Best Ice Cream Makers

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

82 Models Considered
31 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
232 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best ice cream makers

Last Updated August 2019

Ice cream is one of those rare childhood treats that we still get excited about. There are few things in life that are as satisfying as digging into a bowl of cold, creamy comfort. The only way it can get better is if you craft your own. It's not hard, but it is immensely rewarding. Especially with the right ice cream maker.

Choosing the best ice cream maker comes down to how hands-on you want to be, how much you want to make, and how patient you are. Old-fashioned, rock salt, ice, and hand-crank models produce creamy ice cream, but you'll have to work for it. Conversely, a modern unit allows you to toss in the ingredients and enjoy.

If already know which you prefer, we've spotlighted a number of the best models. All you need to do is click and wait for it to arrive. If you'd like more in-depth knowledge on the process, tips, and a recipe, continue reading.

How does an ice cream maker work?

To make ice cream, you need to slowly churn your chilled ingredients while simultaneously freezing them. The churning works plenty of air into the mixture — this gives the dessert its creamy, smooth texture — and the freezing, of course, is what defines ice cream.

You can make ice cream entirely by hand. Combine your ingredients in a bowl, place it in the freezer, remove to stir, return to freezer, take out and stir, place back in the freezer, and so on until the ice cream is done.

This is can be tedious, however. An ice cream maker greatly simplifies and speeds up the process.

Susan T.
Expert Consultant

Susan Sano Tuveson has been cooking for people for five decades. Educated in music, law, and languages, she left her legal practice to establish Cacao Chocolates in Kittery, Maine. A three-time Best of Seacoast New England winner, the shop was popular for its high-quality artisanal truffles flavored with unusual local ingredients.


Susan T.  |  Chef, Food Entrepeneur

Types of ice cream makers

There are three basic types of ice cream makers for use at home. There are a few specialty types as well.

Traditional ice cream maker

This is the old-fashioned ice cream maker you might remember from childhood. It’s a bucket that you fill with a mixture of rock salt and ice, which acts like a refrigerant to freeze the ice cream while you work. An inner container holds the ice cream ingredients.

Once you’ve added your ingredients, you crank the handle … and crank, and crank, and crank for half an hour or so until the ice cream sets. If you don’t want to give your arm such an intense workout, there are traditional ice cream machines with an electric churner to do the hard part for you.

Pros:

  • Traditional machines crank out a lot of super creamy ice cream, often a gallon or more per session, making them a good choice for a large family.
  • Nothing needs to be pre-frozen, and they are the least-expensive type of ice cream maker.
  • You can buy a good one for less than $50.


Cons:

  • You need to have plenty of rock salt and ice on hand, and these machines can be messy.
  • If you are using a manual machine, your arm is going to get very tired before the ice cream is done.

Frozen bowl ice cream maker

This is the most popular type of home ice cream maker today. After freezing the empty ingredient bowl overnight, you add your ingredients and place the bowl in the machine. The machine churns the ingredients until the ice cream is ready. There’s no fuss with rock salt and ice and far less mess to contend with.

On the downside, you can’t make ice cream on a whim; you need to freeze the bowl in advance. You can solve this problem by storing the bowl in the freezer between uses. Expect to spend $50 to $100 for a frozen bowl machine.

Pros:

  • There is no need for salt and no cranking by hand. Very little cleanup is required with a frozen bowl machine.
     

Cons:

  • You need to freeze the bowl in advance. These machines don’t crank out a lot of ice cream per session; most produce one to two quarts.

Usage

If a simple ice cream-making process appeals to you, few machines are more straightforward than the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence. Once the bowl has been frozen, just insert the big mixer blade, turn the large switch on the front to “on,” pour in your ingredients, and close the lid. Several owners have pointed out that it's fun and easy to involve your kids in the process with the Cuisinart. Notably, the bowl must be completely frozen beforehand. This needs to be done in your freezer and will take several hours at least, so you either need to plan in advance or store the bowl permanently in the freezer.

Compressor ice cream maker

These machines have their own built-in freezer, so there’s no need to pre-freeze any of the components. Just add your ingredients and flip the switch; the machine will take care of the rest.

Compressor ice cream makers tend to produce the creamiest results with the least risk of ice crystals or coarse texture, as they keep the ingredients consistently cold throughout the entire process. These machines generally have quite a few bells and whistles as well: digital countdown timers, “keep cool” functions, and various settings for different types of frozen desserts, such as sorbet, frozen yogurt, or gelato.

You’ll pay for the convenience of a compressor ice cream maker. Most quality models cost $200 or more. And you’ll typically only get one or two quarts of frozen goodness per session.

Pros:

  • With a compressor machine, you don’t have to pre-freeze anything in advance. The results are very creamy and smooth with minimal mess, and there’s no hand-cranking.


Cons:

  • These machines take up a lot of counter space. They are expensive.

KitchenAid ice cream bowl

If you own one of the popular KitchenAid mixers, you can buy an attachment that works as a frozen bowl ice cream maker. Freeze the bowl in advance, and then use your mixer’s blades to churn out two quarts of delicious ice cream.

Pros:

  • The KitchenAid Ice Cream Bowl is a great way to multitask if you already own a KitchenAid mixer. You won’t have to store an extra appliance.
     

Cons:

  • You have to pre-freeze the bowl. But if you already own a KitchenAid — and you really like ice cream — that’s the only con to this attachment.

Ice cream ball

This is basically an old-fashioned rock-salt-and-ice device, but instead of cranking by hand, you roll and play with the ice cream ball until your ice cream is ready. It’s a lot of fun for kids and a good way to keep them entertained on a camping trip or family night.

These quirky ice cream makers aren’t cheap, though. You’ll spend about the same amount you would for a frozen bowl machine.

Pros:

  • Ice cream balls are fun for kids. They require no electricity.
     

Cons:

  • These ice cream makers only produce about one pint of ice cream. They’re expensive for what is essentially a gadget. The ice cream isn’t nearly as smooth as that made by other types of machines.

Functionality

At first glance, the Breville Smart Scoop might seem overwhelming with its digital screen and dials. But the beauty of this clever machine is that it’s quick and easy if you’re in a hurry. And if you have more time, you can conduct endless experiments with it. There are lots of creative options here, but at its simplest, the Smart Scoop is fully automatic. Just add your chosen ingredients and let the Breville do the rest.

DID YOU KNOW?

On average, one scoop of vanilla ice cream contains 137 calories, while one scoop of chocolate ice cream contains 143.

DID YOU KNOW?

In order to avoid freezer burn on your ice cream, add a layer of plastic wrap between the lid and the ice cream.

Tips for making delicious ice cream

If you’re going to bother making your own ice cream, it makes sense to create the most delicious, creamy, frozen goodness possible. These tips will help you reach your ice cream goals.

Don’t rush

The ice cream “batter” needs to be really cold before starting the churning process. If you want good results, you’ll need to be patient.

Don’t skimp on quality

The best ice cream comes from the best ingredients. Use cream, not milk. Choose real vanilla, not imitation flavor.

Don’t worry about calories

What gives ice cream its creamy mouthfeel is milk fat, and plenty of it. So go ahead and use heavy cream, not half-and-half.

Mode of Operation

If you miss the good old days of hand-cranking your own ice cream, the Aroma Housewares 4-Quart Traditional Ice Cream Maker is a product to consider. You can choose between a traditional, manually powered crank and an electric mixing motor. Many users prefer to start with the hand crank and then attach the motor to finish the job. We have some concerns about the durability of the crank's plastic gears, but we do appreciate the Aroma's nostalgic outer bucket and overall design.

Fresh is best

You’ll enjoy the most delicious ice cream when you start with the freshest cream, eggs, and other ingredients.

Store it right

Shallow, wide containers are better than tall, fat containers for storing ice cream. It will stay softer and be less likely to develop ice crystals.

Add-ins go at the end

If you want to add fruit, nuts, chocolate chunks, coconut, or any other add-in to your ice cream, it should be folded in once the churning process is complete. And make sure to chop all add-ins into very small pieces.

EXPERT TIP

Always check and see how cold your ice cream maker is before putting in your mixture. If it’s not 100% frozen, your ice cream will suffer.


Susan T.  | Chef, Food Entrepeneur
EXPERT TIP

Look for an ice cream maker that can churn out quick ice cream if you're in a hurry; but it you have time and want to play around with ingredients, you can do that, too.


Susan T.  | Chef, Food Entrepeneur
EXPERT TIP

Don’t forget that water expands when frozen, and your ice cream will expand as well! Don’t load your machine up too full.


Staff  | BestReviews

Diversity

The Yonanas Frozen Healthy Dessert Maker doesn't actually make ice cream at all, at least not in the traditional sense. This machine uses a powerful motor/blade combination to emulsify frozen fruits (overripe bananas, strawberries, melon chunks) into guilt-free desserts with a soft-serve consistency. The machine is a bit noisy, and some owners confess that it's a challenge to clean. However, it's capable of producing a healthy frozen dessert without added sugar or dairy products.

Recipe for vanilla ice cream

It may be mocked as “plain vanilla,” but there’s a reason this flavor is the most popular choice for ice cream. It’s delicious on its own, yet it’s versatile enough to add sweetness to many other desserts.

Here’s how to make a basic (yet flavorful) vanilla ice cream at home.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

  • 2 ¼ cups whole milk

  • ¾ cup white sugar

  • 2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the cream, milk, and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot. Be careful not to let the ingredients boil.

  2. Pour the mixture into a storage container and stir in the vanilla extract.

  3. Freeze overnight.

  4. Scoop the batter into your ice cream machine and follow the machine’s standard procedure.

  5. Let the ice cream chill in the freezer for a couple of hours before digging in and enjoying. So good!

Instead of using add-ons like chocolate chips straight from bag, make your own so that you can prep them for ice cream. For example, making chocolate with extra canola oil will help keep them from hardening.

Tips for making delicious ice cream

  • Don’t overfill your ice cream machine, or it’s likely to overflow. A good rule of thumb is to fill it no more than two-thirds from the top.

  • Over-mixed ice cream is icy and rough. Let your machine get the ice cream to a just-done consistency, and then give the ice cream an hour or more in the freezer to finish the process. You’ll be rewarded with creamier dessert.

  • For the best texture, let ice cream sit at room temperature for five minutes before serving. And then use a wet spoon – not a warm one – to scoop out the sweet goodness.

  • If you’re using a frozen bowl machine, don’t skimp on the freezing time. A half-hour isn’t going to cut it. You need to leave the bowl in the freezer for several hours, preferably at least overnight. But for the very best results, freeze the bowl for 24 hours before making ice cream.

  • Once you have your ice cream ingredients in the bowl, start the mixing process immediately. Otherwise, your dessert is likely to freeze into a hard chunk of sweet ice.

  • The longer your ice cream is in the machine, the more likely it will develop ice crystals. As soon as your ice cream is done mixing, remove it from the machine.

The team that worked on this review
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