Cuisinart’s model is efficient and cordless, allowing for easy toting from the counter to the dining table or grill. Other noteworthy specs include two clear containers for spices at the top and bottom of the mill (use one for salt or pink peppercorns!), an adjustable grind, and a clever grinding cap that measures exactly one teaspoon.

Best Luxury: MÄNNKITCHEN Pepper Cannon

We’re not saying you need a $199 pepper mill (err, “cannon”) but MÄNNKITCHEN’s model is certainly worthy of its price tag. For starters, the virtually indestructible mill body is made from a solid piece of aerospace-grade aluminum. Its high-carbon, stainless steel grinding burrs produce an impressive grind range—plus a pepper-per-grind output that’s about ten times greater than a typical grinder. Exercise caution to avoid overseasoning until you get the hang of it. 

Best Wooden: Cole & Mason Capstan Wood Pepper Grinder

If you’re searching for a classic wooden pepper mill at a lower price point than the Peugeot, the Cole & Mason is an excellent choice. Its grinding mechanism is made of machine-cut carbon steel, which ensures smooth and even cranks. The durable mill moves from a fine to coarse grind with a simple twist of the knob on the top, which is easily refilled by removing the top portion. Like Peugeot, every Cole & Mason mill comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Best One-Handed: Dreamfarm Ortwo Handheld Pepper Grinder

This unique-looking pepper mill looks like something Harry Potter might chase down in a game of quidditch, but it’s more than just aesthetically pleasing—it’s designed to be used one-handed! A squeeze of the two handles is all it takes to activate the grind, which is especially key when you’re seasoning raw meats or cooking multiple dishes at once. (You can also use two hands to pull the handles apart for higher-speed crushing.) The sturdy ceramic grinder has six settings from coarse to fine, plus a wide-mouth lid for easy refilling.

Best Ratchet: Kuhn Rikon Ratchet Grinder

Most manual mills use a twisting motion to grind pepper, but ratchet grinders pulverize pepper by moving a ratchet handle forward and backward. While both types are equally powerful, ratchets might be a good pick if twisting motions hurt your wrist. The Kuhn Rikon is best in class when it comes to the ratchet variety. This powerful ceramic stone grinder features an easy-to-fill “door” and an adjustable grind knob to change the texture from coarse to fine. We also love that it comes in multiple hues, which makes it easy to match your tools to your kitchen decor. 

Ask the Experts

What’s the difference between a salt and a pepper mill? 

While there is no difference mechanically between a salt and pepper mill, be wary of materials. “Stainless steel shouldn’t be used to grind salt, since the salt can corrode the metal,” says Frisch. He also points out that while you can grind larger salt crystals down, only pepper will have a flavor advantage from being freshly milled. 

How do I clean a pepper mill?

In general, pepper grinders don’t really need to be cleaned, Frisch says. “If you’re swapping out different types of pepper (or different spices entirely) and don’t want to worry about flavor transfer, I recommend grinding some short-grain rice to soak up any residual oils and clear out remnants of the old pepper,” he says. Dump out the ground up rice for a fresh flavor slate.

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