Pepper mills will never reach the complexity of iphones and androids so the effort required to select the best of the lot is not that difficult but as with everything a certain amount of caution is wise, particularly if you are planning to spend a great deal of money. In the pepper mill world one can easily part with two to three hundred dollars for one or four to six hundred dollars if the purchase is for a set which generally includes a pepper mill and a salt mill. And six to eight hundred dollars can easily be spent if we were to add in a salt cellar or salt box as it is sometimes called. A salt box is generally kept near the stove and is used to salt the food as it is cooking.
Shopping for these items can be broken down into essentially two ideas and those are the commercial grade mills manufactured by commercial companies such as William Bounds, Peugeot, Trudeau and others. These mills are excellent value for your money as these folks have been making them since the 1800's and have by now perfected the manufacturing process and therefore they are proficient and cost effective with most of their products costing less than a hundred dollars. You probably cannot go wrong purchasing one of these.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a handcrafted mill this area is one to be wary of. Over the last 8 years or so many woodworkers have taken up building wood pepper mills in a variety of shapes, sizes and woods, including exotic woods, due to the popularity generated by their appearance on the Sara Moulton Cooking Show on Food Network and one episode by Oprah Winfrey.
Handcrafted pepper mills can be broken down into two main categories. These are solid wood versus laminated pepper mills. Some say only go with solid wood, which is usually cut from a 3 inch by 3 inch piece of wood and turned down to 2 3/4 inches. They say there is no fear of the mill coming apart as there might be with a laminated one. The laminated mills usually consists of different woods and even veneers glued together to create a fascinating pattern that looks absolutely gorgeous when turned. By the way, "turned" means placing the square wood on a lathe and cutting it to the shape desired. It is true that if not sanded and glued properly with the right glue and the right environmental conditions and given the proper time to cure a laminated mill could come apart and this is why it is essential to pick an individual who has perfected this skill. It is also true that done properly a laminated pepper mill is stronger than a solid wood one!
Another area of concern is the actual grinding mechanism. There are many cheap brands out there that simply will not hold up over time to the constant grinding of peppercorns. Peppercorns are not rocks but they do offer a great deal of resistance to the grinding mechanism so it is essential that the woodworker has installed the best. Without question, the best grinding mechanism on the market is made by Chef Specialties so always look to see if the woodworker uses the Chef Specialties brand for his mechanism.
The final thing to look for in a handcrafted pepper mill is the finish. While some woodworkers use a simple oil finish, or a polyurethane finish, without a doubt, the best looking and best "feeling" finish and the one that will hold up over time is a lacquer finish. You want the craftsman who has taken the time to put ten or more coats of a spray lacquer finish and then worked and polished that finish to a piano like luster. This type of finish will hold up and look beautiful under normal use and will last for many years to come.
In my mind, the handcrafted wood pepper mills created by a master artisan is by far the best pepper mills to purchase.