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 (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
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
If you have a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, there's
a more affordable option: the (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
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 (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 (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 (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
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 (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 (Est. $25), which comes in the same
color options as the Zoku Ice Cream Maker. Another convenient offering is the (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 (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
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.