Black pepper is one of two ingredients of the universal seasoning duo: salt and pepper. This classic combination of spices is listed in one breath in almost every savory dish!
You can find these in the market as whole peppercorns, lightly crushed berries, coarsely ground, or ground to a fine powder. If you’re one of those people who love the flavor of black pepper that’s been freshly ground, you probably invested in a pepper grinder like this affordable version.
However, has this ever happened to you: you’re making your favorite dish and when you grab to add some freshly ground black pepper from the grinder, it’s stuck or hard to turn?
This happens and sometimes, often. The reason is simple: something got stuck in the grinder mechanism.
How A Pepper Grinder Works
A pepper grinder, also called a pepper mill, works just like a coffee bean grinder. There is a grinder, usually made of either ceramic or metal, that is attached to a container with the ingredients, in this case, the black peppercorns. It’s a rotating mechanism with a slot that, when held upside down, forces the peppercorns to enter the grinder head one by one. The twisting action you do is what grinds the whole peppercorns into your desired consistency: coarse, medium, or finely ground.
How To Make The Grinder Become Unstuck
The entry of the peppercorns into the grinder head is usually where the problem lies. Something got stuck in it which makes it hard to turn. This is normally a peppercorn that is harder than the others and is easily solved with a little more forceful twisting to dislodge it. You can even alternate between a clockwise twist and a counter-clockwise twist to help loosen whatever is stuck inside. Sometimes, that’s all it needs to free whatever it is from the grinder mechanism.
However, if a hard twist doesn’t solve it, you may need to open up the grinder to see what is stuck in there. It can be an especially hard peppercorn or it can be a tiny twig! It can even be moist pieces of ground-up pepper that have clogged up the grinding mill. Whatever it is, the good news is that most grinders are easily disassembled and easy to clean.
Here’s how to clean a pepper grinder:
- 1 Unscrew the knob that adjusts the coarseness of the grinder. Set aside. Using a toothpick, check and remove any stuck pieces of peppercorn from the grinder rotor. When done, set aside.
- 2 Twist the glass container and grinder head in opposite directions to separate the two parts. Dump the peppercorns into a bowl and set this aside. Set aside the container for cleaning.
- 3 Turn the grinder head upside down to expose the underside of the grinder mechanism. Using the toothpick again, check and remove any stuck pieces of peppercorn from the grinder rotor.
- 4 If desired, rinse and wash the grinder pieces in soapy water and dry completely before assembling again. Adjust the screw to determine coarseness and twist the grinder head until the ground pepper is as desired.
If you have a wooden pepper grinder like these classic gadgets with something stuck in it, it’s even easier!
Here’s how to clean a wooden pepper grinder:
- 1 Check first that you didn’t screw on the coarseness screw too tight which can make twisting the head harder and not make the grinder work.
- 2 Unscrew and separate it from the head. Empty the peppercorns into a bowl. Set the peppercorns aside.
- 3 Screw the head back on. Lightly tap the grinder against your hand while twisting to help dislodge the stuck pieces from the grinder head. Use a brush if needed to remove any powder from the grinder mechanism.
- 4 If particularly clogged with ground powder, rinse, wash, and completely dry the pieces of the grinder before refilling, assembling, and using again.
What To Avoid When Using A Pepper Grinder
You can clean your pepper grinder as needed, especially if there’s something stuck, but if there is one thing we learned not to do, it’s to grind directly over a steaming pot. The steam can get into your grinder head and make grinding the peppercorns harder since it can soften the dried peppercorns, making it harder for you to grind these finely. It also makes the finely ground pepper moist and sticks to the grinder.
Instead, use the dust cover that comes with this grinder as a tiny bowl, if you’re lazy to reach for a bowl, or grind onto a plate before picking up a pinch or two and adding it to your pot. This way, your grinder doesn’t get hit with steam and become clogged up again.