Cheap cookware usually comes with a small Dutch oven, so we sought out five larger, better options under $80, from enameled cast iron to a stainless stockpot.
Pepper Grinders Performance
Cooks have their own preferences about pepper mills, and according to the pepper grinders reviews that we read, their taste often turns on frequency of use and favored grind consistency. No surprise, then, that the qualities rated highly in some reviews are also the qualities that other reviews ding.
Grind Settings.The pepper mills that made our list of top picks claim numerous fans among home cooks. Most users of the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder rave about its overall performance, according to pepper grinders reviews. The amount of pepper that emerges with each twist of the base, and the five grind settings that each produce an even grind, earn praise in users' postings on the Williams-Sonoma Amazon similarly commend the smooth and effortless grind action, variable grind settings that let dinner companions choose their own, and the top-pour design that leaves no mess behind. We did, however, notice two minor grievances that pop up in reviews about this model. One is that the fine grind is not fine enough and the difference in grain sizes from one setting to another are not always noticeable. Second, the removable bottom in older models has a tendency to fall off, leaving the contents to spill far and wide; one user commenting on Crate & Barrel solved this problem by taping the bottom in place with a small piece of electrical tape.
Partisans also rally 'round the Vic Firth Pump & Grind. Alone among the low-cost models that we researched, this one is primarily stainless steel, with just an inch or so of acrylic for an inside view. It's a stylish look that calls out to users, according to a review on Bed Bath & Beyond, although some purchasers are surprised by what they consider the Vic Firth Pump & Grind's small size (six inches high and one inch wide). Pepper grinders reviews on Epinions, however, say it's just right for use at the table and a blog post on Gadgeteer reports that it delivers a precise shot of spice- with one hand, no less -- exactly when needed.
Two other cheap pepper mills that we looked at occasionally meet consumers' expectations. Although some users like the styling and pump/squeeze action of the Chef'n Pepper Ball, others consider it little more than a cute gimmick. The Chef'n Pepper Ball dispenses minute amounts of pepper with each squeeze, asserts one pepper mills review on Epinions, and you need about 50 squeezes to get a quarter of a teaspoon-worth of unevenly ground spice. Several consumers posting on Amazon similarly complain about the inability to estimate the amount of pepper dispensed with each squeeze of the handles, but at least some users appreciate the coarse grind that results.
Consumers really like the novelty of the Trudeau Graviti pepper mill -- just turn it upside down and pepper comes out as if you were using a regular pepper shaker. Most users consider the relative free-flow a plus, although a pepper grinders review on Viewpoints grouses about too much pepper. Still, we read numerous reports from users who give the electric pepper mill Trudeau Graviti as a gift and find it to be an attention grabber at the dinner table.
Ease of Use.Using a pepper grinder should be a no-hassle process -- just grind the pepper and move on. This is one dimension in which the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder shines. OXO's claim to fame, the Good Grips part of the pepper mill, is the black rubber bottom that's easy to hold with wet hands and to clean when dirty. Refilling is a simple chore because the top opens, and the twist/turn action to grind the pepper is smooth and easy. For folks used to traditional pepper mills, the crank on the William Bounds Key Pepper Mill is a big draw. Reviews on Amazon say it doesn't require Herculean strength to turn and you get a good quantity of pepper with very little effort.
The pump and electric pepper mills skip the whole twisting/turning thing. All three of the models we looked at in this niche are easy to use -- so long as they work. Most consumers admire the Vic Firth Pump & Grind's one-handed thumb-pump action, but some reviews on Cooking.com. grouse that the pump part tends to stick. A few users report that you have to work pretty hard to get a good quantity of ground pepper, but one posting on Amazon considers this a plus, because the process serves as her arm workout for the day.
The Chef'n Pepper Ball is easy enough for a child to use, and fun as well, according to a review posted on Epinions. The rabbit ear-like handles may look cute, but at least one user complains that they aren't ergonomic; the handles aren't designed to fit your hands comfortably, he writes on Epinions, and they're too long for the best leverage.
No worries about leverage with the Trudeau Graviti, which takes all the effort out of your hands through the pull of gravity and the power of batteries. Cooks extol this feature, but some grouse about the awkward refilling process. Few balk at having to remove the battery pack, but once you fill the reservoir and re-insert the battery -- all while holding the unit upside down -- the force of gravity can activate the motor before you've screwed the bottom in place, and pepper grinds fall to the surface below.
Durability.There are some people who go through life expecting to buy a new pepper mill every year or so, but many of us want to keep them around for a while. This is entirely possible with cheap pepper mills, even if they don't come with lifetime warranties. The stainless steel construction of the Vic Firth Pump & Grind makes it nearly indestructible (when used normally, of course), and many consumers laud the build quality and ruggedness of this tube-like pump pepper grinder. The other two best pepper grinders at the top of our list -- the OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder and the William Bounds Key Mill -- are made with comparatively more acrylic, which makes them easy to clean but could decrease their useful life if placed too close to the heat of a stove. Still, pepper mill reviews attest to their sturdy solidity.
On the other hand, we have concerns about the durability of two models we researched. Use the Chef'n Pepper Ball with any regularity and its squeezeable "ears" are likely to break, complain reviews on sites like Amazon: each of three units within a year, says one user; after fewer than a dozen uses, says another; within two months, adds a third; and so on. Still, we read pepper mill reviews indicating some people like the design and functionality of the Chef'n Pepper well enough to keep buying replacements.
As for the Trudeau Graviti, some consumers expect the plastic gears in the motor to give out quickly, according to reviews on Kitchen Dining Ideas, and others report the pepper seeds jam up the grinding mechanism. But the biggest gripe we found in Trudeau Graviti reviews on sites like ChefsCatalog.com concerns the batteries -- six AAA batteries that the manufacturer claims should last a good year but consumers assert are eaten up at a much faster rate.Back to top »
You can pick up one of these four recommended cookware sets for yourself or for a gift on a budget of less than $80.
We compare the costs of a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal versus takeout or eating out at a restaurant.