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Salt and Pepper Shakers – The Mainstays at Every Table

Posted by Ben Arneberg on

Salt and pepper shakers have had a common place inside homes and restaurants for about as long anyone can remember. In fact, It is widely believed that the very first salt shaker was invented by an American tinsmith named John Mason in 1858. Salt and pepper are the two most used spices in the world, and also the most familiar. The two spices are also the most versatile available, and can be added to countless dishes --

Salt and pepper are the two most used spices in the world, and also the most familiar. The two spices are also the most versatile available, and can be added to countless dishes -- often as a pair.

As time has evolved, so have the containers used to house the two spices. We've come a long way from chopping off large chunks of salt and milling them downin a pestle before adding to a dish. Salt and pepper shakers have provided an easy and convenient way to always have the spices readily available for kitchen and table use.

Salt and pepper shakers can be constructed from a wide range of materials, such as plastic, metal, glass, and ceramic. Salt shakers themselves actually rose to popularity during the 1920's after the advent of anti-caking agents by the Morton Salt Company. Ceramic became a popular shaker material the following decade when ceramic manufacturers began to focus on releasing inexpensive products for the average consumer.

salt and pepper shakers on table

Salt and Pepper shakers usually come as a matched set, and are often identified by the amount of holes on the lid. Their designs can range from smaller glass versions with simplescrew capsto more intricate and ornate models, especially on the ceramic side.

Because of their massive variety and designs ranging from holidays to comic book characters, ceramic salt and pepper shakers have become the go-to choice for collectors.

Types of Salt and Pepper Shakers

Some shakers are designed to merely blend in and not be noticed, some are created to freshly grind the spices before being dispensed, and others are made to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Every setting and scenario calls for a different type.

Below we will examine different types of salt and pepper shakers, their own unique pros and cons, and who they are intended for.

Basic Salt and Pepper Shakers

Perhaps the most familiar of them all, basic salt and pepper shakers consist simply of a container and lid with holes on top to gently allow the spices to be dispensed. These shakers tend to be on the smaller side, and are usually created to be versatile and neutral in appearance, allowing them to seamlessly blend in with surrounding tableware and décor.

The number of holes in each shaker can vary. Some state that the salt shaker should have more holes, while others argue that the pepper shaker should. According to the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, there is no right or wrong answer to this, it's all a matter of preference.

Due to the ambiguity of this age old question, it's fairly common for restaurants to use glass salt and pepper shakers, so patrons aren't left guessing which is which.

salt and pepper shakers


The number one advantage to the basic salt and pepper shaker is the simplicity and affordability. These shakers can be used in nearly any setting, by nearly anyone, and never appear too fancy or too simple. They require little effort to use, and are easily refillable.

If one of the shakers breaks, there's a fairly good chance that it can be replaced quickly and for a cheap price. Basic shakers with pre-ground spices also make it easier to measure out the salt and pepper during cooking.


Basic salt and pepper shakers can only dispense salt and pepper that is already ground, which can lead to diminished flavor. These shakers are not usually very eye-catching, and can hinder the look of your table setting if you are trying to provide a more focused, formal, or modern look.


Even if you have nice shaker sets or shakers with built-ingrinders, you still need a basic set for everyday use or as a backup. These shakers truly are for anyone and any setting.

salt and pepper shakers on table

Salt and Pepper Grinders

These grinders provide their users with a convenient way to add fresh-ground salt and pepper to their food at a moment's notice. Salt and pepper grinders typically have a small built-in grinding mechanism that is operated by either rotating a part of the shaker or turning a small crank handle on the top. The salt or pepper is then either dispersed directly to the food as it is ground, or to a separate compartment that stores the spices until later use when needed.

Salt and pepper grinders were once considered a luxury and somewhat rare for average table use, but are now readily available in numerous forms, including disposable models that come right off the shelf with the salt or pepper already inside and ready to be ground.

Salt and pepper grinders


The ability to provide fresh-ground salt and pepper is a big advantage. These shakers can use different types of salt and peppercorns rather than the basic versions often found with pre-ground products. Salt and pepper that is fresh-ground can have a significant and noticeable effect on the food it's used on. Also, there is a certain kind of appeal from being able to grind salt and pepper at the table in the first place. It certainly makes the salt and pepper more upscale in a lot of ways.


There really aren't many. It is worthmentioning that using grinders for measurements in recipes can be a little difficult, as users may have a hard time grinding directly into a tablespoon or teaspoon measurer.


If you are someone who is looking for maximum versatility and flavor with your salt and pepper at the table, grinders are the best choice available.

salt and pepper grinders

Stainless Steel Salt and Pepper Shakers

These types of salt and pepper shakers are forged from stainless steel, offering a change of pace from standard glass and ceramic models. Stainless steel salt and pepper shakers come in a variety of designs, and add a certain sense of style to the table. They can be both simple and elaborate, and are sure to get attention at the table.

Stainless steel shakers can come as both basic shakers and grinders. Their sturdy and durable construction ensures that they will last years with proper care.

stainless steel salt and pepper shakers


The biggest advantage of stainless steel shakers is their looks first and foremost. Stainless steel adds a touch of elegance to even the simplest of designs. The shakers can be inexpensive for basic models, while also coming in more luxurious versions that provide a definite upscale look.

Stainless steel shakers are versatile in appearance as well. These shakers can easily provide the table with an improved style-conscious appearance just as easy as they can blend in for a casual setting.

Another big plus of stainless steel shakers is the fact that the metal composite prevents the shakers from tarnishing and rusting, ensuring even more longevity.


It's hard to see any clear disadvantages to using stainless steel shakers. There are some that might not be a fan of their appearance, but that's really about it. These shakers also tend to be a little heavier than other types, which might be a turn off to certain people as well.


Durable and stylish, stainless steel salt and pepper shakers are perfect for those looking for a versatile and modern flair with added longevity. If you want your shakers to make an impression, this is the way to go.

salt and pepper shakers on table

Wooden Salt and Pepper Shakers

Wooden salt and pepper shakers are constructed from wood, and often have metal components. The wood material provides an organic and natural look, and allows the shakers to blend in with numerous types of settings and styles.

Wooden shakers often have rounded edges, and feature a smooth finish. They can be made into simple shapes, or more elaborate and decorative styles with various intricacies and tones in the wood.

wooden salt and pepper shakers


Wooden shakers are extremely durable, and hold up well to repeated use and abuse, such as dropping one on the floor. The natural appearance is appealing to those desiring a more organic look. The wood finish also offers users a shaker with versatile appearance that can blend in without garnering too much attention. Finer and more intricate wood shakers can offer an upscale aesthetic to your table and kitchen as well.


The wood look isn't for everybody, especially for those wanting a more modern appeal to the table. Wood can also be more difficult to clean than varieties such as stainless steel and ceramic.


If you want something a little nicer than a cheap or basic shaker set, but don't like the look of stainless steel, wood shakers are a great choice. They are lightweight, provide a neutral and natural appearance, and are resistant to drops.

wooden salt and pepper shakers

Novelty Salt and Pepper Shakers

Novelty shakers are very broad as to what they are made of, or what they look like. These types of shakers are geared towards collectors of salt and pepper shakers themselves, or what the shakers are made to look like, such as a comic book character or animal. Novelty shakers can be made in numerous materials, but are most often plastic or ceramic.

Novelty shakers can obviously be used at the table, but many prefer to merely display them instead, or only bring them out for special occasions/holidays, such as Christmas-themed shaker sets.

Novelty salt and pepper shakers


Novelty shakers vary in their materials, styles, and uses, but are definitely appealing to collectors or someone wanting certain shakers for specific situations.


Novelty shakers generally aren't made to be used every day. Their main function is their appearance, so anyone looking to use these shakers on a regular basis will be disappointed in their lack of functionality and durability.


If you're a collector of salt and pepper shakers, or merely a collector of what the shakers are depicting, you'll appreciate novelty shakers. Otherwise, regulate your daily salt and pepper shaker use to types more suited for it.

Novelty salt and pepper shakers

What to Consider When Choosing Salt and Pepper Shaker Sets

Before deciding on a specific pair of shakers, it's best to first consider a few factors that can help you narrow down your search while ensuring that you choose the set that is best for you.

What is Your Budget?

This is probably the first thing to consider when shopping for a pair of shakers. If you are wanting to save money, purchasing a cheaper set made from glass or plastic is probably the best route to take. If you are looking for a specific design and style, be prepared to spend more.

What are the Shakers For?

Are your shakers for table use or kitchen use? Or perhaps even a café or restaurant? If you frequently have guests over and care about the overall look of your decor and table setting, purchasing a more stylish set of shakers is probably in your best interest. If the shakers are for kitchen and cooking use, you'll want a set that is easy to hold, resistant to water and steam, and cleans off easily.

salt and pepper on spoon

Who Will Be Using the Shakers?

Do you live alone, or do you have small children? Heavier and more breakable shakers are probably not a good idea for a young family, but may be perfectly fine if you live with adults or by yourself. If you have small children around, use wooden or plastic shakers, and leave any nicer sets you may have for when you have special occasions or guests.

How Much Do Looks Matter to You?

Are you going for sheer functionality, or are you trying to find a set that grabs attention and makes a statement? If looks are important, it's helpful to search out sets that match your décor and tableware. Choosing the perfect set that enhances your table can provide a stylish flair while showing guests that you care about the details.

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