Cook’s Illustrated on Pepper Mills

I’ve come to the conclusion that my pepper mill (or is it “pepper grinder”?) just isn’t cutting it: to get even dusting of pepper on my omelettes, I need to grind for what seems to be ten seconds or more. On top of that, the only size-setting appears to be “medium”, and there isn’t a means of adjusting that.

So, I had my mind made up to go shopping for a new pepper mill. I was about to trek off to Bed Bath & Beyond one afternoon to check out their wares, but I decided to check Cook’s Illustrated’s opinion first. For those not aware, Cook’s Illustrated is an advertising-free cooking magazine that prides itself on finding the best possible recipe for a dish (they’ll often go through dozens of variations before accepting the final version). And, in addition to recipes, they also test kitchen tools (they’re a bit like Consumer Reports that way).

Though watching their tv show, America’s Test Kitchen (on PBS), I’ve seen them test items such as oven thermometers and bread pans. So, I had a hunch that they may have tested pepper mills as well. A quick search on Google showed that to be the case. In episode 253 of their show, they indeed tested pepper mills.

Their tests were surprisingly thorough, including tests of capacity, grind quality, grind speed, ease of filling, and ease of use. And, though America’s Test Kitchen often finds that the more inexpensive components can perform as well as some of the more expensive versions, that wasn’t the case this time.

Reading over the show’s summary, they really loved the Unicorn Magnum Plus:

More than half of the mills tested did their jobs well, but the Unicorn Magnum Plus was the superstar. Its grind quality is exemplary, its output astounding, and its capacity huge. If that weren’t enough, it’s also easy to fill and comfortable to use. At $45, however, this mill was one of the two most expensive in the test (the second-place EHI Peppermate was $40). […]

I wasn’t expecting to see a $40-mill at the top. And, though I was hoping to find it for less online, it was consistently around that price when I checked at Froogle. Luckily, America’s Test Kitchen also commented on some more moderately priced mills: “If your budget is a bit more restricted, we recommend both the Oxo Grind It ($19.99) and the Zyliss Large Pepper Mill ($27.50).”

So, I’ve already decided on buying a new mill. But, I need to figure out just how much properly-ground pepper is worth to me. It has crossed my mind that I could save 50% on the mill by going for the Oxo over the Unicorn Magnum. On the other hand, maybe $40 isn’t that bad for a pepper mill if it’s the last mill I need to buy.

Update / 10-9-2003: I’ve ordered the Magnum Plus Pepper Mill from Not only do they have one of the lowest prices on the web ($41.95), but I also found a 20% off coupon for at which didn’t hurt either (that coupon expires 10-31-2003). I’ve also ordered a 2 lb bag of tellicherry black peppercorns from Penzys.

I actually wasn’t even aware of the various varieties of black peppercorns until I read this thread on eGullet about tellicherry black peppercorns — one forum member enthusiastically described them as having a “distinctive black pepper taste, fruity if that is possible, pungent but with flavor, not heat” (ooh!). If you’re shopping for a pepper mill or peppercorns, I also found this thread very informative — it actually links to several related threads on pepper mills and peppercorns.

5 thoughts on “Cook’s Illustrated on Pepper Mills

  1. Is this the pepper mill we got you for Christmas? Because if I’m remembering correctly, you should be able to change the size on it. Dissing our gift publicly! Boo!

  2. No, this is actually a different pepper mill :). The one you got me for Christmas ran out of peppercorns, and so I went back to my old one (which still had peppercorns).

    To be honest, I had forgotten about the Pepper Ball; but, I suppose I could get more peppercorns and move back to that as one of my mill-upgrade options (hmm..).

  3. I have a unicorn 6″ Black peppermill, which I cannot refill. The hole on the side will not open. Any suggestions or help?

  4. I went through the same debate (funny how little it’s changed in almost 10 years) and finally went for a slightly shopworn Sharper Image at Marshall’s for $12. People seem to like it and I figure if it’s not up to snuff I can get the Unicorn and leave this out as the better-looking “table” mill some people talk about while the Unicorn can be the “kitchen” mill

  5. Is this the pepper mill we got you for Christmas? Because if I’m remembering correctly, you should be able to change the size on it. Dissing our gift publicly! Boo!

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