The Salt & Pepper Rule

Which shaker DOES the salt go in?  Does it matter?  There is an actual salt and pepper rule. To identify the salt and pepper shakers, it all has to do with the number and size of the holes and your level of commitment to insanity.

Tall, slender antique silverplate salt and pepper shakers on natural linen tablecloth, various other vintages shakers in background.


People are creatures of habit and of doing things just because that’s the way they’re done. This is the only explanation for why we leave pie to the end of the meal instead of the more obvious choice of EATING IT FIRST. It’s just the way it’s done.

Unless it’s Blueberry pie because blueberry pie as you probably know is one of  The 4 True Pies all of which can be eaten before, during or after meals.

The other thing most of us do is put the salt in the shaker with the most amount of holes.  The pepper goes in the shaker with the fewer amount of holes.  That is the “rule”.

The Salt & Pepper Shaker Rule

Contemporary, white, sleek ceramic salt and pepper shakers.

Because we’re law abiding citizens and we like to follow rules to help maintain a balanced life and orderly society, we do this.  We follow the salt and pepper rule.

Well I am here to tell you right now that society is about to become unhinged. It might make more sense to break the salt and pepper rule. I know. Everybody calm down.

I broke all the rules when I went on record declaring I didn’t like the Instant Pot after testing it for a month

Here’s the reasoning behind my thumbing my nose at social norms for salt and pepper.   Pepper is bigger and lighter.  It has a harder time flowing out of the holes.  Salt is finer and heavier.  It has an easier time flowing out of holes.  So doesn’t it make sense to put the pepper in the shaker with more holes, and the salt in the shaker with fewer holes?

Yes.  I think it does.  It does make sense.

Overhead shot of pig shaped ceramic salt and pepper shakers on wood board sitting on bale of straw.


And before you start running for the bomb shelter and screaming through the streets, consider this.  I actually changed my salt and pepper shakers over 9 years ago.  And since then society has stayed pretty much the same.  Aside from … you know.

Of course I don’t really use my salt and pepper shakers.  I have the pepper grinder I turned myself  for all my pepper needs.

Scandinavian design pepper mill turned from wormy maple.


And for salt I keep it in a wood bowl and usually just use my fingers to grab some. Why yes, I *do* get salt under my every time I do this. 

Adding pinch of salt from fingers to oatmeal in copper pot.

I know about now you’re thinking about switching around your salt and pepper shakers but you’re worried.  What will people think of you?  What will happen at the next family dinner when people shake the salt and pepper comes flying out?  Nothing.  Nothing will happen.  Frankly their eyebrows will be so long they won’t be able to see which is which anyway.

Fun Facts About Salt

1. Until 100 years ago or so, pound bars of salt were the basic currency in Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia). Some say in very small regions it is still treated as currency.

2. In the early 1800s salt was 4 times as expensive as beef on the frontier – it was essential in keeping people and livestock alive.

3. Kosher salt is indeed, not kosher. It gets its name because the larger salt you know as kosher salt, is what was used when koshering (removing blood from) meat. Larger, salt crystals allowed the surface blood to be removed without absorbing into the meat. So kosher salt could be washed off without affecting the taste of the meat unlike a fine salt.

4. There are 32 references to salt in the bible, the first one being in The Book of Job.

5. Salt is poisonous.  But only when consumed in large quantities.  That’s why  in China it used to be a way of committing suicide.  And quite a reputable one at that. All the upper crust chose to commit suicide by salt because it was so expensive.  Even in a suicidal state there’s time for elitism.

6. One of the first known taxes in the world was issued in the year 2200 BC by the Chinese emperor Hsia Yu. He taxed salt.  Perhaps it was a way to cut down on suicides.

7. Throughout time, salt has typically been used as money. At one point it was known to trade at the same value as gold. So one ounce of salt was worth the same as an ounce of gold.

Fun Facts About Pepper

1.  Historically, pepper was also worth a lot of money, but my sense is that the pepper people are just trying to keep up with all the good salt stories.

2.  Andddd that about concludes the “interesting pepper facts”.


Not convinced by the salt and pepper rules? You can drill bigger holes into your shakers. Read my tutorial about it here.


The Salt & Pepper Rule


  1. Rachel says:

    I would venture to guess that the standard came about when salt was not ground so fine. I personally want my salt to come out faster than the pepper so I stick to tradition. :)

  2. Nola says:

    So, I just bought some new salt and pepper shakers and since my old shakers had the same amount of holes, I thought I would google it to see if there was any hard and fast rule to follow. Thus, I found your blog!

    My husband, who LOVES pepper, always complains about the way pepper shakes out, so I found a fine-ground pepper. But, he would probably love it if I put the lid with the most holes on the pepper. I think I will try this. Thanks!

    (And, I do keep my garbage can under the sink. But the next big question is – left side or right side? – I keep mine under the right, but I wonder which side is the prevalent or proper side to use – Is there a rule for that? lol)

    • Karen says:

      Welcome to The Art of Doing Stuff Nola! My sister renovated her kitchen a couple of years ago and now her garbage can is NOT under her sink where it should be. Every time I go there I open up the cupboard below the sink and throw my garbage in there anyway. Just to be contrary. ~ karen!

      • Joni says:

        I signed up for the news letter immediately after reading this. Also, I’m going to see if my rural community comes unglued at the seams when I switch the salt and pepper paradigm at my house. If you never hear from again you’ll know the answer…

  3. Dana Yealy says:

    I’m glad I looked this up as the holidays are coming up and this is a center of discussion or argument each get together…
    I guess I need to admit to being unbalanced as my garbage can is under my kitchen island.. I never could whisle and my salt and pepper are backwards… my mother will be glad to hear she was right… but I hate to say I’m not going to change them around

  4. Pookwoman says:

    Can’t fit a garbage can under my sink so I have to have a locked one in a corner (dogs). Can’t whistle at all, a failing that caused my father to be very disappointed. Even telling me I’d have pretty lips if I whistled. Now I think it would have led to more lines around my mouth. And as for salt and pepper, we use a grinder for each (pink Himalayan salt is terrific). However, we bought a pretty set to match my dishes and the question arose as to what to put where. This hasn’t helped very much but at least I have determined that it really doesn’t matter. I’ll just decide and tell my guests what’s where – if I can remember.

  5. Nana says:

    You live such a sheltered life! You really need to get out. I have 6 children. A garbage under the sink would only last a few hours and need emptied.

  6. Lucid Dreamer says:

    In 44 years I have only once seen salt in the shaker with the most holes. Salt is supposed to go in the shaker with fewer holes and pepper in the one with more holes. That’s just the way it is.

    • Elaine says:

      Hi Lucid Dreamer … I’m really curious as to where you live. I’m about Karen’s mother’s age and have never, EVER, seen Salt in the shaker with fewer holes!!! 😳. I guess I have to get out more! I agree, though, about using less salt and think I will make the big switch-over this week. As usual, Karen always turns an ordinary subject into an interesting discussion! That’s why she’s my favorite blogger.

      • Christine Hilton says:

        Oh thank God! I thought l was the only one! I thought 50 years ago people liked more salt on their food and pepper was for the adventurous.l switched it years ago because l am pretty wild.

  7. Margaret K. says:

    Some older salt and pepper sets have smaller holes, but more of them, in the salt shaker and fewer, but larger holes in the pepper shaker. We make do with a generic glass shaker for the salt and a grinder for the pepper.
    I don’t really like having garbage under the sink, and our trash container wouldn’t fit there anyway. But I can whistle.

  8. Gale says:

    No room under the sink for garbage. I guess I missed that rule…and I do like to follow the rules, so – salt in the shaker with the most holes…I’ve only recently decided I like pepper, and that is in a mill. I’ve always known I was “different”. I mean – “unique”.

  9. Brenda says:

    I had solved this problem by not purchasing salt/pepper shakers with different numbers of holes. For years I’ve preferred the clear ones so there’s no mistaking them. But today I accidentally purchased simple white ceramic ones, thinking they were quite functional, only to be derailed by the different-number-of-holes dilemma. An internet search for a definitive answer proved fruitless. I think I will fill them as I please, and if that becomes a problem I will revert back to the clear ones.

  10. Bonnie says:

    I’m with Leanne–trash can across the room from the sink, never been able to whistle. Accept us, we are on your planet to help you.

    Oh, I just got back from Korea where I was surprised to find that the salt was in the shaker with fewer holes. I thought I had found an interesting cultural difference, but I guess it was just common sense.

  11. Leanne says:

    My trash can is across the room from my sink. I have never been able to whistle. My pepper is in a grinder. Now what do I do? ;)

    • Karen says:

      Go back to whatever bizarro planet you’re *really* from! ~ karen p.s. Just a reminder that the site will be undergoing maintenance later this evening and you might not be able to access it.

  12. Diane says:

    Just discovered your blog, sent by a friend who loves the same things in life that I do.

    My poor husband is now trying to watch his weekly fix of western movies or ‘dusters’ as he likes to call them,(doesn’t make them anymore palatable)while I am forcing him to look at the things WE WILL BE BUILDING soon from your site. HE doesn’t like you as much as I do…

  13. sera says:

    Despite using both salt and pepper grinders, my husband just yesterday asked me why we don’t just have salt and pepper shakers. Well then, I guess he just requested that I GO BUY SOMETHING, woo hoo!
    And at this moment in time, our garbage is not under the kitchen sink because it is a large dual garbage, recycle bin with a foot pedal and a slow closing lid, and I have a separate foot petal bin for compost. Plus if it’s out of sight, it’s way too out of mind for my husband. Before we moved in together, he had piles of garbage that fell out and into the back of the under the sink. Ew.

  14. Valerie says:

    I use a grinder for my pepper and a little glass container for sea salt… the vintage owl shakers I have are apparently purely for decoration.

  15. kasia says:

    WOW! I actually, really, for all of my adult life, which is way over –, well nevermind that… No, really I thought salt went in the one with FEWER holes, because you should eat less salt, so this must be the correct one, in order to limit salt intake…

    I notice now that my shakers have holes with an S and P shape, so that certainly made that easier … but the S has LESS holes.

    • Karen says:

      Hmmmm. :) I think the world is moving towards “our” way of thinking and newer salt and pepper shakers work that way. They didn’t so much care about their salt intake in the olden days. They pretty much would have been pleased with a dinner of a salt lick in the olden days. ~ karen

    • Holly says:

      I’ve always done the same thing – for the past 40 years! More holes=pepper.

  16. liz says:

    I’ve always had mine that way and the reasoning was that I like a lot of pepper and we are supposed to be cutting down on our salt intake. That’s the only way I can keep it straight!

  17. Britt says:

    I’ve got a grinder for the pepper and a grinder for salt. I’m Australian though so maybe we’re just odd…

  18. Brigette says:

    This makes sense, but what are your dinner guest reactions? Outrage? Confusion? Are they the ones turning into slutty teenagers?

  19. Oh, and the trash compactor is about 25 years old. We got it when we got a garbage pickup service, because one garbage can wouldn’t hold all the trash that our kids generated. It’s also great for crushing aluminum cans, too!

  20. No, Karen, I don’t hunt! We just like to have a big dog in the yard, but NOT in the house! We live in the boonies, so a big dog is handy to have around for protection and to sound the alarm when someone comes over. Actually, they’re our grandson’s dogs. Our DD and grandson live on a busy highway, and the dogs live here so they won’t get run over!

    • Karen says:

      LOL! I only asked because my dad was a hunter and he had hound dogs he kept outside. He insisted since they were hunting dogs they’d rather be outside. I got angry at him every time he went hunting, but looking back on it there was no need. I can’t remember him ever actually hitting anything. LOL. ~ karen

  21. Stacey says:

    I could never remember which one pepper is supposed to go in. So, I put the pepper in the one with more holes because ‘pepper’ has more letters than ‘salt’.

    • Jasmine says:

      Lol!!!!! That’s exactly why I did it!!! Makes total sense, right? Then I had a discussion with my family members one night about which goes where because my hubby did not agree with how I had it set up, and they all agreed that I had it right. So, I asked them why they did it that way, and they said because you are supposed to use less salt, so use the one with fewer holes….it was way more logical than my reason…

  22. Emmy Jay says:

    This never comes up in our house: we have 3 grinders (1 each for black and multi-colored peppercorns, 1 for smoked sea salt) and a small covered ceramic pot with a little wooden spoon for regular salt. I think we have some ground white pepper in the spice cabinet that came in a shaker, but we pull the shaker top off when we use it and use a spoon. (a very *small* spoon — that stuff is wicked spicy!)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Emmy! That’s a lotta pepper! :) We have salt and pepper in shakers on the kitchen table, shakers and sometimes a cellar in the dining room and a multi coloured peppercorn grinder for cooking. Phew. I just can’t get the hang of those tiny spoons. The salt always ends up in a bit blog in the middle of my dish. :( ~ karen

    • Kate Budacki says:

      Oh Emmy, my kind of gal! I wonder how many kinds of vinegar you have. I use white, apple cider, white wine, red wine, malt, and a Japanese I cannot live without. Too many? No, I need them all, just like all those different salts. And my favorite salt shaker just has ONE hole one it.

  23. Karen O. says:

    Funny story… I got an adorable little piggie shaped salt and pepper set from my sister for Christmas. Then proceeded to have this exact discussion. I was reasoning the exact way that you were, that the pepper is larger and should go in the shaker with more holes because it’s harder to get out.

  24. Jacque says:

    Well… I am unbalanced… but my trash is under my kitchen sink. It used to set at the end of my counter by the laundry room, but the dog kept getting into it, so I put it the only place he couldn’t get to it… under the sink.

  25. Valerie says:

    I used to put raw rice in both shakers to keep everything shaking cleanly but found pop corn a better alternative. I once lived in a house that had a “compactor” for garbage and it was fabulous; particularly so as most garbage pick up restricts the number of bags. Of course the solitary bag containing the compacted garbage weighed about one ton.

  26. CJ says:

    So…um…what do you call it when you keep your salt in the laundry for preserving the colours of your handwashing?

    • Karen says:

      CJ – *shiver* Well that’s just frightening. I don’t even know what you’d call that. I’m wavering between socially maladjusted and ingenious. ~ karen

    • Elaine says:

      Hi CJ … I must Google that salt tip today and see if it works well on black clothing. My black t-shirts and tops, etc. fade SO darn fast and look old after just a few washings. I think I remember my Mum doing that salt trick way back in my youth – thanks for the reminder.

  27. Paula Raymond says:

    I must be super shifty – my trash isnt under the sink & my salt & pepper aren’t in any kind of shakers at all… OMG WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME!?!?!?!

  28. Bill Grigg says:

    Having always known I was unbalanced, it is a relief to find out it is due to my garbage can not being located under the kitchen sink!

    I have a set of LEGO shakers, and they have the same amount of holes, the black one is for pepper, and the salt is white, of course. However, I don’t use them. I have a salt dish so I can take a pinch or more at a time to sprinkle on my food. I’ve always found salt shakers were too liberal for my taste.

    Fresh ground pepper is the rule in my home, so no pepper shaker in use, either.

  29. I’ve always put my salt in the shaker with the fewest holes and the pepper in the shaker with the most holes, and thought everybody did it that way!
    I don’t keep my garbage can under the sink, either. Left-over food gets served to the outside dogs, and stuff they can’t/won’t eat goes in the garbage disposal. Trash goes in the trash compactor at the end of my kitchn cabinets.

    • Karen says:

      Peggy! O.K. You have outside dogs? You must hunt. And you have a bona fide trash compactor!! I’d love one of those. 2 garbage cans under my sink. One for “garbage”, one for compostable stuff that goes into green bin. ~ k!

  30. Visual Vamp says:

    And my garbage can is not under the sink, and I am not shifty. Quirky yes, shifty no. And I use salt cellars not salt shakers. Lord help me!
    xo xo

    • Karen says:

      Visual Vamp ~ Well … you’re hardly a good judge of whether you’re shifty or not. Shifty people never think they’re shifty! :) I know everyone uses salt cellars/pigs, but I’ve never liked them. I have some beautiful antique sterling cellars, but … I don’t like using my fingers ’cause the salt gets under my nails and sticks there, and I feel like I can’t control the little spoon enough to add the correct amount of salt. Basically I’m not coordinated enough to use salt cellars. Which is unfortunate. ~ karen!

  31. Evalyn says:

    Ever so slowly, the world comes around to my way of thinking. Makes me wish I’d started with something a little bigger than salt and pepper.

  32. Alyssa says:

    Or put in cinnamon and nutmeg to sprinkle your coffee with in the morning. We call them Pinnamon and Sutmeg. :)

  33. Joni N. says:

    Oh! You know what? While you’re at it, maybe you could enlighten us about the whole toilet paper thing. You know, over vs. under. ;o)

  34. Joni N. says:

    I love the way you think, lady.

    I’m completely unbalanced, for the record. I don’t even use a salt shaker. I keep my Kosher salt in a little dish. Also, I use a pepper mill so . . . I’m a rebel.

    Garbage under the sink is not just a Canadian thing; we do it here in the USA — at least I do.

  35. alh says:

    Weird, I always thought the salt was supposed to go in the shaker with fewer holes. That’s how it was done in my house growing up and that’s how I did it. You have now just solved one of the great arguments of my marriage. Who knew my husband was actually the normal one ;0

  36. Heather says:

    Garbage under the sink is kind of a Canadian thing, in my experience.

    • Judy says:

      It’s very American, as well.

    • SusanR says:

      I live in the US and I’m the only person I know or have known who doesn’t put their garbage under the sink. Under my sink are pipes only a mother pipe could love, twisting thither and yon. I think the person who put the pipes in had no clue what they were doing, and just bought an armful of pipes and made them fit somehow. Anyway, no room for a garbage can, so I have a larger can that’s at the end of a row of cabinets.

  37. Oona says:

    We keep our trash under the sink, but our recycling in a trash can next to the stove, does this make me partially unbalanced? Half-sketchy? I also don’t use salt and pepper shakers… I didn’t even have salt in the house until my fiance needed it for some kind of project. Hmm…

  38. MaryC says:

    I never understood the whole “shaker” deal anyway. I follow my Mum’s method. Pepper in a grinder and kosher salt in a little covered dish with a little spoon. Whenever I use a salt shaker I never know just how much is going to come out of that high-tech contraption!

  39. lori says:

    I too, must be out of my mind. My garbage can is not under the sink, no room. and it has to have the top that flips up not in. But on the other hand my mom has her’s under the sink.
    Whistling i am not very good at it,wish I was.
    As for the S&P mine have the same amount and size of holes,so I am good either way!!

  40. Shauna says:

    Well that explains it!! I knew someone had to be responsible for all the teens dressing sluttier…. Sorry Karen, but someone has to take the fall for this!!

  41. Lisa says:

    Too much salt is bad for you (and I’m pretty sure too much pepper is delicious!)so I have always switched my shakers. Only one person has ever noticed…my mother…

    • SmartAlex says:

      That’s the way I’ve always done it. You should have to work harder for your salt! This sometimes backfires on me at restaurants when the salt comes pouring out uninhibited.

  42. Caroline says:

    there’s not room for decent-sized trash can under my sink. but there is a highly convenient sliver of floor between the sink and the breakfast nook bench, just perfect for a tall skinny trash can! so there.

  43. Korrine says:

    I think it’s unbalanced to put the garbage under the sink! How can you dump garbage from plates and such if you are standing in front of the garbage? Mine is in the cupboard to the left of the sink and the dishwasher is to the right, creating a nice little assembly line. As for S&P, I am a grinder. Also, I have never been able to whistle. You can’t imagine the insecurity.

  44. Korrine says:

    I think it’s unbalanced to have the garbage under the sink! How can you dump garbage from plates and such if you are standing in front of the garbage? Mine is in the cupboard to the left of the sink, and the dishwasher is to the right, so I have a nice little assembly line going on. Also, I have never been able to whistle. You can’t imagine the insecurity.

  45. Chris Graham says:

    We’ve been in a recession for about two years haven’t we? Did the economy begin it’s spiral the morning after you made the switch? I’m not sure, but I will forward this to the proper authorities. You are playing with our lives, Karen. Just sayin’.

  46. KarenB says:

    Funny thing about that salt/pepper dilemma! I must have missed the home lesson on that subject as a kid, and always had salt in the one with the fewer holes. I subsequently had a “heated discussion” with a guest (an RCMP officer, who clearly was not packing heat at the time) about the wrongness of my condiment display. I looked it up, only to find out I was WRONG (and embarrassed). But, in protest and humiliation, I did not change! Thanks for the support/ammo…. now to find her email address!

  47. Rebecca says:

    I’ve never been able to remember which goes in which shaker, leading to many, “Aww dammit”s.
    My garbage is not under my sink. Whoever installed our sink and dishwasher went crazy with the pipes, so there’s no room under there. I swear it’s like that old screensaver with all the pipes.

    • Ali says:


      I have the same thing for both! I can’t remember which is which for the S&P, although I always thought the salt should be in the one with less because it comes out faster.. AND.. (and I get into arguements with my partner over this) AND.. too much salt is supposedly unhealthy for you, so why wouldn’t you use more pepper and less salt.

      And the only garbage can that would fit under my sink would be the size of a coffee can which I’d have to take out every time I threw something away. I don’t think I’m that unbalanced, but it really does bother me that my garbage isn’t under the sink!

  48. Sharon Woo says:

    Ok so I had no such notion that this S&P law existed. I have always put salt in the one with fewer holes because it pours so fast and you don’t need as much plus I love LOTS of pepper. I guess I never paid attention to the way others do it.

  49. Jamieson says:

    Not to refute your claims, but…
    1. My garbage is in a cupboard in my (non-sink) island. To be fair, I AM unbalanced.
    2. I like my pepper in a grinder and I try not to salt my food except during cooking.
    3. It’s true however that I HAVE been dressing more slutty since 2008.

    • Karen says:

      Jamieson – My boyfriend bought me my favourite pepper grinder from a crackhead having a “garage sale” on Queen Street. That is all.

    • Stephanie says:

      2008 was the yearI left toronto so I missed your slutty dressing. I would have hung around a bit had I known.

    • Tina says:

      When I had my house built )18 months ago), the design had a hollow corner area that just looks like an empty area. I stared at it for a while and thought about putting in book shelves but my cookbooks are all on my computer now. I finally put the dogs bowls in there and hung the dog food bins. But recently I glanced over there and thought “Trash Can!” It’s the perfect size spot and quite convenient. But then where would I put the dogs’ bowls?

    • Jamieson says:

      While we are updating… I open mail on the side of the envelope, not across the top. Much less tearing is required on that end, but do give it a tap on the counter first so the paper inside is all shifted to the other end. You’re also less likely to tear the contents because there is extra width provided by an envelope but no guarantees with height as the paper may have been folded less than perfectly in thirds!
      I don’t know if anyone suggested I do it that way, but I’ve been doing it for at least 30 years. As Little Edie said, SOMEBODY has to think of these things!

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      Oh gawd I have missed you and your wit. I almost asked where you were a while back when I thought your brand of snark was required to tame an unruly post about grades o’ maple syrup. But I restrained myself in case you and K had a fight and you left in a snit… 😏

  50. Connor says:

    Karen! No! The domestic gods shall smite thee and cast thee into the deepest hell: the shores of New Jersey!

    I generally use a mill for both, but next time I find occasion to stock a shaker I’ll have to try this.

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