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The Best Mortars and Pestles and Molcajetes

To find the best mortar and pestle, we went back to the grind.

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Last Updated May 19, 2023. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Chinese Noodles and Meatballs

Update, May 2023

Our favorite mortar and pestle, the Cilio by Frieling Goliath Mortar and Pestle, was redesigned slightly, so we tested it again. It remains our favorite. We also tested a few molcajetes, mortar and pestle sets traditional to indigenous groups in the region around present-day Mexico. Our new favorite is the Masienda Molcajete; our Best Buy molcajete is the IMUSA Granite Molcajete 8 inches, Grey.

See Everything We Tested

What You Need To Know

While the primitive-looking mortar and pestle might seem like it would be better off left in the Stone Age, there are actually a number of good reasons to own one. It’s a low-tech multitasker, allowing you to blitz whole spices into powder and grind wet ingredients into pastes and sauces. Fans of these tools—including many professional cooks—say that the quality of the foods produced by a mortar (the bowl component) and pestle (the club-like component) are superior in flavor and texture to foods that come out of a food processor. Instead of simply cutting whole spices or herbs into tiny pieces, as the blades of a grinder or food processor might do, the pestle crushes them, extracting more aromatic oils and flavor compounds in the process. Finally, mortars and pestles are dead simple—there are only two parts to use and clean and no sharp blades to nick yourself on. The best versions are also nearly indestructible.

Since we last tested these tools, our favorite, the Frieling Goliath Natural Stone Mortar & Pestle, has been redesigned. So we decided to take a fresh look at mortars and pestles. We tested seven models, priced from about $13 to about $100, using them to grind peppercorns to different levels of coarseness, to make garam masala from whole spices, and to make pesto

Mortars and Pestles Deliver Quality—and Sometimes Speed

The best models made it clear why these tools have their champions. Yes, electric tools are faster: You’ll make pesto more quickly if you use a food processor (about 40 seconds compared with 8 to 16 minutes in the mortars and pestles), and spice blends can be produced in a lot less time in an electric spice grinder (about 15 seconds compared with 9 to 20 minutes in the mortars and pestles). But in some cases, a mortar and pestle can actually give you a speed advantage. Using our favorite peppermill, it took a wrist-breaking 34 minutes to coarsely grind ½ cup of peppercorns—the amount needed for our Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin Roast recipe. By contrast, grinding the peppercorns using our favorite mortar and pestle took less than 5 minutes, and it performed just as well. 

Even if you do have electric tools, you might want to consider using a mortar and pestle for the nuanced flavor and texture it can deliver. While we didn’t detect much of a difference between garam masala made using the electric blade grinder and garam masala made using the higher-rated mortars and pestles, pesto made using the higher-rated mortars and pestles did indeed have a more complex, savory, and cohesive flavor and a softer, more luscious texture than pesto made in the food processor, which, while still delici...

Everything We Tested

Good : 3 stars out of 3.Fair : 2 stars out of 3.Poor : 1 stars out of 3.
*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.

Miye Bromberg

Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.

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