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What Is This $200 Pepper Mill So Many Chefs Are Using?

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A couple of months ago, I was watching a recipe video by my former Bon Appétit colleague Carla Lalli Music. As she was giving instructions for flavoring fresh ricotta for eggplant parm, something made me put down my glass of wine and pause the player: She had picked up a sleek matte-black pepper mill that was not her usual one, the chef-favorite — and perpetually sold-out — Unicorn.

Since Music and I worked together, I knew for a fact she was a Unicorn evangelist. In fact, for the entire six years I was there, everyone at BA was, including myself. It’s smartly built, with an opening that you don’t have to unscrew to load in peppercorns and a grind-size control that’s more reliable than others on the market. It was (and still is) the pepper grinder in the background of other prominent food people’s videos, and, as Music later told me, one of two pepper grinders pretty universally used by professional chefs (the other is made by Peugeot). She first discovered it when working as a line cook in restaurant kitchens at least 20 years ago.

“It is indeed not a Unicorn!” Music wrote in an email. “I thought I could never love another, but I was mistaken.” She confirmed this new flame was the Pepper Cannon from Männkitchen, a U.S.-based company I had never heard of that only makes a handful of other kitchen tools.

Music first saw it while doing an Instagram Live with another former colleague, Molly Baz. “I asked her what it was because Molly’s the seasoning queen,” Music says, “and she demonstrated with a few cranks and was like, ‘This is the amount of pepper you get. It’s insane and ridiculous.’” Music says she soon understood the Cannon’s speed.If you need to grind an amount of pepper to measure a tablespoon, like with a dry brine, or when you’re making cacio e pepe, it really makes a difference,” she says.

Baz, in turn, told me she saw it on J. Kenji López-Alt’s Instagram. He was one of a handful of chefs Männkitchen founder Cleve Oines sent his final prototype to. “Grinds faster than a roadrunner, feels like a lightsaber handle in solid aluminum, and has a locking burr mechanism for very precise control of grind size that doesn’t change as you grind,” López-Alt wrote in an Instagram caption. “It may even replace my beloved Unicorn which I’ve been loyal to for 14 years.”

Photo: Courtesy of Carla Lalli Music’s YouTube

Right around the time I saw Music use it, the Pepper Cannon popped up yet again in a recipe demonstration by Diaspora Co. founder Sana Javeri Kadri, who says she owns two and has tested about a dozen other grinders. Like Baz, Javeri Kadri says she was floored by the amount of pepper that dispensed into the Cannon’s bottom caddy each time she twisted the top. (It’s now the No. 1 mill she mentions on Diaspora Co.’s website, and she’s since partnered with Männkitchen.)

But there’s more to the Cannon than just speed. The grind size comes in a larger range than that of any other model (from superfine to cracked) and, as López-Alt said, is highly consistent. Oines says other mills’ burrs wobble, causing unevenness in the pepper’s texture, so he added a support. He also made it easier to refill the grinder without unscrewing a tiny knob like with the Peugeot or funneling peppercorns into a hole on the side, like with the Unicorn. The Cannon, in contrast, has a large opening at the top that’s the whole circumference of the mill. Beyond that, the metal frame is heavy and sturdy, with minimal chance of breakage or warping with exposure to moisture — or melting if you leave it too close to the stove (which once happened to Music’s Unicorn).

At $200, this pepper mill is extraordinarily expensive, which Oines says was unavoidable given high production costs. (Music, Baz, and Javeri Kadri bought their Cannons when it was slightly discounted as part of a Kickstarter campaign.) The only other downside is that the indents at the top aren’t quite as comfortable to hold and twist as the Unicorn’s smooth surface. But Baz has nonetheless fully replaced her Unicorns, while Music has found another solution. “The Unicorn is now on the table where we eat,” she says. “It’s the table pepper, and the Cannon is the kitchen pepper.”

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What Is This $200 Pepper Mill So Many Chefs Are Using?