So - you’ve decided it’s time to invest in a really good pepper grinder. Since pre-ground pepper isn’t your thing, you’re obviously someone who cares about food. And as all foodies know, having the right tool for the job really can make a difference to your cooking.

Perhaps you’re here because you’ve been in a cycle of buying those disposable supermarket grinders. Or maybe you had a not-great grinder that recently broke. Most people who find our store have had a similar experience, one that made them ask: how can I find things that last forever, instead of buying throwaway stuff over and over?

Some things in our range we regard as the one buy-for-life product in their category. But luckily for you, when it comes to pepper grinders, we’ve managed to find a few options. If you’ve already browsed our range, you’ll have noticed that they all look very different, and vary in price quite a bit. What’s the practical difference? 

We want you to make an informed choice, so to help with that, we asked Jasmine from the Buy Me Once Research Team to do a deep dive into how each of these grinders do their thing. How easy are they to twist, or refill? At what rate does the pepper come out? How coarse is the grind? What are the guarantees? Here are her findings.

The ‘I Heart Black Pepper’ disposable grinder by Cape Foods, $2.99.

Cost per use: 1.25c

They could have at least filled it to the top.

Okay, so hopefully you’ve guessed that this isn’t one of ours. I’m including it because I want to demonstrate the real differences between everyday throwaway products and their buy-for-life counterparts. 

I’ve bought a fair few of these grinders in my life (or ones like them). These particular ones have a top that can’t unscrew, so once the pepper is used up, in the bin it goes. They’re not even recyclable due to the mixed materials. I’ve also had similar ones where the top can come off, but that often happens mid-grind, causing all the peppercorns to flood out onto your food. Soup ruined.

So - these little guys are wasteful. But at least they’re cheap, right? Well, let’s say this plastic pepper grinder without its salt partner costs £1.50. If it was used five times a week and lasted a generous six months, it would cost 1.25p per use. It might not sound like much, but our cheapest buy-once pepper grinder is nearly half that (not to mention the mountain of waste saved).

But all that aside, I’m here to test performance. Let’s take a look at the grind.

The pepper yield of our disposable grinder after five twists. Setting a pretty low bar here.

For my grinding test, I’ll simply be twisting each pepper mill five times and seeing what comes out. The disposable grinder is not exactly an efficient machine, with a very bare sprinkling of pepper coming out at each turn.

The coarseness of the pepper is also very inconsistent. You can see a lot of the black skin of the peppercorns flaking into the grind, which is indicative of the grinder struggling to actually crush each peppercorn. It’s only managing to pinch the skin off before the corn pings back and escapes pulverization.

The reason why this grinder is struggling.

The main design flaw here is the grinder material, which unsurprisingly is just a fairly thin plastic. When the mechanism itself isn’t very hard, it’s going to struggle to squash a tough little peppercorn. This also results in the grinder being difficult to twist, for not much reward.

So - we’ve set a low bar, but at least I’ve reaffirmed that I will never buy one of these again. Let’s move on to something better.

The Paris Pepper Grinder by Peugeot, $50.

Cost per use: 0.67c

If I told you to picture a pepper grinder, this is probably the kind of design you’d think of.

The first Buy Me Once pepper grinder I’m demonstrating is this beechwood number by Peugeot. That’s Peugeot as in the car manufacturer - did you know the lion in their logo originally symbolized the crushing jaws of their grinding mechanisms? Peugeot have actually been manufacturing pepper mills in France since 1874, long before they made their first car.

The original jaws of the Peugeot lion.

This Paris grinder is a 35 year old design, but it still looks as modern as ever. The helix-shaped grinding mechanism, made of hardened steel, is designed to achieve the perfect grind without jamming. Loosening the knob on the top loosens the two crushing parts, thus creating a coarser grind. In turn, tighten the knob for a finer grind.

This pepper mill carries a lifetime guarantee on the mechanism, which is exceptional. If you were to use it five times a week for a conservative 20 years, it would cost about 0.67p per use. That’s outstanding value, and works out at half the cost of the disposable grinder. 

But before you commit to having it forever, you’ll want to know whether this pepper mill works well. Let’s take a look at the results.

An even and efficient grind, from fine through to coarse.

I gave the Paris grinder five grinds at three different levels of coarseness, and comparing it with the disposable mill is like night and day. The quantity of pepper that comes out at each twist is impressive, and the grind is very consistent at every coarseness. At the most coarse level, the grinder takes more effort to twist, but an even greater quantity of pepper comes out at once.

Where the magic happens.

Refilling this grinder is straightforward, though you have to take some care. It’s the typical method of unscrewing the top and having to pour peppercorns into a fairly small hole. A few peppercorns across the countertop is kind of inevitable. A spoon or a funnel makes this easier - or even a piece of paper folded into a pouring chute.

Overall? This is a lightweight grinder that represents great value. It offers excellent, adjustable pepper grinding and a classic design. If you think this is the grinder for you, you can purchase the Paris grinder here, and its salt grinder counterpart here.

The Cast Iron Pepper Grinder with Walnut Lid by Skeppshult, $135.

Cost per use: 1.52c

Heavy, solid, simple.

While the Paris grinder is a product we’d describe as a design classic, this Scandi number by Swedish iron foundry Skeppshult is something a little different. This ultra-sturdy, minimalistic design features a magnetized walnut wood lid and coated cast iron body. With a 1kg heft, it makes a strikingly solid product to handle.

Skeppshult’s foundry is the last one in Scandinavia still producing cast iron cookware, and it runs on green electricity from wind and hydropower. Their products carry a 25 year guarantee on the cast iron - and this pepper mill certainly gives off an air of indestructibility. It’s our most expensive grinder, but if you use it five times a week for 20 years, its cost per use works out very similarly to a disposable grinder.

As a note, my grinder is nearly two years old, and has seen a lot of use in the meantime. Oily cooking hands have turned the walnut lid dark and shiny, but it still works just as well as the day I got it. Let’s put it to the test.

Pulverized by a simple but effective cast iron mechanism.

Here’s what this grinder produced after five turns of the lid. This is a non-adjustable mill, and produces a nice medium-coarse grind. The consistency is a little less even than the Peugeot, and less pepper comes out per turn, but it’s much easier to twist.

Ingeniously simple.

Here’s a cross-section of the cast iron mechanism inside this grinder. It’s a simplified version of the Peugeot double-helix, with a crushing pestle-like ball that grinds up the peppercorns under the heft of solid iron. You can actually see the base of the ball in the underside of the grinder (alongside some very low-key Skeppshult branding).

A magnetized build instead of parts that unscrew.

A very strong magnet keeps the walnut lid affixed, though to be safe, the grinder should be picked up from the bottom. Refilling this grinder is actually easier than the Paris, as the rim around the edge catches straying peppercorns before you guide them into those holes.

If you don’t like the idea of a heavy pepper grinder - or perhaps if you have young children who might pull it off a countertop - this one might not be for you. But if you love feeling the weight of a properly-made product in your hand, it’s exceedingly satisfying and simple to use.

Purchase this cast iron pepper grinder here.

The Cast Iron and Beech Pepper Grinder by Skeppshult, $110.

Cost per use: 1.25c

A lighter, more adjustable beast, with cast iron accents instead.

Our second Skeppshult pepper grinder has a more lightweight design, with a body made of beech wood - though it’s still fairly weighty at 0.7kg thanks to iron parts. It’s an elegant, functional design, keeping that modern Scandinavian simplicity. Unlike the other grinders, this one is twisted from the bottom, and the lid is affixed with a natural cork stopper.

Instead of crushing peppercorns with cast iron or stainless steel, this one uses a ceramic grinding mechanism, made by the reputable Danish company Crushgrind. This mechanism also features an adjuster knob in the base to set the coarseness. 

Skeppshult’s products carry a 25 year guarantee on their cast iron parts, so this mechanism isn’t covered - but Crushgrind mechanisms are still great quality, and built to last. If you were to use this pepper grinder five times a week for 20 years, it would cost 1.25p per use. That’s exactly the same as the short-lived disposable grinder - but you only have to buy it once.

Excellent efficiency and consistency. 

The five twists test yielded an impressive amount of pepper, ground to an even texture. I like the action of twisting the base instead of the lid, though you need to get a firm grip. When it came to adjusting the coarseness, I found the knob on the Peugeot grinder a little easier to use than the plastic dial on this one. However, this grinder seemed to have a slightly wider range of coarseness.

Twist the dial to get coarser or finer pepper.

Because this grinder twists from the base, this means that there isn’t a metal shaft running through the body of the grinder from the lid. This makes refills a little easier, because that shaft isn’t in the way of your pouring. I liked the cork stopper - it was a tight fit, but much less fiddly than unscrewing parts.

You can purchase the Cast Iron and Beech Pepper Grinder in our store here. Its matching salt grinder makes the perfect companion too.

The Bali Fonte Cast Iron Pepper Mill by Peugeot, $70.

Cost per use: 1.05c

A very pleasing and solid little grinder.

Our fourth and final pepper mill is our model by Peugeot, who make the wooden Paris grinder - and instead, this one has a coated cast iron body. Inspired by traditional Chinese cast iron teapots, the Bali Fonte is an attractive and compact design. Weighing in at 540g, it’s our lightest iron grinder, but still offers a satisfying heft.

Every bit as good as the Paris (which is very, very good).

The Bali Fonte grinder uses the same mechanism as the Paris, and it also has the knob on top to adjust the coarseness of your grinding. So it’s not surprising that both Peugeot grinders were very efficient at creating evenly-ground pepper. Like the Paris, the Bali Fonte was slightly more difficult to twist on the coarse setting, but I liked that the bumpy surface provided a bit of grip.

The Bali Fonte carries a lifetime guarantee on the grinding mechanism, and although it’s a bit pricier than the Paris, its sturdy build does inspire confidence in its durability. If you were to use this grinder five times a week for 20 years, its would cost 1.05c per use - somewhere in between the Paris and the disposable grinder.

Glimpsing the Peugeot mechanism in the flesh.

Although it’s much shorter than our other grinders, the Bali Fonte’s stout shape can still hold a good amount of pepper, and the wide opening also makes for much easier refills than the Paris. Incidentally, its shape means you can also get a good view of the crushing mechanism inside, pictured above. You can see how that neat little double helix holds peppercorns and guides them towards being crushed.

Aesthetically, the Bali Fonte is my favorite design. I really like the compact, stable shape of the grinder, which is still easy and efficient to use. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have a matching salt grinder! 

The Bali Fonte is available to purchase in our store here.

Which pepper grinder is best for me?

If you’re struggling to decide on a lifetime pepper mill companion, I think most cooks would be happy with any of the four I’ve just compared. All these pepper grinders look great, offer excellent functionality, and are designed to last many years of everyday use. They’re a world away from the disposable plastic grinder, and testing these products made me realise just how pointless it is to put up with the throwaway version.

If you really don’t want anything heavy, the Paris grinder by Peugeot will be your best option. It’s a classic design that looks great in any kitchen, and the hardened stainless steel mechanism works brilliantly.

That said, I do love the weightiness of all three cast iron grinders. In particular, the Skeppshult grinder with the solid cast iron body is a really striking design, with its satisfying heft combined with a very minimalist look. It has only four parts, so there’s not much that can go wrong. It looks and feels indestructible.

The Skeppshult beech grinder and Peugeot Bali Fonte are lighter cast iron options, both with really attractive designs and great functionality. If you use a lot of pepper, they’re also the easiest ones to refill.

If you expect to be adjusting the coarseness of your pepper mill’s grind pretty often, I’d suggest either of the Peugeot options. The Skeppshult beech grinder is highly adjustable too, but the dial is a little harder to use.

Looking after your pepper grinder

When you’re ready to invest in a kitchen tool that you’ll use every day for the rest of your life, you need to know how to look after it. Pepper grinders are in general pretty low-maintenance, but you’ll want to bear a few things in mind to keep them in top shape.

Firstly, for adjustable grinders, don’t over-tighten them. Forcing the peppercorns to be crushed through too small of a gap can damage the mechanism. You may find that the grinder loosens over time (to a coarser grind) and needs to be tightened every so often, which is normal.

Secondly, avoid moisture. Wet peppercorns, or leaving your grinder in a countertop puddle can cause it to clog up - or even become moldy. You should also avoid grinding over steam where possible (though holding your grinder at an angle will help minimize moisture contact). You might find that steam causes fine pepper to clog up around the bottom of the grinder, which can simply be brushed away once dry.

And finally, if you’ve upgraded your pepper grinder, don’t be tempted to use your old one as a salt grinder. Salt can corrode some metal mechanisms that aren’t designed to hold it, so make sure you’re specifically using a salt grinder to crush your rock salt.

Ready to upgrade to a buy-for-life pepper grinder? Browse our salt and pepper collection here. Or for more kitchen inspiration, take a look at our Buy Me Once Kitchen article.

March 26, 2022 — Catherine McKay