The perfect pepper mill is an elusive object.
Perfection is, of course, subjective; still, there are a few immutable
rules to guide the search:
In our own quest, we’ve tested a dozen or more pepper
mills, several of which are regularly touted as the world’s best. Here are
1. The Atlas Pepper Mill
The Atlas Pepper Mill set us to dreaming of the
wine-dark Aegean Sea and plates of peppery octopus consumed with glasses
of ice-cold ouzo. Manufactured in Crete, it is based on a coffee mill
created in the early 1900’s for Greek soldiers to use in the field.
The Atlas passes both the beauty and the utility
tests. The 9-inch 404 model ($60) is particularly handsome: a narrow
copper tower topped with a brass handle for grinding; bands of embossed
grape clusters encircle the body of the mill. To fill, you must unscrew
the handle and remove a cap, not as simple as some, but still relatively
easy. The 404 holds an ample half cup of whole Tellicherry peppercorns.
(Note: Smaller models may be hard to fill with large peppercorns.)
Adjust the grind by loosening or tightening a screw
on the bottom; inside, a heavy steel mechanism with hand-cut burrs
efficiently pulverizes the pepper; works best for medium and coarse
grinds. One potential drawback is the weight of the mill: one pound,
five-ounces. Still, the Atlas is handsome enough to use with all but the
most formal place settings, and we like the way the pepper emerges in a
shower. Lifetime warranty.
Sources: Dean & DeLuca, 877/826-9246. Website: www.deananddeluca.com
(enter “spice mill” in search box). For more retailers, contact:
Peppermill Imports, 831/393-0244;
2. Perfex Pepper Mill
The Perfex, favored by many chefs, is a sturdy,
well-engineered French mill that makes up in utility what it lacks in
flair. Its smooth nickel-plated cast aluminum body houses a rugged metal
grinding mechanism with stainless steel heads. To grind pepper, turn the
crank top, a procedure which can take some muscle. To adjust the grind,
there is a round nut underneath the body which turns smoothly, producing a
range of grinds that are most satisfactory if you like medium to coarsely
ground pepper. The Perfex is easy to fill through a capacious pull-out
chute on the side; we used a funnel to channel the peppercorns into the
grinder. We tested the 4-inch model ($60-75) which holds just 1/8- cup.
In all, the Perfex feels solid in the hand and is highly functional; if
you like a no-nonsense industrial look and a relatively coarse grind, this
mill is for you.
3. Peugeot Pepper Mills
Peugeot has been making pepper and salt grinders
since 1842 and the brand is often billed as “the best” by retailers. We
were Peugeot-neophytes, so we selected a modestly priced model ($22) made
of dark hardwood, with a sensuously curved body and satiny surface that
almost begged to be touched. Beneath the Euro-sleek exterior is a tough,
case-hardened steel mechanism with grinding and channeling grooves that
cut peppercorns in half before they are ground to the desired fineness.
Still, we found two problems: To adjust the grind,
one must loosen or tighten the brass knob on top of the body. For a very
coarse grind, the knob had to be loosened so much that the body wobbled;
the mill works best when set to produce a fine to medium grind. This
model, which is five-inches tall and holds 1/8 cup, can also be hard to
fill. When the top is removed, the peppercorns must be poured over a
plastic support that holds the central shaft in place; hard little black
peppercorns bounced all over the kitchen when we tried to fill it too
quickly. Peugeot makes dozens of styles and sizes in materials such as
beechwood, clear acrylic and stainless; next time we’d pick a different
model. Lifetime warranty.
Various Peugeot mills are available from
4. Tom David Unicorn Peppergun and Magnum Plus
We like our Tom David Unicorn Peppergun ($23.50)
because the slim, bright red plastic cylinder is easy to use and because
it makes us smile. To grind pepper, simply squeeze the “rabbit ear”
handles together; you can do this with one hand while the other is
stirring the pot. The mill is filled through a large round porthole in
the side which opens when you twist the body; a funnel helps to corral
stray peppercorns. (At six-inches tall, it holds 1/4 cup.) The grind is
adjusted by turning a screw on the bottom of the mill. Although the
exterior is plastic, the grinding mechanism is metal with a zinc chrome
alloy coating; the Peppergun is tested for 40,000 grinds. Our first one
lasted over a decade.
This Nantucket-based company also makes the Magnum
Plus ($49.95), often cited as Cook’s Illustrated’s choice for best
pepper mill in 1997. The nine-inch tall black cylinder holds a full cup
of Tellicherry peppercorns; the grind, which is also adjusted by turning a
screw on the bottom, works best to produce a medium-coarse grind.
Sources: Tom David, Inc., 800-634-8881,
www.peppergun.com. For the Magnum Plus only, contact: Cooking
Enthusiast. Telephone: 800-792-6650. Website:
5. Zassenhaus Pepper Mill
The Zassenhaus pepper mill would not be out of
place in a quaint Black Forest cottage or atop a swaying table in
Beauty and the Beast. Of all the peppermills we tested, it has the
most fancifully old-fashioned appearance. Its rounded walnut body
resembles a turret crowned by a burnished brass “minaret.” The handle
angles elegantly up in the air, ending in a small walnut knob; a gold “P”
is discreetly emblazoned on the side.
Inside, though, the Zassenhaus is strictly business.
Made in Germany, the mill has a carbon tool steel grinding mechanism
which is machined and hardened so that it stays sharp for years. You
adjust the grind by tightening or loosening the “minaret.” This produces
pepper that ranges from very fine to medium coarse; of all the mills we
tested, it produced the most uniformly fine grind. (If you like very
coarsely ground pepper, you may prefer another mill.) The Zassenhaus is
filled by unscrewing the top and pouring in the pepper; the 5-3/4-inch
tall #1 model ($27.95) holds about 1/8 cup of Tellicherry peppercorns..
In all, this is a solid well-crafted peppermill with an old-fashioned
flair. 10-year guarantee.
Source: Penzeys Spices, 800-741-7787,