All About Pepper Mills
Chef's All Say, "Use Freshly Ground Pepper" Why? Because once the peppercorns are ground they start to lose flavor and after about 3 months there will be a noticeable difference.
Test it yourself by grinding some fresh pepper and comparing it to the pepper in your spice cabinet that's been there for years hidden behind the ground mustard. But start with the old pepper first or the freshly ground pepper will overpower it.
If you don't have a pepper mill at home, you may want to think about getting one. It's amazing how a simple ingredient like freshly ground pepper can dramatically change the flavor of a dish.
I have an antique salt and pepper collection with over 100 pair of shakers and I only bring them to the table on holidays and special occasions for show. In my kitchen and at the table, I only use one of my pepper mills.
When I find a particularly interesting pepper mill in the store or on the Internet, I have to make a concerted effort not to buy it. I already have 6 or 7 different models of various styles in my kitchen cabinet but I find myself drawn to only using one.
Which brand do I use?
A simple traditional looking wooden one with a crank handle on top but because there are so many variables involved in choosing a pepper mill, you should pick one based on your own likes and needs. Let's look at some.
A Reluctant Gourmet Recommendation
First you have to decide whether you are looking for a pepper mill that looks good on your dining room table or one that is highly functional. Or both!
If you are looking for a well made, high performance pepper mill that also makes a statement just by looking at it, you will want to look at some of the custom made mills. These high-end pepper mills are each an art form. Pricey but gorgeous, custom made pepper mills would make a fine gift to anyone who is into cooking including yourself.
But let's look at some of the many styles you can find in the marketplace today?
- Traditional wooden mill with a mushroom top that you turn (Chef Specialties, Peugeot)
- Wood or metal mill with a turn crank on top ( Perfex, Oxo)
- Plastic mill with the crank-key on the side (Peppermate) * Acrylic mill with sleek design and turning top (Unicorn Magnum)
- Plastic mill with two handles you squeeze together (Peppergun)
- Battery powered mill with spotlight for those romantic evenings (Don't bother unless you need it for a disability)
- Big ones, tall ones, short ones, fat ones...you name it and it probably exists
So you can see there is a lot to decide from already and we haven't even looked at type of grinds, ease of use, how to fill and let's not forget about price.
Ease of Use
In my opinion, there are four things you want to look for as far as ease of use:
How hard is it to fill?
I mentioned I have a favorite mill that I use all the time but after writing this article I’m thinking of trading it in. Every time I go to fill it, I end up spilling a bunch of those little peppercorns on the ground and they are hard to find on the floor. I need to find a pepper mill with a larger opening to make it easier to add peppercorns.
How much ground pepper a mill can provide determines the speed at which you can use it. If you are doing large amounts of cooking and your recipes call for a lot of ground pepper, you don’t want to be spending too much time grinding away because your pepper mill is slow.
On the other hand, if you are using it at the table to add some additional seasonings to your food, you don’t need a lot of speed.
This is really a personal preference. I happen to like the crank handle on top that you spin around. Yes, it can be awkward at times, but I’ve gotten use to it. Most of us are more familiar with the mushroom bulb handle that you find on traditional pepper mills. They probably offer more control than the crank handle and are a little less awkward.
Adjusting the Grind
If you are using a pepper mill for your recipes, you will find some call for a coarse grind, like in Steak with Peppercorns) and some require a fine grind. So if you are constantly going back and forth between grinds, you want to make sure the adjustment is easy.
Most pepper mills adjust by turning the little knob at the top. The same knob you use to remove the top when filling. But some mills adjust with a screw or dial from the bottom.
Another Reluctant Gourmet Recommendation
Depending what you are going to use the pepper for, you want a mill that gives you the largest range in grinds including coarse, medium, and fine. A better made mill will give you a fine grind that is powdery and uniformly the same with no little pieces of the peppercorn.
At the same time, you can set it for coarse and end up with big pieces for your au poivre (peppercorn) recipes.
Somehow I ended up with one of those big 14 inch mills that you see in fancy restaurants that the waiter brings over to season your salad. It looks great in a restaurant but its too heavy, awkward to use, and can only sit on my kitchen counter or in the broom closet.
It's just too big. I also have a little tiny 2 ½ inch one that I can use when traveling but I always forget to bring it with me.
A good pepper mill isn't cheap. They start at $20 and can go up to $45 and if you want a work of art, you are looking at $100 to $200. The good news is there are great mills out there for $20 bucks but there are as many poorly made models at $40.
So don't think if you spend a lot of money you are going to get a great mill. Do your homework and read reviews on the Internet and in cooking magazines.
onlinesources: Pepper Mills
There are lots of sources for purchasing quality Kitchen Gadgets and Housewares including whisks, spoons, measuring devices and all the fun gadgets we home cooks have come to love.
I suggest you check out your local department stores and kitchen supply shops but if you're looking for a wide selection of products and prices, you may want to check out Amazon.com where I buy many of my favorite pieces of cookware.
- Started out in the book business but now they sell just about everything. Good prices, ok service, these are the folks many of have done business with and feel comfortable with.
Awesome, I have had awful luck picking out a decent pepper grinder for so long, always hesitant to really go after the good ones, but the cheap ones didn't grind well or give me any options. I'm tired of being disappointed in my grinders, looks like I'll be moving up!
The best pepper mill you can get is an average coffee grinder for about $20 bucks. Grind about 3 to 4 ounces of fresh peppercorns a week and keep them handy in a ramekin on the counter and you won't believe how much pepper you will go through.
The Reluctant Gourmet
David, I love this idea and will give it a try. Thanks.
I, too, use a wooden pepper mill with a crank handle. Bought it from Penzey's 12 to 15 years ago. I agree that fresh ground pepper is the way to go and that the powdered stuff that you buy at the supermarket is nothing but junk. I disagree with what you said about the pepper corns that you drop on the floor when filling the machine being hard to find. Just walk across the kitchen floor barefooted and you will find them in a hurry.....l..
Love the post.
When it comes to pepper, once you go fresh cracked, you don't go back. Use mine all the time. I also grind coarse sea salt in my grinder too.
I have my mothers pepper mill. It has a knurled collar below the handle with a spring inside of it. Loosen the nut, grinding wheel goes into the mill and I fill it with a funnel.