Cheap Pepper Mills Buying Guide
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 the Peugeot, first crush the pepper, then send it down a shaft, and finally grind it. Some cooks claim that the best pepper grinders have ceramic grinding mechanisms, and a few inexpensive pepper mills do, but most of the best pepper grinders feature a steel grinder that's perfectly adequate for the task at hand. The plastic mechanisms found in some low price pepper mills 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 and the metal will start to come out along with the salt.
For all their similarities, pepper mills vary in design. With a traditional pepper grinder, you turn the top 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 still others: 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.
When searching for the best pepper grinder, 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 Cooks Illustrated assert that it's more important to have a consistent fine grind 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.
The cheap pepper mill market is dominated by OXO, William Bound, Vic Firth, Olde Thompson, and Trudeau. All of these manufacturers offer a selection of different types of pepper mills at a variety of price points.
In the course of our research into the best and good cheap pepper mills, we looked at all types of pepper grinders. The hands-down winner for best budget pepper mill is the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder 1140700 (starting at $15), which sports an acrylic body, ceramic grinder, and pour-from-the-top design. We chose two good cheap pepper mills -- the William Bounds Key Mill WB-1 Pepper Mill 901 (starting at $20), for its crush rather than grind mechanism and convenient acrylic body, and the Vic Firth Pump & Grind Stainless Steel Pepper Mill STS06PM01 (starting at $13) for a pump design that lets you grind pepper one-handed with a press of your thumb. Two models that didn't make our list include the Chef'n Pepper Ball (starting at $14), which users say is prone to breaking, and the electric Trudeau Graviti 0716907 (starting at $17), which gets dinged by users for malfunctions and its voracious appetite for batteries.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder Review
Size 5.5” x 2.2”
Ease of Refill Large opening on the bottom
Number of grinding adjustments 5
Grinding method Turn the bottom
Grinder material Ceramic
|15||5.5” x 2.2”||Large opening on the bottom||5||Turn the bottom||Ceramic|
William Bounds WB-1 Key Pepper Mill Review
Size 4” x 2.5"
Ease of Refill Unscrew top; shaft running down the middle
Number of grinding adjustments 3
Grinding method Turn the key
Grinder material Stainless Steel
|20||4” x 2.5"||Unscrew top; shaft running down the middle||3||Turn the key||Stainless Steel|
Vic Firth Pump & Grind Review
Size 6” x 1”
Ease of Refill Unscrew the bottom; small opening
Number of grinding adjustments Not adjustable
Grinding method One-handed pump
Grinder material Stainless Steel
|13||6” x 1”||Unscrew the bottom; small opening||Not adjustable||One-handed pump||Stainless Steel|
Electric Pepper Mills and Crank Pepper Mills Comparison
Pepper Grinders Design.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. The William Bounds Key Mill WB-1 Pepper Mill 901 (starting at $20), one of our picks for good cheap pepper grinder, the Olde Thompson Aspen Pepper Mill (starting at $17 for a set that includes a salt mill), and the Peugeot Paris U'Select 7-in Pepper Mills (starting at $35) sport the traditional design.
Next come pepper grinders boasting a kind of upside-down design; the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder 1140700 (starting at $15) is a prime example. These upside down pepper mills stand upright with the grinding mechanism at the top, and you flip it 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 can bill themselves as a one hand pepper mill, like the Vic Firth Pump & Grind Stainless Steel Pepper Mill STS06PM01 (starting at $13), another one of our top picks. The Chef'n Pepper Ball Pepper Mill (starting at $14) has two levers that you squeeze together to grind and release the pepper.
Finally, we come to cheap electric pepper mills, like the Trudeau Graviti 0716907 (starting at $17) and the Artesio Soft Touch Electric Pepper Grinder (starting at $16). These units are battery-operated and demand minimal manual intervention; the Trudeau Graviti, in fact, relies on gravity to activate the grinding mechanism (just tilt downwards and off it goes).
Pepper Mill Refill.One of the most annoying aspects of traditional pepper mills is the challenge of refilling them. As with the William Bounds Key Pepper Mill, 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. The Vic Firth Pump & Grind is filled from the bottom, but like the William Bounds, the opening is small and partially blocked by a shaft.Other inexpensive pepper mills that we researched offer more user-friendly alternatives. The OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder has a plastic stopper at the top that comes out at refill time, and there's no shaft to get in your way. The Chef'n Pepper Ball features a hatch on the side, and the specs say it comes with a funnel for easier refilling. The process is a bit more complicated with the Trudeau Graviti: remove the motor, fill to the fill line, and then reseat the motor just so or else the unit won't work, as one user reports in a pepper mills review on KitchenDinin
Ceramic Grinder vs. Stainless Steel Pepper Grinder
Ceramic vs Stainless Steel Pepper Grinders.The best cheap pepper mills feature either stainless steel or ceramic grinders. Although some cooks seem to prefer ceramic grinders, experts aren't convinced there's much difference in the end results. Ceramic is harder than steel and generally wears better, but it's more expensive to produce and can shatter. Among the cheap pepper mills we researched, the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder, Trudeau Graviti, and Artesio Soft Touch are ceramic grinders.
Some committed cooks also insist it matters whether a pepper mill crushes or grinds the pepper. Apparently, crushing makes for a more consistent grind. We didn't come across comments posted by everyday cooks about the crush v. grind debate, but if it's important to you, note that the William Bounds WB-1 Key Pepper Mill and the Peugeot Paris U'Select come down on the side of crush.
Pepper Grind.There will certainly be times, when preparing steak au poivre, for example, when a pronounced pepperiness (requiring coarse grains) is in order. 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 choice for best low price pepper mill, the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder, garners 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 passed the cheap pepper mills category entirely. The seven-inch Peugeot Paris U'Select is a bit out of our price range but seems to hit the mark here; users posting reviews say the six grind settings produce grinds of distinctly different sizes.Most low-cost pepper mills, however, 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; you'll find this on the Olde Thompson Aspen Pepper Mill. Experts say this is the least effective method because the cap inevitably loosens given its proximity to the turning mechanism, making control over the grind texture tenuous at best. Among our cheap pepper mills picks, only the William Bounds Key Mill has anything similar. On this model, though, the little knob on top is not relevant because there's a metal ring around the finial with different pepper grind settings that you click into place.
The other pepper mills we researched use a variety of methods for adjusting the grind. The five settings on the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder are easily visible at the top of the unit and easy to change. The pump-style Chef'n Pepper Ball has a lever that offers five different settings. The Trudeau Graviti, the budget electric pepper mill we researched, features a knob on top that's used to adjust the grind, and the Artesio Soft Touch Electric Pepper Grinder sports a small screw on the side that you turn to get the desired coarseness. The only pepper mill on our list with a fixed grind is the Vic Firth Pump & Grind.
Pepper Grinders Reviews
Cooks have their own preferences about pepper mills, and according to the pepper grinders reviews that we read, their taste often turns on frequency of use and favored grind consistency. No surprise, then, that the qualities rated highly in some reviews are also the qualities that other reviews ding. The ideal amount of pepper flowing from a mill depends on the cook and the recipe, but no one likes to spend an eternity standing over a hot pot with a pepper mill in hand. We read a number of reviews extolling the virtues of one-handed pepper grinders because the cook can stir the pot and grind pepper at the same time, and some users require such units to accommodate a physical disability. In general, the pepper mills reviews that we read comment about functionality, grind differentiation (in adjustable models), and longevity.
Grind Settings.The pepper mills that made our list of top picks claim numerous fans among home cooks. Most users of the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder rave about its overall performance, according to pepper grinders reviews. The amount of pepper that emerges with each twist of the base, and the five grind settings that each produce an even grind, earn praise in users' postings on the Williams-Sonoma Amazon similarly commend the smooth and effortless grind action, variable grind settings that let dinner companions choose their own, and the top-pour design that leaves no mess behind. We did, however, notice two minor grievances that pop up in reviews about this model. One is that the fine grind is not fine enough and the difference in grain sizes from one setting to another are not always noticeable. Second, the removable bottom in older models has a tendency to fall off, leaving the contents to spill far and wide; one user commenting on Crate & Barrel solved this problem by taping the bottom in place with a small piece of electrical tape.Partisans also rally 'round the Vic Firth Pump & Grind. Alone among the low-cost models that we researched, this one is primarily stainless steel, with just an inch or so of acrylic for an inside view. It's a stylish look that calls out to users, according to a review on Bed Bath & Beyond, although some purchasers are surprised by what they consider the Vic Firth Pump & Grind's small size (six inches high and one inch wide). Pepper grinders reviews on Epinions, however, say it's just right for use at the table and a blog post on Gadgeteer reports that it delivers a precise shot of spice- with one hand, no less -- exactly when needed.
Two other cheap pepper mills that we looked at occasionally meet consumers' expectations. Although some users like the styling and pump/squeeze action of the Chef'n Pepper Ball, others consider it little more than a cute gimmick. The Chef'n Pepper Ball dispenses minute amounts of pepper with each squeeze, asserts one pepper mills review on Epinions, and you need about 50 squeezes to get a quarter of a teaspoon-worth of unevenly ground spice. Several consumers posting on Amazon similarly complain about the inability to estimate the amount of pepper dispensed with each squeeze of the handles, but at least some users appreciate the coarse grind that results.
Consumers really like the novelty of the Trudeau Graviti pepper mill -- just turn it upside down and pepper comes out as if you were using a regular pepper shaker. Most users consider the relative free-flow a plus, although a pepper grinders review on Viewpoints grouses about too much pepper. Still, we read numerous reports from users who give the electric pepper mill Trudeau Graviti as a gift and find it to be an attention grabber at the dinner table.
Ease of Use.Using a pepper grinder should be a no-hassle process -- just grind the pepper and move on. This is one dimension in which the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder shines. OXO's claim to fame, the Good Grips part of the pepper mill, is the black rubber bottom that's easy to hold with wet hands and to clean when dirty. Refilling is a simple chore because the top opens, and the twist/turn action to grind the pepper is smooth and easy. For folks used to traditional pepper mills, the crank on the William Bounds Key Pepper Mill is a big draw. Reviews on Amazon say it doesn't require Herculean strength to turn and you get a good quantity of pepper with very little effort.The pump and electric pepper mills skip the whole twisting/turning thing. All three of the models we looked at in this niche are easy to use -- so long as they work. Most consumers admire the Vic Firth Pump & Grind's one-handed thumb-pump action, but some reviews on Cooking.com. grouse that the pump part tends to stick. A few users report that you have to work pretty hard to get a good quantity of ground pepper, but one posting on Amazon considers this a plus, because the process serves as her arm workout for the day.
The Chef'n Pepper Ball is easy enough for a child to use, and fun as well, according to a review posted on Epinions. The rabbit ear-like handles may look cute, but at least one user complains that they aren't ergonomic; the handles aren't designed to fit your hands comfortably, he writes on Epinions, and they're too long for the best leverage.
No worries about leverage with the Trudeau Graviti, which takes all the effort out of your hands through the pull of gravity and the power of batteries. Cooks extol this feature, but some grouse about the awkward refilling process. Few balk at having to remove the battery pack, but once you fill the reservoir and re-insert the battery -- all while holding the unit upside down -- the force of gravity can activate the motor before you've screwed the bottom in place, and pepper grinds fall to the surface below.
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. The stainless steel construction of the Vic Firth Pump & Grind makes it nearly indestructible (when used normally, of course), and many consumers laud the build quality and ruggedness of this tube-like pump pepper grinder. The other two best pepper grinders at the top of our list -- the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder and the William Bounds Key Mill -- are made with comparatively more acrylic, which makes them easy to clean but could decrease their useful life if placed too close to the heat of a stove. Still, pepper mill reviews attest to their sturdy solidity.On the other hand, we have concerns about the durability of two models we researched. Use the Chef'n Pepper Ball with any regularity and its squeezeable "ears" are likely to break, complain reviews on sites like Amazon: each of three units within a year, says one user; after fewer than a dozen uses, says another; within two months, adds a third; and so on. Still, we read pepper mill reviews indicating some people like the design and functionality of the Chef'n Pepper well enough to keep buying replacements.
As for the Trudeau Graviti, some consumers expect the plastic gears in the motor to give out quickly, according to reviews on Kitchen Dining Ideas, and others report the pepper seeds jam up the grinding mechanism. But the biggest gripe we found in Trudeau Graviti reviews on sites like ChefsCatalog.com concerns the batteries -- six AAA batteries that the manufacturer claims should last a good year but consumers assert are eaten up at a much faster rate.