Pepper Grinder Buying Guide: 10 Tips on How to Choose the Right Mills

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Pepper is probably the most popular spice the world over, used for everything from adding a little kick to salad dressing, bringing a bit of bite to a barbecued steak, or simply adding a tad of tang to soups and sauces. There’s simply no doubt that pepper is the most versatile spice around, and coupled with a dash of salt it brings a one-two punch to almost all savory recipes.

How you buy your pepper is important. If you buy it pre-ground you simply can’t know for certain how long it’s been sitting on the grocery store shelf. Once the pepper has been ground it begins losing its punch, and as the weeks go by on the store shelf, its taste really suffers.

If you’ve used freshly ground pepper in cooking, you know there is just no turning back to pre-ground. But getting the most from freshly ground pepper depends largely on the right pepper grinder. Whether you’re a professional chef or you just keep your grinder on the dining room table so folks can add a little extra zing at mealtime, you know that fresh pepper is head and shoulders above pre-ground pepper that usually comes in a can. Freshly ground pepper brings a burst of fresh flavor to food each and every time.

In the same way, your coffee is affected by how you grind and brew it, your pepper’s taste is affected by the mill you use to grind it. In this article, we offer tips for choosing the best pepper grinder, one that’s sure to give you the finest taste and the freshest flavor.

Manual or Electric?

In this category, we include those grinders that run on rechargeable batteries or plug into a wall socket or manual ones such as mortar and pestle pepper mills. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to these as manual or electric.

Manual pepper mills have plenty of advantages. They can be used virtually anywhere because they don’t require batteries or electricity. And they’re usually less expensive than electric models. However, they aren’t necessarily the right choice for someone who lacks dexterity, for example, someone who’s got Arthritis. On the other hand, electric grinders can also pose difficulties in this area, as they tend to be heavier. Furthermore, they take a little longer to use, may require as many as six batteries, and can be noisy.

So, whether you choose a manual or an electric pepper grinder depends entirely on your personal preferences – both types have advantages and disadvantages.

It’s important to note that there are such things as disposable pepper mills available today. However, they are damaging to the environment, so choosing one you can refill and reuse is the smarter ecological option. They last longer and you lessen your home’s carbon footprint – a victory on all counts!

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Grinding Mechanism?

People sometimes neglect to check out what kind of grinding mechanism is in the pepper grinder they’re considering – is it steel, ceramic, or even plastic? The mechanism made from stainless steel, carbon steel, or ceramic can usually provide you with a lifetime of use.

There are two primary differences between steel grinders and ceramic:

  • Sharpness: Steel grinders offer greater sharpness and exactitude. Therefore slicing and grinding are easier.
  • Salt adaptability. Choosing a steel grinder means you cannot grind salt in it. If you make that mistake, unfortunately, the mechanism will rust because of the salt. That’s why most people shopping for a pepper mill decide to buy two grinders, one exclusively for salt and the other for pepper. You can buy two made of either ceramic or steel. They are often sold in sets and look great together on your dining table.

It’s important to remember that choosing a cheaper, plastic model of pepper grinder won’t provide you with durability or consistent grind evenness. Steel or ceramic is the way to go, as an inferior plastic type is likely to break or crack. It’s much better to invest in a quality pepper grinder that lasts so that you can use this essential kitchen tool for many years to come.

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Where to adjust your pepper grinder?

This feature of a high-quality pepper grinder is vital, as it allows you to change the size of the pepper flakes in accordance with any recipe you’re following. Some recipes call for “coarsely” ground pepper – like barbecue meats. Others call for a “fine” grind, like certain soups and roasts.

You are able to adjust the grind size in two different ways:

  • The top knob (or nut): For the top knob (or nut), you can adjust the size of the grind by either tightening or loosening it. For a larger grind, leave the knob fairly loose. For a more medium-sized grind, tighten the knob slightly. For a finer grind, twist the knob on tightly.
  • The bottom wheel: The bottom wheel normally has a mark to let you know which direction – clockwise or counterclockwise – you can adjust the coarseness of grain. Normally, rotate the wheel clockwise for a finer grind, and counterclockwise for a coarser grind. Simply follow the arrows.

As you use your pepper grinder and become accustomed to how it works, you’ll know just where to place the grinding wheel or knob to achieve the precisely sized pepper flakes you need for any recipe.

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Which is better, Pre-Setting or Stepless?

On the market now are some types of pepper grinders that indicate which way to turn the mechanism to achieve a certain size of a pepper flake. Following these pre-setting markers allows you to get the right grind size every time, with no guesswork. One drawback is that you can’t get the subtle changes in flake size unless you learn how to do it yourself, by gauging whether what comes out with each twist of the knob is what you want. If you prefer learning these subtleties for yourself, just ignore the markers and experiment!

For pepper grinders with the stepless adjustment, loosen the knob or turn the wheel on the bottom until you get the size of pepper flake desired. But if you usually prefer to grind the pepper to a particular size and leave the setting there, go for it! You can always alter it another time if a recipe calls for a particular grind size.

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What size flakes can you get from fine to coarse?

Recipes call for different-size grinds – it depends on what you’re making. Anything pureed or blended, like a creamy soup, usually calls for small pepper flakes, ground very fine. Roasted or steamed vegetables usually ask for fine grind pepper as well. But others recipes, like the Cesar salad dressing we mentioned, call for coarser flakes, almost cracked in appearance. Many spice rubs and meats with peppercorns (like steak, for example) insist the pepper should be very coarse so that when you chew it, you can taste the texture of the pepper.

The larger the pepper flake, the more bite it has. That’s why it’s so important you follow the grind size recommended by recipes. Finely ground pepper has a subtle taste, as it distributes evenly in the food you’re preparing. Pepper that’s ground coarsely lends a burst of fiery heat with every mouthful, and your pepper mill is key to setting just the right size of grind for any dish you’re making.

Test a few different grind sizes into the palm of your hand, or onto a plain, white plate. By seeing just what size flake you get at different settings, you’ll know which one to choose for every meal you make.

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Consistent grind size is important

Consistency is crucial to pepper grinding. Set your pepper grinder on a size that grinds the proper flakes for adding to dishes once they’re served to friends and family, a “middle of the road” size flake that adds bite but doesn’t overpower the food with heat.

You don’t want flakes of varying sizes – some small, some coarse. That’s not what you want or need for prepping food or letting folks add a dash of pepper to their meals. Give the mill a quick twist over the sink before you put it on the table. That ensures that any larger flakes caught inside are expelled before you put them on the right size grind for people to use when they’re eating.

This is an important feature to check as soon as you purchase your pepper grinder: are the flakes consistent, no matter what grind setting it’s on? Fine grind is usually right for the pepper mill you put on the dinner table, as it blends easily into foods. And who says you have to own just one grinder? If you like cooking with a coarser grind and most of your recipes call for that, buy a second one for use only in the kitchen!

If a grinder gets old, particularly if the grinding mechanism is made of plastic, it may crack or chip, and that affects your pepper flakes. Maintain your pepper grinder by cleaning it properly, according to the instructions that come with it. How you maintain it depends on whether you choose a ceramic or steel grinder, but keep those guidelines and follow them closely.

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The body of the pepper grinder

Pepper grinders are made of a variety of materials, including wood, acrylic, marble, brass, steel, or glass. The one you choose depends entirely on your aesthetic preferences. However, the material the grinder is made of can occasionally impact its functionality.

Although it may seem beneficial to buy a glass or acrylic pepper mill because you can see at a glance how full it is, keep in mind that how you store this kitchen tool is crucial. If you want your pepper mill to always be close at hand, meaning it’s kept on a counter near the stove or fridge, a clear, acrylic, or glass one may not be ideal. That’s because peppercorns are affected by heat and light, and can go stale quickly if exposed to either one. Air and light may also affect the aroma of fresh peppercorns, so be aware of this when purchasing your grinder.

Pepper grinders come in a variety of styles, as well as different materials. For example, some people love the look of a tall, wooden pepper mill like the ones often on tables in Italian restaurants. But it’s important that you choose one that works perfectly, as well as looks right for your kitchen and dining room decor.

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Consider Length and Capacity

As we just mentioned, some folks like tall, wooden pepper grinders. However, there is a wide array of sizes and styles available on the market – some are as small as three inches. How large a pepper grinder you buy should be determined, at least in part, by how often you use it. A tall one, say as big as 12 or even 36 inches, may not be right for someone who doesn’t grind pepper every day.

Remember to consider how much storage space you have as well. A 36-inch giant pepper mill looks great, but it may not fit on every shelf in the kitchen cupboards – you might need to store it in the pantry. Is that convenient? If not, purchase a smaller one that fits perfectly near your food prep area. And of course, the size affects how often you have to refill the body.

For most home cooks, a small or medium-sized pepper mill is the ideal choice. You don’t want peppercorns going stale, sitting in the grinder for weeks on end. You may need to fill it less frequently, but a large mill might let the pepper lose punch if it’s not used a lot.

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Choose the pepper grinder style you like

As for the style you choose – well, that’s entirely up to you! There are antique-looking pepper mills available, some with crank handle, and sleek, modern ones, too. Choose one that aligns with your home’s decor, and that you like the appearance of. And remember to notice how the mill you’re buying feels in your hands. Is it comfortable? Does it feel like it suits you?

When you’re shopping for a new pepper grinder, hold a few models, inspect them closely, and you’ll soon discover the right one for you, your tastes, and your cooking methods.

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Easy to use and refill

Easy to use and refill are important. Chefs who use a pepper grinder a lot may find they develop wrist strain from all the twisting, and you don’t want that! Give a few models a try in the store. And be sure to check how easy it is to remove the unit’s lid for refilling. Some mills have small openings that can make pouring peppercorns awkward.

In the end, its function, looks, ease of use, and ease of refilling are the most important factors you should consider.

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Wrap up: Find the right ones to spice up your meals

Once you start grinding your own pepper, you’ll wonder how you were ever satisfied with those little pre-ground packets some restaurants offer. The flavor difference is like night and day! Nothing adds more punch and bite than a quick twist of freshly ground pepper.

Choosing the right pepper grinder – plus the right way to use, clean, and maintain – is bound to add a whole new level of fresh taste to all your savory dishes. Your cooking kicks up a notch immediately when you use freshly ground pepper, and that means your friends and family are going to be impressed with every meal you produce in your home kitchen.

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