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After someone posted a link to a hand-turned coffee grinder, I was reminded that I needed to replace my pepper mill. My third one in about seven years.

After reading the 1 through 4 star (and skimmed 5 star) reviews of mills from $12-45, they often come down to the grinding mechanism wearing out quickly, the plastic around it somehow messing up, or something falling off while reading more pepper and rendering it nearly inoperable (which is my current predicament: some ring fell off during a refill, and now the knob that holds the top in place ends up dictating the grind coarseness loosens itself after 2-3 uses, and if you over-tighten it, you get no pepper).

What properties should I be looking for in a pepper mill, and why are my pepper mills failing so quickly?

  • 1
    I have never had any trouble with my cheap wooden pepper mill that I bought in a set at Bed, Bath and Beyond many years ago. I can't imagine I paid more than $10 for the set. Its capacity is a bit on the small side though. – fluffy Feb 14 '15 at 20:02
  • Sorry, but recommending products is off topic on the whole network, see stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping/. We do accept questions of the type "what to look for in X", and expect answers of the style TFD wrote, without suggesting specific products. I thought of rewording your question to fit this type, but 1) it seems that this is not what you need, you are asking straight for models, and 2) TFD already wrote a decent answer you can refer to even after the question is closed. If you want to, you can reword and we can reopen, it's up to you - do it if you think it will help. – rumtscho Feb 15 '15 at 13:06
  • @rumtscho: Page not found. but the information given in this thread was definitely helpful. i'm not yet even to the point (usually) of discerning more than a couple kinds of grind (if that's what you're getting at). also, i'm a computer nerd, so models are often changing (there's probably 50 models in one line of motherboards) and no longer available soon after, so i wasn't sure how many features were new/changing as different models/brands of mills seemed to have different features. it ended up being more overwhelming and almost unhelpful simply reading reviews without a broader context. – plonk420 Feb 15 '15 at 20:14
  • I've had mostly good luck with ones of older manufacture (some were my grandfather's, some from estate auctions and yard sales). The only 'bad' ones still grinds pepper fine, but there's a salt shaker on top of it that's a press fit against plastic, and sometimes when using it for salt without gripping both parts, it'll break apart spraying peppercorns everywhere) – Joe May 21 '15 at 13:28
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Most basic mills with steel grinders will be OK

What breaks them are

  • Overly aggressive grinding; just grind gently and your mill will last much longer
  • Keep them dry; do not use a pepper grinder over a steaming pot. Grind pepper into a bowl or plate, and then pour into pot
  • Old peppercorns; as they age and dry, they get tougher to grind, and wear most mills out pretty fast. Store peppercorns in very air tight containers, so they can't dry out more than they are meant to be dried
  • Avoid those coloured peppercorn mixes; whatever makes the light colours, are also very tough. Stick with plain black pepper
  • Contaminants; pour your peppercorns onto a white plate and check for small stones or twigs before loading into grinder. Also check for "insect parts", most local food laws allow some of these, but who wants them!

I have gone through a variety of grinders over the years. Some expensive, some cheap. Price was not a factor, usage and care seem to have been

Acrylic grinders generally die quickly, as the acrylic cracks as it ages. Solid metal or wooden bodies are better as they last longer in general, and keep the pepper in a light proof container (which all food should be stored in, or in a light proof cupboard)

  • Do you suggest steel over ceramic? – plonk420 Feb 15 '15 at 3:38
  • I haven't had any more problems with ceramic over steel, but most good grinders (wood or metal body) seem to have steel grinders? – TFD Feb 15 '15 at 3:41
  • I think the point was not to use plastic grinders, which break quickly. I bought some when I was younger because they were cheap and basically ground plastic into my food because they were breaking. – Jemmeh Feb 17 '15 at 14:54
  • @Jemmeh Most plastic grinders are Acrylic, which can be a very strong material. It is just the mix of steel parts and Acrylic which is where it generally makes stress fractures, and finally breaks. Window sections of Acrylic in a stainless steel grinder should not be a major weak point, but they will mostly likely be the first thing to go! – TFD Feb 17 '15 at 20:22
  • I had to Google to figure out Acrylic is a specific type of plastic. Just to clarify, are you talking about the actual grinding mechanism being acrylic? I've picked up some cheap grinders from the dollar tree that appeared to be glass containers with a plastic grinding mechanism. I had picked up a handful because of the price and the grinding mechanism essentially crumbled over time on all of them. I don't think I'd ever buy a plastic grinding mechanism again. I think I've seen the kind with the clear see through window sections you're talking about though and that makes sense. – Jemmeh Feb 17 '15 at 21:36
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Americas Test Kitchen (sorry, paywalled) has thoroughly tested pepper mills. If you can come up $5, you can get the winner from Amazon.

The big winner winner is:

1

The Amazon page is here

The highest rated mill under $35 is this one:

2

That Amazon page is here.

  • I suspect the OP may actually have seen those, and discounted them because of the negative reviews saying they didn't last. It's kind of hard to tell whether that means they're not as durable as ATK thought or people are just getting unlucky. – Cascabel Feb 14 '15 at 20:55
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    @Jefromi I looked at the reviews, and they are overwhelmingly positive, but the negative reviews are all negative in the same way. It's weird. – Jolenealaska Feb 14 '15 at 21:33
  • Yeah, it's consistent with there being a relatively rare defect... or with most people not using it heavily enough to break it, or a small number of people somehow using it wrong... or if the negative reviews are concentrated in time, a change in manufacturing... hard to say. – Cascabel Feb 14 '15 at 21:46
  • For completion's sake, the "Unicorn Magnum Plus" also got "recommended" from ATK. I was looking mainly at that one, but may reconsider either the Derwent or a wood-body one. Both high AND low-rated reviews (as well as ATK I just now noticed) mention it opening and spilling peppercorns. – plonk420 Feb 15 '15 at 4:13
  • I have this one and I love it. – Catija Feb 16 '15 at 15:05
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I realise that this doesn't directly answer your question, but perhaps you could also consider using a mortar and pestle? While this may be less convenient, they're much harder to break than any pepper mill.

  • Sadly, I'm not experienced enough (yet) to be comfortable with mortar and pestle. As a result, I suspect my consistency would lead to undesirable results. I might consider it if and when I a) have room for one (I'm currently sharing a house with many roommates) and b) have been able to use it with other, softer spices more. – plonk420 Feb 15 '15 at 20:43

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