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Types of Salt and Pepper Shakers and Mills

From salt mills and pepper mills to salt and pepper shakers, the options available to dispense your most popular seasonings are as vast as your dishes themselves. Know what's right for your business – and for your customers – to ensure your signature culinary creations are seasoned perfectly, every time.

Clear glass salt and pepper shakers in front of daisies in vase with water

What's the Difference Between a Salt Shaker and a Pepper Shaker?

Salt and pepper shakers allow for fast, economical, and efficient dispersion of seasonings. They come in an array of materials to match any table setting. From glass to china, porcelain to wood, the options are as endless as the dishes you'll season.

How to tell the difference between salt and pepper shakers:

Some salt and pepper shakers are easy to distinguish with a printed "S" or "P" indicating which is which. Others are not as simple. When in doubt, check the number of holes in the top of the shaker. In the United States, we traditionally use the shaker with fewer holes for salt, as we try to limit our salt intake. In other regions of the world, this may be swapped, with more holes meaning salt, less for pepper.

Why do people put rice in salt shakers?

In a humid climate, salt tends to absorb water from the air, resulting in clumping. By adding rice grains into the shaker, the rice will absorb the moisture first, leaving the salt free to flow out of the shaker.

Salt and Pepper Mills

Whether grinding salt or pepper, mills are incredibly easy to use!

Hands turning wooden salt mill over plated entree

How to use a salt or pepper mill:

  1. Fill the mill with either coarse salt or whole peppercorns. Make sure to only use the product the mill is designed to dispense – not all pepper mills should be used to dispense salt and vice versa.
  2. Adjust the grind coarseness to the desired texture. Loosening or tightening the knob at the top of the mill will ensure a larger - or finer - grind, meeting your customers' preferences each and every time. To allow for an easier tightening adjustment to the finest grind possible, turn the unit upside down before tightening to eliminate the opportunity for peppercorns to catch inside the mechanism which could prevent a complete closure.

How to turn a salt or pepper mill:

  1. Hold your mill in one hand several inches above the food that you wish to season.
  2. Twist with the other hand to grind the salt crystals or peppercorns. As you are twisting the mill, the ground spice will fall from the bottom of the mill onto the food below.

Black wooden salt and pepper mills on table with plates

How to refill a salt or pepper mill:

  1. Remove the top knob by turning counterclockwise. 
  2. Once removed, lift off the top of the mill to access the spice chamber.
  3. Fill the chamber 3/4 full for best performance, then reassemble. Filling to this level will decrease the amount of torque on the grinding mechanism, making for an easier and more comfortable grind. Extra space in the spice chamber will also allow for the swelling of peppercorns in humid climates. 

Types of Grinding Mechanisms

Grinding mechanisms are available in nylon, stainless steel, or ceramic materials. Each has its own benefits and limitations, including what the mechanism can grind, how durable the mechanism is, and how expensive the mechanism makes the mill.

Bottom of wooden pepper / salt mill with nylon grinding mechanism

Nylon Grinders

Nylon grinding mechanisms are the least expensive option out there. They will not rust, but will also not hold up over time, as nylon is a relatively soft material. They provide the theatrical experience, but only for a limited time. Use with salt crystals or peppercorns.

Bottom of dark wooden pepper / salt mill with stainless steel grinding mechanism

Stainless Steel Grinders

Stainless steel grinding mechanisms are considerably harder than nylon, more efficient than nylon, and will last longer. They are designed for grinding peppercorns, but should not also be used with salt, as they are prone to corrosion.

Bottom of wooden pepper / salt mill with ceramic grinding mechanism

Ceramic Grinders

Ceramic grinding mechanisms, while more expensive than most other options, will never rust or corrode and can be used with salt crystals or peppercorns. Plus, they maintain sharpness even after repeated use. They are the ideal grinding mechanism.

Short wooden salt shaker next to short wooden pepper mill on tabletop with pasta entree

Caring for a Wooden Salt and Pepper Shaker or Mill

To clean your salt and pepper shaker or mill, wipe clean with a damp cloth or polish with a soft cloth for wooden shakers or mills. Do not use alcohol, strong detergents, abrasives, or any kind of solvents to clean the shaker or mill. Do not immerse the shaker or mill in water and do not place them in a dishwasher. 

Additionally, if your shaker or mill begins to show signs of wear, its finish can be restored with a food safe wood conditioner. First, clean and dry the shaker or mill. Then, apply the wood conditioner with a soft cloth or paper towel. Once the conditioner has soaked into the shaker or mill, buff off any excess with a clean cloth. Having excess conditioner on a wood shaker or mill will make it feel sticky or oily.

Avoid exposing your shaker or mill to extreme heat or extreme cold. Extreme temperatures may damage the product finish and flavor of the spices.

Server grinding salt from white salt mill over plated entree

Salt or Pepper Mill Jams

Occasionally a peppercorn or salt crystal may become jammed in the grinder.

How to fix a salt or pepper mill jam:

  1. Turn the spice mill upside down and shake the spice down to the top. 
  2. Give the bottom of the mill several light taps.
  3. If your spice does not rattle loosely, your mill may have been overfilled or exposed to moisture. Remove your spice from the mill, then refill 3/4 of the way full.

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