What Is a Pepper Mill?

Once upon a time, pepper was rare and sought after to the point of being used as a currency in some cultures. Nowadays, pepper is one of the most common seasonings, appearing on tables worldwide. About 25% of the world’s spice trade is pepper. 


Since it’s on every table, consumers need to either buy pre-ground pepper or find a way to grind their own freshly. Enter the pepper mill.


Let’s look at what a pepper mill is, how it works, and how to choose the best one for your kitchen.

What Is a Pepper Mill Grinder?

The common pepper plant produces berries or buds. When dried, these are known as peppercorns. While peppercorns are flavorful, they are almost useless until they are ground. In addition, freshly ground pepper has a more robust flavor than pre-ground pepper. 


Historically, people needed to grind pepper with a mortar and pestle to make their pepper useable. In 1842, Peugeot of France invented the pepper grinder. This new device drastically reduced the labor needed to crack peppercorns. Over time, the design has been improved upon, leading to the various options we have today.


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How Do Pepper Mills Work?

Inside a pepper mill, there are two metal or ceramic burrs. When you turn the crank or other mechanism, these burrs press together on the peppercorns, cracking them and grinding them. Since the mill is cylindrical, gravity forces the peppercorns to continue falling into the grinder mechanism and out the bottom of the mill.

Pepper Mill vs. Grinder vs. Salt Mill

Many people wonder about the difference between a pepper mill vs. grinder. They are just different words for the same tool.


At first mention, you may think the only difference between a salt mill vs. pepper mill is what spice they grind. But this is not the case.


The biggest difference between the two is the material the mechanisms inside are made of. Most good-quality pepper mills feature mechanisms made from hardened steel. Meanwhile, slat grinders are made with ceramic mechanisms.   

Which Option Is Best for Me?

While you may be tempted to purchase the same type of mill for your salt and pepper, you need different ones. Salt grinder salt corrodes steel. If you put salt into a pepper mill, it might corrode the mechanism. It’s very important always to choose ceramic for salt mills.


If you usually tend only to use either one or the other, you can get away with buying the one used most often. However, investing in a pepper and salt mill set can be a good investment if you love fresh-tasting meals. 

Types of Pepper Mills

If you’re looking to choose a pepper mill, the biggest choice you will face is whether to go with an electric or manual pepper mill.

Electric Pepper Mills

Electric mills are usually battery-operated. Occasionally, they even have fun features such as built-in flashlights included. 


These mills automate the entire grinding process. This makes them ideal for those who have trouble with their hands. 


Consider an electric mill if you need a lot of freshly-ground pepper. This can save you time and hassle while cooking or eating your meal.

Manual Pepper Mills

In a manual mill, there is some mechanism that you must run to make the device work. Sometimes this is a handle you squeeze; other times, it’s a handle that you crank. 


Manual mills are great if you occasionally use the mill but can use the crank easily. 


Our VALSE mill set is the epitome of class with its sustainably sourced wood body and silver top. Take a look and see how beautiful and functional it will be at your next dinner party!

How to Shop for the Perfect Pepper Mill

Close-up of a pepper mill
If you usually tend only to use either one or the other, you can get away with buying the one used most often. However, investing in a pepper and salt mill set can be a good investment if you love fresh-tasting meals. 

What’s the Best Grinder Material?

You can choose between stainless steel, carbon steel, and occasionally ceramic grinders. Ceramic is usually used to grind salt for a salt grinder, though it is generally a good option for pepper mills. This would allow you to use the same mill for either spice.


Stainless steel is recommended over carbon steel because it is corrosion-resistant. This will help it last much longer. Though the exact durability usually evens out.


Carbon steel starts sharper but wears down more quickly. Stainless steel is easier to sharpen. Carbon steel tends to be more expensive.


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What’s the Best Body Material?

Wood is the traditional material for the body of a pepper mill. This is a classic look that is also quite durable. You can even choose this durable option with a fun design twist. Metal details and colors are much more available while maintaining high quality.


You may also come across more stylish ones. Clear acrylic is quite popular. Unfortunately, these kinds tend to become cloudy over time.

What Size Do You Need?

A downside to many stylish mills is that they don’t hold many peppercorns. This means that you’ll need to refill them often over time. Suppose you don’t use the mill that often; this is usually not a big deal. It may be preferable if you have less storage space.


Large salt and pepper grinders are great if you want fresh pepper more often. This prevents the annoyance of refilling your mill. It’s also perfect for restaurants.


Whichever size you choose, remember you should only fill the mill part of the way. Leaving a bit of space at the top will allow the peppercorns to move into the spaces they need.

How Customizable Is the Coarseness?

Being able to customize the coarseness is critical in a pepper mill. This should include a range from fine to coarse. It’s also important to ensure that the adjuster is easy to use.


Some have a knob at the top, others a screw or wheel at the bottom. If yours has a screw, make sure it doesn’t come loose when grinding. This makes it much harder to crank, leading to jams and, eventually, disassembly.

What’s Your Price Range?

You could opt for a disposable bottle of peppercorns that has a grinder on the base. This is usually the best budget option, though they don’t last past the last of the peppercorns.


For more long-lasting mills, prices tend to start around $15. More expensive ones can reach above $100. Going with one that is not the cheapest will probably allow it to last longer. Besides that, you can choose one that fits your budget.

Which Brands Are Best?

While Cole and Mason salt and pepper mills are a common option, they are far from the only choice. De Buyer has a few different collections of pepper and salt mills to choose from. No matter your budget and needs, you’ll find one that will serve you for years.


Our JOTA collection is perfect for any occasion. It has a modern profile in either natural wood or ebony. 


If you want to add some fun to your kitchen on a budget, the Java set may be for you. You can choose classic colors, including black, white, natural, and dark. But there are also fun ones such as red and blue! Plus, it has matching options for salt and curry too.


The VALSE set features a rounded silver top with a carved beechwood body. This wood has been sourced from sustainably managed forests


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Pepper Mill Maintenance and Cleaning Tips


The first thing to do is to read your manufacturer’s instructions. This will give you insight into if there are any special care considerations. 


You can wipe the outside with a soft, damp cloth for most mills. Occasionally, there may be gunk on the outside. You can use either dish soap or a natural, all-purpose cleaner to remove it. A soft brush removes any spice on the bottom of the mill.


If you have a wood or metal mill, avoid running it under water or soaking it. Make sure never to put the mill in your dishwasher.


While refilling the mill, you can clean out the inside. Simple warm soapy water will be enough. Make sure not to soak it for long, and use a soft cloth to clean it. 


After rinsing, we recommend allowing the mill to dry overnight. This will ensure there’s not any moisture that will ruin your peppercorns.

Take Your Cooking to the Next Level With the Best Pepper Mills

different color peppermills

Finding quality pepper & salt mills that you love will allow you to experience the best-tasting spices easily with every meal. Make sure to choose a mill or set that meets your needs and budget but will still stand up to wear over time. 

Once you have your mill, always care for it so it will last for years.


Looking for a fun yet high-quality pepper mill? Our Java pepper mill, available in a variety of colors, may be for you! Check out our shiny red mill for a burst of color at the dinner table!