Step Up Your Spice Game

There’s a reason why chefs recommend using fresh black pepper ground in a pepper mill: It gives food a spicy, astringent kick that pre-ground pepper simply can’t match. To help home cooks find the best pepper mills for their kitchens, Cheapism evaluated expert tests and pored over hundreds of owner reviews, taking into account performance, ease of use and durability. Our picks range in price from less than $20 to around $50 and include both manual and electric grinders. We’ve covered a variety of sizes and styles, from traditional to modern, so there should be something to suit every chef—including a top-of-the line Peugeot pepper mill for serious foodies (or gift givers) looking to splurge.

Prices and availability are subject to change.

See full Buying Guide

Our Top Pick

Unicorn Magnum Plus Pepper Mill
Our Picks
Unicorn Magnum Plus Pepper Mill

Pros:

  • Generous capacity, holds 1.25 cups of peppercorns.
  • Designed for fast grinding.
  • Easy to adjust to any grind size.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t grind finely enough for some users.
  • Only available in glossy black finish.

Takeaway: This Unicorn Magnum Plus pepper mill is a longtime favorite of professional and home chefs who praise its large capacity and lightning fast grind speed compared to other manual pepper mills. Grind settings are infinite; just turn a small knob on the bottom of the mill to adjust to desired size and the Unicorn makes short and efficient work of the rest (although some experts have quibbles when it comes to the finest grinds). If you’re a traditionalist who prefers a wood pepper grinder, the streamlined, cylindrical design and ABS plastic casing may not be to your taste, but users say it’s very durable and easy to clean to boot. And the parts are far from cheap: The Unicorn Magnum Plus pepper mill houses an Italian-made steel grinding mechanism alongside other elements made in the USA, and the manufacturer prides itself on designing and assembling all of its mill sets on Nantucket Island where the company began. Several purchasers say they’re so pleased with the quality and performance of the 9-inch Magnum Plus that they also bought the 6-inch Unicorn Magnum for their kitchen tables.

Peugeot Paris U’Select Pepper Mill 9”

Pros:

  • Produces a consistent grind no matter the setting.
  • Peugeot grinding system lauded for yielding enhanced flavor.
  • Traditional wooden body is easy to grasp and use.
  • Comes in several sizes and finishes.

Cons:

  • Scattered complaints about missing parts and poor durability.
  • Mixed reviews for customer service.

Takeaway: Some kitchen classics never go out of style, including this Peugeot Paris u’Select wooden pepper mill. It’s the top pick at Wirecutter, quickly and consistently grinding peppercorns on all settings in tests. And the two-stage grinding system, which pre-cracks peppercorns before grinding, is said to deliver a more flavorful and aromatic end product. The 9-inch beechwood pepper mill comes in a few different finishes—including natural, black, white, and red—but the dark chocolate version is a particular favorite with experts and owners, who praise the rich color and traditional look. We did see a number of complaints about the wood on these mills splitting at the base, and several purchasers say the grinding mechanism (made of case-hardened steel) became difficult to engage or would simply rotate without grinding, but the latter issue may be associated with user error: Peugeot recommends filling with whole black peppercorns that are 6 mm or less in diameter, and softer pink peppercorns should only be included as part of mixes in which they make up less than one-quarter of the blend. These caveats aside, Peugeot has been selling pepper mills for more than a century, and they remain a staple with serious chefs. The Peugeot Paris u’Select comes in six sizes for kitchen and table use, and there’s also a salt mill available, for those looking for a matching pepper grinder set. All Peugeot mills carry a lifetime guarantee on the grinding mechanisms; Peugeot offers five years of warranty coverage on the bodies of manual mills.

Cole & Mason Derwent Pepper Mill

Pros:

  • Six adjustable coarseness settings.
  • Delivers an even and precise grind.
  • Easy to hold, use, and fill (thanks to wide top-load slot).
  • Comes in a variety of finishes.

Cons:

  • Some users say it requires a bit of effort to produce larger quantities and finer grinds.

Takeaway: If you prefer to take the guesswork out of your grinding, the Cole & Mason Derwent pepper mill features six distinct grind settings that lock into place with an audible “click.” It’s also consistent on all settings, which makes the Derwent a year-over-year top choice in testing at Cook’s Illustrated. Professional reviewers and consumers alike praise this mill’s sleek, modern looks and say the subtle hourglass shape and relatively compact 7.5-inch height make it easy to hold. It’s fairly easy to twist, too, although a few owners say you have to crank it more than other mills in order to produce the same amount of pepper, and that can become tiring if you need a large amount. The other drawback is the clear acrylic body, which makes it easy to see when it’s time to refill but also exposes the delicate peppercorns to light, which can affect flavor. Although the stainless steel version is by far the most popular, the Derwent also comes in copper, “gunmetal,” and wood finishes. The carbon steel grinding mechanism carries a lifetime guarantee. A matching salt mill is also available, either by itself or as part of a pepper grinder set. The latter is the better deal.

Trudeau Seville Pepper Mill 6”

Pros:

  • Available in multiple sizes.
  • Sturdy, durable construction.
  • Inexpensive and basic, yet proficient.

Cons:

  • Difficult to adjust grind settings.
  • Wood housing is difficult to grasp for some users.

Takeaway: If your cooking repertoire only occasionally calls for freshly ground pepper, reviewers say the 6-inch Trudeau Seville pepper mill is a reliable kitchen tool that doesn’t cost a fortune. This traditional, wood pepper grinder does well in expert testing at Wirecutter, where reviewers say the Trudeau Seville’s “grinding capabilities performed almost as well as mills twice the price.” Owners agree it’s a great bargain buy and praise its rich, ebony wood finish and simple efficiency, although some do say the finest grind setting is still too coarse. We also saw a few comments from users who suggest it’s a bit too small to grasp comfortably, but others insist it’s the perfect size for the kitchen table. For those who feel they really require better leverage or greater capacity, Trudeau also sells the Seville in 10- and 12-inch versions. (Just note that the that these larger models have either zinc or ceramic grinding mechanisms, which are not as durable and may not perform as well as this 6-incher’s lifetime-guaranteed carbon steel.)

Eparé Battery-Operated Pepper Mill

Pros:

  • Can grind both salt and pepper.
  • LED light to see what you’re seasoning.
  • Comes in both stainless steel and copper finishes.
  • Includes dust cap.

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to take apart for battery changes and refilling.
  • Grinds more slowly than similar mills.
  • Some durability complaints.

Takeaway: While cheap battery-operated pepper mills tend to get fewer professional recommendations and lower consumer ratings overall, this 8.8-inch Eparé combination electric pepper grinder and salt grinder does better than most. With a ceramic grinding mechanism that can handle everything from sea salt to pink Himalayan salt, it’s Wirecutter’s top choice among electric pepper mills, proving a comparatively quiet and consistent performer in tests. The only real drawbacks reviewers found was that the Eparé is a bit slow, as many electric pepper mills tend to be, and it lacks specific grind settings, although the knob directions to adjust for coarse or fine grounds are clearly defined. For the most part, owners seems pretty satisfied, too; of the more than 2,000 reviews this mill receives on Amazon more than half are 5-star, with many praising its easy one-handed operation and sleek and attractive cylindrical design. While, we did see a fair number of complaints regarding mills that came dead on arrival or suffered early demises, the upside is that user feedback suggests that the company is responsive and more than happy to honor its limited lifetime warranty. Given Wirecutter’s expert endorsement and this mill’s low price and versatility, we’d say the Eparé is worth giving a whirl. Requires four AA batteries (not included).

Trudeau Graviti Plus Pepper Mill

Trudeau Graviti Plus Pepper Mill Review

Buy on  $21.95

Available from Amazon.
Price: $22 at time of publishing.

Pros:

  • Very simple to operate, users say.
  • Infinite grind levels.
  • Includes funnel for refilling.

Cons:

  • Large product label is hard to remove from grinder.
  • Batteries are difficult to replace.

Takeaway: Technically, all electric pepper mills can be operated with one hand, but the design of the Trudeau Graviti Plus makes it especially easy to manage for people with arthritis or reduced manual dexterity. This 8-inch pepper grinder uses gravity to dispense pepper flakes; just tip it, and it will begin grinding automatically. It’s a former top pick with Wirecutter (although reviewers there do fault it for failing to produce a really fine grind), and dozens of user reviews, on Amazon and at Bed, Bath & Beyond, absolutely rave about its simplicity, light weight, generous capacity, and style—the added LED light is a much-appreciated bonus. Just note that while the manufacturer says this mill, which has a ceramic grinding mechanism, can be used for salt or pepper, some owners say salt can clog the works. Also, as with all electric pepper grinders, we did spot some reports of units failing after just a few uses. These shortcomings aside, this automatic pepper grinder earns at least a mention on our list as a potentially game-changing—and pain-saving—gift for any senior chef. The Trudeau Graviti Plus is available in both stainless steel/chrome and black finishes. This battery-operated pepper mill requires six AAA batteries (not included).

Peugeot Elis Sense U’Select Pepper Mill

This 8-inch Peugeot electric pepper grinder falls on the pricier side, but if you like to cook with freshly ground pepper and you’re looking for a top-of-the-line kitchen tool to deliver your favorite spice consistently and effortlessly, reviewers say the Peugeot Elis Sense is certainly worth considering. It performed admirably in tests at Fine Cooking, https://www.finecooking.com/article/test-drive-pepper-mills where it was found to be faster and quieter than the average electric pepper mill, and the grind system itself is said to produce more flavorful results—thanks to a mechanism that first cracks peppercorns to release their natural oils before grinding. Peugeot’s unique “u’Select” grind settings also make this mill more versatile than most; users can choose from six presets that click firmly into place or simply turn the ring to adjust grind size to any consistency in between. Users say it turns on and off with the slightest touch of the top, for serious one-handing grinding ease, and the LED light in the base makes it easy to monitor the amount of pepper dispensed. The mill comes with a measuring cup that doubles as a funnel for refilling and includes six AAA batteries. Its French-made, case-hardened steel grinding mechanism carries a lifetime warranty and there’s a two-year guarantee on the body. If you want to fully outfit your table in high-end style, you can pick up a matching pepper and salt mill set for about $170.

Oxo Good Grips Pepper Grinder

Like most Oxo products, this pepper mill gets plenty of praise for its design. Unlike traditional mills, the Oxo Good Grips pepper grinder is filled from the bottom, and the opening is wide enough that you won’t spill peppercorns, reviewers say. It also grinds from the top, meaning it won’t leave a trail of pepper dust behind when you set it down and pick it back up. Some users dislike the clear acrylic housing, which exposes peppercorns to light, but most are happy with the other design elements. Owners say the rubber accents make it very easy to grip, even with wet hands, and the small size (just 5.5. inches tall) makes it a good fit on the table or countertop. The mill has five grind settings, and it’s reported to be both fast and consistent, even when grinding larger quantities of pepper; a few users, however wish there were a wider variety of grind sizes to choose between. Still, if what you’re looking for is a basic and functional everyday grinder with a relatively generous capacity (just over half a cup), you should be well pleased with this Oxo Good Grips pepper grinder. It comes in three finishes—stainless steel, black stainless steel, and copper—and a matching salt grinder is also available.

Pepper Mills Imports Atlas Pepper Mill 9”

Pepper Mills Imports Atlas Pepper Mill 9” Review

Buy on  $65.17

Available from Amazon.
Price: $66 at time of publishing.


“Beautiful,” “functional,” and “heirloom quality” are words reviewers frequently use to describe the Atlas pepper mill. This copper grinder is handmade in Greece, the body stamped with bands of grape clusters, and it’s topped with a classic, crank-style handle. Users say it’s easier and faster to use than a twist-style mill and produces a consistent grind, although some complain about the limited range of the adjustable coarseness settings and claim it tends to favor medium to finer grinds. The crank mechanism does takes a bit of muscle, too, and a few reviewers insist it was too difficult to use comfortably. But most owners are quite satisfied and say they appreciate the quality craftsmanship—as well as the solid, heavy feel—and expect this mill to last for a good long time. The 9-inch size is the most popular, but the Atlas comes in 7- and 8-inch versions, too. There are also multiple finish options, from chrome to brass to combination trims, and an equally attractive Atlas salt mill to match.

Buying Guide

Buying Guide

For anybody who's even a bit serious about cooking, ground pepper that comes in a tin just won't do. Like most spices, pepper contains essential oils that dissipate when exposed to air. Fresh ground pepper is more aromatic and flavorful, with a spicy, slightly astringent piquancy that pre-ground pepper simply can’t match. What your kitchen calls for is a dedicated pepper mill, one that grinds pepper the moment before it goes into a soup, onto a roast, or atop a plate of salad or pasta. Although some very serious cooks swear by high-end Peugeot pepper mills that go for nearly $100, you can unlock the flavor just as well with a pepper mill that costs less than a quarter of that price.

The fundamental task of a pepper mill, cheap or otherwise, is to grind pepper and produce even, or consistent, particles. All pepper mills work basically in the same way: Two wheels turn against each other, grinding the pepper seeds in the process. Some pricey units, like celebrated Peugeot mills, first crack the pepper, then send it down a shaft, and finally grind it. The best pepper grinders feature steel grinding mechanisms or ceramic grinding mechanisms, but you’ll find some low-priced mills that rely on acrylic mechanisms—these are not worth even the small amount of money you'd spend on them unless you want something that's essentially disposable. An important note: If you're considering grinding salt in a pepper mill, you must choose one with a ceramic grinder. Salt will corrode steel mechanisms.

For all their similarities, pepper mills vary in design. With a traditional pepper grinder, you turn the top, or crank a handle, and the pepper comes out the bottom, where the grinding wheels are located. Nowadays you'll find pepper mills with the reverse design; that is, when the pepper grinder stands at ease on a counter or table, the grinding wheels are on the top and you flip it over to grind and release the pepper. There are also pepper mills that you pump instead of turn, and, of course, there are electric pepper grinders that run on batteries and require little, if any, manual effort. Each design has its partisans, primarily based on perceived ease of use.

Other factors also matter. For example, it's certainly convenient to be able to adjust the texture of the grind, and the reviews that we read indicate consumers welcome the opportunity. But experts at Cook's Illustrated assert that it's more important to have a consistent fine grind and clearly indicated grind settings than an infinite number of grind options. Then, too, you may prefer a pepper mill that doesn't leave pepper residue all over your counter and/or one that's easy to refill and easy to hold, particularly if your hands are greasy or wet.

Given the high degree of subjectivity at play in consumers’ pepper mill preferences, we relied heavily on the assessments of cooking professionals and trusted expert testers when determining our picks for the best pepper mills. Despite the wide universe of products available, reviews at sites like Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking, Serious Eats, Epicurious, and Wirecutter were fairly consistent in their picks—certain mills and certain brands unfailingly rose to the top of the heap. You’ll find a Peugeot pepper mill on nearly every list, of course, and chances are high the Unicorn Magnum Plus will make a showing. The cheap pepper mill lineup is dominated by names like Oxo, Cole & Mason, Fletchers’ Mill, and Trudeau. Each of these manufacturers offers a selection of different types of pepper mills at a variety of price points.

Types of Pepper Mills

Pepper mills may be simple tools but there are still four types to choose among: electric pepper mills, “crank” pepper mills, upside down pepper mills and pump pepper mills. In a traditional crank pepper mill, a shaft connects the domed top or the key/crank to two wheels at the bottom that grind the pepper; the pepper comes out the bottom as you turn the top. Upside down pepper mills stand upright with the grinding mechanism at the top, and you flip them around to grind and discharge the pepper. The big advantage of this arrangement is the absence of any pepper residue on tables and counters, the presence of which often sparks complaints associated with traditional pepper grinders.

Pump pepper mills make up the third category. With a pump pepper mill, you use one or two levers or a push-button to grind out the pepper. Some models bill themselves as one-handed pepper mills, ideal for cooks who’d like to stir a pot and grind pepper at the same time or users who require such units to accommodate physical disabilities. Finally, we come to cheap electric pepper mills. These units are battery-operated and demand minimal manual intervention; some, in fact, rely simply on gravity to activate the grinding mechanism (just tilt these mills downwards and off they go). Electric pepper mills are very convenient and can be used one-handed, but they tend to be more expensive up front, and they need batteries, which adds to the long-term cost.

Grinding Mechanisms

The best cheap pepper mills feature either steel grinding mechanisms (stainless steel or carbon steel, which is harder and more durable but more prone to corrosion) or ceramic grinding mechanisms. A few also use zinc, a softer metal, that’s less expensive and also less efficient.

Ceramic grinders are more versatile, and can be used for both pepper and salt. Ceramic is also harder than steel and generally wears better and resists corrosion, but ceramic grinding mechanisms are also prone to shattering. Experts suggest that ceramic grinding mechanisms tend to be duller than steel, as well, and can’t deliver the same precision and consistency of a good, sharp steel mechanism.

Some committed cooks also insist it matters whether a pepper mill crushes or grinds the pepper. Apparently, crushing makes for a more consistent grind. It’s also worth noting that steel grinding mechanisms do not like water; usually the best practice is to wipe them down occasionally with a damp cloth, but be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendations for the upkeep of your specific model.

Grind Settings

There will certainly be times when a pronounced pepperiness (requiring coarse grains) is in order; when preparing steak au poivre, for example. But experts say a fine pepper grind is about all you need for everyday cooking. This is one dimension, though, in which bargain pepper mills sometimes fall short — even our best low price pepper mills garner complaints from some consumers about the fine pepper grind being too coarse. Here's the rub: For a pepper mill to turn out finely-ground pepper on a consistent basis, the two wheels that do the grinding must be well-machined and fit tightly, requirements that invariably up the price tag. So if consistency and tiny, fine particles are important to you, you might want to skip past the cheap pepper mills category entirely.

There are some pepper mills that only offer a fixed grind, however most low-cost pepper mills do allow for some adjustment in the grind. Sometimes it's the little knob or cap atop the pepper grinder that you tighten for a finer grain or loosen for a coarser grind. But experts say this is the least effective method because the cap itself inevitably untightens given its proximity to the turning mechanism, making control over the grind texture tenuous at best. Other pepper mills we researched use a variety of methods for adjusting the grind. For example, some pump-style mills are equipped with a lever that adjusts to different grind settings. Electric pepper mills may feature a knob on top that's used to adjust the grind or a small screw on the side that you turn to get the desired coarseness. Still, users frequently complain that the difference in grain sizes from one setting to another are not always noticeable with many models.

Refill

One of the most annoying aspects of traditional pepper mills is the challenge of refilling them. For example, you have to unscrew the top and pour the peppercorns in through a maddeningly small opening that's obstructed by the grind shaft. Unless you use a tiny funnel or make one with a towel or napkin, you'll probably end up with little pepper seeds all over your kitchen. Some fill from the bottom, but openings are often small and partially blocked by a shaft. Other inexpensive pepper mills that we researched offer more user-friendly alternatives. Some feature hatches on the side and come with funnels for easier refilling. Filling electric pepper mills may be a particularly tricky affair, since they may require users to remove the motor when adding fresh peppercorns and then reseat it just so or else the unit won't work.

Durability

There are some people who go through life expecting to buy a new pepper mill every year or so, but many of us want to keep them around for a while. This is entirely possible with cheap pepper mills, even if they don't come with lifetime warranties. Stainless steel mills are nearly indestructible (when used normally, of course), but even low-cost mills made with comparatively more acrylic can be sturdy and solid. They’re also easier to clean, just don’t place them too close to the heat of a stove.

A persistent problem with some pump pepper mills is that the squeezable "ears" are prone to breakage. Still, we read pepper mill reviews indicating some people like the design and functionality well enough to keep buying replacements. With electric pepper mills, there’s more to go wrong, and motor failure is not uncommon. But the biggest gripe with electric mills is that batteries must be replaced regularly, and consumers assert they are eaten up at a much faster rate than manufacturers’ claim.