Everyone has salt and pepper grinders on their pantry shelf, as these spices are key ingredients of most recipes. Whether you use them to season meat, bring life to soups and stews, or add zest to salads and sandwiches, salt and pepper are the two most common seasonings all cooks use.
But what about the grinders they’re crushed in, sometimes referred to as mills? Have you given much thought to whether you’re using the right one for your cooking needs?
Although you can buy pre-ground salt and pepper, professional Culinary Hall of Fame chefs like Gordon Ramsay wouldn’t dream of using them, even though they are convenient. Pros grind their own, but why?
Pre-ground v.s. freshly ground
How does manual salt and pepper grinder work?
Manual salt and pepper grinders work based on the movement of “grinder”, which consists of two wheels with jagged edges grinding together while turning. First, you place whole peppercorns or coarse salt into the grinder’s “body,” where it sits until you use it. When you begin that twisting motion, say (for example) over a bowl of soup, it releases the salt or pepper directly onto the food.
You set the grinder for whatever level you want – you can make it flaked, crunched, or very fine, depending on what the recipe calls for.
Why freshly ground spice better than pre-ground spice?
Fresh is always best, but why? No matter what spice you’re using, fresh is often called for in recipes, but it’s always true of salt and pepper – they taste best when they’re fresh. Freshly ground means better, more true flavor because pre-ground salt and pepper grow stale sitting on your pantry shelf or dining room table.
As soon as you grind any spice it begins reacting to the oxygen around it, and that compromises flavor. That’s why salt and pepper grinders are definitely the best choices for full, fresh flavors that haven’t been “sullied” by the air around them. And that’s why professional chefs always use freshly ground spice for their recipes.
Why not choosing the disposal ones?
In addition to being less fresh, pre-ground salt and pepper often come in mills that are disposable, and that’s bad for the environment. Choosing a grinder you can refill and use for a long time means you’re putting fewer kitchen items into the garbage, and we all want that, right? So, your flavors are better and you’re lowering your kitchen’s impact on the environment – it’s a win/win all the way around!
Differences between a salt grinder and a pepper grinder
It’s important to know the differences between these two kitchen tools before you buy, so here are a few tips to keep in mind.
The main difference is the type of mechanism within the grinders that grind the spices.
Carbon steel and ceramic are two of the most common types of grinders available, and each has its own merits.
Carbon steel grinders are very sharp, and that’s what you want and need in a good quality grinder. For pepper, opt for a steel grinder when you’re buying a mill. For salt, a ceramic grinder is highly resistant to corrosion, so this material is ideal.
It is worth mentioning that ceramic grinders also can be used for peppercorns. Carbon steel grinders or stainless steel grinders, however, cannot be used for salt as it will corrode the metal and turn it rusty.
Things to consider when choosing the most suitable salt & pepper grinder
Once you know what kind of salt and pepper grinder you need, consider the following factors before making your purchase:
Who is this salt and pepper mill for?
Is it for a friend or a whole family? Or is it for a professional chef or even the owner of a restaurant? If you’re choosing a grinder for a family of five, for example, choose a sturdy one about six inches or taller; they hold lots of peppercorns and they stand up well to plenty of use.
What is the purpose?
Do you want it to grind pepper and coarse salt? Remember: alternating between rock salt and peppercorns can damage the grinder, so we recommend you using it for one or the other spice, but not both.
Where will you have it?
Grinders are made from all kinds of materials, everything from wood to stainless steel to acrylic. Think about where it is going to be stored: on a pantry shelf? Will it be left on a dining room table? Does its attractiveness matter? Once you’ve decided on these factors, you’re ready to choose your salt and pepper grinders!
How to use a salt and pepper grinder?
How should you use them? It may seem obvious – fill it and grind – but other aspects matter, too. Make sure it is sparkling clean and disinfected before pouring in the peppercorns or coarse salt. Turn it to the setting you fancy – anticlockwise for coarse or clockwise for fine – and see if it’s right for your recipe.
And please… don’t tighten the setting knob too much! The grinder and grinder housing will get stuck when you turn to the tightest. It will hurt and even shatter the burr core if you force it to twist.
Also, turn your salt and pepper grinder in one direction. If you twist it back and forth, it might clog the dust which causes unevenly sized grounds, thus makes it useless.
In order to make this principle simply understand, we have prepared a video: How to Adjust Pepper Grinder Correctly
Ready to rock and roll – salt and pepper cuisines
Let’s get grinding! Freshly ground salt and pepper bring life and zest to even the most simple dish. For example: slice some fresh tomatoes, drizzle a little olive oil over them, grind some salt and pepper on top, and voila! A marvelous snack that bursts with flavor and zing.
You can even put the slices on top of some thinly sliced, toasted bread and it tastes almost like a slice of pizza. It’s a great after school snack for kids that’s healthy and ties them over until supper time.
Now, try an advanced cooking recipe: blend a tablespoon of cornflour, Italian spices, and freshly ground salt and pepper. Set mixture aside. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok at medium heat, until a dollop of flour sizzles when put in the pan.
Then, dredge four pieces of chicken (legs or breasts) in the flour mixture and set aside. Add garlic, spring onions, and chili peppers into the heated oil. Cook until soft. Add chicken pieces, cook until tender (about seven minutes) or until juices run clear when you slice into the chicken.
The above two recipes are quick and delicious that is ready in no time, and your family will love it!
More things you can grind in your salt and pepper grinders
There are some seemingly ordinary kitchen tools that make the world of difference to everything you cook, and your salt and pepper mill is precisely one of those tools. Not only does it give a burst of fresh flavor to all your dishes, it is versatile enough to be used for other spices too, like parsley, cumin, and oregano.
Correctly clean and maintenance
If you take good care of your grinders, they last a long time. Doing so also means the grind setting will continue working smoothly and accurately.
How to clean a mill
To start, make sure your grinder is completely free of all bits of salt, pepper, or other spices by emptying it over the garbage can or into the composter. Carefully brush all debris off the burr, then gently take apart your grinder and set the pieces on the kitchen counter. One piece at a time, wash them carefully with water.
Clean the body thoroughly with spray mixed with one part white vinegar and four parts water, but don’t let it sit soaking in water – especially if you’ve got a wooden grinder.
When using your salt and pepper mills for different spices as previously mentioned, a periodical clean can effectively remove the spice aroma and flavor attached inside the grinder.
Regular care and maintenance
Polish your wood grinders will make them in mint condition, and it helps to protect the wood body.
Blend one part olive oil and one part white vinegar, and then gently wipe the wood with the mixture, buffing the surface, and wipe off all the extra solution that doesn’t soak in. It also minimizes the appearance of nicks and scratches. If your grinder is made of wood, you can use this mixture and polish it every six months – it will look brand new every time!
It is one of the best investments you’ll ever make in your kitchen equipment, so don’t skimp – treat yourself to a quality grinder and take good care of it. Doing so means you’ll enjoy flavorful, properly spiced foods for a very long time, providing you clean and maintain your salt and pepper grinder properly.
Here’s to fresh spices, and having the right tool to grind them! A quick twist of the wrist with your grinder brings bursts of good tastes to everything you make, and that’s the goal of every cook, isn’t it? Bravo to the best home cooks, who know that fresh means best, and a high-quality salt and pepper grinder is one of the secrets to getting you there.