For anybody who's even a bit serious about cooking, ground pepper that comes in a tin just won't do. What your kitchen calls for instead is a cheap 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. For pepper to taste like pepper, a grinder is an essential tool. Like most spices, pepper contains oils that hold the flavor of the spice, which dissipates when exposed to air. Although some very serious cooks swear by high-end Peugeot pepper mills (those big wooden mills with a "mushroom" on top) 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.

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Our Top Pick

OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder

OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder Review

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The OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder features a clear body and the recognizable OXO black rubber bottom that's easy to, yes, grip. Users love the ease of loading in the pepper, the easy-to-adjust grind (although some would prefer greater variance between the settings), and the volume of pepper that comes out.

Our Picks
OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder

As cheap pepper grinders go, write consumers in Oxo Good Grips Pepper Mill reviews, this one is about as good as it gets. What makes people wax rhapsodic about a lowly kitchen gadget? All the critical qualities that users want in a pepper mill are contained in this small package. A review on Zappo's points to the styling and ease of use (pick up, turn over, twist the bottom). At Crate & Barrel, users applaud the absence of a center shank, so refilling the chamber is a no-mess task. Reviews on Amazon are uniformly laudatory, praising the construction, the size, the ease of changing the grind, and the effortless grinding of the peppercorns. For a kitchen tool that's in high demand by cooks and diners, user-friendliness is key, and that's the defining characteristic of the Oxo Good Grips Pepper Mill (starting at $15, Amazon). This low-cost pepper mill features the traditional Oxo black rubber grip, which makes it easy to hold, particularly with wet hands. The Oxo Good Grips Pepper Mill has five easily discernible settings for the coarseness of the grind, and changing from one to another requires just a simple twist of a rubber ring. The pepper comes out of the top, rather than the bottom, so there's no little mess of pepper left on the counter. The Oxo Good Grips has a wide opening for refilling that's accessible by unscrewing the bottom, and the acrylic body makes it easy to see when it's time to refill. Oxo Good Grips Pepper Mill reviews note that one twist yields enough pepper to spice up a pot of soup or stew. The raves for the Oxo Good Grips Pepper Mill are so extensive that the low cost might seem like a bonus. This model does have some drawbacks however, and it's not quite as perfect as some Oxo Good Grips Pepper Mill reviews suggest. The fine grind is not as fine as what you get with a more expensive pepper grinder, nor is it quite as consistent as it should be. We also read a few reports about the bottom falling off. But on the whole, this is the best cheap pepper grinder we could find.

William Bounds WB-1 Key Pepper Mill

William Bounds WB-1 Key Pepper Mill Review

People don't get really ecstatic about the William Bounds Key Pepper Mill (starting at $20, Amazon), but they really like it because it works. A William Bounds Key Pepper Mill review posted on Amazon by someone who claims to hate most pepper mills because they're so hard to turn, totally appreciates the ease of turning the crank or "key" on this one. Reviews note that this low-cost pepper grinder dispenses quite a bit of pepper at one time and the heavy-duty construction also wins praise. And for true aficionados who care about how the pepper is transformed from hard seed to tiny granules, the William Bounds Key Pepper Mill is one of the few low-cost models that crushes, rather than grinds, the pepper.

The William Bounds Key Pepper Mill has a clear acrylic body, making it easy to see how much pepper remains. The key on the pepper mill is easier to turn than the dome on a traditional pepper grinder, and the metal top is quite durable. According to William Bounds Key Pepper Mill reviews, the distinction between the varying grinds is noticeable - fine is fine and coarse is coarse, and the grinds are consistent. Although this low-cost pepper mill is small, it holds a decent amount of pepper, so it doesn't demand frequent refilling (unless you pepper everything in sight).

One of the few features that keep the William Bounds Key Pepper Mill from appearing on our list as a "best" cheap pepper mill is a design that makes refilling a bit of a challenge. As with many traditional pepper mills, there's a shaft running down the middle that partially obstructs the small opening at the top; pouring pepper in is impossible without spilling little pepper balls all over the place. The completely acrylic body, while handy, is best kept away from the stove, where high heat could damage the unit. A few William Bounds Key Pepper Mill reviews report the body cracked after falling. Still, the William Bounds Key Pepper Mill is a sturdy little gadget, and while not stunning, it can be a workhorse in your kitchen.

Vic Firth Pump & Grind

Consumers are initially attracted to the Vic Firth Pump & Grind (starting at $13, Amazon) because of its sleek design, which one Vic Firth Pump & Grind review on Crate & Barrel describes as looking like a blend of flashlight with rocket ship. But reviews go beyond praise for the looks of the thing by noting that the design solves the problem of trying to stir with one hand and grind pepper with the other; this is a one-handed job that simply calls for a good push of the thumb, according to a review at the FoodNetwork Store.The stainless steel construction and lifetime warranty scream attractive aesthetics and durability. One user posting a Vic Firth Pump & Grind review on the Target site reports that she's had Vic Firth Pump & Grind for a year and it still works as well as it did the day she bought it.

Although the Vic Firth Pump & Grind is not adjustable, the grind that comes out is consistent and relatively fine. This model has a small acrylic window at the bottom so it's possible to see how much pepper is left. The refill process is easy, but the opening is quite small, so this is best done with a funnel.

The cool styling and the one-handed operation are real plusses, but a few features of the Vic Firth Pump & Grind keep it from being stellar performer in the kitchen. For one thing, it's pretty small, so the amount of pepper dispensed with each thumb push is kind of meager; real pepper hounds will be doing a lot of pumping and refilling. The design isn't especially practical as a kitchen tool because it can topple over easily. It's best use would be on the dining room table, at the grill, or for traveling; in fact, you can buy a holster to hold it when you're on the move.

Chef'n Pepper Ball Pepper Mill

If you're looking for a pepper mill that's truly unique, you can hardly do better than the Chef'n Pepper Ball (starting at $14, Amazon). It has cute bunny ears that you squeeze to grind the pepper, and its one-handed action is regarded as a big plus. But according to Chef'n Pepper Ball reviews, that's about all the positive things you can say about it. Although a few people swear by this low-cost pepper grinder, most reviews on Amazon complain about its cheap construction, with the ears breaking off, the grind being inconsistent, the mechanism getting jammed, and the inability of the peppercorns to hit the grinder at just the right angle. One unhappy user who posted a review on Epinions says it's a very good item for people who don't like pepper very much because it takes so long to produce an adequate amount of ground pepper.

On the face of it, the Chef'n Pepper Ball seems like a good idea. Its round shape allows it to hold a good bit of pepper without being extremely tall. Refill is easy thanks to a small door on the side, and a dial on the bottom adjusts for different grind settings. It comes with a little stand that keeps pepper from falling on the counter or table when not in use. And then there's the ease of use factor of being able to squeeze those little ears with one hand.

All of these features would be compelling if the thing worked. On the whole, the Chef'n Pepper Ball is not a kitchen tool for those who take their cooking seriously. It seems more like a toy that has a function; as a kitchen tool it just doesn't to dispense pepper with efficiency, consistency, or minimum effort.

Trudeau Graviti Pepper Mill

In the ease-of-use department, electric pepper mills reign. The Trudeau Graviti Electric Pepper Mill (starting at $17, Amazon) requires nothing of you but holding it upside down. On the whole, Trudeau Graviti Electric Pepper Mill reviews indicate that people really like this low-cost pepper grinder, at least until it breaks. Not surprisingly, then, reviews are extremely mixed. On, users mention the cool design and the fun of using it, and say it fascinates everyone who sees it; this product is a real conversation piece. The experience of one user who posted a review on Amazon is typical of many, though; the reviewer says the unit doesn't deliver as expected because of the dubious quality of the parts and the difficulty of refilling it. Many users suggest that the Trudeau Graviti Electric Pepper Millis is at its working best only with very soft or very small peppercorns.

The Trudeau Graviti Electric Pepper Mill is battery operated, and requires six AAA batteries that reportedly lose their juice quickly. It has a knob on top that turns to adjust the grind, and the lack specific settings means it can be set exactly to your taste. This model comes in many colors, making it easy to match with your decor. There's a clear acrylic window to help keep track of the contents and the pepper comes out of the top, so there's no residue left on the counter or table. The motor of the Trudeau Graviti sits in the bottom of the grinder; it must be removed for refill (Trudeau Graviti Electric Pepper Mill reviews caution against adding beyond the fill line, otherwise the mechanism will jam). Unlike manual pepper grinders, most of which come with a lifetime warranty, the Trudeau Graviti's warranty is one year.

The Trudeau Graviti Pepper Mill holds great promise, but the execution, not so much. When it works, it's a wonder; there are just too many times when it doesn't. The refill process is unnecessarily complicated because it's difficult to get all the pieces to line up when the motor and battery pack are replaced. As long as you don't mind the fuss, the ongoing cost of the batteries, and some reliability problems, the Trudeau Graviti Electric Pepper Mill might be a fun addition to your kitchen.

Buying Guide

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.

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 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.


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 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.

Features Comparison

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Review Score:
Product Title
Ease of Refill
Number of grinding adjustments
Grinding method
Grinder material
Product Title
Ease of Refill
Number of grinding adjustments
Grinding method
Grinder material

OXO Good Grips Pepper...

5.5” x 2.2”
Large opening on the bottom
Turn the bottom

William Bounds WB-1 Key...

4” x 2.5"
Unscrew top; shaft running down the middle
Turn the key
Stainless Steel

Vic Firth Pump & Grind

6” x 1”
Unscrew the bottom; small opening
Not adjustable
One-handed pump
Stainless Steel