Salt & pepper- which goes in which shaker?
December 25, 2007 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Salt and pepper shakers: Does the salt or the pepper go in the shaker with more holes? And does the salt or the pepper go in the shaker with bigger holes?

We were sitting around the Christmas dinner table and the eternal argument surfaced: My dad insisted that the shaker with two holes got the Salt, and the shaker with three holes got the pepper. My mom argued the contrary. Is there a definitive answer so this family conflict can finally be laid to rest? What happens if each one has one hole, but one of the holes is bigger? Obviously, this does not apply to grinders, or shakers already marked "pepper" or "salt". What is the reasoning behind their assignment to which shaker? Where does the tradition stem from? Are there any exceptions to the rule? Please help! I don't think my family can take another year of this debate- it almost came to blows over our Christmas feast...
posted by rawredmeat to Home & Garden (45 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I've always understood that salt goes in the shaker with fewer holes.

But you are not alone in your confusion! It seems that the Internets have not figured this out yet, either.
posted by rossination at 9:35 PM on December 25, 2007

More/bigger holes = salt.
posted by tristeza at 9:36 PM on December 25, 2007

Wikipedia says "The salt shaker usually has more holes than the pepper shaker", but there's also this.

You've heard of this google thing, right?
posted by Roman Graves at 9:37 PM on December 25, 2007

Mom is right, this time. The salt shaker usually has more, and/or larger holes. Of course it's not illegal to do it however one wants, that's just how you'd find it in, say, a diner.
posted by dawson at 9:37 PM on December 25, 2007

I've always understood that you "should" put salt in the one with less and/or smaller holes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:37 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

More holes = pepper
(and the toilet paper goes over the front of the roll)
posted by Frank Grimes at 9:38 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've always used the shaker with more/bigger holes for salt. Never knew anyone did otherwise. My reasoning is that I usually want to be more sparing with pepper--most recipes that call for both salt and black pepper call for more salt than pepper. Pepper is also usually a finer consistency than salt.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:43 PM on December 25, 2007

There doesn't seem to be any consensus, even from etiquette books.
posted by jedicus at 9:43 PM on December 25, 2007

The salt, which people generally use more of, goes in the one with more/larger holes.

At least according to how I've always learned it.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:48 PM on December 25, 2007

Jedicus, the google answers page is funny, because from my point of view it's got the FLAVOR justification all backward. A little salt is fine, but you really have to rain down the pepper to get a decent amount.

As long as we're polling, more holes = pepper. Never seen it done differently (California).
posted by yath at 9:49 PM on December 25, 2007

In my world, more holes = salt. It has ever been so.
posted by rtha at 9:53 PM on December 25, 2007

Easy answer: the salt goes in whatever shaker you want, because your pepper should be in a grinder, because already-ground pepper in a shaker has essentially no flavour.

Longer answer: I've only ever seen sale in the more/bigger holes shakers.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:55 PM on December 25, 2007

My family was always 5 holes for salt and three for pepper. But now that I think about it, the reverse would make more sense to me. I sometimes use too much salt accidentally but always have to shake and shake and shake the pepper to get a decent amount. I want more pepper holes, damn it. And I want more governance of my salt flow.
posted by Askr at 9:57 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Um, why not look at those marked salt/pepper shakers and see what the experts consider right? FWIW, I've always seen salt in the shaker with more holes and pepper in the shaker with less holes. This is actually the first time I've considered it a question... maybe because I love salt more than most. Who knows.
posted by MadamM at 10:02 PM on December 25, 2007

The number of holes is only to differentiate the two visually from above.
posted by hermitosis at 10:16 PM on December 25, 2007

Wow I had no idea there wasn't universal consensus about this. I always grew up with more holes in my salt shaker, and no looming sense of uncertainty, but now things are different. Thanks a lot, Metafilter!

posted by aubilenon at 10:21 PM on December 25, 2007

No, people tend to like more salt than pepper in proportion.
posted by tristeza at 10:21 PM on December 25, 2007

Some people do - growing up the shakes we generally used had less holes for salt, but they were larger, the pepper shaker had more holes that were slightly smaller.

I'm not sure there's a 'right' answer to this one, unlike whether you should eat a hard-boiled egg big end or little end first.

Honestly, if it takes that much for drama to break out at holiday dinner, feel lucky...
posted by pupdog at 10:39 PM on December 25, 2007

Though I've never really spent much time thinking about this, I would say more holes is for salt for the reasons people have mentioned above, but if this is about the size of the holes I'd say salt goes in the smaller holed shaker because moisture getting into your salt will make it clump.
posted by harrumph at 10:42 PM on December 25, 2007

Answer: store your pepper in whole grounds in a grinder. Grind as needed. Keep your (hopefully kosher) salt in an open dish so you can reach in with your fingers.

Don't cry.

posted by trip and a half at 10:42 PM on December 25, 2007

My personal take has nothing to do with the flow or flavor hypotheses. As a child I invented the mnemonic/explanation that the one with more holes was for pepper because pepper is a longer word than pepper. So score that as a vote for more holes = pepper.

Frankly, the notion that a single hole makes a substantial difference in the amount of product dispensed is pretty laughable, especially since most shakers are designed to dispense only a small amount with each shake. Especially as the 'base' number of holes grows, the addition of only one other hole is unlikely to make much of a difference. I agree with hermitosis that the real reason is to visually distinguish the two while keeping the rest of the shake identical. Which one is used for which seasoning is up to the user (or the filler, anyway).
posted by jedicus at 10:59 PM on December 25, 2007

Okay, it's late. "more holes was for pepper because pepper is a longer word than salt."
posted by jedicus at 10:59 PM on December 25, 2007

Odd, but I distinctly remember having this discussion with a British friend of my parents when I was about 11. Unfortunately I don't remember what his position was, but he was very definite that there was a Proper British Way to fill one's salt and pepper shakers. And that they did it the other way 'round on the Continent. It stuck with me because I didn't grok "The Continent" at the time, but I could tell that they were an uncouth people, those Continentals. A useful memory, if indistinct, in that it suggests that there is regional variation to this practice.

Personally I keep the plain old table salt in a while milkglass Hazel Atlas shaker, the coarser sea salt in a salt pig, and the peppercorns in a tall wooden pepper mill. This conveniently skirts the question of how many holes are associated with each seasoning. I'd like to have a set of sterling Victorian muffineers—if only because the name suggests breakfast-time piracy—but then I'd have to decide which was for what, wouldn't I?
posted by mumkin at 11:58 PM on December 25, 2007

At my house, we have whole black peppers in the pepper grinder, and chunky sea salt crystals in the salt grinder. Both grinders are mechanically identical (the grinding parts are plastic, so the salt doesn't eat them).

In Australian eateries with matching salt and pepper shakers, the usual thing is to find salt in a shaker with one biggish hole, pepper in a shaker with several smaller holes, unless engineering students have been in recently, in which case the salt will be in the sugar bowl.
posted by flabdablet at 12:31 AM on December 26, 2007

In the UK it's always one large hole - salt... lots of holes - pepper. Exceptions to this are vanishingly small.
(I though it was because damp salt can block small holes)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:06 AM on December 26, 2007

I always thought salt had more holes.

Flickr's helpful for this sort of thing.

Czech Airlines: salt = more holes
Air Afrique: pepper = more holes
Sabena: pepper = more holes
Lufthansa: pepper = more holes

(Note: the last three all apparently come from the same condiment provider, so that'll probably skew things.)
posted by Alt F4 at 4:12 AM on December 26, 2007

My in-laws always put the salt in the shaker whose holes spell out S and the pepper in the shaker whose holes spell out P.
Me, I like my little clear-walled pepper and salt grinders, so I can see what's in them and grind to taste.
posted by bassjump at 6:17 AM on December 26, 2007

Count me as a seconder for the British 'salt = one hole; pepper = more than one'.
posted by holgate at 6:18 AM on December 26, 2007

I've always thought that the salt is the shaker with fewer holes. I've always assumed this is for two reasons:

1. It is worse to (accidentally) over-salt your food than over-pepper your food

2. Salt pours more quickly than pepper (which always seems to require vigorous shaking), so fewer holes required.

My British husband says he has always known it as the salt shaker has one hole, pepper - more than one.

When I go to restaurants, I always pour some into my hand to make sure and though I admittedly have never paid much attention, it seems as though the salt is usually the one with fewer holes.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:52 AM on December 26, 2007

Response by poster: Wow! Never did I think this would lead to such a lengthy discussion. I guess the consensus is that there is NO consensus, although it seems like the Brits are in the pepper= more holes side, which is how I do it with my own, as I am a huge pepper fan, but have been convinced by all of this to maybe invest in a couple of grinders... I do have to say, that the reasoning of "since pepper is a larger word, it gets more holes" has major appeal to this sixth-grade spelling champion. Thanks to all for the discussion- I guess my family will have to live with this unrest for years to come, unless, that is, we all decide to work for Czech Airlines, in which there will be no discussion. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by rawredmeat at 8:09 AM on December 26, 2007

jedicus: As a child, my mnemonic was divisibility. "Pepper" was 6 letters, and the pepper shaker had 3 holes. 6/3 has no remainder. (6 mod 3=0) "Salt" was 4 letters, and there were four holes. (4%4=0).

I wasn't a normal child.
posted by fogster at 9:43 AM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

If this is a long standing family argument, then it's time to put this to rest. Make the family a gift of two identical shakers made of clear glass.
posted by happyturtle at 10:15 AM on December 26, 2007

Everything I've always seen:

Salt shaker has smaller (and less) holes = gives you better control because it can be a bigger problem to over-salt your food

Pepper shaker has more and larger holes = because typically pepper particles are larger

Course if you want to be technically proper (as others have stated)... whole corn pepper should be kept in a grinder and and sea/kosher salt in a small bowl with a tight lid to keep moisture out
posted by jmnugent at 10:49 AM on December 26, 2007

russia, israel, canada, and from my memories in australia and netherlands - salt is more holes, pepper is less.
posted by olya at 10:52 AM on December 26, 2007

I always thought pepper goes in the one with fewer holes. This was never an issue in my home, though, because the pepper always went in the shaker with holes that formed the letter "P" and the salt went in the shaker with holes that formed the letter "S."
posted by HotPatatta at 10:59 AM on December 26, 2007

Thirding the: British 'salt = one hole; pepper = more than one'. There. I just ended this debate. Carry on.
posted by toastchee at 12:12 PM on December 26, 2007

Oh if you are a pepper freak like I am, rawredmeat, hie thee to Williams-Sonoma and obtain a pepper mill. Then experiment with different blends. It's like wine (or vinegars). You'll never use pre-ground stuff again.
posted by dawson at 12:29 PM on December 26, 2007

Fourthing British Standard approach: salt = one hole (or the least number available); pepper = at least two holes, natch.

In my experience, British pepper powder needs several holes, because it tends to clump so you need to shake it a lot. Salt doesn't clump if you use iodized salt, therefore only one hole needed.

Not quite sure why the colonies got it wrong again.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 12:35 PM on December 26, 2007

I must admit I am simply flabbergasted to discover there is contention over this. Individual salt crystals are physically larger than individual flakes of pepper - thus, salt goes in the container with bigger holes. Otherwise, the salt tends to clog the (smaller) shaker holes, and the pepper gets dispensed too rapidly (from the larger shaker holes).

This is readily testable by using the same shakers for both substances, first for one and then the other.
posted by namewithoutwords at 1:01 PM on December 26, 2007

trip-and-a-half and mumkin have it. The pepper goes in a grinder and the salt is larger-grained e.g. kosher salt instead of typical US salt and goes in something you can pinch from (small bowl or "salt pig").
posted by madmethods at 2:46 PM on December 26, 2007

I keep my salt in a bowl, but I had never (until now) heard of a "salt pig." Are these British or European or something?
posted by aubilenon at 3:14 PM on December 26, 2007

as I am a huge pepper fan

Dawson's right, then. Anyone who's a huge pepper fan *needs* to have a simple grinder. Even using the cheapest peppercorns you can find will produce noticeably more awesome pepper flavor compared to the old, dried out grains of pre-ground powder you've been using.
posted by mediareport at 7:50 PM on December 26, 2007

Traditionally, the salt shaker has more holes, but really, as a fan of black pepper, it's all kinds of backwards. :(
posted by Glitter Ninja at 8:24 PM on December 26, 2007

In New Zealand (in my experience) salt is either in a grinder, or has a single large hole, in some cafes and restaurants they'll provide a small bowl for pinches of salt - but I'm not really a fan of other people's fingers in my food, so I usually skip the salt if they do it that way. Pepper is also in a grinder, or in a shaker with many smaller holes. (i.e. same as Britain.)
posted by The Monkey at 9:36 PM on December 26, 2007

aubilenon: The pig in "salt pig" actually comes from the same root as "piggy bank" which has nothing to do with pigs and everything to do with ceramics. That is, "pigge" in old English = earthenware. A salt pig is an earthenware vessel for holding salt.

As far as using kosher salt at the table: no. Kosher salt should be used for cooking, because pinching is the appropriate way to apply salt to food while cooking it. At the table, keep your damn fingers out of my salt and use a shaker. Since kosher and table salt are chemically identical, there's no flavor difference. Table salt is in identically sized cube shapes whereas kosher salt is crazy irregular chunks; that is the only difference between the two.

FWIW, kosher salt isn't actually kosher but is used in koshering, that is, removing the blood from a carcass before it's, well, kosher meat.
posted by terceiro at 2:21 PM on December 27, 2007

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