Everything you need to know to buy a quality pepper or salt mill! There are a number of brands and types of pepper mills. Whether you are looking for a manual pepper mill or a battery-operated pepper mill or a rechargeable salt mill, this guide will help you navigate the marketplace in your search for a quality, long-lasting pepper mill or salt mill. The type of grinding mechanism that is installed in a pepper mill makes all the difference. This main component will determine what your mill should be used to grind.
I've met very few people who do not like freshly ground black pepper over the pre-ground pepper you buy at the market. Freshly ground pepper opens up your palette and nose allowing you to taste what you are eating better and adds a bit of spice. For pepper to really take on this role as a palate opener it must be freshly crushed or ground and to do that you need a grinding mechanism appropriate for the task. The same reasoning goes for sea salt.
The Grinding Mechanism's Material: The Most Important Factor
The grinding mechanism in the mill is the most important part of the mill. Its construction and material type determines what it will be good at grinding. The goal is to find a pepper mill that achieves maximum output with minimal effort. The grinding mechanism will determine this. There are a number of materials used to create grinding mechanisms. I will cover the most common here.
Nylon- Nylon is used in many bargain pepper mills because it costs the least. Nylon is the softest of all the materials written about here. Softness of the grinding mechanism directly translates to the mill less efficient when you're talking about pepper and salt mills. The one thing nylon has going for it, however, is that it never rusts. Nylon grinding mechanisms are suitable for dry herbs, spices and sometimes salt. I do not recommend a mill with a nylon grinding mechanism. They simply will not hold up over time.
Zinc or Zinc Alloy- Zinc grinding mechanisms represent the lowest cost metal mechanism for grinding peppercorns. Zinc is a softer metal and is, therefore, less efficient. Remember: soft=less efficient. Zinc also has a drawback in that it can corrode. These grinding mechanisms may be used for dried herbs and spices, but never for salt. Grinding pepper with a zinc grinding mechanism will shorten the life of the mill considerably.
Stainless Steel- Stainless steel grinding mechanisms are somewhat more expensive than zinc grinding mechanisms, are much harder than zinc, more efficient than zinc and will last longer. Stainless steel grinding mechanisms will not rust, and should be used with peppercorns. Do not use a stainless steel grinding mechanism for salt. The salt will corrode the grinding mechanism. Stainless steel grinding mechanisms may be used for dried herbs and spices, also.
Carbon Steel- Carbon Steel grinding mechanisms are somewhat more expensive than stainless steel yet are made of much harder metal. Its hardness translates into greater output and durability. Carbon steel grinding mechanisms often are plated to avoid rusting and are to be used with peppercorns. Salt will corrode the carbon steel grinding mechanism over time. Carbon steel pepper mills can also be used for dried herbs and spices.
Ceramic- Ahh, the perfect material for making salt and pepper mill grinding mechanisms. Ceramic grinding mechanisms are more expensive than all of the previously mentioned ones and are harder than carbon steel. They will retain their sharpness, they will never rust or corrode, and can be used with peppercorn, salt crystals, dried herbs and spices.
Now that you know what grinding mechanisms work best for salt, pepper and herbs, you may be asking yourself, "Why are all mills not equipped with ceramic grinding mechanisms?" The short answer is that they simply are overkill for grinding pepper and they are more expensive. However, I prefer ceramic grinding mechanisms because they last for such a long time.
Other Factors to Consider
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome or suffer from arthritis, I suggest you look to a battery-powered mill or a one-handed squeeze mill. There are many battery-powered mills, and for the most part, a button is pressed to start the grinding. Some pepper mills even have small LED lights in them so you can see how much pepper you are dispensing. Don't be distracted by all the bells and whistles. Do not buy a battery-powered mill based solely on appearance. Make sure that it is equipped with the proper grinding mechanism for what ever you want to grind.
There are many various styles and designs for pepper and salt mills on the market and, of course, wide variance in price. If you are looking for the cream of the crop for manual pepper mills, I suggest Peugeot pepper mills. Sure, they are pricey but they are well worth it. Peugeot U-Select mills are unique in that they allow you to set your grind coarseness and "lock" it in. The U-Select mills "remember" in a sense. Most traditional mills have a knob on top that controls the grind coarseness. Unfortunately, as the mill is used, the knob turns and corrupts the grind coarseness that you set, but this common problem is avoided with a U-Select pepper mill from Peugeot.
Now that you know what grind mechanism you need for whatever you are grinding, all that is left is to choose the design that suits your hand, your needs, how much energy you want to exert and your kitchen or table decor.