Traditionally, pepper mills have been heavy, wooden and topped with a round decorative finial. But as with many kitchenwares, pepper mills have been revamped, now resembling ultra-minimalist columns of stainless steel. What's more, according to the most credible reviews, the classic, turned-wood pepper mill that's a fixture in formal restaurants is no longer the best.
Some pepper mills are long on whimsy and short on performance. The Chef'n Pepper Ball (*Est. $13) and Mini Pepper Ball (*Est. $9) store peppercorns in a clear plastic orb, and, in order to grind, you squeeze the attached handles, which are shaped like rabbit ears. Owners at Amazon.com complain that each grind yields very little pepper, and what does come out is unevenly ground. Several note that one or both of the ears broke after just a few months. Some say that the Chef'n Pepper Ball is suitable for grinding rarely used spices, such as Sichuan peppercorns, but most are unhappy with it.
A better choice? We found great reviews for the inexpensive Unicorn Magnum pepper grinder, an easy to clean black plastic pepper mill. Electric pepper mills don't require any twisting -- just a button push. In this category, reviewers like the MIU electric pepper mill.