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Best Pepper Mills: There’s One for Every Taste 

The perfect pepper mill is an elusive object.  Perfection is, of course, subjective; still, there are a few immutable rules to guide the search: 

1. The mill must “feel good” in one’s hand: comfortable, solid, easy to operate. 

2. It must be simple to fill and hold enough peppercorns to last for a week in your kitchen  

3. The grind must be easily adjustable and must produce pepper the way you like it, from fine to coarse. 

4.  It must be so well made that you could pass it on to one of your children without shame.  Lifetime guarantees are nice. 

5. And finally, it must be beautiful—or, at least, able to move from the kitchen to the dining room table without ruining the view.   

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 our recommendations: 

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; www.peppermillimports.com.  

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.   

Sources: www.williamssonoma.com, www.broadwaypanhandler.com.  

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 www.williamssonoma.com, www.deananddeluca.com, and www.broadwaypanhandler.com.  

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: www.cookingenthusiast.com.  

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, www.penzeys.com.