Manual pepper mills tend to be sturdy, and because they have no motor, are frequently more durable than electric models. Among manual styles, the Unicorn Magnum Plus (Est. $45) earns the greatest number of recommendations and top ratings, making it our favorite model. Made of black plastic and measuring 9 inches in height, the Magnum Plus has a smooth top that sits on a cylindrical base, similar to a cap on a mushroom. To grind, you grasp the head and twist. The grinder is loaded through a sliding opening on the side, and can be set to an infinite number of grind selections by turning a screw located on the bottom. A less expensive model, the Unicorn Magnum , has similar features but is 3 inches shorter.
The Magnum Plus earns a recommendation in one professional, comparative test of pepper mills, as well as an average rating of 4.7 stars out of 5 from more than 240 Amazon.com reviewers. In addition, 99 percent of users posting to Cooking.com give the pepper mill either 4 or 5 stars. Reviewers widely agree that the Magnum Plus has a large capacity, efficiently turns out a good amount of ground pepper and handles well. However, we read scattered user complaints about the compartment door opening unexpectedly, and one expert reviewer says turning the screw to the "finest" setting produces grinds that appear medium in size.
We also found some gripes about the Unicorn's basic, black appearance, which some say isn't decorative enough to bring to a dining room table. For those who want a pepper mill that's both functional and dressy, reviewers suggest the Cole & Mason Derwent Precision Pepper Mill H59401G PM ($40) as a good alternative. It has a curved acrylic body with stainless steel accents at the top and bottom, features six pre-set grind selections and can be purchased in a boxed gift set (Est. $70) with a matching salt mill.
The Derwent is recommended in one professional, comparative review of pepper mills, and earns 4.6 stars out of 5 from more than 220 Amazon.com users. Reviewers say clearly marked settings make it easy to choose the right grind for your dish, and many admire its appearance. Most owners agree that the mill is sturdy and performs well, although some say the top is difficult to remove. Others find that the top can be hard to attach securely, in which case the grinder won't operate.