What the best pepper mill does

  • Swiftly cranks out fresh pepper. Unfortunately, many pepper mills these days are decorative but don't necessarily get the job done well.
  • Is comfortable to use. Heavy models, as well as those that are difficult to grasp, make slow work of grinding.
  • Is easy to fill. A mill with a large opening helps ensure that peppercorns make it into the chamber and not all over your floor.
  • Has a high-quality grinding mechanism. Avoid mechanisms made of nylon, which wears quickly and limits the adjustability of the grind.
  • Produces consistent grinds. The fine grind from a high-quality mill will be powdery with uniform pieces.
  • Is the right size for your needs. Peppercorns can lose their potency over time, so don't choose a very tall one unless you grind pepper fairly often.

Know before you go

How much pepper do you need? If you frequently add large quantities of pepper while cooking, look for a mill that can crank it out quickly and easily.

Do you crave easy-to-clean gadgets? If so, stay away from wood mills, which are porous and will absorb oils and liquids. Opt for plastic or acrylic instead.

Do you want to avoid trial and error? Consider a mill with pre-set grind choices so you don't have to fiddle around with a knob to get the grind size you want.

Do you prefer traditional or modern styling? While classic pepper mills never go out of style, there are plenty of contemporary choices now available to complement your kitchen décor.

Are you looking for super-easy operation? Electric mills require little, if any, manual effort.

Do you like electric styles but hate replacing batteries? Look for a rechargeable model.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

While pepper mills can be inexpensive, keep in mind that they incur an ongoing cost of the peppercorns that fill them and, for some models, new batteries. Peppercorns come in many varieties and flavors, and typically cost between $10 and $20 per pound. To get the most out of your peppercorn purchase, insist on freshness, says Kate McDonough, editor of TheCityCook.com. Specifically, she advises buying from a retailer that has rapid turnover and restocks frequently, and always purchasing the smallest quantity that's practical for you.

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