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May/June 2004

Electric Spice Grinders

Is it worth the trouble? Yes. And it’s no trouble at all if you choose the right grinder.

How We Tested

To prove our point that fresh-ground spices improve dishes, we recently conducted two tests. We baked plain pound cakes flavored with cardamom and simmered savory chutneys flavored with cumin, coriander, and cardamom, blind-tasting samples prepared with freshly ground and preground supermarket spices side by side. The fresh-ground spices won a decisive victory for their superior aroma, vibrancy, and roundness of flavor.

The test kitchen standard for grinding spices is an inexpensive blade-type electric coffee grinder (which we use for spices only, reserving a separate unit to grind coffee). We assembled a variety of models, looking for a grinder that would produce the most delicate, uniform powder and that was easy to both use and clean.

They were all easy to use. The only physical exertion required to use them was pressing a button. No stress, strain, or sore forearms, and they produced consistently good results on all of the test spices. And it only got better: They were easy to brush or wipe clean (just mind the blade!), and we could control for texture of grind simply by adjusting the amount of time we held down their power buttons.

To narrow the field, we ground on to compare the four models' performance grinding spices in three amounts: small (1 teaspoon), medium (1 tablespoon), and large (1/4 cup). Each electric grinder whizzed through the tests with flying colors, producing fine powders from each amount of each spice.

The tests did leave us concerned about overheating from the spinning blade of an electric grinder would affect the spices’ flavor. Taste tests of chutney and cardamom cake showed only very subtle differences between spices ground by hand and those ground in electric grinders. We concluded that there's no need to worry about overheating spices in an electric grinder.

Methodology

We tested 4 electric spice grinders. We fine-ground whole spices of varying hardness, density, shape, and oil content—cumin, coriander, cardamom, and chipotle chiles (torn into rough 1/4-inch pieces)—in each and evaluated them according to the following criteria.

EASE OF USE

We rated each model on how easy it was to fill, use, and clean.

QUALITY OF FINE GRIND

Our most important test, based on the composite of performance scores earned for fine-grinding each of the test spices (in amounts of 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon, and 1/4 cup). We preferred grinders that produced the highest percentage of uniformly powdery particles fine enough to pass through a 40-mesh laboratory screen, but we did not necessarily mark down a grinder when only a small percentage of particles was left in the screen. If, on visual and tactile inspection, the fine-ground spices were judged exceptionally coarse or uneven, the grinder was marked down.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

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

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
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
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
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.