How To Select a Molcajete


Molcajete Styles and Stone Types

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the various styles of molcajetes available in the U.S. and Mexico.  This page should help clear up the confusion.

Basalt Stone
The first area of confusion is the type of stone used to carve molcajetes.  Most of the molcajetes seen in the U.S. are some form of basalt.  Depending on the region where the stone is mined the basalt can be very hard or it can be softer and more sandy.  The harder the stone, the better the molcajete.

We have seen some concrete molcajetes in the U.S. typically in Mexican grocery stores and in some of the more touristy shops in Tijuana.  This is not to imply that all Mexican grocery stores sell concrete molcajetes.  We have seen some with "speckled" painted on "texture" and others where you can see rough "mold" marks around the rim and legs.

Smooth VS Rough
All basalt stone used for molcajetes is "rough" but the carvers may smooth it out with machine tools.

Molcajete Styles
Molcajetes in the U.S. are typicallly either "plain" or with a pig head.  Occasionally you'll see other styles but rarely found in the U.S.  We have seen ram head molcajetes,  bulls, and even a Turkey.  The carving can be quite elaborate. 

Smooth Carved Molcajetes

These are the favorites of Rick Bayless.  They are carved using machine tools so they tend to look a little less traditional and more contemporary.  The stone is pretty hard and the interior of the bowls usually is left "rough" so you still have a good grinding surface.   This style molcajete has become pretty common in the U.S. as well as Mexico.

 smooth stone pig molcajete with painted trim

Smooth Stone Molcajete - No Pig Head

smooth stone molcajete plain style


Rough Carved Molcajetes

The typical rough carved molcajete is still hand carved without machine tools.  The stone is just a little harder than smoothed stone pieces.  This stone can vary in color from dark grey to a lighter tan color.  This is probably the most commonly found molcajete in Mexico.

 common rough stone molcajete

Other Molcajete Variations

See the additional images below for more molcajete variations.  

Other Stone Molcajetes

These are the least desirable molcajetes.  They are typically the least expensive and most sandy molcajetes.  Even proper seasoning will not stop "grit" from forming.  The molcajete from China looks very similar to the "rounded" style, common (sandy) molcajete but the stone is very hard like granite.  These can be found in Mexico and we have seen then in the U.S. as well. 

Molcajete Made In China

This molcajete is being produced in China. Although attempts have been made to sell these in Mexico they have not become popular.  The pieces are pretty easy to spot, the shape is off and the stone has flecks in it like granite (which it might be).

 molcajete made in china

Plastic Molcajetes

While plastic molcajetes are typically used in restaurants they can be useful at home as well.  We like the "grande" versions for holding chilled soft drinks.  Our favorite brand is made right in the U.S. by HS, Inc.

grande plastic molcajete

  • lave stone pig molcajete with turned up snout
  • Bull Molcajete
  • beautifully carved rooster molcajete with pestle
  • Turkey molcajete carved
  • Molcajete Pig With Compartment
  • lava stone pig molcajete with turned up nose
  • lava stone pig molcajete with pestle

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.