Cracked Black Pepper Vs. Ground Black Pepper: SPICEography Showdown

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Cracked black pepper is a term for coarsely ground black pepper. Ground black pepper typically means pre-ground and refers to black pepper ground at the factory and packaged in small cans or shakers. Both come from the same dried drupe that we call peppercorns, so they start out with exactly the same properties. Though, as you will see in the comparison below, how this spice gets processed alters its properties. Let’s look at how cracked black pepper and ground black pepper compare. 

How does cracked black pepper differ from ground black pepper?

The first and most obvious difference between these two forms of black pepper is the size of the pieces. With cracked black pepper, the black peppercorns are literally cracked. If you want to crack your own peppercorns at home, it’s as simple as placing a few peppercorns on a cutting board and pressing down on them with a cast-iron skillet to break their hulls. This will give you black pepper with an uneven but mostly coarse texture — cracked black pepper consists of both fine pieces and chunks. Preground black pepper has a fine and consistent grind. The particles have a similar texture to that of cornmeal or espresso coffee grounds. 

Cracked black pepper and ground black pepper don’t taste the same, which results from the difference in surface area. The flavor of both forms of black pepper comes from the compounds like piperine and terpenes in the peppercorn. Cracked black pepper has less surface area so these volatile compounds do not evaporate quickly.

In comparison, the fineness of ground black pepper provides a much greater surface area and a much higher rate of evaporation. The result is that cracked black pepper will keep its flavor for longer than ground black pepper. 

The difference in surface area means a difference in pungency. Cracked black pepper has a stronger peppery flavor than ground black pepper. The particle-size difference means a difference in texture with cracked black pepper offering a crunchier texture than ground black pepper. 

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Cracked black pepper and ground black pepper are interchangeable in a pinch but they are not always ideal substitutes for each other. Cracked black pepper will work fine as a substitute for ground black pepper in rubs. You will find that it gives you more heat and greater complexity as well as a crunch that you won’t get from ground black pepper. If you are making a dish where a smooth texture is key or where you want the spice to spread evenly it may not work. The good thing about cracked black pepper is that you can make it into a finer grind by placing it into your spice grinder and letting it break down for a few seconds.

Ground black pepper is not a great substitute for cracked black pepper since you will be settling for spice with less flavor and that will do nothing for the dish’s texture. 

When should you use cracked black pepper and when should you use ground?

Use cracked black pepper in rubs for roasts and barbecued meat. It’s a great spice for steak either before it goes into the skillet or for finishing it before serving.

Ground black pepper is more of an all-purpose spice that you should keep in your spice cabinet for cheese sauces and other smooth, mildly flavored dishes.