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March/April 2016

Manual Spice Grinders

We tested six spice grinders by grinding measured amounts of cumin seeds at the finest and coarsest settings and then grinding a teaspoon of dried rosemary needles into a fine powder.

How We Tested

Although we appreciate the convenience of preground spices, their flavor and aroma are more potent when you grind them fresh. But our favorite electric grinder, from Krups, can feel oversized for grinding just a teaspoon or two. Are manual spice grinders the answer to quick, small-batch ground spices? To find out, we purchased six models (priced from $8.48 to $24.22), hopeful that we could find one that could consistently transform whole spices into a fine powder or crush them coarsely, and that was simple to load, adjust, use, and clean. We put each model through its paces, grinding measured amounts of cumin seeds at the finest and coarsest settings and then grinding a teaspoon of dried rosemary needles into a fine powder. In each test, we timed the process and evaluated general ease of use with every grinder. 

Most of the models looked and worked a lot like pepper mills: You load a clear glass jar with spices, screw on a stainless-steel or plastic grinder housing, and hold it steady while you twist the jar. The majority of grinders had a small knob on the grinding mechanism that adjusted the space between the two grinding elements and thus the size of the grind. The one model that lacked this feature was a failure, with the bulk of both the cumin and the rosemary falling through the mechanism unground.

That’s not to say that we were satisfied with the other models, which were, in a word, exhausting. Grinding 1 teaspoon of cumin to a fine powder took between 1 and 4 minutes. It was generally quicker to produce a coarse grind, but the slowest model still clocked in at over 1 minute. With most models, the grinding gears clogged easily with spice residue and halted grinding. When this happened, we had to loosen or even dismantle the grinders to shake out the clumped grounds and wipe off the gears—adding yet more time and frustration to the process. We also found that whole herbs and spices became trapped or hidden in the gear mechanisms of some models; as a result, cumin seeds drifted into the rosemary and contaminated that batch of ground spices. A similar problem arose when we washed the grinders: More than a week after washing, water still dripped out of the works and dampened our freshly ground cumin.

Ultimately, we can’t recommend any of the models we tried. The best of these models, from Kuhn Rikon ($15.10), produced consistent results at fine and coarse grinds, and its wide base made twisting comparatively easier, but it’s still too slow and is prone to clogged gears. We’ll stick with our favorite electric spice grinder, the Krups Fast-Touch Coffee Mill ($17.99). Not only is it quicker than the fastest model (a teaspoon of perfectly ground cumin took just 45 seconds), it also works with just a gentle press of a button, is simple to clean, and is cheaper than many manual models.  

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Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

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Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

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Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
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Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
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Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.