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Finding the Best Pepper Mill

TIMES FOOD MANAGING EDITOR

Pepper mills are available in a multitude of designs and sizes, but it’s the grinding mechanism that really counts. The important question is how well each mill grinds whole peppercorns.

The best grinding mechanisms are made either of stainless steel or tough carbon steel treated to harden its surface (case-hardened). Mechanisms made from softer materials have two related problems: Tiny particles of metal shave off into food during grinding and the teeth eventually become dull.

We evaluated 14 mills, all of which required two hands to operate. Two models had “fins” or “ears” that are turned to activate the grinding mechanism; three models had crank handles, and nine models were the type where the top portion of the mill is rotated.

Choosing which type of mill to buy is strictly a matter of personal preference. One interesting note, however, is that with a crank-style mill, both hands tend to move in a circular motion so the freshly ground pepper tends to be distributed in the shape of a circle rather than evenly over the food.

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A note about warranties: they can be a bit confusing, so it’s best to ask for clarification before purchasing a pepper mill. The term lifetime typically refers to that of the purchaser, although it sometimes means the expected lifetime of the mill as determined by the manufacturer. A forever warranty usually covers not only the original purchaser but even subsequent owners. All warranties cover only the grinding mechanism, not the exterior housing.

CONCLUSIONS:

Despite claims that mills were “fully adjustable,” few of the models produced significantly different grinds (except for fine and coarse) at the various settings.

Prices varied from $15 to $130. The William Bounds mill, judged highest on all criteria by our testers, sells for less than $30. The models are listed in descending order of preference on the accompanying Product Comparison chart.

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EVALUATION:

Each of the 14 mills was evaluated on the following criteria:

* How well did it grind peppercorns?

* Did the mill produce a sufficient amount of pepper for each turn?

* How easy was it to change the grind?

* Was the mill easy to fill?

* Did it hold enough peppercorns to alleviate too-frequent filling?

* Did the mill feel comfortable in the hand?

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* Was the exterior housing easy to clean?

* Did the mill seem durable?

Since many of the companies produce a wide variety of designs, the mills were not judged on aesthetics of the exterior housing.

RESOURCES:

WILLIAM BOUNDS, LTD. (1)--This company makes more than 32 models in a variety of exterior housings, some of which are pepper mill/salt shaker combinations. Both top and crank models. All use the same grinding mechanism. Each has three grind settings--fine, medium and coarse--changed by rotating a metal band at the shoulder of the mill. Mills can be used to grind pepper or rock salt.

Available at Cook ‘N’ Things, South Pasadena, and Neiman Marcus, Beverly Hills.

TWERGI (12)--The Italian company manufactures a variety of uniquely designed pepper mills, all of which use the same grinding mechanism. Grind was changed in model tested by a screw adjustment at bottom of mechanism.

Available at MOCA, Los Angeles; Tesoro, Los Angeles; By Design, Los Angeles.

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GREEK (14)--The company markets 11 models in four styles. All are based on the traditional Middle-Eastern coffee-mill design and use the same grinding mechanism. Housings are made of brass (three models are available in chrome plate). Change the grind by loosening or tightening the screw on the bottom of the mechanism. Handles and security nuts are replaced free of charge.

Available at Gelson’s supermarkets; Cook ‘N’ Things, South Pasadena; Montana Mercantile, Santa Monica; and Bazaar Del Mundo, San Diego.

ALESSI (7)--Part of a matching line designed by Michael Graves that includes a water kettle, creamer, sugar bowl with spoon and salt shaker. Housing is 18/10 polished stainless steel with blue polyamide fins. Change the grind by loosening or tightening the red top knob.

Available at Robinson’s department stores, Bullock’s department stores and Zero Minus Plus, Santa Monica.

BANTON (5)--The company produces a variety of models with hardwood or high-gloss painted housings. Three choices of case-hardened steel grinding mechanisms are offered. Change the grind by loosening or tightening the top nut.

Available at Williams-Sonoma in Southern California; Montana Mercantile, Santa Monica; Cook ‘N Stuff, Torrance; Kitchen Things, three stores in Orange County; Village Kitchen, Glendora.

PEUGEOT (13)--The French company manufactures a variety of natural wood and high-polish pewter housings. All use the same grinding mechanism. Change the grind by loosening or tightening the top knob.

Available at Kuntz Hardware, West Hollywood; Montana Mercantile, Santa Monica, and Kitchen World, Santa Monica.

BRENTWOOD TRADING POST (8)--The company manufactures three models, one of which is a pepper mill and salt shaker pair. Housings are solid maple or cherry wood. All use the same grinding mechanism. Change the grind by loosening or tightening the top knob.

Available at Cook ‘N Stuff, Torrance and La Habra; Graber Olive House, Ontario; Kitchen Corner, La Canada.

WOODARD & CHARLES (4)--Varied line of models manufactured in England. All use the same grinding mechanism. The grind on the model tested was changed by an adjustment of the top knob.

Available at Gelson’s Markets; Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Ranch Markets; Cook ‘N’ Things, South Pasadena; Esprit de Cuisine, Pasadena; Kitchen Collections, Huntington Beach; Kitchen Korner, La Canada; Ports ‘O Call, Pasadena.

PERFIX (6)--Cast aluminum exterior with crank handle. Change the grind by loosening or tightening the nut on the bottom of the grinding mechanism.

Available at Montana Mercantile, Santa Monica; Cook ‘N Stuff, Torrance; Kitchen Things, three stores in Orange County; Village Kitchen, Glendora.

MR. DUDLEY (3, 10)--The company manufactures some models in the United States, others in Taiwan. The line includes a variety of both top and crank models. The grind was changed in models tested by an adjustment of the top nuts.

Available at Adray’s, J.C. Penney, FEDCO, 3 D Bed & Bath.

ASTRO (9)--Designed to resemble an astronaut. Two grind settings: fine and coarse. Directions are included for changing the grind.

Available at--call FRAMACO, (800) 648-2022 for information.

OLDE THOMPSON (2)--The company produces a large variety of pepper mills. All use the same grinding mechanism, which is manufactured in the United States. Housings are made in the United States, Europe and Asia. The grind in the model tested was changed by loosening or tightening the top nut.

Available at the Broadway, May Co., Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.

PRODUCT COMPARISON Make & Model William Bounds, Ltd. (1) Gourmet Professional, Model 401 Price $28. Features Manufactured in the United States. Stainless steel mechanism mills or tears, rather than grinds, the peppercorns. Height: 8 1/2 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Forever warranty. Features Best features: Grind settings easiest to change of all models tested. Obvious difference between grinds of the three settings. Easy to fill.

Biggest drawbacks: Nothing significant.

Make & Model Twergi (12)

Model MPO210 Price $130. Features Manufactured in Italy using the French Peugeot grinding mechanism. Height: 9 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. One year warranty. Comments Best feature: Smooth top facilitated ease of grinding.

Biggest drawbacks: Filling from the bottom was somewhat awkward. Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Greek(14)

Atlas, Model 103 Price $48.50 Features Manufactured in Greece. Steel grinding mechanism with hand-cut burrs. Height: 8 inches. Capacity: between 1/3 and 1/2 cup. Fifteen-year warranty. Comments Best features: Largest capacity of all models tested. Very easy to fill.

Biggest drawback: Some testers found crank grind awkward.

Make & Model Alessi (7)

Model 9098 Price $115. Features Michael Graves design, manufactured in Italy using French Peugeot grinding mechanism. Height: 5 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Lifetime warranty. Comments Best features: Holes in sides allow you to see peppercorn level. Large “fins” facilitate grinding.

Biggest drawbacks: Holes in sides make it somewhat difficult to clean. Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Banton (5)

Federal, Model F10-PM-CO Price $37. Features Manufactured in the United States. Case-hardened steel grinding mechanism. Height: 11 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Forever warranty. Comments Best features: Feels comfortable in the hand.

Biggest drawbacks: Narrow neck made it slightly difficult to fill. Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Peugeot (13)

Model 1476 Price $20. Features Manufactured in France. Peugeot grinding mechanism. Height: 7 inches. Capacity: less than 1/8 cup. Lifetime warranty. Comments Best feature: Quality grinding mechanism.

Biggest drawback: Hard to achieve a really coarse grind.

Make & Model Brentwood Trading Post (8)

Model LPXB Price $38. Features Manufactured in the United States. Metal grinding mechanism. Height: 14 1/2 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Five-year warranty. Comments Best features: Nothing significant.

Biggest drawbacks: Size and shape made it somewhat difficult to handle. Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Woodward & Charles (4)

Model 505PM Price $12.95 Features Manufactured in England. Stainless-steel grinding mechanism. Height: 5 1/2 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Lifetime warranty. Comments Best feature: Allows you to see peppercorn level.

Biggest drawback: Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Perfix (6)

No model number. Price $58. to $60. Features Manufactured in France. Peugeot grinding mechanism. Height: 4 inches. Capacity: 1/8 cup. One-year warranty. Comments Best feature: Easiest to fill through chute on side.

Biggest drawback: Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Mr. Dudley (3)

Model 78 Price $24. Features Manufactured in the United States. B-113 steel grinding mechanism. Height: 7 1/2 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Forever warranty. Comments Best feature: Nothing judged significant.

Biggest drawbacks: Fills from the bottom and needs to be jiggled to get peppercorns down inside and bottom back in place. Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Astro (9)

Model 349-612 Price $15. Features Manufactured in Taiwan using a grinding mechanism modeled after the Peugeot. Height: 5 1/2 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Three-month warranty. Comments Best feature: Price.

Biggest drawbacks: Only two grinds. Has most complicated method of changing grind settings of any model tested. Larger “ears” would make it easier to operate.

Make & Model Olde Thompson (2)

Coronet, Model 3008-40-0-0 Price $20. Features Case-hardened, copper alloy steel grinding mechanism manufactured in the United States. Pepper mill/saltshaker combination. Height: 7 inches. Capacity: 1/4 cup. Lifetime warranty. Comments Best feature: Easier to fill than the other similar model tested.

Biggest drawback: Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Mr. Dudley (10)

DeVille, Model 5007 Price $23. Features Manufactured in Taiwan. Pepper mill/saltshaker combination. Stainless-steel grinding mechanism. Height: 6 1/2 inches. Capacity: 1/8 cup. Forever warranty. Comments Best feature: Allows you to see peppercorn level.

Biggest drawbacks: Difficult to get top back on after filling (instructions do not say to push up from the bottom). Hard to achieve much change in grind.

Make & Model Moller (11)

Model 103.10.1/0 Price $23. Features Model discontinued.


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