The Best Pepper Mill
After 45 hours of research and testing 16 different models, we recommend the $44 Peugeot Paris U’Select Pepper Mill. Since its introduction in 1874, the Peugeot pepper mill has been beloved by professional cooks and design enthusiasts alike for its inimitably sharp case-hardened steel grind mechanism and sleek looks. It was the first pepper mill, ever, and it’s still the best. In our testing, it ground half a teaspoon of pepper faster than nearly every other contender. The grind mechanism produces even grinds at every level (unlike much of the competition) and comes with a lifetime warranty.
It’s worth noting that the testing for this guide was a real eye-opener. We were completely horrified to find that two of the highly rated models we tested spit out metal shards on their first run along with the ground pepper. (More on this later.) Fortunately, our top picks weren’t among them.
Table of contents
Who should buy this, and should I upgrade?
If you’re used to using pre-ground pepper, you’ll be surprised at what a different beast freshly ground pepper is—as Harold McGee says in On Food and Cooking, grinding the spice “frees their aromatics to evaporate, so the most and freshest flavor comes from whole peppercorns ground directly into the preparation.”
Those prepackaged pepper grinders from the supermarket generally have inferior grind mechanisms made of acrylic, which is not as strong or sharp as the steel and ceramic used in most pepper mills. They’re also marked up, often charging $10 for $5 worth of pepper. Upgrade to a standalone mill and you can also choose what pepper to put into your food, perhaps using a mix of colored peppercorns or only white for light sauces.
Restaurants and cooking schools sometimes rely on electric grinders to prep a large volume of spice before a shift, but a pepper mill is a better bet for the smaller amounts used in home kitchens.
How we picked and tested
Pepper mills are pretty simple. Gravity feeds the peppercorns into a grind mechanism, and cranking the grinder cracks and crushes the spice into a fine dust, releasing aromatic oils that enhance food. Their design hasn’t changed much since they were invented by Peugeot (same company that later made cars) in the mid-1800s.
Pepper author Christine McFadden told us, “The best [grinders] have a mechanism made from high-carbon steel or ceramic.” Ceramic is a very hard material and can be used with salt; steel, especially carbon or case-hardened steel, is very sharp but can’t be used with salt. Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) says, “Because ceramic is more brittle than steel—and more prone to breaking—their grooves and serrations weren’t as deep or sharp. As a result, these mills took far longer to grind.” Avoid mechanisms made with acrylic, as they are less strong and may flake off into food.
A knob or crank for grinding usually sits at the top, and there’s often a spindle that runs through a central chamber. The shaft, along with gravity, guides the peppercorns down into the burr grinder, which sits inside a toothed outer ring. The grinder at the end of the shaft is kind of like a drill bit with several rows of teeth. This inner piece can be adjusted, often via a screw at the top or bottom of the mill, so it’s either closer to or further from the abrasive, grooved ring around it. This makes the gap between the rings larger or smaller, allowing you to choose between finer or coarser grind. As the peppercorns enter this gap, they get cracked in half by large teeth and then crushed between different-sized rows of teeth into finer pepper.
To figure out the best models to test, we read through the existing editorial reviews. Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and the Wall Street Journal have the most thorough reviews with testing (though WSJ doesn’t reveal detailed test methodology), and Consumer Search did a good job of synthesizing a lot of the criteria people look for. We also looked at some smaller one-off roundups and reviews.
Then we talked to experts: James-Beard-award-winning cookbook author Diane Morgan; James-Beard-award-winning chef, Jennifer Jasinski; Director of Culinary for Sur La Table, Stephi Coyle; spice merchant and co-owner of The Spice House, Patty Erd; and author of Pepper: The spice that changed the world Christine McFadden to find out what we should be looking for in a great pepper mill.
Jasinski told us the most important thing is to find one that is “comfortable in your hands and grinds the pepper evenly.”
Many traditional pepper mills rely on a small screw at the top to adjust pepper grind fineness. The screw tightens or loosens the spring that brings the conical burr closer to the outer ring of teeth. Many mills have a hard time keeping a consistent fine grind because the movement required to turn the top knob loosens the screw. It can also be hard to gauge how much you have to turn the screw in order to get the exact size grind you want. When the adjusting nut is on the bottom of the grinder, near where your pepper comes out, you don’t want to touch it with dirty or oily hands.
Newer designs take the guesswork out by including a band on the body with markings denoting five or six levels of fineness. In our testing, we found that models with this feature worked well, moving easily and consistently between grind levels without the risk of contaminating pepper with greasy fingers.
Refilling can be a pain, and the models we tested varied in width and ease. Some required dismantling the body and removing the head to fill the shaft; some had pop-out chutes that could be refilled from the side without having to unscrew the top; some could be filled from the bottom under a screwed-on lid. The better models can hold at least three tablespoons of peppercorns. We narrowed down the list to those that were between 5 and 10 inches in height, since that’s what will fit in a cabinet; much larger and your peppercorns will just go stale as they wait to be ground. We also found in testing that a wider grinding mechanism diameter doesn’t necessarily mean faster output.
Mills are available in a number of styles, from the knob twist to cranks to ratchets. We tried a few of each and gravitated towards the traditional twist-top style, which was easy on the hands and aesthetically pleasing.
See-through bodies made of acrylic or glass can be convenient for knowing when you’re running low on peppercorns. However, you trade off convenience for spice deterioration. In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee says, “Even whole peppercorns lose much of their aroma after a month in a grinder…Pepper is best stored tightly sealed in the cold and dark. If exposed to light during storage, it loses its pungency because the light energy rearranges piperine to form a nearly tasteless molecule (isochavicine).”
Most pepper mills offer very long or lifetime warranties on the grinding mechanism; however, longevity and breakage don’t seem to be big issues with this particular tool.
Pepper grinders can cost anywhere between $8 and $200, but we we eliminated models over $70 because they didn’t seem to offer anything better than models that cost considerably less.
One-handed pepper grinding is appealing, but our experts and editorial reviews were lukewarm about electric grinders, the chief complaints being that they have slow output, are more prone to breaking, require batteries (up to six), and make considerably more noise when in use. But we decided to test a few of the top models for comparison’s sake and for people who may have hand strength issues.
In the end, we tested 12 manual models and three electric models.
- Fletchers’ Mill Border Grill Pepper Mill
- Peugeot Paris U’Select Pepper Mill
- OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder
- OXO Good Grips Lua Pepper Mill
- Cole & Mason Derwent Precision Gourmet Pepper Mill
- Olde Thompson Senator Pepper Mill
- Unicorn Magnum Plus Pepper Mill
- OXO Good Grips Pepper Mill
- Atlas Brass Pepper Mill
- Chef Specialties Imperial Walnut
- Kuhn Rikon Ratchet Grinder
- IKEA Ihärdig Spice Mill
In addition, we tested four electric models:
- Cuisinart SP-2 Stainless Steel Rechargeable Pepper Mill
- Russell Hobbs Battery Powered Pepper Grinder
- iTouchless Automatic Stainless Steel Pepper Grinder
To test them, we adjusted the grind settings in either direction to see how consistent and accurate they were, even with peppercorns in the mill. We checked for volume of output by applying ten cranks and weighing the pepper dust on a pocket scale. We measured the effort required to crank out large amounts—a half teaspoon as well as a tablespoon—of pepper from each grinder. Using wet and oily hands, we gauged how difficult it would be to use the grinder in messy cooking situations. And we dropped each of the pepper mills on the floor a few times to see if they would survive such falls.
Note: Cranks were performed as either a half turn of the knob, a single ratchet, or a half turn of the crank.
More importantly, the grind is very consistent at every level, with few chunks in the finer settings and little dust in the coarser settings. The setting progressions are more subtle than other models, but the dial locks them in so no amount of knob twisting will change the setting.
The knob at the top is easy to twist, and the waist in the hourglass shape is comfortable for the anchoring hand to hold. The gap where pepper falls out is about an inch wide, and because it’s so easy to operate, its aim is true and pepper only falls where you want it to. Compare the photo above to the OXO pepper mill, which uses a crank that introduces a bit more force to the motion and causes pepper to spray all over the place.
The burr itself is made of steel that is case-hardened, which means that it’s tempered and treated with a high-carbon material to make it extra hard and sharp. The mechanism comes with a lifetime warranty, but the body of the mill comes with a five-year warranty; it’s the body that will wear out first. Sweethome writer Lesley Stockton has owned an earlier version of the Peugeot for six or seven years; as you can see from the photo below, it’s sustained some damage after repeatedly being batted off the table by her cat but still works very well.
It’s beloved by more experts than we can name here. In this video, Martha Stewart says the Peugeot is “still the only pepper mill I use, it’s amazing.” Chef Michael Symon calls it “the BMW of grinders.” In the Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli say, “Peugeot grinders finely crush the peppercorns rather than mash them like other cheaper mills made with plastic gears will do.” Remodelista named the Peugeot Pepper Mill one of their “100 Most Beautiful, Useful Household Objects,” and say, “Its strong-jawed interior was the inspiration for the Peugeot lion.” Food historian Bee Wilson says, “No mill, in my experience, produces a more consistent grind. They are beautiful, too, like noble wooden chess pieces.”
Real Simple says specifically of the Peugeot U’Select: “All the mills Real Simple staffers tried were inconsistent or squeaky—except for this champ.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers
If you like your pepper super chunky, crack-between-your-teeth coarse, this is not the right model for you. The Peugeot’s coarsest setting was equal to about a medium coarseness on other models. But we think the settings are versatile enough for most cooks and most dishes.
The opening for filling the grinder isn’t particularly difficult, but it isn’t particularly easy, either. You’ve still got to cup your hand around the mouth so you don’t spill peppercorns. And if that easy-to-lose gold top nut falls and rolls under your stove, you’ll probably be very unhappy.
Some of the Peugeot buyers on Amazon complain that larger peppercorns can jam the mill. However, we tested store-bought black peppercorns as well as a mix of large, multi-colored peppercorns and neither gave us any trouble.
We wanted to see if the Fletchers’ Mill products would work as well as the Vic Firth mills did, and we can confirm that they’re still great. The American-made Fletchers’ Mill grinders use a stainless steel mechanism which, like the Peugeot, cracks pepper in two steps to release maximum aromatics. The sustainable wood body comes in seven colors, including a few that show off its beautiful cherry wood grain. It’s comfortable to hold and produces a great amount of pepper with little effort. The grind mechanism comes with a limited lifetime guarantee (as long as the mill is used properly).
Like the Peugeot, the Border Grill Pepper Mill was one of the speediest models at producing half a teaspoon of medium ground pepper, clocking in at a little over 15 seconds.
It was a favorite in the Wall Street Journal guide. Patty Erd said, “Of all the mills our spice company has carried over the 55 plus years we have been in business, the Vic Firth company, which has now been bought of Fletchers’ Mills, has been the company where we have experienced the least amount of returns. That speaks volumes to us.”
The rubberized, wide bottom serves as the turning knob for grinding, making the mill easy to grip and stable on the table. It’s comfortable and easy to turn with both an overhand claw or a baseball bat grip. It was also one of the fastest models, producing half a teaspoon of medium ground pepper in only 16 seconds. It also has a dummy-proof grind-adjusting tab for five coarseness settings, which can be changed easily with one thumb.
But if you like your pepper fine, this is not the right model for you. Its biggest flaw is that its finest setting is really medium, and its coarsest setting is very coarse, with some peppercorns that stay nearly whole.
Its short, fat body is pretty easy to hold and control, with no tiny top nut to misplace. Though it survived the drop test intact, the metal section underneath the adjuster became loose, which made it difficult to grip and grind. Overall, it’s a durable, cheap pick for people who like chunkier pepper. Like all OXO products, it comes with a lifetime satisfaction guarantee.
The best electric mill
The Trudeau Graviti Plus is extremely simple to use and comes preloaded with pepper. Once you add the 6 AAA batteries (annoyingly not included), you tip the mill forward like you’re pouring from a pitcher and pepper falls (slowly) from the top-mounted ceramic grinder. Though the knob for adjusting grind size doesn’t have pre-defined settings, grinds were quite consistent from fine to coarse. The slim body would be easy for small hands to hold on to, and, unlike the other top-heavy electrics which hold battery packs in their top half, it’s well balanced.
Like all electric pepper mills, it’s agonizingly slow—took 50 seconds to grind ½ teaspoon of medium ground pepper. It also makes that mechanical winding noise, like all other grinders, but its sound is no more annoying than the rest. Unlike the other electric pepper mills, you don’t have to decapitate the top-heavy body in order to access the refill cup. Instead, peppercorns can be added from a comically tiny opening the size of half a quarter at the top of the mill. While it isn’t the easiest refill slot to use, you won’t need to refill the mill very often as the body can hold just over ⅓ cup of peppercorns, much more than any other electric mill. Its plastic body looks like it could easily crack if dropped (we didn’t do a drop test on any of the heavy electric ones for that reason), but at least pepper doesn’t come pouring out if you knock the mill over at the table.
Care and maintenance
Don’t grind salt or other spices in your pepper mill. Salt corrodes untreated metal. There are special mills for salt which often use ceramic or treated stainless steel. (Also, keep in mind that you probably don’t need a grinder for salt. Pepper benefits from being crushed in order to release aromatics trapped inside, but salt tastes the same whether factory-crushed or mill-ground.) Other spices and herbs are better suited to different-shaped burrs; you have a better chance of keeping your mill clog-free if you stick to pepper.
If using red, pink, or green peppercorns, Peugeot suggests mixing them with black peppercorns in order to keep the mill running well. Colored peppercorns can gum up the grinder because they have been treated and may have higher moisture content than black peppercorns. This seems like sound advice for all pepper mills.
If you’re having a hard time turning the knob on your grinder, loosen the screw at the top of the grinder if there is one and gradually re-tighten it as you grind the peppercorns out—that should help any peppercorns stuck in the mechanism to pass through.
If you’re having trouble getting peppercorns into your mill, you might consider buying peppercorns in a bottle with a small mouth like the one pictured below. The mouth on this kind of bottle basically acts like a funnel, making it a cinch to direct squirrely spices into any pepper mill neatly. If you can’t buy peppercorns in a small-mouthed bottle, you can transfer them into something like these small-mouthed, dark glass bottles. (Of course, you’ll need a funnel to get the peppercorns into it, but you’ll only need to do it the first time.)
Cole & Mason Derwent Precision ($40, Amazon) – This Cole & Mason was the winner in Cook’s Illustrated’s pepper mill test. You fill it by pulling (not twisting) the top off, and the wide opening of the shaft keeps peppercorns from spilling everywhere. It has six grind settings that can be clicked through from a ring at the base. Our main complaint about this model was that the grind output wasn’t as consistent as we expected. Fine was more medium and the last two coarse grind levels appeared to be about the same. Output was a little slower than our main picks’. Cook’s Illustrated also complained recently that the dots that indicate coarseness settings have worn off after heavy use. The Cole & Mason has a hardened carbon steel mechanism that comes with a lifetime guarantee.
For $6, the IKEA Ihärdig spice mill is not bad. It puts out a prodigious amount pretty quickly (20.3 secs for half a teaspoon of medium-grind pepper). There are no marking for settings, so you just have to wing it by twisting a nut on top. Unscrew the black grinding head to load. This model uses a ceramic grind mechanism. It’s a little hard to go from coarse back to fine and the grind isn’t very even, but you can grind pepper finer than you can in the OXO Pepper Mill. The adjusting nut is on the top, where the grind comes out, so you don’t want to touch it with wet or dirty hands. For that reason, the OXO still comes out ahead. If you just want a bunch of cheapos you can put out for a party, they’ll do the trick, but they’re not worth it otherwise. It’s also worth noting that the bottle is glass, so you probably don’t want to throw these around, especially since they don’t come with a warranty.
Unicorn Magnum Plus ($45, Amazon) – The Unicorn Magnum has gotten a lot of positive press from many trusted editorial sources. It’s among ConsumerSearch’s top three rated pepper mills. Cook’s Illustrated recommends it. The Kitchn recently added the Unicorn to its repertoire and appears to be happy to have done so. It’s top rated on Cooking.com. And in our interview, cookbook author Diane Morgan said the Unicorn Magnum Plus is best for controlling the grind and has an incredible grinding mechanism.
But we hit a major dealbreaker with the tester when it delivered visible metal shavings with the pepper! We think these shards were left over from the manufacturing process, because we continued to grind pepper with it and didn’t produce additional metal chunks. We called Tom David, Inc., makers of the Unicorn Magnum, to let them know what happened and they promptly replaced it with a new unit. The second mill didn’t leave any metal shavings, thankfully.
Even if we chalk up those metal shards to a lemon, we didn’t love the Magnum Plus’s performance. The grind adjusts by turning a fussy screw at the bottom, with no indicators for fineness levels. Despite its extra large grind mechanism, it took a lot of muscle to turn and didn’t produce pepper faster than our fastest models. It was also considerably louder than other models. Its glossy, plastic surface retained streaks even after being cleaned.
The Olde Thompson ($18, Amazon) pepper mill has a classic look at a great price. Olde Thompson has been producing pepper mills in the U.S. since 1944, and they claim to have introduced pepper mills to the U.S. market. Loosening the nut at the top for coarser grinds made it feel like the top would fall off of the body. Olde Thompson had very inconsistent grinds. The mill was also challenging to use with slippery cooking hands, probably because of its flatter top knob.
The OXO Good Grips Pepper Mill ($12) is the top-selling pepper mill on Amazon with 4.6 stars from more than 500 reviewers. It comes with an easy-to-lose cover for the bottom to catch pepper dust. It’s inexpensive, and its thin plastic housing feels cheap. We couldn’t even turn the top handle with greasy hands. Depending on how you hold it, the loose side hatch opens up too easily and peppercorns can spill out. As we said earlier, the crank action means it tends to spray pepper over a wide area.
The Atlas Brass Pepper Mill ($55) was the other model that had metal shavings come out of the initial grind, which we chalk up to getting another manufacturer lemon. Shards aside, it does have a gorgeous brass exterior that would look great on a tabletop. The Wall Street Journal called the 10-inch version a “stunner.” As WSJ notes, its fine setting produces the finest pepper, but it’s not capable of delivering a coarse grind. Its refill system is a bit fussy, requiring you to unscrew the top, remove the crank handle, and remove the top dome. In truth, it’s probably a repurposed Middle Eastern coffee grinder, not a mill specifically designed for pepper.
Chef Specialties 10” Imperial Walnut Pepper Mill ($34) looks a lot like the Peugeot, but it’s not in the same league. It uses a stainless steel grind mechanism, and there are no preset grind settings so you have to play with the top nut. The fill opening is a little smaller than the Peugeot’s, and the spindle isn’t threaded through anything in the body so it kind of knocks around. On fine, its output was very slow, and the grinds were inconsistent across all levels. Like the Olde Thompson, this one does start to feel loose the more you adjust to a coarse grind.
Kuhn Rikon Ratchet Grinder ($24, Amazon) received a nod from the Wall Street Journal. But while filling it, the side door fell in with the peppercorns. We had to dig it out and snap it back into place. When it’s too full, the crank doesn’t move at all. Grinding peppercorns also gets quite loud with this model. And at the coarsest setting, its output was still quite fine.
The Perfex Pepper Mill, manufactured by a French family-owned company, uses a carbon steel grind mechanism and has a side chute for refilling. Faith Durand of The Kitchn calls it their “front-runner” for best pepper mill, and Diane Morgan said hers has lasted since 1980. However, $80 seems like too much to pay for a 4.5-inch mill that lacks grind settings and has a pretty small peppercorn capacity.
William Bounds Key Mill is quite small at four inches and comes with only three coarseness settings.
Kyocera’s The Everything Mill Adjustable Grinder isn’t specifically designed for peppercorns, so we decided not to include it in testing.
The Cuisinart SP-2 Stainless Steel Rechargeable Pepper Mill is our former favorite electric mill. The Cuisinart comes in a pair with a salt mill and a charging base, so you don’t have to keep feeding batteries into the top of the mill. It’s pretty easy to fill, but the capacity of the thin, plastic cup is only a few tablespoons. Grinds on all of the electric models were inconsistent at different levels, but the Cuisinart has an easy-to-use plastic knob to choose from six predefined coarseness settings. However, its push button makes it less easy to operate than the Trudeau Graviti Plus.
Though Diane Morgan said electric mills are not something that she chooses to use, she recommended that we check out the Russell Hobbs Battery Powered Pepper Grinder ($40). During our test, we found that the model was easy to open but very difficult to close back up. The grind can be adjusted from the bottom, but it produces more of a medium grind no matter what level it’s set to. In our output test, it produced .13g of ground pepper and took 120 seconds to deliver one tablespoon.
The iTouchless Automatic Stainless Steel Pepper Grinder ($20) was a challenge to open in part because of its heavy, 4-AA battery pack, which fell with a bruiseworthy thud on my foot at one point. The iTouchless’s grind size can be adjusted, but we found that the output is mainly coarse with some medium mixed in. The button that activates the grinder is located at the top, and it easily slips out of your hand if it’s wet or oily.
Wrapping it up
The Peugeot Paris U’Select Pepper Mill is a welcome modern take on a revered design classic. Its low effort, lightning-fast output, and consistent grinds make it the best lifetime mill to equip your kitchen with.
Pepper Mills: Reviews, Consumer Search, November 2013
Pepper Mills, Cook's Illustrated, July 2013
The Kitchn Reviews: Our Favorite Pepper Mills, The Kitchn, March 11, 2011,
Best Pepper Mills: There’s One for Every Taste , SpiceLines
How to Choose a Pepper Mill, Chow, October 29, 2012,
Pepper Mills, The Reluctant Gourmet, September 16, 2012,
Pepper Grinders, Wall Street Journal Test Kitchen, January 28, 2012,
Originally published: July 22, 2014