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Best Ice Cream Makers

By: Angela Stringfellow on June 20, 2017

Editor's note:
The Breville Smart Scoop BCI600XL is the best ice cream maker money can buy. Those who don't want to spend the big bucks on a home ice cream maker will love the $40 Nostalgia Electrics ICMP400. If you don't mind putting in some manual labor, the Zoku Ice Cream Maker is a simple, affordable option that you churn by hand.

Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker BCI600XL
Best Reviewed

Best ice cream maker

For convenient and consistently creamy ice cream, the Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker makes up to 1.5 quarts at a time, each batch taking about 29 minutes. Because there are no canisters to pre-freeze, you can make batch after batch without fail. It also has 12 hardness settings to make frozen treats just how you like them, plus a keep-cool setting that allows you to set it and forget it, keeping your dessert at the ideal temperature for up to three hours.

Buy for $399.35
Nostalgia Electrics ICMP400 Review
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Best value ice cream maker

For those who want to make larger batches of ice cream at a time, the Nostalgia Electrics makes up to four quarts. It has an electric motor, so there's no hand-cranking required, and it uses ice and rock salt rather than a gel-filled, pre-frozen canister. It's a top performer in professional testing, and is popular with owners as well. Users say it makes a batch in about 25 to 35 minutes in a soft-serve consistency; freezing it for a few hours will firm it up.

Zoku Ice Cream Maker Review
Best Reviewed

Best hand crank ice cream maker

The Zoku Ice Cream Maker is one of the simplest ice cream makers available, consisting of an inner bowl and a protective sleeve. It doesn't have a hand crank but instead comes with a spoon which is used to do the churning by hand. Users say the ingredients must be churned consistently for about 20 minutes for the best result, so it does require some elbow grease. The Zoku has a small capacity of five fluid ounces, perfect for a single serving.

Buy for $29.99

Ice cream on demand? Yes, please!

A good ice cream maker makes quick work of preparing cool treats from the comfort of your kitchen. The best ice cream makers are easy to use, produce consistently creamy, delicious frozen desserts and are easy to clean. Some are small enough for a single serving and store easily in kitchen cabinet. Others are large enough to make ice cream for a crowd, but take up more real estate.

Ice cream makers aren't a new invention; years ago, it was possible to make ice cream at home by filling a bucket-style machine with salt and ice and churning the ingredients with a hand crank until the mixture turned to ice cream. If you're looking for a nostalgic experience, these now-old-fashioned models are still available, or you can opt for a more modern version with an electric motor that does the hard work of churning for you. Other types have a gel-canister construction; they come with an inner bowl that must be frozen for up to 24 hours before use.

If you're willing to spend a bit more for the best ice cream makers available, self-refrigerating models equipped with an internal compressor are pricier -- they can cost several hundred dollars. However, the main benefit to these types is that they can produce batch after batch of ice cream with minimal prep (and no canisters to pre-freeze).

Breville leads the pack when only the best will do

If you're willing to pay more for that type of convenience, experts and users alike praise the Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker BCI600XL (Est. $320) for its ability to churn out batch after batch of ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato and sorbet with no canisters to pre-freeze. It takes about 29 minutes to make a batch and can make up to 1.5 quarts at a time. Both users and expert testers say it produces smooth, creamy ice cream, although testers in one professional roundup say they could detect a few tiny ice crystals in some sorbet and frozen yogurt samples.

Testers at TheSweethome.com also praise the Breville's versatility. It features 12 hardness settings, auto or manual operation (select a time between five and 180 minutes), and a keep-cool function that keeps your prepared frozen dessert at the perfect temperature for up to three hours. The Breville alerts you with a beep or musical tune (there's also a mute option if you don't want an audible alarm), when it's time to add mix-ins or when your dessert is ready, and the transparent lid is easily removed to add mix-ins like chopped nuts or candies at the optimal time to avoid over-mixing. Additionally, the Breville's control panel features a brightly lit LCD display and large buttons that make it simple for anyone to use.

On the downside, the Breville is a heavy machine – about 30 pounds – so it can be cumbersome to take in and out of a kitchen cabinet if you don't want to leave it out on the countertop. It's also pricey. At about $320, it's not the most expensive ice cream maker available, but it's more than some may want to spend on a kitchen gadget they may not use frequently.

A KitchenAid accessory turns your mixer into an ice cream maker

If you have a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, there's a more affordable option: the KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Stand Mixer Attachment KICA0WH (Est. $60) turns your existing KitchenAid mixer into an ice cream maker – meaning you don't need to purchase or store an entire dedicated appliance to make homemade ice cream. 

The KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment has a gel-filled canister that requires pre-freezing, so it requires a bit more pre-planning compared to the Breville. Editors at TheSweethome.com say it's the only gel-canister model they tested that performed consistently, and it produced the fluffiest ice cream among the 14 machines they tested with few detectable ice crystals. They attribute the airy, fluffy texture of the ice cream to the mixer's speed, which is faster than most ice cream makers even at the lowest setting.

Editors at one professional cooking magazine have a few gripes about ease of use with the KitchenAid ice cream accessory, noting difficulties attaching the two-part paddle design and challenges filling the bowl without spilling ingredients. Testers also say it's necessary to stop the mixer periodically to manually scrape the bowl or check the temperature, as the blades sometimes block the thermometer. Among thousands of users posting feedback to Amazon.com, however, most say it's simple to operate.

We did read a few comments suggesting that the ice cream is a bit too soft at first, requiring some time in the freezer to firm up. A few users also report leaking blue fluid out of the gel canister. The KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Stand Mixer Attachment can make up to two quarts of ice cream, sorbet or other frozen desserts in about 20 minutes.

Nostalgia Electrics makes an inexpensive alternative

Ice cream makers with built-in compressors are the most convenient but also the most expensive options. However, if you're willing to do a bit more work, you can get a good electric ice cream maker for less than $50. These budget models use either ice and rock salt (much like the old-fashioned, bucket-style ice cream makers) or a gel-filled canister instead of a compressor, coupled with an electric motor that does most of the manual labor by churning the ingredients.

Among these less-pricey ice cream makers, the Nostalgia Electrics ICMP400 (Est. $40) is a solid choice, experts say. Editors at TheSweethome.com say it takes a little more work that compressor models, and it doesn't produce the creamiest ice cream, but it's the top performer among the two models they tested requiring the old-fashioned salt and ice method.

The Nostalgia Electrics ICMP400 is fairly simple to use – simply layer the salt and ice around the interior of the canister (surrounding the bucket that holds the ingredients), and plug in the motor; no hand-cranking required. But, if you want to include any mix-ins, such as crushed candy or nuts, you'll need to remove the motor first and mix them in by hand. Hundreds of users posting feedback to Amazon.com praise the Nostalgia Electrics ICMP400 for its ease of use and large, four quart capacity (twice the capacity of the top-rated Breville). Owners say it takes about 25 to 35 minutes to create a soft-serve consistency, but placing prepared ice cream in the freezer for a few hours firms it up. Several owners suggest chilling the canister and bucket in the freezer for an hour or so before using this machine.

Another option for ice cream lovers on a budget is the Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker ICE-21 (Est. $50). This affordable ice cream maker wins out in one professional roundup conducted by a leading cooking magazine, beating out five other machines -- even slightly edging out the Breville Smart Scoop and other ice cream makers that cost hundreds of dollars -- for its compact, lightweight design and simple, single-button operation. Editors say it produces smooth and even-textured frozen desserts, but it didn't fare so well in tests at TheSweethome.com, where testers say the Cuisinart's ice cream tends to contain ice crystals. 

The Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker is also small compared to the Nostalgia Electrics with a 1.5-quart capacity, and the gel-canister bowls require pre-freezing and typically only make one batch; subsequent batches using the same canister tend to be runny. On the plus side, though, experts praise its built-in spout for adding mix-ins, such as chopped nuts, fruits, or candies, and it can also be used to make frozen drinks. The ICE-21 earns a great deal of positive feedback from thousands of users at Amazon.com. Owners say it takes between 15 and 30 minutes to make a batch of ice cream, although some suggest putting prepared ice cream in the freezer for several hours if you prefer your ice cream firmer.

The Cuisinart ICE-21 can be noisy, and users say you have to be careful not to overfill the bowl or you'll have a mess on your hands -- and, too many mix-ins can result an inconsistent texture. We also read a few complaints about units that malfunction due to locked-up gears or cracked canisters after a handful of uses, but the majority of reviewers say they love the simplicity of this ice cream maker and their taste buds are pleased with the results. It comes in three colors.

If you like the design of the Cuisinart but want a larger capacity, the Cuisinart Cool Creations Ice Cream Maker ICE-60W (Est. $100) is a larger version of this machine (with a 1.75-quart capacity), but also about four pounds heavier and two inches taller, making it more challenging to store. It comes in white or brushed chrome.

Hand-crank ice cream makers are simple and affordable

Manual ice cream makers are operated by a hand crank, or in some cases, a simple spoon for churning ingredients by hand; no electricity required. The original ice cream makers are of this variety, using a layer of ice and rock salt around an inner canister containing the ingredients, which are then churned by hand. Many hand-crank ice cream makers now have replaced the ice and rock salt with gel-filled canisters, which are designed to be easier and more convenient but must be frozen for several hours to 12 or more hours before use.

Editors at CountryLiving.com recommend the Zoku Ice Cream Maker (Est. $30), a fun-looking bowl design consisting of a stainless-steel bowl and a protective sleeve that comes with a spoon. It comes in five colors: blue, green, orange, purple and red, and it's BPA- and phthalate-free.

It couldn't be simpler to operate the Zoku ice cream maker -- after freezing the inner bowl for at least 12 hours (no ice or rock salt needed), simply pour in your ice cream mix, churn and scrape the bowl, and watch the mixture turn into a frozen dessert in about 10 minutes for soft-serve consistency. For hard ice cream, the inner bowl can be placed in the freezer for an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Users posting feedback to Amazon.com say that it does require some elbow grease, with constant churning and scraping for a full 10 to 20 minutes for the best results.

The Zoku has a capacity of five fluid ounces, but some users suggest only filling the bowl about halfway to avoid spilling ingredients while mixing, unless you're a careful, meticulous stirrer. In addition to ice cream, it can be used to make frozen yogurt, gelato, and granitas, but its small capacity means you'll need more than one bowl to make more than a single serving. The Zoku is not dishwasher-safe but can easily be washed by hand with warm water and mild soap, and it takes up about the same amount of space as a cereal bowl, so it's easy to store in a kitchen cabinet. For frozen drinks, such as slushes and shakes, Zoku also makes the Zoku Slush and Shake Maker (Est. $25), which comes in the same color options as the Zoku Ice Cream Maker. Another convenient offering is the Zoku Iced Coffee Maker (Est. $30), a travel mug for an iced beverage on the go available in black, red, purple and blue. (We cover standard travel mugs in a separate report.)

The Donvier Manual Ice Cream Maker (Est. $70) costs more than three times as much as the Zoku (and more than some electric ice cream makers) but makes up to one quart of ice cream in about 15 to 20 minutes. It has a hand-crank design, meaning a built-in handle that you turn manually to stir the ingredients. It also has a gel canister that must be frozen for at least seven hours before use, although users say you can freeze it for just one hour after the first use to use the same canister for a subsequent batch.

The Donvier has a transparent top so you can watch your ingredients turn into a frozen dessert. However, users say the transparent lid can be a bit tricky to snap in place. They suggest attaching it prior to pouring in the ingredients, otherwise, the mixture can start freezing while you're trying to secure the lid, then it's necessary to scrape the sides before turning the hand crank. Unlike the Zoku, the Donvier doesn't require continuous churning – just a few turns every two minutes or so – so it requires less elbow grease to operate. A few users say the hand crank seems a little flimsy, and it sometimes comes loose if you turn it too quickly. Mostly, though, the dozens of owners reviewing this ice cream maker say it makes great-tasting ice cream in a short time, is easy to clean and compact for easy storage.

Expert & User Review Sources

We consulted thorough, hands-on ice cream maker comparison tests from TheSweethome.com and Cook's Illustrated, as well as a professional review of ice cream makers at CountryLiving.com. We found the most detailed feedback from owners at Amazon.com, where users report on real-world durability, ease of use and performance, and we also analyzed owner feedback on Walmart.com and Target.com, which also sell many popular ice cream models. We found the most reviews at Amazon.com, where some models have received feedback from thousands of users.

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