Refillable salt and pepper grinders aren’t cheap, but they are better for the environment than disposable mills and they can be indispensable when cooking food and serving it to your guests.
We tested 10 salt and pepper grinders from brands including Joseph Joseph, Le Creuset, ProCook and more, to see which is worth spending your money on. The eight manual grinders cost from £20 to £42 and the two electronic mills were both £19.
Our tests included refilling the grinders, using them with oily hands, grading the consistency of the coarse and fine grind settings, assessing their durability.
Discover what we learned from testing salt and pepper grinders and why we would recommend a manual set over an electric one.
1. No hidden battery costs
We were quite surprised to find out that each of the electric grinders we tested required four AA batteries. That’s eight AA batteries you’ll need in total for a salt and pepper grinder set.
So you’ll have to be ready with a steady supply of batteries, which will cost at least £5 every time they need replacing.
We also found that the batteries were difficult to fit in each of the electric grinders we tested, and they were knocked out of place quite easily if the grinder fell over.
This meant having to open the battery compartment to fiddle around and refit them each time.
2. It won’t disturb your conversation
Manual salt and pepper grinders are much less offensive on the ears.
Nothing will stop your conversation sooner than the dreadful screech of an electric salt or pepper grinder, and you may be surprised at how piercing the sound can be.
Of the two electric salt and pepper grinder sets we tested, one made a heavier assault on the ear drums than the other, but to be honest, you wouldn’t particularly want either sound at your dinner table.
Tips for living well – get our free Food & Health newsletter: shop savvy, eat well, stay healthy
3. Typically needs refilling less often
In terms of the 10 grinders we tested, typically the electric mill sets had much smaller capacities than the manual ones.
For example, one manual set could hold 170g of pepper and 370g of salt, while the electric mills could only hold 35g of pepper and 70g of salt, so you’ll need to refill the electric sets much more often.
Replenishing a salt and pepper mill can be an exercise in frustration, with more peppercorns ending up on your counter or floor than in the grinder.
We especially found this to be the case with the two electric grinders in our tests, which were tricky to fill and will need to be filled up more regularly than their manual counterparts.
We found that if you fold a piece of paper in half to create a chute for the salt or pepper, it makes it much less of a headache to top up salt and pepper mills.
4. No risk of over seasoning
Electric grinders give you salt and pepper at the touch of a button, but watch out you don’t accidentally over season and ruin your dinner.
Our tests found that some produce a large quantity of seasoning very quickly.
This isn’t something just to watch with electric grinders though, as some manual ones also produce a lot of spice quicker than you’d expect.
Which? verdict: should you buy an electric salt and pepper mill?
Battery-powered salt and pepper mills have a clear advantage over manual ones when it comes to the act of physically grinding your spices.
The touch of a button will always be easier than the twisting and physical effort that’s required from a manual grinder. And an electric grinder might sound very appealing if you have weak wrists, or your hands get tired easily.
But based on our testing, the advantages of an electric grinder really end there.
The electric grinders we tested had other significant ease of use flaws, including fiddly battery compartments and a piercing screeching sound.
They were also much harder to fill than some of the manual grinders and the consistency of the coarse and fine salt and pepper in most cases just wasn’t as good.
To find the very best salt and pepper grinder sets, and the best electric grinder we tested, read our salt and pepper grinder reviews.
How we tested salt and pepper grinders
The best salt and pepper grinders can produce both fine and coarse grains of salt or pepper, they’re easy to fill, easy to use with oily hands, and they’re durable too.
Our tests were designed to reflect how you use salt and pepper mills and we rated the grinders according to the following criteria:
1. Ease of filling: Are they a nightmare to fill or is it easy to pour salt and pepper into them?
2. Consistency of coarseness settings: Does the finest setting deliver a perfectly consistent powder for your food, and does the coarsest setting give you lovely chunks for marinades?
3. Ease of use with oily hands: If you’re reaching for the spices during cooking, your hands might be either wet or oily. As well as assessing ease of use with dry hands, we also tried each mill with wet and oily hands.
4. Accuracy: Does the grinder give a concentrated stream of spice, or is salt and pepper sprayed all over, or even beyond, the plate.
5. Time to grind: How quickly does each mill grind a teaspoon?
6. Durability: Accidents happen, so we checked whether the grinder will survive if you accidentally knock it off the worktop.