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You shouldn’t have to chase the ice cream truck or wait until warmer months to have creamy, delicious ice cream any time you want. If you’re a year-round ice cream fiend like I am, and your freezer’s already half-stacked with Ben and Jerry’s pints, it might be worthwhile to invest in an ice cream maker for your own home.
The best ice cream makers and machines will allow you to get consistently smooth, well-churned frozen treats at the drop of a hat. While it may not be the most versatile appliance in your kitchen, a lot of machines offer room for customization, and with settings that create different desserts like sorbets and gelato, plus temperature controls, speed settings—you can play around a lot with what’s possible. If you’re worried about precious counter space, there are compact ice cream makers too, that will fit right in to your kitchen, or at the very least, won’t be a pain to pull out of storage when you feel like whipping up a sundae.
Making your own ice cream from scratch can be a ton of fun, and you can reap all the tasty rewards with minimal effort by choosing the right machine for the job. But there are a lot of options these days that all do the basic job of freezing up cream and sugar, from electric, manual, stand mixer attachments, and even single-serve options that utilize your freezer. Here’s how to choose.
What Makes a Good Ice Cream Maker?
Having an ice cream machine lets you control the kinds of ingredients (and the fixins), try out fruit-filled gelatos and sorbets, and experiment with different creamy textures, all within the comfort of your own home. But they’re certainly an investment, so here’s what to keep in mind when looking for the best ice cream maker for you.
Size: Let’s get real: ice cream machines can be a pain when it comes to storage, with most clocking in at 12-15 inches wide and weighing 10-25 pounds. You might have to sacrifice some space in order to get the most quarts of ice cream possible, especially when it comes to larger, heavier compressor models. We know you probably won’t be enjoying a scoop every day, so find a machine that’s easier to store, or spring for a single-serve or attachment-style ice cream maker.
Freezing Method: It’s important to know exactly how your machine churns up what will eventually become ice cream. Some ice cream makers use a freezer bowl that needs to be pre-frozen before you can start churning, which can be inconvenient if you’re short on time. Compressor models can churn batch after batch without waiting to refreeze, but are bulkier and take up more space. There’s also model that utilize the good ol’ ice and salt method—but then it’s on you to buy the additional ice and the salt.
Settings: There are a lot of smart options and settings in newer ice cream makers: timers, settings for gelato, sorbet, or frozen yogurt, paddles, automatic shut-off functions, prefreezing bowls, etc. Most of the time, compressor-style ice cream makers will give you more control and options than other ice cream makers, but if you just want a quick bowl of frozen stuff, there are simpler models that will still yield smooth results.
Batch Amount and Size: Most ice cream makers produce 1-2 quarts (4 to 8 cups) of ice cream in a single batch, but there are models that can handle larger capacity of up to 4-6 quarts at a time. Unless you have a large family, or you’ll be serving up large batches for a party, there’s no need to spring for more than two quarts (most machines have a harder time scaling recipes down than up, anyways).
What Are the Best Ice Cream Makers?
So if you’re ready to get churning, here are our top picks for the best ice cream makers around.
1. Cuisinart ICE-60W
Cuisinart was in the electric ice cream maker game before many other companies, and it shows—their ICE-60W Cool Creations Ice Cream Maker is our top pick for its easy functionality, solid performance, and simple, yet useful, features.
You can whip up two quarts of ice cream per batch in just about 20 minutes, thanks in part, Cuisinart says, to their improved paddle compared to earlier models. While you won’t get a built-in automatic timer, we’d argue that you don’t necessarily need one. The control panel has a basic design, but we like the simplicity in having just a few buttons to control.
There are technically controls for the speed of the mixing paddle, which come in the form of the settings: ice cream, gelato, or sorbet. You can’t adjust the time manually on the ICE-60W, but we’ve found that the automatic presets for each option work just fine. When it’s done churning, the machine has an automatic shutoff function, too. The sorbet setting won’t over crystallize, and the gelato setting is silky-smooth.
The lid has an opening for free pouring in mix-ins (if you want not limit to the amount of chocolate chips you can add, and have no shame such as myself), but you also get a cup that pops out and can measure up to 1/2 cup of ingredients.
The ICE-60W’s only downside is that the two-quart freezer bowl needs to be refrigerated overnight for the best results, but we recommend just keeping it in your freezer until you get a sweet craving, if you have the space. Other than that, the ICE-60W is a top pick for its entry-level accessibility and sweet simplicity.
2. Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker
BEST SMART ICE CREAM MAKER
Breville’s Smart Scoop ice cream maker is jam-packed with enough features to satisfy everyone, from ice cream newbies to the most hardcore gelato aficionados.
The 1.5-quart ice cream machine boasts a LED display with 12 specific settings for texture and softness, including presets for ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and gelato. This allows you to have total, hands-on control of your frozen desserts, so you won’t end up with a vanilla ice cream that’s completely over-churned into butter, or a too-soft sorbet.
What we like: this is a compressor model, which, like we discussed before, freezes the ice cream while it churns. You won’t have to worry about refreezing the bowl in between batches with the Smart Scoop, so you it can delivery pint after pint with smooth consistency.
The Smart Scoop also has a pre-cool setting, which means your machine can start churning immediately, and a self-refrigerating design makes sure the temperature stays just right all the way through. If you want to make a big batch before a party, or save it until after dinner, a neat keep-cool setting means your ice cream will stay cold for up to three hours in the machine.
But all the bells and whistles come with a downside, which is its weight. At 30 pounds, this isn’t the easiest ice cream maker to move into storage. But the Smart Scoop gives you the ability to tweak your ice cream until its just right, and ensures you’ll get smooth results every time.
3. Nostalgia 4-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker
Nostalgia proves that there’s no school like the old school with their electric ice cream maker, churning out a whopping four quarts of ice cream with two key ingredients: ice and salt.
Yes, this bright and colorful old-fashioned machine uses ice to freeze the ice cream, but it gets a modern upgrade with its electric motor that does all the churning for you, so you don’t have to get an arm workout using a handheld crank to get your frozen treats. Simply pour your ice cream base into the aluminum canister, layer in the ice cream and salt, and let it go.
For easy portability, the machine has a carrying handle, and the motor locks into place as well. But with such a large capacity, this is really more for bigger ice cream batches than something that would stay on your kitchen counter. That being said, it works great for parties, or to take with you camping or to the beach.
The plastic bucket wipes down easily, so cleaning up is a breeze. The ice bucket also has a see-through lid, so you can use it as a storage container later for your leftover ice cream (and trust us, there will be plenty leftover). Reviews say it operates quickly, churning out ice cream in 20-30 minutes, but you can cut down on prep time by using of Nostalgia’s premade ice cream mixes.
It’s still pretty bulky, but this easy-to-use ice cream maker will can deliver party-sized batches of ice cream, and sometimes, that’s all you need.
4. Whynter ICM-201SB
BEST HIGH END PICK
The Whynter ICM-201SB is an absolute rockstar, the Cadillac of ice cream machines. It’s definitely a splurge, but it’s worth it if you want a powerful compressor freezer that won’t require pre-freezing the bowl, or using ice and salt.
The two-quart ice cream maker comes with three convenient modes on their LCD control panel: ice cream, cooling, and mixing. If you need to add some mix-ins, or check the consistency of your ice cream, we like that you can pause the cycle at any time, unlock other machines. The motor protection function also means it automatically turns off when the mixture becomes solid to prevent damage.
It’s also just super easy to clean with a removable bowl and churn blade, and a stainless steel exterior that wipes down nicely. Speaking of the exterior: if storage is your biggest problem, Whynter’s machine takes up surprisingly less space than other models, making it one of the most compact on our list (although it is taller than it is wide, so take that into consideration).
There’s a reliable, built-in timer, as well as a keep-cool mode that which switches on automatically when its down churning, to keep your ice cream from melting. From a brand known for its refrigerators and air conditioners, their ice cream machine is top notch, though we wish there was a little more versatility when it comes to the ice cream modes themselves. But if you want a durable ice cream maker that will be churning out consistently smooth ice cream for years to come, there’s no other choice.