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Do you need lots of ice in short order? A portable ice maker could be the perfect solution for you. Sure, you could spend a couple of days building up an ice supply in your freezer, but that’s a tedious process. You could buy commercial bags of ice, but transporting and storing them would be a hassle. Even your refrigerator's built-in ice maker imposes a time-consuming recovery period between productivity cycles.
A portable ice maker helps you create table-ready cubes in a matter of minutes. Most machines can store several pounds of ice at a time, and some can even recycle melted ice into new cubes.
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We never accept free products from manufacturers. Instead, we buy products off of store shelves, test them in our labs, consult experts, and examine feedback from product owners. After extensive consumer research, we identified five machines that provide a dependable ice flow in a quality package. They're the best on today's market, and we're confident that you'll find one on our list to suit your needs.
For the purposes of this shopping guide, we'll be discussing automated, portable ice makers — the type of machine that sits on your counter top and cranks out ice cubes, nuggets, or flakes on command. An ice cube tray could also be considered an “ice maker,” as could a built-in machine in your freezer, but we're not discussing those products here.
The ice makers recommended above require no external water line. Simply add water to the freezing chamber and turn on the machine. Inside the machine, metal probes connected to a heat exchange plunge into the water and freeze rapidly. Ice collects around these probes until it reaches a specific size. The excess water flows into the reservoir, and the heat exchanger reverses direction, prompting the metal probes to heat and release the cubes into an insulated compartment.
The cycle begins again when fresh water from the reservoir floods the freezing chamber and the metal probes revert to “freezing” mode.
Do you want an ice maker that creates 35 pounds of ice per day, or would you be satisfied with a machine that cranks out about eight ounces at a time?
If your goal is to make enough ice for a large party, a small-capacity machine with an eight-ounce output would necessitate frequent ice transfers to other containers. For some party hosts, that would be a nuisance. A large-capacity machine that makes 35 pounds of ice per day would require fewer ice transfers, if any.
When choosing an ice maker, pay attention to two numbers in particular — the amount of ice the machine can churn out in 24 hours and the amount of finished ice it can hold at one time.
Do you want a machine with handles that's lightweight and easy to ferry around? Or do you plan to create a permanent space for your ice maker on your counter top?
The truth is, not all “portable” ice makers are easy to move from one place to another. Before buying, be sure to investigate any “ease of transport” features that would make your life easier — or harder.
For example, models with compressor freezer technology tend to weigh 30 pounds or more. Generally speaking, they’re the heaviest on the market. Smaller units weigh less, but their output may lag behind the competition.
The typical ice maker creates hollow, conical cubes. If you'd like a specialty shape, like crushed ice, you'll need to make sure your chosen ice maker produces it.
The typical ice maker produces conical, bullet-shaped cubes with a hollow interior. This type of ice is perfectly acceptable for cooling beverages and packing food, but it lacks the clarity and density that some people prefer in their adult beverages.
More “adventurous” cube shapes and consistencies aren’t offered by every machine. They include the following:
Some machines are capable of making small, medium, and large cubes. Customer reviews of these machines are mixed. The freedom to create different sizes is certainly appealing, but some say the smallest cubes melt too fast and the difference between the medium and large cubes is negligible.
Consider whether you'd like your ice maker to have a permanent home on your countertop or if you're planning on moving it around when deciding which one to purchase.
How quickly do you need your cubes? Production cycle length varies from one machine to the next. Appliance A may churn out ice in six to seven minutes, whereas Appliance B may require 20 minutes or more to deliver its first batch.
We've learned through the course of our consumer research that stated ice production times don’t always match real-world results. Some smaller ice makers produce an initial batch of cubes within minutes but take a lot longer to make subsequent batches. Similarly, some larger machines take 15-20 minutes for the first batch but just a handful of minutes for subsequent batches.
We’re proud of the five products on our elite shortlist, but even the best appliances require a little know-how. Keep these tips in mind when using your ice maker.
Almost all portable ice maker storage bins are insulated but not refrigerated. This means that the cubes could melt and refreeze, creating one giant ice cube in the bin.
Q: I already have an ice maker in my freezer. Do I really need a portable one, too?
A: That depends on your personal circumstances. Those who entertain frequently may want to have extra ice on hand for party guests. You may find that in the summer it's practical to have an ice maker that you can bring outside with you on hot days. Travelers may want a way to produce their own ice while on the road. Fresh ice also becomes an important commodity during disaster relief operations in which perishable foods and medications need to be kept cool.
Q: What kind of maintenance is required?
A: Clean your appliance regularly to avoid the accumulation of mold or other allergens. Your owner manual should provide specific cleaning tips for your model. Remember, too, that the water tray must be emptied routinely to prevent ice cubes from freezing together and jamming your system.
Q: What's a reasonable price for an ice maker?
A: Cost runs the gamut from $100 to $500. In general, you can expect to pay $125 to $175 for an entry-level model, and $225 to $250 for a high-end ice maker.
Q: How much ice can I expect my new ice maker to produce each day?
A: It depends on the size and power of your machine. A few workhorse models can produce 35 pounds of ice per day, although the average production rate for most ice makers is closer to 20 pounds a day
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.