What the best ice cream maker has

  • Capacity. Gel-lined canisters, or freezer bowl models, typically have a smaller capacity (about 1 or 2 quarts) than old-fashioned models, which can churn out a gallon at a time.
  • Weight. Ice cream makers of different capacities range from about 6 pounds to as much as 13 pounds. If you don't plan to store the machine on the kitchen counter, consider how heavy the unit will be to lift from a cabinet.
  • Time per batch. Most home ice cream makers take between 20 and 40 minutes to churn soft serve ice cream. This does not include the time it takes to prepare the mix or the time it must be kept in the freezer to further firm up the dessert.
  • Warranty. The best ice cream makers come with at least a one-year warranty, while a handful have a three-year limited warranty.

Know before you go

Do you want to make ice cream on a whim? It takes some planning to make ice cream at home. If you are making a custard-based mix, you will need to factor in extra time to cook and cool the mix before putting it in the machine. In addition, owners of gel-canisters will need to store their bowls in the freezer for up to 24 hours.

What are your personal ice cream preferences? All home ice cream makers churn out ice cream that resembles some type of soft serve. Typically, you'll need to transfer the ice cream into plastic containers and put them in the freezer to firm up more. However, some machines make ice cream that doesn't really harden or can't handle add-ins. Make sure the machine you buy makes the ice cream you like.

How often do you make ice cream? If you make ice cream only occasionally or you are uncertain if you will like the process, a budget machine might be for you. However, consider purchasing a machine with a strong motor if you plan on using it heavily.

Do you want to make multiple flavors in one sitting? If you want a gel-canister type of model and want to make more than one flavor at a time, you'll need to purchase at least one additional freezer bowl. Alternatively, you can get an old-fashioned maker, which does not have a freezer bowl and can make as many consecutive batches as you want.

How much do you need to make? Machines with freezer bowls typically make between 1 and 2 quarts of ice cream, while old-fashioned makers churn out 4 quarts (a gallon) at a time. When looking at the machine's capacity, think about how much ice cream you eat in a sitting and how many people will be eating it.

Can your freezer accommodate a freezer bowl or two? If you have a small freezer or if your freezer is crammed with meats and frozen vegetables, you might not want a gel-lined canister taking up precious room.

Do you have an automatic ice maker? Old-fashioned ice cream makers need about two bags of ice for each batch of ice cream made. Owners with automatic ice makers will have an easier time meeting these machine's needs. But they will still need to store the ice until it's needed.

What is your "mess tolerance"? Old-fashioned makers churn out a gallon at a time, but some people find the salt and ice annoying to deal with.

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