Who can resist a loaf of bread, warm from the oven with a slab of cheddar on top? Or whole-wheat pancakes slathered in butter and maple syrup? What about tortillas fresh off the griddle, filled with beans, rice, salsa, and sour cream? These mouthwatering temptations can be staple foods at your home, made with flour milled right in your kitchen.
Choosing the best mill for your family’s needs is the first step. Considering the investment in a grain mill, an understanding of the different types of mills is important before making your decision.
Grain mills come in two types: the electric impact mill that bursts the grain open, and the burr mill, which rubs the grain between two wheels of stone or stainless steel. Neither mill is better than the other; they just operate differently and perform different tasks. It’s important to know what your purposes are before purchasing a mill.
Any mill on the market can produce flour of varying coarseness, but if you want to crack your grains for grits, or mill oily grains, seeds, and beans, you need a burr mill. Even then, some burr mills do not accommodate oily grains, because they are sealed and cannot be cleaned after use.
Generally, burr mills are hand cranked. Don’t let that deter you, though. Some manufacturers also sell motor and bicycle kits (pedal-powered milling). Most homesteaders accustomed to DIY projects can handle this adaptation with no problem.
The advantage of the electric impact mill is speed. This type of mill goes from whole grain to fine flour as fast as a fighter jet — but it sounds like one, too. Impact mills only produce flour, and never from an oily grain or seed. They require electricity, so if you do not have power, you cannot make bread.
Once you understand the different types of mills, you have the knowledge necessary to start comparing brands. The following mills are considered some of the most popular on the market.
Country Living Grain Mill
We chose the Country Living Grain Mill for our home, because we could operate it during a power outage and use it for grinding corn or beans. My favorite feature is that while most mills produce only flour, the Country Living mill can also produce grits or cracked grains for cereal. It also grinds oily grains or peanuts, and, in fact, they offer a special attachment for making peanut butter.
The first thing you will notice about the Country Living Grain Mill is that muscles are required to operate it. However, the large flywheel and long extension bar make it easier to turn than other hand-operated mills. As a small-framed woman, I did find turning the mill challenging. For the first year, my sons ground all our flour. Eventually, my husband attached an old washing machine motor to it so I could operate it myself — since sons have the habit of growing up and moving out of the house. If you don’t have a motor on hand, Country Living sells a motor kit for this purpose. Instructions are on their website.
Diamant Grain Mill
Another popular hand-operated mill is the Diamant. Made of solid cast iron and weighing 58 pounds, it is a workhorse. Like the Country Living mill, you can attach the Diamant to a peripheral motor.
Brian Thomas of Missouri purchased his Diamant 15 years ago. He attached an electric motor and has used it for several years in his small-scale bakery operation without so much as a hiccup. Now, he cranks it by hand to create flour for his family.
“The hand cranking is more of a mental challenge than a physical one,” Thomas says. “You have to face the fact that you have to sit there for 20 minutes doing nothing but turning this crank.” But when I asked him if someone with less strength could handle it on a regular basis, he wasn’t so sure.
Unlike the Country Living mill, the Diamant has pre-grinding teeth to crack the grains into smaller pieces before they are pushed through to the grinding plates. These teeth eliminate the need for changing augers for larger grains or beans, but you cannot grind peanuts or other oily grains in the Diamant.
Considerably more costly than other hand-crank mills, Thomas feels the price is worth the investment. “The money I made from selling bread more than paid for it. And, it’s built to last generations,” he says.
The GrainMaker, manufactured by Bitterroot Tool & Machine of Montana, is another burr mill. The basic model weighs in at 25 pounds and measures a little more than 13 inches tall. Constructed of solid steel, this high-end mill comes with a lifetime warranty on all parts, including the burrs.
Features that set the GrainMaker apart from the rest of the pack include the stainless steel augers and the hand-cut burrs. Other manufacturers pour their burrs into a mold. GrainMaker machinists cut each burr by hand.
Cindy Connor of Virginia used a Country Living mill for 11 years before seeing the GrainMaker at a Mother Earth News Fair. After trying it out, she bought it on the spot. Comparing the two, she prefers the GrainMaker, which she operates on a regular basis by hand. Why? With 300 revolutions of the crank, the GrainMaker produces twice the volume of flour than the Country Living mill.
According to Bonnie Jones, co-owner of GrainMaker with her husband, Randy, the size of the burrs and the pattern cut in the burrs account for this dramatic difference in the volume of flour.
One of the most popular electric impact mills is the WonderMill. The WonderMill ranks as the quietest of the impact mills with a decibel rating of 49 (typical conversation is around 60). Angi Schneider of Texas owns both the WonderMill and the Blendtec Kitchen Mill (also known as the K-tec mill) and says, “The WonderMill is just a little quieter.”
The WonderMill grinds 90 pounds of flour in an hour. Its hopper holds six cups of grain, and the flour is dispensed into a bin that sits next to the mill.
Blendtec Kitchen Mill
The Blendtec Kitchen Mill compacts for easy storage, which is a great selling point, says Schneider. The canister holds more flour than the WonderMill, but you have to disassemble the unit to remove the flour. Schneider purchased her Blendtec more than 15 years ago and still loves it. “I love them both,” she says. “They both have pros and cons, but they’re both great machines.”
Christina Kamp of Oklahoma likes knowing that the flour she cooks with has the highest nutritional value possible and is not contaminated with anything. She also buys non-GMO wheat from a local farmer, so she knows the bread products she bakes for her husband and seven day-care children are the best she can make.
A major selling point on the NutriMill website is that it is “self-cleaning.” Kamp says she only has to wipe the flour residue out of the hopper — it’s that easy. She also appreciates the more compact construction of the NutriMill, noting that the collection bowl of this mill is underneath the mill, which helps to conserve space. She also says that the hopper holds more grain than other brands of mills.
KoMo Grain Mills
KoMo manufactures both electric and hand-crank models. If you opt for an electric model, it combines the speed and ease of an electric mill with the versatility of a burr mill. As previously mentioned, impact mills have special rules. With one, you add the grain and turn it on. With another, you turn it on and then add the grain. If you forget and do it in the wrong order, you run the risk of damaging your mill. A burr mill is not complicated, which also applies to the KoMo.
“It seems to me to be the mill with the least trouble,” says Daisy Siskin of Tennessee. “With the KoMo, there is less risk in terms of doing something wrong.” She pointed out that she can even change the fineness of her flour in the middle of operating the mill.
The KoMo mill is beautiful and compact, taking up only 8 square inches on your counter. The corundum-ceramic burrs are housed in a sealed hardware cabinet that requires no cleaning. And while it is almost as fast as an impact mill, it is much quieter.
“The mill is less noisy than my Ninja mixer,” says Siskin, “and I’m not at all concerned of waking a sleeper when running it.”
This is just a sampling of the grain mills on the market for home kitchens. Determine what you need from a grain mill, and choose one that fits your budget and will help you satisfy your baking needs. Whichever one you choose, your family is sure to notice the difference when you start using freshly milled grains.
The secret to the best cornmeal and flour is grinding it at home.
Carol J. Alexander is the author of Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-ahead Meals. She grinds her grains with a Country Living Grain Mill operated with an old washing machine motor. She uses the freshly ground flour for her daily bread, pancakes, tortillas, and more.