Tag Archives: oxo

Ode to Pepper Grinders (& Salt, Too!)

I love fresh ground pepper! I put it on EVERYTHING! Which actually probably makes me a poor reviewer because I just leave all of my grinders set on “coarse” and rarely test out the other options. But I have used quite a few and can offer some insight and tips for maintenance, of course! First and foremost, the proper terminology is “mill” not “grinder” but I will mostly refer to them as grinders since that’s what everybody calls them.

Peugeot mill in various sizes

Buying a Pepper or Salt Mill

Can’t I just buy one grinder and do everything in one? 

The simple answer is yes, but there are always technicalities that lead you to lean more towards no. 🙂 A lot of inexpensive grinders will have a ceramic grinding mechanism which is safe for anything. However, you can’t really “clean” any type of mill entirely, so if you want to grind multiple things, you will probably get residuals of other things you’ve used the grinder for.

The more important thing to consider is with metal mechanisms. Salt is highly corrosive so the metal in these grinders is usually an 18/10 stainless steel that’s been chemically treated, versus a pepper mill just having a hardened steel to make it stronger for the peppercorns.

The next thing you need to consider is if you want the mill to have multiple grind settings. A lot of basic, inexpensive grinders will not come with options. The majority with settings will have three: coarse, medium, and fine. Sometimes you can find a mill with just two settings, but that’s it! Peugeot, a French manufacturer, boasts “infinite” grind settings because you can stop the selector anywhere you want (on other models the selection you make “clicks” into place).

Trudeau Graviti mill

Other features you can find are upside-down grinders that store with the “top” side down to reduce the mess they can leave on your counter or table. You can also buy battery-operated grinders that work with the push of a button. Trudeau makes one of the most inexpensive and best-rated electric grinders I’ve seen, the Graviti mill. It actually works just by turning it upside down – you don’t have to push a button! Peugeot pushes the bar further by selling one that also lights up while it’s grinding for you. Hey – you’ve got to be able to see when you’re dining by candlelight! 😛

Picking a Brand

Metal Mechanism Brands*
*Most brands that make steel pepper mills produce their salt mills with either ceramic or nylon.

Peugeot made the first pepper mill in 1841 and are still made in France today. While the guarantee on their manual grinders is only 5 years, the mechanism itself is guaranteed for life under normal use. Their most popular mills come in the same style in a plethora of sizes for you to choose from. To avoid the hassle that can sometimes come with filling your grinder, they offer some models with magnetic tops that just latch right on to the mill without any fuss. They also produce electric mills and even a classic-looking box mill. I mentioned already that they boast “infinite” grind settings, but in my personal experience, I did not notice huge differences other than coarse/medium/fine.

Peugeot’s salt mills are an 18/10 stainless steel that’s been treated to prevent corrosion.

William Bounds mills

William Bounds is my favorite brand and made in the USA! They have been in business since 1963 and have a patented mill mechanism that evenly crushes instead of grinds.Since it’s not grinding the mill components together, they can guarantee it will work for life. This is where their slogan “We’ve got a CRUSH on pepper” comes from!

William Bounds’ salt mills are made with a ceramic crushing mechanism.

Vic Firth is a tad newer to the game, but also made in the USA. This is a company that is famous for making drumsticks and drum equipment – Vic Firth was a tympanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and happens to love cooking. Mario Batalli‘s pepper mills are Vic Firth brand with Mario’s signature green and orange colors, as well as his signature on the side.

Vic Firth salt mills are made with a nylon grinding mechanism.

Vic Firth mills

Non-Metal Mill Brands

Most inexpensive pepper and salt mills you find are nylon or ceramic grinders.

Chef’n PepperBall

Chef’n makes some pretty cool grinders, although I have to say they are very hit and miss with their salt and pepper grinders. I’m a huge Chef’n lover, but I got a lot of these returned in various models, from a simple table grinder to their more unique ergonomic styles. But when they work, they work forever, so just make sure you buy from a store that will not hassle you if you need to return it. It does look like they’ve updated the designs slightly so they might be even sturdier now.

They make some amazing ergonomic models, so if you have arthritis issues, think about the repetitive wrist movements you have to make to grind your pepper. My first pepper grinder use was a friend’s Chef’n pepper ball and I thought it was the coolest thing ever – you just squeeze! They also make some 2-in-1 options that let you grind both salt and pepper in one unit.

These models all utilize a metal rasp, but they do make ceramic grinders, too.

Kuhn Rikon has a couple of ceramic models, their vase grinder being the most popular. As I mentioned, they make theirs in lots of fun colors so you can color-code your spices. They make an ergonomic lever-model for those with arthritis pain.

Kuhn Rikon vase grinders

OXO‘s ceramic grinders are only a few years old, but they look great, feel very sturdy, and I’m a huge fan of OXO so I would think should be good!

**Buying tip – Williams Sonoma has a pepper grinding area where you can actually test out the grinders before purchasing. I’m not sure if this is available at all locations, but it’s really fun!**

How To Use & Maintain Your Mill

Basic mills have a body, a piece at the top (the “lid”) that turns to activate the grinding mechanism inside, and a little ball on top that screws on to the mechanism to keep the lid in place. If you have coarseness settings, there is usually a circular piece just below the lid that you can turn and hear clicking into place at the next setting. Usually there is some sort of marking to indicate fine (smaller mark) to coarse (larger mark). Left to right = fine to coarse.

To fill the grinder, you unscrew the ball on the top, remove the lid and fill the base. There will usually be something in the way to indicate the “fill line”. You always want to fill to BELOW this piece of the mill. Not even, and definitely not above. You need to leave room for the mechanism to turn. This was the most common problem when people tried to say their mill was broken – I would open it up, dump out a few peppercorns, and VOILA! It would work.

Kuhn Rikon is “upside-down”

As I mentioned before, you can find mills that work “upside-down” to keep the mess off of your counter or table. These fool a lot of people, so read the instructions first! Yes, even with something as simple as a pepper grinder, you should always read the instructions!! The Kuhn Rikon vase grinder is a great example of this and I sold them for a couple of years before I actually used one. People returned them all the time for not working but they would always return them empty so none of us working realized what the issue was – improper use! Someone finally brought it in with peppercorns and asked us what they were doing wrong and we realized they were the “upside-down” style!

There are special grinders you can buy for wet salt. You can only grind pink berry peppercorns within a pepper mix as long as there’s not a lot of pink berries mixed in. Otherwise, put them in a ceramic or spice grinder, or use a mortar & pestle to grind them up. Putting either of these two items into a regular salt or pepper grinder will ruin your grinder.

Grinding Spices

Cuisinart Spice and Nut Grinder

As I mentioned above, you can use most grinders for spices, just be careful of anything that could corrode a pepper mill. You should be able to find many inexpensive ceramic mills for spices. The Kuhn Rikon vase grinders are great and you can get it in all sorts of different colors to help differentiate between your spices!

Some people use inexpensive coffee grinders to grind their spices. You can read more about that on my “Coffee Grinder” blog, where I also mention the alternative of the Cuisinart Spice and Nut Grinder. For a few extra bucks, get something larger that grinds spices better and you can also clean out between spices.

Grinding Herbs

Microplane recently came out with an actual herb mill to grind your fresh herbs! I would love to test this out. There are a few gadgets you can find to chop herbs with, as well, but that’s for another blog!

Grinding Nuts

William Bounds Nut Twister nutmeg grinder

As already mentioned, Cuisinart has a great electric spice and nut grinder. Many of the manufacturers listed make several special nutmeg grinder models since that is a very popular spice. Peugeot and William Bounds probably have the most variety of other specific grinders (chocolate, cinnamon, chilies, etc.), as well.

Favorite Gadgets I Actually Own

Gadgets – some people absolutely love them (me) and others can’t stand the idea of owning an item that usually only serves a single purpose. Generally most things a gadget does, you can do with some other kitchen basic, it just might not be as easy to get the task accomplished if you’re not a pro.

One of my favorite stories from selling gadgets is about a customer who came in shopping for a gift for his friend. He was hoping to purchase her a gadget of some sort — maybe for avocados since she really liked those. Perfect! We had just received several new avocado-related gadgets that I was very excited about. After showing him the options, he looked dismayed and told me that these were single-use items and he was hoping for something that did more than one thing. I tried holding back my laughter and told him that maybe a gadget wasn’t what he was after, then.

Your favorite gadgets are going to differ from other peoples’ because of what you love to cook the most. And of course, what works for one cook might not for another! Here’s some of my favorites.

Makes the job quick and easy!

jo!e Strawberry Huller

jo!e strawberry huller

There are TONS of strawberry hullers on the market. The purpose of a strawberry huller is to hull the strawberries, which is to remove the stems from the berries. The more basic ones that most people are accustomed to will look like a pair of wide tweezers and pulls the stem leaves out. They are starting to make some fancier ones these days, though! OXO makes a really interesting one that I kind of like, but I feel like it creates more work than necessary in trying to get the stem back out of the huller. This one by jo!e is my favorite because it has a serration around the metal part, which helps you really dig out the whole stem of the berry. I’ve also sometimes been successful at using this on tomatoes, so it has the potential to work on more than one item.

Zyliss Peeler

Peelers are a big deal to me. I remember having these awful metal ones growing up and having to peel a ton of potatoes because our family was so big and whining that my hand hurt by the end of it. I recall seeing indentations in my hands from the peeler! I vowed to never peel potatoes again; now it’s just to never own a cheap meal peeler again. 😉

Zyliss peeler

I am a huge fan of the OXO peeler (it’s an extremely close 2nd place; I bought two for my mom!), but once after I moved, lost my OXO peeler and the store was out of this brand when I finally got around to replacing it. I remember this being the day before Thanksgiving and many types of mashed pototoes were going to be made amongst my roommates, as they were arguing over who made better ones. I am a fan of Zyliss, so I grabbed one of theirs, and it immediately became my favorite. I didn’t think it would because of the hard plastic versus OXO’s soft grip, but the shape is just perfect, in my hand at least. It’s slightly less bulky than the OXO one, so it’s my winner. They also make a soft-fruit peeler that looks identical in red; don’t buy the wrong peeler! (The regular one is available in other colors, too.)

Zyliss Avocado Tool

A few years ago everyone finally realized that people wanted something to help out with their avocados, and every new thing caught my eye as better than the last. Compared to a few other brands, the Zyliss is my top choice. It’s shape is like a knife, and for me that makes cutting the avocado easier since I am used to cutting it with a knife anyway. It’s size allows for scooping, and it’s interior is supposed to help with mashing but it doesn’t work in the bowls I utilize for guacamole so I’ve never used it for that purpose. The serrated edges aren’t very sharp to the touch but slice the avocado nicely. I like to chop it in half and then cut my slices right inside of the rind when I want it sliced for sandwiches.

Zyliss avocado tool


Chef’n SleekStor VeggiSteam

 Chef’n Silicone Steamer

The small in my 3qt. pot

I have sold many brands of metal vegetable steamer, and let me tell you, they all eventually break down. A lot of moving parts, the potential for rusting…plus they take up a lot of room in the drawer or cupboard. You might argue a silicone one takes up just as much room, but they are flexible and easier to work with in that regard. I love the Chef’n SleekStor VeggiSteam because it just works. OXO just came out with one that rolls up for better storage, but I don’t really see it saving that much space, and I don’t think the shape of it will mold to the pan quite like my Chef’n does. The silicone stays cool and/or cools right down, depending on if you get it hot or not. And unlike a metal steamer, you can throw this guy in the dishwasher. Comes in two sizes and multiple colors!

Bottom of Chef’n silicone steamer; “feet”

Vacuvin Wine Sealer

Vacuvin with stopper

I know, how dare I leave wine in the bottle? 😉 This thing is pretty darn inexpensive, especially compared to all the fancy doo-dads you can obtain in the wine world. And it’s literally the only thing that will actually SEAL the bottle, meaning I have actually traveled with a bottle of wine in my backpack around town feeling safe that it won’t spill! And of course the best part is, especially if you buy more expensive wine than I do, is that it keeps the wine fresh and tasting good. The Vacuvin literally sucks all the air out of the bottle, which is what breaks the wine down. It’s pretty nifty; you put the special cork on the bottle, place the Vacuvin on top, pump until you hear three “clicks” and it’s sealed! To open, you push the little knob in the center of the special cork, the pressure is released and the cork comes loose. I myself don’t use it for taste reasons, purely storage. I have some beautiful decorative glass wine corks but none of them actually cork the bottle if I want to put it back on my wine rack, which would require the bottle to lie on its side.

**A study done at Portland State University revealed that the Vacuvin loses its vacuum pressure over several hours, so real wine enthusiasts are starting to spurn this gadget, but like I said, it’s amazing for actual storage if you’re buying a cork/stopper and it’s pretty darn inexpensive.

zak! Garlic Peeler

zak! garlic peeler

I cannot tell you how many years I grumbled at my garlic before I finally brought one of these home, and man has it changed my life! I know you’re supposed to be able to do this easily with the back of a knife, but I can’t. The zak! garlic peeler is probably the easiest to find, comes in fun colors and is a nice, easy-to-clean silicone. I’ve seen others that looked just like the “rubber husband” Tupperware gadget that helps you open jars, so if you already have one of those, try rolling your garlic around in it and see if it will peel! It was literally just a square piece of rubbery material, so I don’t think it actually has to be made of silicone, but silicone will last longer if you’re in the market for something new. The zak! one can actually even go in the dishwasher.

Pull Ties

I had seen the OXO brand clips when they first came out and told my mom about them, and a month or so later QVC was selling these awesome ones called Pull Ties. She bought a few sets for Christmas presents and I think I ended up with most of them because I love them so much! I absolutely hate trying to use chip clips on freezer bags as they never seem to hold. I also prefer to purchase bakery rolls at the grocery store but can never eat them all before they go bad, so I like to freeze them but feel ridiculous using the expensive Ziploc freezer bags for cheap buns! This way I can use the bag they came in.