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Kitchen Gear: Pepper mill

No dinner table or kitchen is complete without a pepper grinder, no matter how cheap.

It’s hard to believe that in 2010, people still buy pre-ground black pepper. I mean, really. It’s so bland and insipid, a convenience item fit for fast-food chains and hospital cafeterias. Why are people so willing to sacrifice so much taste to save such a minimal amount of effort? How hard is it to grind your own pepper? If you don’t own a pepper mill, you’re missing out.

Taste: Freshly ground black pepper tastes way, way better than the stale, powdery stuff you buy pre-ground. It’s more aromatic, there’s more nuance to the taste, and you can (given the quality of the grinder) control the size/texture of the pepper.

Convenience: You can’t beat the convenience of pre-ground pepper, but it’s not worth the massive taste sacrifice. How much pepper can you possibly put on that steak? Yes, you’ll have to turn a crank, but even the most pepper-loving diner shouldn’t need more than five to 10 spins of the grinder. If you’re REALLY lazy, you could get one of those battery-powered pepper grinders, but that’s more battery-guzzling novelty than practical.

Grinder cost: Pepper grinders vary widely in price and stylishness. If utility is all you’re after, cheap is fine. But if you want a little bit of extra style at your table, be prepared to pay. It’s surprisingly easy to drop $80 on a grinder, with some designer grinders reaching into the $150+ range. If you’re looking for a really eye-catching pepper grinder, from chic to oddball, try one of the many creative contraptions from Alessi.

Ongoing costs: Pepper is cheap, be it in ground form or in peppercorns. Once you’ve got a grinder, keeping it filled is hardly expensive. Plus, you can experiment with different peppercorn blends.

RATINGS AND DETAILS

Cost: From $10 to hundreds of dollars.

Value for cash money: Even a $10 grinder is going to be a vast improvement over using pre-ground pepper.

Availability: Any department store or kitchen shop.

Nutrition?: Pepper is pepper. A pepper mill will increase your appreciation of pepper, but it shouldn’t add to your waistline — unless you end up eating more, now that everything tastes better with the freshly ground pepper. Exercise caution.

The verdict: You need a pepper mill. If you don’t own one, buy one. Buy one for a friend, even. Or, dare we say, as a Christmas gift for the son/daughter moving out on their own for the first time?

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