Mortars and Pestles

Published January 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.

We were crushed (so to speak) to learn that our favorite mortar and pestle had been discontinued. But at least we knew what to look for in a new pick.

Overview:

We prefer mortars that hold at least 3 cups, have a rough interior to help grip and grind ingredients, and come with a long, heavy pestle that keeps knuckles from scraping the mortar’s edge. Three models seemed to fit the bill: Two were made of granite and the third of volcanic rock. To test whether these tools could not only pulverize ingredients but also keep them contained at the same time, we tried crushing 1 tablespoon of toasted rice, then a tablespoon of whole peppercorns, and finally a tablespoon of dry tapioca to the consistency of cornmeal in each vessel. The wide, low bowl of  a granite model from Vasconia had us chasing ingredients around the kitchen. And we found that while a moderately rough surface is good, the cavities of the craggy volcanic rock mortar from Imusa were so large that they trapped food particles. Plus, this tool required a 24-hour seasoning process with garlic paste. We got great results from our winner right out of the box. It was heavy and stable, with tall, narrow walls that didn’t let… read more

We prefer mortars that hold at least 3 cups, have a rough interior to help grip and grind ingredients, and come with a long, heavy pestle that keeps knuckles from scraping the mortar’s edge. Three models seemed to fit the bill: Two were made of granite and the third of volcanic rock. To test whether these tools could not only pulverize ingredients but also keep them contained at the same time, we tried crushing 1 tablespoon of toasted rice, then a tablespoon of whole peppercorns, and finally a tablespoon of dry tapioca to the consistency of cornmeal in each vessel. The wide, low bowl of  a granite model from Vasconia had us chasing ingredients around the kitchen. And we found that while a moderately rough surface is good, the cavities of the craggy volcanic rock mortar from Imusa were so large that they trapped food particles. Plus, this tool required a 24-hour seasoning process with garlic paste. We got great results from our winner right out of the box. It was heavy and stable, with tall, narrow walls that didn’t let ingredients escape and a comfortable, heavy pestle that made easy work of any pounding task.

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  • Product Tested

  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - Winner

    Frieling “Goliath” Mortar and Pestle Set

    The extra-tall sides of this heavy, stable granite mortar kept food from escaping and its rough interior quickly reduced hard peppercorns to dust. The large, heavy pestle was comfortable to hold and made grinding a breeze. 

    $49.95

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  • Recommended with Reservations

    Imusa MEXI-2008 Lava Rock Molcajete with Gift Box

    The incredibly rough (with craters as large as 2 mm wide) inside surface of this traditional three-legged Mexican tool required a lot of TLC before it was even ready to use. It was noticeably smoother after it was seasoned according to the manufacturer’s instructions though still rougher than the other mortars we tested. We did find that this model’s performance got better with use, ultimately gripping and crushing peppercorns in fewer strokes than the other two models required.

    $26.10

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Vasconia 4-Cup Molcajete, Granite

    The squat, figure-eight-shaped pestle of this model was comfortable to hold, though it required a few more strokes than the other two models. It got the job done, but the low walls of the shallow bowl allowed some dry ingredients to shoot out during grinding.

    $29.99

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