The Case for Pre-Ground Black Pepper

The Case for Pre-Ground Black Pepper

For years, my kitchen altar—the little marble tray full of cooking essentials that sits next to my stove—has looked exactly the same. It includes a wooden utensil crock, squeeze bottles of olive and vegetable oil, a butter keeper, a salt cellar, and a large wooden pepper grinder. But recently, I’ve made a noteworthy change, swapping out the pepper grinder for a small bowl of pre-ground pepper.

I, like many of you, have long been under the impression that pre-ground black pepper is somehow inferior to freshly ground, but after these past few months of cooking with pre-ground pepper, I have to admit…it might be time to reconsider. After all, why should we be beholden to the cult of “freshly cracked” pep? Is the Big Grinder lobby to blame? Is the phrase “freshly cracked” akin to Lucky Strike’s tagline, “It’s Toasted,” technically true, but signifying nothing?

From Our Shop

At a recent dinner with friends at Edo’s Squid in Richmond, Va., I noticed that their black pepper was different somehow—punchier, more star than back-up singer—so I asked a friend who works there about it, and she pointed me toward the bulk section at the natural foods store. There, I helped myself to a baggy of organic, fair trade-certified Frontier Co-Op Black Pepper, and I’ve been happily using it ever since.

I’ve always adhered to the belief that freshly ground is better due to some kind of alchemy involving releasing oils, and while that may be true (especially if you’re hiding a tin of ground pepper in the pantry and rarely cooking with it), what I’ve learned by using liberal pinches of pre-ground pepper in the likes of cacio e pepe and pomegranate chicken wings is that, if you’re using enough of it, the pre-ground stuff is just as fresh and flavorful as the pepper that comes out of a mill.

It’s Convenient

In my 20s, I worked as a line cook, and cooking with a dish of pre-ground pepper by the stove reminds me of those days of working on the line. Instead of buying ground pepper in bulk, we ground black peppercorns pre-service, storing it in a deli container with the rest of our mise en place. Can you imagine Jeremy Allen White wielding a pepper grinder in the middle of the rush? No chef, that would be absurd.

You Can Pre-Mix it With Other Seasonings

Ethan Frisch, co-founder of the spice company Burlap & Barrel, says he often sees chefs using their own blend of salt and pre-ground pepper for service. That idea led him to collaborate with celeb chef Marc Murphy on a new product called Chef’s Best Friend, a combination of ground Zanzibar black peppercorns and crystal salt. “Combining ground black pepper with salt is great for extending its shelf life,” Ethan explains. “The salt helps prevent moisture and preserve the zinginess of fresh-ground black pepper.”

It’s Accessible

There’s also the issue of access for folks with motor ability issues. My stepmom suffers from both carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis, making a pepper grinder about as intimidating as it gets. Pre-ground pepper solves that problem in one fell pinch.

Pre-Ground Means Better Consistency

Plus, pre-ground pepper has the advantage of consistency. Because the grind is always the same, you know exactly what you’re getting in every teaspoon, which is a boon for baking recipes like Black Pepper Popovers and Black Pepper Fantails. So from now on, I’ll keep my pepper in a pinch bowl by the stove and save the pepper grinder for tableside topping of Caesar salads and any other dish that needs a little extra flourish.

Do you have a favorite use for pre-ground black pepper? Tell us in the comments!

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