While pepper mills with intricate grinding mechanisms or fancy wood construction can cost hundreds of dollars, you certainly don't have to spend that much to enjoy the taste of freshly ground pepper at home. Many pepper mills cost $20 or less, and although you may not get the same performance or range of grinding options that a more expensive model would deliver, you can still find a product that works well and is easy to use.
The Oxo Good Grips Pepper Grinder (Est. $22) earns the best ratings and greatest number of positive reviews of any pepper mill in its price range. Like many pricier models, it has a ceramic grinding mechanism and a rotating tab that lets you adjust the grind. What's less common is that the grinding mechanism is located at the top of the unit, not the bottom, so you turn the mill over when you're ready to grind. According to Oxo, this helps ensure that residual ground pepper won't leave a mess on your countertop or table when you set the grinder right side up. It also features a clear storage chamber, so you can see the contents and estimate how soon it will need refilling.
This Oxo grinder earns 4.3 stars out of 5 from about 260 Amazon.com users, and is named as one of five top picks in a comparative test of "dozens" of pepper mills conducted by The Wall Street Journal Test Kitchen. Most reviewers say the grinder performs well, has an extremely comfortable handgrip, and is easy to use and refill. Nevertheless, WSJ testers contend that the Oxo's "finest" grinds are actually medium sized. At TheKitchn.com, Dana Veldon agrees that the mill's fine grounds aren't fine enough and its coarse grounds aren't coarse enough. Moreover, she says -- and several users post similar comments -- that the grinder's acrylic and stainless steel body isn't particularly attractive. She calls it "clunky," adding that it doesn't make her smile when she reaches for it.
If both low price and good design are important to you, consider the Kuhn Rikon Ratchet Battery Operated Pepper Mill ($20) . Available in a choice of six colors, the Ratchet has a ceramic mechanism and is adjustable for grind size. It also has a clear center that makes it easy to see when your peppercorn supply is running low. The Ratchet is a great option for people with arthritis or similar hand conditions because it doesn't require a twisting motion; instead, it grinds by means of a lever that you move back and forth.
Like the Oxo Good Grips Pepper Grinder, the Kuhn Rikon Ratchet gets a nod from critics at The Wall Street Journal Test Kitchen, who include it on their top-five list. In addition, about 70 Amazon users give it an average rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. Reviewers say the lever is easy to use, and they appreciate having a choice in color. However, the WSJ testers complain that the adjustment wheel can be difficult to turn, and several Amazon owners report that the mill tends to crack or break down and that it doesn't produce a truly coarse grind.