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Manual Spice Grinders

From Two Modern Stews

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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The Results

Winner
Recommended

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.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*