5 Best Mortar and Pestle Sets, Tested by Food Network Kitchen
We ground spices and mixed up pesto to find the best mortar and pestle sets.
Our Top Mortar and Pestle Picks:
Tested by Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen
The mortar and pestle is the O.G. kitchen tool. Its roots date back to the Stone Age, when hunter-gatherers used it to make certain foods edible, like cracking nuts and grinding grains. Mortars and pestles have been used for centuries in culinary traditions around the world: in Southeast Asia, India and Pakistan, it’s used to grind spices and make flavorful pastes; along the Mediterranean cost of Italy and France, it’s used to make pesto; in Mexico, a molcajete is used to make guacamole and salsa; and in Japan, a suribachi is used to grind spices and sesame seeds.
While innovation in technology and industrialization have gifted us with modern appliances like spice grinders, blenders and food processors, a mortar and pestle is still an excellent kitchen tool to have on hand. When you use it to grind whole spices, it allows more of their delicate oils and aromas to be released. It also gives you control over the make-up of rubs and blends, as well as the texture of the grind. When you use a mortar and pestle to make a batch of chili paste, guacamole, salsa, or pesto, it gives you more control to achieving the just-right texture you’re after, without overdoing it (if you’ve ever made salsa mush, you know what we’re talking about). That said, if you’re used to making pesto in a food processor, making it by hand in a mortar and pestle might not be for you. The recipe tends to require a lot of patience and yields a more rustic, oilier pesto. Ditto that for making Thai chili paste — you’ll need a lot of patience and time to thoroughly incorporate and emulsify the ingredients.
But all in all, a mortar and pestle is a worthy investment, and luckily, there are several solid options on the market to satisfy a range of needs, budgets, and preferences. These are our picks for the best mortar and pestles.
What to Know About Buying and Using a Mortar and Pestle
Size: Consider what you’re planning to make. Small mortar sizes (1-cup capacity and under) are good for grinding spices, but you’ll want at least a 2-cup capacity for making dips and sauces such as guacamole, salsa and pesto. For the pestle, ensure that the bottom is broad enough to grind and pulverize ingredients; otherwise, it’ll just push the ingredients around the bowl. And check measurements to determine if the pestle will be long enough so that your knuckles aren’t scraping the edge of the mortar. Consider the size for storage, too, and whether you intend to keep it on the counter or in a cupboard.
Material: Mortar and pestles come in granite, marble or stainless steel. We found that stone mortars with abrasive interiors, like those made from granite or rough-hewn marble, to be the most effective.
Style: Mortar and pestles are essentially a sturdy bowl and pounding tool and can range in depth and length. Molcajetes are essentially a Mexican mortar and pestle, where the molcajete is the mortar and the tejolote is the pestle, though they aren’t as deep as most mortars. They tend to be better suited to making guacamole and salsa than they are to making pesto.
Seasoning: Many of the granite models we tested required seasoning before first use, which involves grinding white rice to a powder, and then grinding garlic cloves with a mix of seasoning such as salt, cumin, coriander and pepper. Seasoning helps remove any stone or grit particles from the porous surface so that it doesn’t release any into your food when you first use it. A couple models also required letting the mixture sit overnight prior to washing and before first use. So, if you want to use your mortar and pestle right away, pick one that doesn’t require seasoning.
Before first use: Once you receive your product, be sure to inspect it for any damage. Marble mortar and pestles are more prone to chipping during shipment. Read the care instructions to determine how to wash and dry your mortar and pestle before first use.
This granite mortar and pestle won top marks for its durable construction and all-around solid performance. It made light work of grinding whole peppercorns and ground them finely, and the pestle grip felt comfortable and steady in the hand. When we used the mortar and pestle to make pesto, we found that it easily combined the salt and garlic into a paste and performed the best when combining the remaining ingredients. This mortar has a 2-cup capacity, making it ideal for grinding batches of spice blends and preparing dips and sauces such as guacamole, salsa and pesto. Take care when working with olive oil; some of our oil sloshed over the sides which slightly stained the granite.
We also liked that this model came with instructions for care and seasoning the mortar before use, as well as tips for technique, which is especially helpful for beginners. As with most granite mortar and pestles, you’ll need to season it prior to use to ensure that none of the grit or granite particles release into your food. For this model, you’ll need to allow time to wash and air dry it prior to seasoning, time for seasoning it, and additional time for washing and air drying. The set also comes with a self-adhesive protection to ensure an anti-scratch, no-slip finish on the bottom of the mortar.
If you’re shopping for a mortar and pestle and on a budget, note that you’ll have to sacrifice capacity, since the more material used means the more expensive it will be. This compact mortar and pestle weighs 5 pounds and has a capacity of 9 fluid ounces. While it was too small to test making even a half batch of pesto in, we found that it easily and finely ground whole peppercorns. We especially liked the abrasive texture of the interior of the mortar and the end of the pestle, making this a great pick for small batch spices. Because this mortar and pestle is made of granite, it needs to be seasoned prior to first use; this model requires that the garlic-spice mixture sits overnight, so plan accordingly. Besides being easy on the wallet, we love that this mortar and pestle comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
We tested the small size of this granite mortar and pestle and found that it’s 1.5-cup capacity and abrasive granite interior makes it ideal for making small batches of spices and sauces. It performed as well as some of its more expensive counterparts, but with a wallet-friendly price tag. We found the grip of the pestle comfortable and the construction of both the mortar and pestle durable. We appreciated that this set came with helpful instructions for use and care. Prior to first use, be sure to allow time to wash and dry the mortar and pestle, season it, and to wash and air dry it once more. We found it easy to clean, though we noticed some light staining after grinding the peppercorns. This mortar and pestle is available in a gray or black finish and also comes in different sizes, including a medium (2-cup) or large (4-cup capacity). The performance is backed by a no-questions-asked, life-time guarantee.
This beautiful marble mortar and Beechwood pestle wins points for size, functionality, and aesthetics. This model was also our favorite of the marble mortars we tested. We appreciated the deep sides of the mortar, the abrasive finish of the mortar’s interior, and the wide base of the Beechwood pestle, which made light work of finely grinding whole peppercorns. The broad bottom of the pestle also performed particularly well when grinding the pine nuts during the pesto making portion of testing. We liked the mortar design which includes four integral handles that are helpful for gripping the mortar during use. This mortar and pestle is as beautiful as it is functional. The mortar is made from Italian Carrara marble and adds a luxe touch to kitchen countertops. It would also be an elegant way to serve batches of guacamole or salsa tableside or family-style. One drawback was that we found the pestle challenging to clean after making pesto; some of the ingredients got stuck in its grooves and we noticed a slight lingering odor of garlic and basil after washing. And if you’re short on counter or storage space, this unit’s size might not work for you.
This molcajete, also known as a Mexican mortar and pestle, is designed for making dips and sauces such as guacamole and salsa. It’s made from non-porous natural granite, which helps to prevent oil absorption. The pestle is shorter with a comfortable, rounded grip, making is a good pick for someone with smaller hands. We found that it performed very well during the whole peppercorn test, easily and finely grinding them. The mortar’s interior isn’t very deep; we noticed that our knuckles hit the edge of the molcajete during the pesto making portion of testing. While handwashing the mortar and pestle, we found that it lived up to the manufacturer’s promise to be easy to clean. We also liked that this set came with a booklet detailing instructions for care and use as well as a selection of recipes.
How We Tested
We purchased 10 top-rated mortar and pestles according to various online sites, reviews and bestseller rankings. We tested granite, marble, and stainless-steel mortar and pestles across a range of price points in a variety of styles and capacities, including under 1-cup, 2-cup, 2- to 3-cup, and 3-cup capacities.
Part 1: Product Intake & Pre-Use
First, we noted the product’s material, such as granite, marble or stainless-steel, and whether the mortar and pestle are made of the same material. Next, we noted the weight of mortar and the pestle, and the unit as a whole. Then, we recorded the size, including the dimensions for each piece and the mortar’s capacity. Finally, we noted any special claims made by the manufacturer and noted those that needed to be tested, such as a model with a reversible pestle, those that promised to be easy-to-clean, or mortars with a non-skid bottom.
If any of the models required seasoning (several of the granite models did), we noted the steps and seasoned them accordingly. Seasoning the mortar and pestle prior to first use helps to remove the grit or granite particles and ensures that they are not released into your food. Two of the models we tested required seasoning the mortars and leaving the mixture to sit overnight before rinsing and washing.
Part 2: Food Test
We conducted the food test in two parts, first grinding whole peppercorns and then making pesto.
For grinding the whole peppercorns in the mortar and pestle, we observed how easily we could grind whole peppercorns into a fine ground. We considered how much physical effort needed to be applied to gripping and pushing the pestle into the mortar, as well as the resulting consistency and uniformness of the ground peppercorns.
For making pesto in the mortar and pestle, we noted how easily the ingredients combined at each step of the recipe, including combining the garlic cloves and salt, grinding the pine nuts a quarter cup at a time, grinding the basil leaves a handful at a time, and incorporating the cheese and drizzling in the olive oil. For mortars with a 2-cup capacity or less, we halved the recipe. Some of the mortar capacities were too small to test making pesto, which we noted as well.
During both food tests, we made notes about how comfortable the pestle was to grip, how easily we could hold on to the mortar while grinding and combining ingredients, and any additional observations, including whether the ingredients stayed in the mortar or if our knuckles scraped the edge of the mortar.
Part 3: Cleaning
Here we noted whether any of the parts (mortars or pestles) were dishwasher safe and if so, tested it; only one model was dishwasher safe. Next, we evaluated how easy or difficult it was to hand wash the mortar and pestle, observing how easily the ground peppercorns or pesto washed away from the interior of the mortar and the end of the pestle. We also noted whether there were any stains or lingering odors. Most manufacturers recommend hand washing and rinsing the mortar and pestle with no soap under warm water, scrubbing with a clean sponge if needed, and then allowing it to air dry.