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. CathyR says:

    I take more of a first grade approach: salt has fewer letters, goes in the one with fewer holes. Is your turned grinder ambrosia maple? It looks like the dining table my Fella made with a bench soon to be finished.

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      Funny you should mention the grinder, I was thinking the same thing! And a fun fact about ambrosia maple, it’s real name is wormy maple but that doesn’t sound nearly so nice, especially when my fella makes cheese boards for gifts lol. It would be stunning in a table, lucky you!

  2. Garth Wunsch says:

    Perhaps the salt was historically placed in the shaker with more and larger holes because REAL salt… from the sea, is damp, and doesn’t run so freely as “free running salt” does today… but that salt is DEAD, having been heated to 1200ºF to purify and denature it. And of course alst should be in a salt cellar… how else could one get a “pinch of salt” for their recipe… have you ever tried getting a pinch of salt out of shaker? So once again… you’re right… if you’re not going to use a pepper mill, put the pepper where it belongs.. in the big-holed shaker. P.S. I love pepper!

  3. Julie says:

    I have thrown away all conventions and I have a pepper and a salt grinder!!! I’m fancy like that. (And a wee pot by the stove for “finger sprinkling”)

  4. billy sharpstick says:

    Pepper in a shaker is just wrong, it get’s stale and loses it’s flavor. I have matching white grinders. I need to be able to grab the right one easily, so I wrapped a wide red rubber band around the pepper one. We also have a salt bowl. (Pros will hold their hand way up high over the food when salting to distribute it better).
    We also have a cylindrical salt container that has kosher salt. I used whiteout to put matching marks on the top rim and rotating top to locate the right position. (Black felt pen on shakers with white tops)

  5. Maria says:

    I learned this week that Job and Abraham lived at about the same time even though they are miles apart in the Bible, Abraham being in the first book and Job being near the end. So yes, Job is one of the first references to salt in the Bible.

    Hey don’t argue with me. Go find a biblical scholar.

  6. Deb says:

    Oh, by the way, order the strawberries

  7. Deb says:

    Karen, I don’t know where you found this rule. My mother, who died at the age of 87 ALWAYS told me that the salt goes in the shaker with the lesser amount of holes, that way you could control the amount of salt with greater ease. I also have S &P shakers that have Salt and Pepper on them. The salt has 2 holes the pepper has 3. Anyway, pie is to be eaten at anytime, for breakfast, many times, on the way for morning chores, more times than I can count and for supper.
    Love the blog, keep up the good work.

  8. Lavada says:

    For 30+ years any of my shakers have salt in them and I use a grinder for my pepper.

  9. LOIS M BARON says:

    All my salt and pepper problems were solved when my husband bought me a set of Peugot salt and pepper grinders. The same people that make high-falutin’ sports cars! They give four different grind sizes and don’t leave grit on my tablecloth. I love sets of ceramic S&P sets, but mine are all decorative.

  10. Loveday says:

    Here in the UK, we have always used few holes for salt, lots of holes for pepper!

    • Sue says:

      That is very true, indeed often a salt pot only had one slightly larger hole compared with several holes on the pepper pot. Times they are a changing though, and mini table grinders are increasingly popular – I just prefer to be able to quickly shake my seasoning.

  11. Mark says:

    My mother always put the pepper in the shaker with the most holes. Always. And she turned 92 last year so that has been a “while”…

  12. David Symons says:

    Salt goes in the one with fewest holes. No need for argument, just look on EBAY and the purpose made all-in-one pots with salt imprinted have 2 holes and the pepper ones have 3. No need for thanks, all British people have always known this.

  13. Bryan Vekovius says:

    I also came to the conclusion pepper needs to be in the one with most holes and salt in the one with the least but from a different perspective. Time. I just made the observation that I spend a lot more time shaking the pepper than the salt, so I’m glad you made this observation as well. I’m in!!

  14. Brian says:

    Bah, what’s this one-hole, three-hole thing? There are 13 holes on my salt AND pepper shakers. Old school glass shakers with a tin top. No debate, no need to choose and make one spice feel inferior to the other. :) Love my salt, love my pepper. Fun read and discussion though.

  15. Laurie says:

    THEN WHY DOES THE BLACK PIG, WHICH YOU WOULD ASSOCIATE WITH PEPPER, HAVE THREE HOLES AND THE WHITE PIG TWO?! This is the same problem I’ve encountered with my kitty cat salt and pepper shakers!

  16. Heather Phillips says:

    apparently that is the correct way according to the salt and pepper shaker museum. for real.
    There is even a trick to remembering —pepper has 3 Ps. Three holes. So salt gets the single hole.

  17. Bonnie Maloy says:

    What really pisses me off is that I actually had to look up which goes in which!
    Thanks for the chuckle and info!!

  18. Cussot says:

    I do the salt with my fingers deal because I have bowls of fine and coarse salt at hand. No pepper shaker. I don’t even like ground pepper particularly – I crack peppercorns with my cook’s knife when I want some. And I have a compost bucket under the sink. Not earth-shattering, but there you have it.

    What I really wanted to say was prompted by your last photo. Today I threw some leftover ratatouille on a bowl of steel cut oats. SO good.

  19. Yabut says:

    Here I am, one of those unbalanced, shifty types that not only doesn’t keep the kitchen garbage under the sink, I don’t even have a lid on it. You can see what’s in there without lifting a lid whether you want to or not. These days that probably proves I’m unbalanced. But hey, I can launch egg shells and banana peels and a myriad of other things from just about anywhere in my kitchen and hit that trash bucket without walking over to it. Okay, so I’ve had over 40 years of experience in that kitchen so no wonder I know the range.
    As for the salt and pepper shakers I’ll keep the salt in the one with the most holes as I’m an admitted saltaholic and I’ll get my fix faster with more holes. The pepper shaker seldom makes it to the table and the grinder is by the stove. I do have a container of salt for cooking though that I tend to sprinkle with my fingers, like you do. I’m not totally unbalanced just yet but my son says I’m well on the way!

  20. Danielle says:

    I’ve never thought about the salt and pepper rule, as I think my shakers have always been clearly marked. I only put them out these days when we have company for dinner as we also only season when cooking and use the grinder and bowl.

    We actually have a garbage bin with a lid in our kitchen these days. I had hoped that making it visible would encourage my spouse to throw away his wrappers (it hasn’t).

  21. Gaeyl says:

    I take my garbage out daily so it sits in its newspaper lined paper bag . To the left of my sink. I won’t forget it there. My salt & pepper each have their own pottery dish I like the feel of them between my fingers and know exactly what’s been seasoned anyone else may Season to their liking.

  22. Benjamin says:

    Oh o now we’re slut shaming all the crackhead queens in New Jersey hell? Good, I came to the right place.

  23. Ev Wilcox says:

    I used to be able to whistle, but now I fear that my “teeth” would shoot across the room!
    And as far as S & P: I am truly amazed that this many of your readers chose to reply on this subject! I buy coarse ground pepper in two shakers that have their own rules, and a clear glass shaker for salt (two, actually-one at the stove, one on the dining room table, same as the pepper). The salt one has about 20 holes in it. Sigh….I have enough messes to deal with-can’t imagine the S & P granules that would fly all over the place if my spouse and our son used grinders! Obviously a great subject Karen. Well done!

  24. Kathy Parker says:

    I don’t want to add to the confusion but here in the UK we normally have one hole in our salt shakers and many holes in our pepper shakers

  25. Julie says:

    I just grind both. I’m ultra lazy!

  26. Laura Lee says:

    Ummmm…I’m no “foodie” and NEVER go by rules, so that being said, I have always done the pepper in the 3 holes and for some strange reason that that was “normal” and logical to me. I have to confess though I rarely have salt and pepper shakers on my table…(only when gutsy guests come like once or twice a year to see what weird things I’m up to) so I have the BIG Himalayan Salt shaker and pepper grinder on the table, no need for the tiny, nice looking ones to disturb the chaos on my kitchen table. ;-)

  27. Agnes says:

    Ok, the librarian in me could not resist researching this. And… the answer is, there’s no rule, and ‘it depends’!
    One could not get a more definitive answer than from the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (who knew there was such a place!).
    Meanwhile – in my family the salt was always in the one-hole shaker. Now, I use a grinder anyway so any shaker will do for salt.

  28. Megan says:

    Maybe it’s because I am a lefty and I am unbalanced anyways but no my trash doesn’t ever and hasn’t ever fit under the sink and the dog thanks me for my contributions to her afternoon snacks. My salt is a large flake kosher salt and won’t ever and hasn’t ever fit in a salt shaker so it sits in my my bamboo salt cellar. And lastly my pepper is bought as whole peppercorns and ground when I need it. Welcome to my world Alice!

  29. MindyK says:

    That…makes so much sense. Now I have to go home and switch my salt and pepper.

    I actually hoped this was going to solve a long-running family debate. My former mother-in-law insists on passing the salt and pepper together at the table. You ask for the salt, you get both. So now we all do it. I was hoping you were going to explain why this is a rule and that only heathens pass them separately–or come up with some reason it’s weird to pass them together and free me from 20-some years of condiment bondage. Either is fine. Please.

    PS: My trashcan is too big to fit under the sink, so I keep the recycling there instead. Neatly labeled “recycling” with sticky letters so no one mistakenly puts trash there!

  30. Nicole says:

    I have multiple grinders – big ones for cooking and daintier ones that go on the table (yes, they make them – I found mine in a clearance aisle somewhere, I think). I had a really cool grinder that dispensed both salt and pepper, depending on which way you turned it, but it seems to have wandered off somewhere.

    If you put your trash under the sink, you can’t use a foot-pedal style can, and I like those for the hands-free-ness. Who wants to touch the icky garbage lid? Plus, I feel like the under-the-sink trash containers are made to take bags the size of grocery bags, and I prefer to use those “kitchen trash” sized bags and only take it to the curb once or twice a week (unless it’s stinky).

  31. Magali says:

    My parents taught me when I was a kid that the salt goes in the one with the fewer holes because it pours out faster. So today you have boggled me by letting me know that people think it should be the other way around!

  32. Jenny says:

    We use s&p shakers with metal tops specifically so my husband can use his drill to increase the size of the holes on the pepper shaker. He and his dad use a TON of pepper and don’t have the patience to shake-a-shake-a-shake-a for the entire two minutes it would take for them to get all the pepper they want. ^_^

  33. Lez says:

    This must be a strangely Canadian/American thing. I have NEVER seen salt in a shaker with more holes than the pepper! If you look in any restaurant, the salt is usually the one with only 1 hole! In the UK & South Africa anyway… So this is one problem I don’t ever have to worry about Karen! Thanks!

  34. Em says:

    Best post ever. :) Thank you! Brought a smile to my face this morning.

  35. Thera says:

    5 kids and garbage is still under the sink, with recycling it takes too long to fill a big garbage can and by the time it is full it’s really stinky, small bag means it’s taken out every couple of days.

    Now here’s the kicker, not very keen on pepper, it goes in the one with less holes in the shakers on the table, but I do use fresh ground pepper in my cooking so it stays by the stove with a salt shaker. It does not lead to extra salting, just a wee shake and potatoes and eggs are generally the only thing the salt on the table is used for.
    How’s that for unbalanced!

  36. Susan W says:

    I’m from the UK and we ALWAYS put the pepper in the one with many holes. The salt shakers have only one hole so there isn’t too much coming out. It gets really confusing on holiday abroad as everyone else seems to do it the other way round. Now I shake one on my hand to see which is which. Which resulted in a giant salt mound when I was in a hotel which had salt in both …

  37. Sally says:

    The salt categorically belongs in a single-holed cellar if one is not using a flaked version. Ready-ground pepper should not be a thing – pepper mills only. That is all!

    (No rubbish kept under the sink here!)

  38. Lisa says:

    Unhinged down under. Oh dear – my garbage bin is not in the cupboard under the sink – but in front of the dish drainer – next to the sink. It won’t fit under the sink as I have a split recycling/rubbish type bin. Also…… I don’t want to scare the huntsman (Harry) that lives under the sink by opening that cupboard too much. Huntsman Harry eats any cockroaches that venture into that cupboard – so he’s a keeper. I have a salt and a pepper grinder – so no holes. But…would go with your rule any day as prefer pepper over salt. :-)

    • kddomingue says:

      My curiosity is aroused…..what kind of creature is this Harry the Huntsman you speak of and where might I acquire one (or more) for my very own? I live next to a field and swath of trees and have more than my share of tree roaches that like to come visit. They just give me the icks but cause every other female of my acquaintance to shriek at ear splitting volume and dance around spastically like they’ve just been poked with a cattle prod! My ears are still ringing from the performance that my daughter and her best friend put on the other night!

      • Lisa says:

        You started my day with smile. Thank you. Harry the Huntsman is a spider that can get to about the size of a hand. They are quite hairy (so Harry the Hairy Huntsman) and scuttle about (very fast) to get their pray; they don’t seem to jump. Totally harmless (unusual for Australia – not EVERYTHING is trying to kill us – well except drop bears). Great at catching and eating roaches and they eat other spiders and small geckoes as well. Daddy Longlegs are just as they sound – tiny body – enormous legs – they are keepers too – as they eat Redback Spiders and the little german cockroaches. Keep these guys around and you’ll be roach free. Harry the Huntsman does sometimes end up in my shower in the morning – so onto a towel and back into the kitchen with him. Good luck with the screaming! :-)

  39. Susan says:

    OOh my goodness. I have always done it that way. I thought it was supposed to be that way because the salt came out so fast and pepper didn’t. Silly me. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because people will always sprinkle some in their hand to see which it is.

  40. CathyR says:

    Salt has fewer letters than pepper so it goes in the one with fewer holes. Besides, you don’t need a lot of salt in your diet.
    I change my S&P shakers seasonally. My piggies are white but sport red checked bandanas.
    Garbage is out in open next to dishwasher, storage space is at a premium in this old house.

  41. kddomingue says:

    Trashcan under the sink? Nope. Not for decades now have I had a trashcan under the sink. Not since the day back in the summer of 1982 ( a hot, sweltering summer down here in coastal Louisiana) when I bent down to wipe up what I thought was rice that had missed the very full trashcan under the sink and had landed on the floor. Imagine my surprise when the rice MOVED. Maggots! I had MAGGOTS under my kitchen sink! Well, I proceeded to have myself a good old case of the screaming meemies interspersed with much gagging and retching as I tried not to throw up on top of the maggots thus taking the maggot mess to a whole ‘nother level of awfulness. God almighty! I still have the occasional nightmare about that day! So. My trashcan lives out in the great wide open so there can be NO EXCUSE for not noticing that it’s full and starting to ferment! (shudders) (shudders some more)

  42. KiwiKat says:

    I’m wondering if it’s a North American thing, as in New Zealand, I was always taught that salt goes in the shaker with the lower number of holes (because it pours quickly) and pepper goes in the other…I have 2 clear grinders that I use for my salt and pepper, so it doesn’t apply in my kitchen, but in restaurants here, it does.
    (Oh, and my rubbish bag hangs from my pantry door, as there isn’t room for a rubbish bag or bin under my sink.)

  43. Jane Baker says:

    Well doesn’t that just frost my pumpernickel??!!
    Here all these years I’ve been putting my salt in the shaker with the least number or the smallest holes and my pepper in the shaker with the larger or more holes and I’ve been doing it wrong? I could have been a REBEL and worn a snappy beret like Che Guevara, or white shoes after Labor Day, and I didn’t know it???

    I’ve just joined your remarkable club, Karen and received this lovely email indicating you might actually have a parade for me and now I believe you have ruined my life! The life I’ve only just found out I’ve missed out on…. I shall go buy a Harley Davidson and leather thigh high boots right away!

    On another note, I’ve just finished gutting and rebuilding my kitchen, (although admittedly it’s not quite done. I’m trying to get the damned counter tops in but they’re fighting back and I still have some custom cabinets to build) and was forced to have the garbage on the floor in the kitchen. While hard to get used to I wouldn’t have minded that too much except I kept finding my used floss on the floor and one day after finding what had been a full bean can of congealed bacon fat emptied of its contents, I finally realized WHY the doggy bag contents had been so unattractive every time I took the teen-aged dog for a walk. I’ve recently installed one of those handy dandy pull out recycling thingies containing my garbage can under the sink and I must admit, my world is much more comfortable for it. Especially the walking the dog and cleaning up after him part…..

  44. We had company for dinner last night. The husband banged on the bottom of the pepper shaker, more times than I could count, over his plate. It’s time.
    P.S. My garbage can is NOT under the sink in the new house, much to my dismay.

    • Karen says:

      I could not live that way. Under the sink is where the garbage goes. You are made of steel Mindy. Made of steel. ~ karen!

  45. Cyg says:

    All this talk of Salt-N-Pepa, but not a word about Spinderella. That girl’s going to develop a complex.

  46. Wendi says:

    I’ve always put the pepper in the one with more holes, and for the same reasons that you stated here. I didn’t even know I was breaking the salt & pepper law until just now when I read your blog! Whoa…what else am I doing wrong???

  47. Paula says:

    Makes sense to me. I have always had the salt in the one with the least amount of holes, now I know why everyone always gets it backwards!
    I don’t really use them anymore either, as I have one of those push button pepper grinders and I love it! Who doesn’t prefer freshly ground pepper?

  48. Katie Schneider says:

    Vaguely related question. Where can i get new toppers for my vintage/antique s & p shakers? I have a pair of fostoria shakers from my grandmother that are completrly missing them and a pair of milk glass shakers that have flaking tops… i’ve done some basic googling and am SOL.

    • Karen says:

      I’d go to flea markets Katie. Or thrift stores. Then you’ll probably have to buy a set of S & Ps, and just use the tops from them. You can get vintage salt and pepper shakers for as little as $5. ~ karen!

  49. Katherine Canon says:

    Easy. My salt one or two holes and pepper has very least three holes. I like more pepper than salt and my husband likes lots of salt at little pepper. Since I’m the one cooking he will just have to deal with it.

  50. Susan Larussi says:

    How did I manage to get to age 65 without knowing there was a rule for salt and pepper shakers. It was only today I wanted to know because I began to collecting vintage salt and pepper sets this past year. As for my trash I have never stored it under the sink, and it sits in the corner of my kitchen for all to admire. Thus, the reason I buy attractive brightly colored ones. My current container is a bright red which I hope influences the kids to use it. Despite the passage of time my slutty gene remains as I never gave up wearing my slutty garments as it was practical to do so. When you are short you will buy the mini’s because anything else will be too long. As for whistling I am inept for try as I might I have never managed the skill and couldn’t begin to explain why. Same thing for typing which I never managed past the hunt and peck stage. I was forever grateful for the emergence of computers and word processing software as my letters were always messy looking with more whiteout than one could imagine. I don’t have cats, but I have always wondered why we can’t teach dogs to use a litter box.

    • Karen says:

      Well clearly you’ve been leading a sheltered life! Not knowing your salt from your pepper. Sheesh. And mini skirts! What must your neighbours think. ;) ~ karen!

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