96-Word Valentine to the Unicorn Magnum Plus, the World’s Best Pepper Mill


Illustration by Steven Stankiewicz

I blame Chris Schlesinger for my 15-year romance with the world’s greatest pepper mill. Specifically: the chef’s manically spice-driven cookbooks, full of recipes calling for fresh-ground peppercorns not by the coy pinch or teaspoon, but by the full and partial cup. Because my garden-variety grinder required partial days to produce that amount, I upgraded to a real workhorse, the Unicorn Magnum Plus ($45), which, to this day, showers down feathery piles of Tellicherry like a ferocious beast. Only recently did I discover that my mail-order beauty (unicornmills.com) is made in Nantucket, the company’s headquarters since 1986.

  • davidhunternyc

    This is not so easy…

    Here we go: Part 1:

    This review of the Unicorn Magnum pepper mill is written in context with other pepper mills, namely the WMF Wood/Glass Ceramill. Even though this 3 star review seems like average, I have very strong opinions and feelings about the Unicorn Magnum. This review is long but I hope you will continue to read. I am seeking the very best pepper mill in the world and the only way to do this is by contrasting and comparing other pepper mills. On another level, this review will also compare grinder mechanisms; steel vs. ceramic.

    To make a long story short, the Unicorn Magnum is superior to the WMF pepper mill. The Unicorn Magnum has long worn the crown as the pepper mill with the best grinder. The Unicorn’s grinding mechanism is a marvel but the mill does have its shortcomings, however, namely in the design and handling department which the WMF has the Unicorn beat hands down. I will be comparing both of these pepper mills head-to-head.

    The 3 Star rating is for the Unicorn Magnum, not the WMF Ceramill. Even though the WMF is brought up comparatively, it is the Unicorn mill that this review is about. This average rating seems harsh, especially when compared to all of the superlative reviews but there is a reason behind this. Read on to find out.

    Let’s start with the grinding mechanism of these pepper mills. The WMF is far inferior to the Unicorn Magnum. When grinding pepper, whether the grind is fine or coarse, it literally takes the WMF 6 X the amount of turns to get the same amount of ground pepper as the Unicorn Magnum. This is why I gave the WMF a 2 star rating. Also, when a recipe calls for “cracked” pepper, the Unicorn excels. At its coarsest setting, the Unicorn, makes great “cracked” pepper. No need to crack whole peppercorns with the back of a knife. The WMF does not have a coarse setting. With the WMF mechanism wide open, at its coarsest setting, the ground pepper is far finer than it should be.

    I really wanted to like the WMF. It is gorgeous. Much better looking than the Unicorn Magnum. The glass container, upside down design, beautiful chrome band, and wood grinding cup is very elegant. It’s also a strong and sturdy design made with very little plastic. I love being able to see the amount of peppercorns in the glass cup. Since it’s an upside down design pepper dust does not get on your counters and the sealed lid keeps dust and grime out of the grinder. If you prefer, you can even store the WMF grinder with the glass side up and the sealed lid keeps the pepper inside. To fill the grinder with pepper, just unscrew the wood and chrome handle and fill up the glass container. No funnel is needed at all. Also, the way the WMF grinds the pepper is effortless. So smooth. Yes, there is alot to love about the form and function of the WMF Ceramill grinder. Unfortunately, the WMF is a 5 star pepper mill coupled with a 2 star grinder. The ceramic grinder is such a great idea but the execution of the mechanism leaves me wanting way more and I expect more. Even Peugeot pepper mills grind more pepper, faster, than the WMF.

    In contrast to the excellent design of the WMF, the Unicorn Magnum is poorly designed. A quick Google search will yield plenty of comments by people disappointed with the Unicorn’s side loading feeder. While grinding pepper, with one slip of the hand, you’ll accidentally open the side door and wind up with peppercorns all over your kitchen floor. The Unicorn is also not what I would call a “looker” either. It is a rather ugly lump of plastic.

    I tested the output of the WMF ceramic pepper mill and the Unicorn Magnum. Each pepper mill was set to its medium grinding setting (or as close as I could get) and I turned the handles of both pepper mills 10 full 360º rotations. I have included a photo so you can see the results.

    – The WMF outputs far less pepper. After 10 full rotations, I measured 1/2 a level teaspoon of pepper, enough for a side salad. ( I like pepper.) : )

    – The Unicorn Magnum, after 10 full rotations, measured 1 level tablespoon of pepper, enough to cover a roasting chicken.

    – The results: 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon. The Unicorn Magnum yields 6 X the amount of pepper than the WMF.

    Perhaps the reason behind the WMF’s poor grinding performance is its “ceramic” grinder. According to Cook’s Illustrated, “Because ceramic is more brittle than steel–and more prone to breaking–their grooves and serrations weren’t as deep or sharp. As a result, these mills took far longer to grind”. Also, another reason for the WMF’s poor performance may be that its grinder is defective. I don’t think so. I get the feeling that this is the output it was designed for. The Unicorn Magnum is just a beast and, because I’m used to it, all other grinders pale in comparison.

    The WMF is a beautiful finishing pepper mill. Want some pepper for your side salad? The WMF works well for small tasks but as a pepper mill for cooking? No. Still, the WMF is on to something. I beg WMF to rethink this pepper mill. Match the grinding dynamics of the Unicorn Magnum but keep everything else about the WMF’s wood & glass superlative design unchanged. Also, I know WMF has two different sizes of the wood & glass pepper mill. I bought the small size. How about filling this line-up with a medium-sized pepper mill?

    Part 2:

    Since part one of this review, I photographed the grinding mechanisms of my two pepper mills: the Unicorn Magnum and the WMF Ceramill Wood & Glass pepper mill.

    In the third photo from the left, the “male grinder” mechanism on the WMF Ceramill Wood & Glass pepper mill is made out of ceramic. To the right of it is the steel grinding mechanism from the Unicorn Magnum. As you can see, the steel grinder from the Unicorn Magnum is massive compared to the ceramic grinder from the WMF. Another point I would like to make is that WMF is brand new and the ceramic ridges are rather dull. I have had the Unicorn Magnum for years and the steel grinder is still very sharp (perhaps still as good as the day I got it).

    The fourth photo from the left shows inside the WWF pepper mill’s “female grinder” mechanism. It is not very wide in diameter, nor tall, nor sharp.

    The fifth photo from the left shows the inside of the Unicorn Magnum. It is much wider, taller, and sharper.

    So I have tried to be logical here. I have done my 10 turn test and I have showed the grinding mechanisms also. It now makes sense to me why the Unicorn Magnum grinds 6 X more pepper than the WMF pepper in the same amount of time.

    For the best pepper grinder, the Unicorn Magnum is superior to the WMF pepper mill. As I’ve noted before, however, if you want a finishing pepper mill for your dining room table, the WMF is a beautiful choice.

    In addition to this test, I would like to compare the grinding mechanisms between the Unicorn Magnum and Cook’s Illustrated new favorite; the Cole & Mason Derwent pepper mill.

    … and now for some excitement… drum roll please. Look at what I discovered. The grinding mechanism of the Unicorn Magnum is made by Tre Spade of Italy. Hmmm, and Tre Spade makes their own pepper mills. I shall have to check them out. So this should add a little more interest here. Now that we know that Tre Spade is the wizard behind Unicorn, they are worth more than a look.

    With my findings complete, I will stay with the flawed but proven Unicorn Magnum. If I had my druthers, I would put the grinding mechanism of the Unicorn Magnum inside the better designed and more beautiful WMF Wood & Glass pepper mill and I would have the best of both worlds. Better yet, maybe WMF should make a phone call to Tre Spade! I hope this is a wake up call to Unicorn. They are resting on their laurels and they need to innovate. Apparently, Cook’s Illustrated thinks so too.

    After this experiment, I am sad to say, I will be returning the WMF Ceramill grinder. I will stick with my flawed but proven Unicorn Magnum, with peppercorns all over my kitchen floor.