Which wheat grinder should I buy?
This is a question that I get all the time. The answer is “It depends.” It depends on how much you can spend, how often you will use it, what space restrictions you have, what kinds of grains you want to grind and if you want electric or hand-powered. So let’s break each of these questions down and see what you come up with.
Hand or electric-powered
If you are thinking that you will only use a wheat grinder in an end-of-the-world-apocalyptic setting, then you probably want a hand-powered grinder. But most hand-powered grinders take a LOT of energy. Much, much more than you think.
If it takes forever to grind wheat into flour that is fine enough for bread OR you don’t have the strength (or stamina) to hand grind all your flour, you may want to reconsider getting a hand-powered grinder.
Some hand-powered mills can be hooked up to an exercise bike and you can pedal your way to flour. Or they can be hooked up to a small gas-powered engine. The good mills will have a kit that allows you to convert the mill to electric or pedal power.
Burrs or impact grinders
There two ways to break apart the wheat kernels and turn them into flour: impact grinder or burrs. Impact grinders basically explode the grain. With an impact grinder, you get a very fine flour*, which is perfect for bread and most baking. But you cannot get a coarse grind with impact grinder. You want a coarse grind if you want cornmeal (for cornbread or tortillas) or cracked wheat or rice for cereal. That might not be a huge deal for you. But if you want to go from a coarse grind to a fine flour, you’ll want a grinder with burrs.
Impact grinders are also very picky about the wheat. If there is a tiny piece of rock in your wheat it could completely destroy the grinder. Unless you are buying very clean (“double cleaned”) grain, you’re kind of playing a game of Russian roulette with your grinder’s engine.
Another thing to consider with the impact grinders: they are loud. Like jet-engine loud. If you live in an apartment building, your neighbors will complain. The ones that market themselves as quiet (like Whispermill) are a bit quieter. A teeny, tiny bit quieter, like maybe a dozen decibels. But they certainly cannot be labeled “quiet.”
The Plus Side of Impact Grinders
But impact grinders do have their advantages. They cost quite a bit less than burr grinders (usually less than $200.) And because there is very little friction in the grinding process, the wheat does not heat up as much as it does in burr grinders. This helps to preserve flavor and nutrition. AND they are very compact and easy to store. If you are going to use whole wheat regularly in your cooking, you may find an impact grinder is your best choice.
*Why does fine flour matter?
The finer your flour, the better your baked goods will be. Fine flour is the key to lighter, fluffier bread and flaky pie crusts.
Steel or stone burrs
If you choose to go with a grinder that has burrs, you have two choices of burrs: stone or steel. Stone is the centuries-old tool for grinding flour and will give you a very nice, fine flour*. But stone burs are unsuitable for high-fat seeds or grains like sunflowers or flax. Over time the pores, or micro-crevices of the stones can become “loaded” with oils from grains and will need to be replaced.
Steel burrs, however, will last a lifetime. Some say that steel burrs are easier to turn, which you may want to consider if you are buying a hand-powered model. But you may find that your flour is not as fine with steel burrs as it is with stone.
A note about cost
You get what you pay for and this is doubly true when buying a wheat grinder. Yes, you can get a grinder for less than $50 but as a rule, you will not get a whole lot of good use out of it. Some of the lower-cost grinders have plastic parts that can break or wear with repeatedly stressful use.
And those grinders that are $500-$800 or more? They typically they have life-time warranties and a decades-long tradition of building a high-quality product. If you can afford it, you cannot go wrong by buying a high-end wheat grinder.
Having said that, don’t let the cost be your only guide to purchasing. And by all means, don’t let it be an obstacle to your buying a grinder. Baking with whole wheat saves you money and gives you more nutritious food, so if there’s any way you can afford it, make purchasing a wheat grinder a top priority. Just choose any middle-priced model that has the features that are most important to you and fits your budget.
Here’s me with a chart
As usual, I like put all of this information into a visual format. So I’ve created this chart that will (hopefully) help you decide which wheat grinder you want to buy.
What’s not on this chart
I did not include appliances that are not dedicated to grinding wheat, like the grinder attachment for your Kitchen Aid mixer or blenders that advertise they can turn grain into flour (like VitaMix.) These simply do not have any of the qualities that I look for in a good wheat grinder: They are slow to grind, the flour is not very fine and you can only do small batches of flour at a time.
BUT if that is something that works well for your family’s budget and will fill your needs, please don’t let my criticism stop you from getting one of these. The most important point is is that you get a grain grinder and start using whole wheat everyday baking.
One last note: This chart is intended only as a starting place to help you research. Use this only as a general guide. This list is not at all exhaustive. There are so many models, makes and brands and the details of each are constantly changing. So it really is impossible for me to report on all the features of every type of grinder.