Best for Most People
: 1.5 Quarts | Style
: Freezer Bowl
Small storage footprint
Can only make one batch at a time
The ICE-21 is one of our favorite ice cream makers and we think it is the best bet for most people. This model only took about 15 minutes to make excellent ice cream and particularly delectable gelato. The ICE-21 doesn't take up a ton of countertop space and — even better — comes at a relatively reasonable price. This appliance is also exceptionally easy to use and makes cleanup a breeze.
However, the ICE-21 is a freezer bowl style machine, meaning that you do need to pre-freeze the bowl for at least 8 hours and pre-cool them before use and you can't make different batches of ice cream back-to-back. The ice cream produced is very creamy, but is also a bit on the softer side, melting much quicker than the compressor models. We found we usually could remedy this by putting the finished ice cream back in the freezer for a bit. You also have to wait until the bowl is completely thawed naturally before cleaning, as hot water can damage the fluid inside and room temperature or cold water will immediately freeze to the bowl when washing. Regardless, this is still our favorite ice cream maker and is a great option for someone who likes to make small amounts of homemade ice cream on an occasional or semi-regular basis.
Best Compressor Model
: 2.1 Quarts | Style
No need to pre-freeze the bowl
Produced excellent Gelato-style ice cream
Our favorite when it came to compressor machines, the Whynter ICM-200LS is another excellent product. This machine is much larger than the ICE-21, but it does have a big advantage over the Cuisinart ICE-21. The Whynter is a compressor model, meaning that you simply add the ingredients and the machine does all the work — no pre-freezing necessary! It isn't even necessary to precool the ingredients, though this will reduce the time. This model created excellent ice cream after about 35 minutes of churning. It is a little more complicated to use than the freezer bowl ones, as you can adjust various settings and set a timer, but it is much easier to clean. The bowl is smaller and more manageable and can be cleaned immediately — no need to wait for it to thaw. Even better, you can clean out the bowl and move right on to making a second batch — after you wait the manufacturer's recommended 10 minutes to allow the motor to cool off, of course.
Unfortunately, this appliance is decently large and on the more expensive side, meaning you should really think about how often you will actually make ice cream when considering if the Whynter is worth the investment in countertop real estate and cost. Additionally, we weren't too impressed with the overall build quality of this product, as the first one we ordered arrived broken and leaking, forcing us to exchange it immediately. However, the Whynter is an all-around excellent machine for the serious home ice cream maker, but it might be a little more machine than the occasional user might need.
: 1.5 Quarts | Style
Less expensive than other compressor models
Created excellent ice cream
Gelato came out more like traditional ice cream
Large countertop footprint
This model is slightly inferior to the Whynter in terms of quality of ice cream produced — mainly falling short in our gelato test, creating a dessert much more comparable to ice cream, even when using the gelato paddle. However, this model does retail for significantly less than the Whynter, making it a much better option when you are shopping on a budget. This model is exceptionally easy to clean and takes about the same amount of time as the Whynter to produce quality ice cream, roughly 35-45 minutes. This model doesn't require you to precool the bowl or ingredients and can also make batches of ice cream back-to-back.
Similar to the Whynter, the Cuisinart ICE-100 is a decently large kitchen appliance, so storing it can be a bit of a hassle. Additionally, while this model is less expensive than the Whynter, it is still on the expensive side for kitchen appliances, making it a bit expensive for the occasional home ice cream maker. However, this is a good bet if you are shopping on a budget and are dead set on purchasing a compressor model.
: 4 Quarts | Style
: Rock Salt & Ice
Can make tons of ice cream
Need to have plenty of rock salt and ice
The most promising of the salt and ice, the Hamilton Beach 68330N is one of the least expensive ways to make ice cream at home. This product has a motorized paddle to churn the ice cream and is very easy to use, stopping automatically when the ice cream reaches its finished consistency — a thicker soft serve. This appliance also has one of the largest capacities of any that we have tested.
However, cleaning up this machine can be a bit of a hassle, as you have to deal with all of the melted ice and salt. The bowl also must be washed by hand. Additionally, many users complained that this product is quite loud and it might not be the most durable with its essentially all-plastic construction.
: 4 Quarts | Style
: Rock Salt & Ice
Unique, old-fashioned look
Ready to make ice cream immediately
Need tons of ice and salt on hand
Cleanup can be a lengthy process
If the Hamilton Beach appealed to you, but you found its appearance to be a little drab, then consider the Nostalgia ICMP400WD. This ice cream maker costs a few bucks more than the Hamilton Beach, but uses a real wooden bucket with a plastic liner, giving your home ice cream making endeavor some old-timey ambiance. It has almost identical specs to the Hamilton Beach, but there weren't as many complaints about noise levels.
Clean up will still be a bit of a hassle, but the removable plastic liner does make it slightly easier. This is another large capacity machine, so it will take up a decent amount of counter and storage space. However, it is a great option for the occasional home ice cream maker who is shopping on a budget, but will pay a little more for improved aesthetics.
: 1.5 Quarts | Style
: Freezer Bowl
Opening is a little on the small side
Requires bowl to be frozen ahead of time
A slightly smaller model than our top choice, the ICE-21, the Aicok is another option to consider when shopping on a budget and rock salt & ice. The Aicok usually retails for slightly less as well and offers a lot more settings to adjust to fine-tune the quality and consistency of your frozen desserts, whether you are churning ice cream, gelato, or frozen yogurt. It's also very easy to use with exceptionally intuitive instructions.
However, this product does require extensive pre-freezing and can't make batches back-to-back. It also has a relatively small opening in the lid to pour the liquid ice cream mixture through, making spills likely.
: 1.5 Quarts | Style
: Freezer Bowl
Easy to store
Integrates with existing appliances
Requires plenty of freezer space
For those that already have a KitchenAid, the KICA0WH is definitely an option to consider. Rather than buying another single-use kitchen appliance, you can simply augment your stand mixer's existing suite of abilities with this freezer bowl system.
Unfortunately, you do need to pre-freeze it like other freezer bowl systems and it is just as finicky to clean. There are also some users that complained about this product being easily broken and the freezer bowl beginning to leak. We haven't been able to verify this, but it would be worth checking out the warranty on this product and saving all the necessary documentation if you do select this model.
: 1.5 Quarts | Style
Easy to configure ice cream consistency
Plays ice cream truck music when your dessert is ready
Huge footprint on your kitchen counter
Finally, the Breville Smart Scoop is the last ice cream maker to make our list. This high-end appliance offers tons of features and adjustability, allowing you to precisely control the texture and consistency of your frozen treats to match your taste. We have also had very positive experience with the other kitchen appliances that we have tested from Breville and have no reason to suspect anything else from the Smart Scoop. It has a sleek and stylish design that will look at home in most kitchens. It can even keep your ice cream cold for up to 3 hours after churning and has a setting to pre-cool your ingredients before churning to maximize quality.
Unfortunately, this is also the most expensive model of the group and is probably a little too pricey for the casual home ice cream maker and is better suited for the true home ice cream aficionados that are making ice cream multiple times a week.
Ice Cream Maker Buying Advice
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream … makers! Researching and testing these products was undeniably one of the more fun reviews that we have done, with plenty of ice cream and gelato consumed all to help you find the perfect appliance for your homemade ice cream making needs. After researching over 30 different models, we bought the top 3 most promising products out there to test head-to-head. We also list 5 more models that we thought looked exceptionally promising based on our extensive research and experience. We've also provided some background information to help you decide which product will fit your needs the best!
Ice Cream Maker Types
The first thing to consider when beginning your quest to homemade ice cream is to decide which type of ice cream maker is the right choice for you. The main factor distinguishing different types of ice cream makers is the method used to chill the ingredients, with a freezer bowl, compressor, and rock salt & ice being the three most common.
This style of ice cream makers uses a double-walled bowl filled with fluid to chill the ice cream ingredients. This bowl must be frozen ahead of time in your freezer, usually for at least 8 hours, before making ice cream. Freezer bowl machines are usually much smaller and simpler. This makes them much less expensive than compressor models. However, you can't make multiple batches of ice cream at the same time, as the bowl needs time to refreeze between use. You don't need to pre-chill the ingredients, but it is usually recommended to improve the quality of the finished ice cream.
These ice cream machines are for the serious home ice cream maker. Much larger and more expensive, these machines have built-in compressors and refrigeration units, allowing you to make ice cream whenever you want, with no pre-cooling or pre-freezing necessary. These machines usually take a bit longer to churn the ice cream — on the order of 30-45 minutes — but these machines can make batch after batch of ice cream, with only a 10-minute wait or so in between to allow the motor and pumps a chance to cool down. These machines also allow you to adjust the temperature, allowing you to more finely control the ice cream quality. You should consider these products if you plan on making ice cream on a frequent basis, such as multiple times per week.
Rock Salt & Ice
By far the simplest and most traditional method of making ice cream, the rock salt and ice technique allows you to make large quantities of ice cream without any wait time. However, you need to have copious amounts of salt and ice available and this method can be a bit labor intensive. This style of ice cream maker consists of two nested bowls and a motorized or hand-powered churning paddle. The inner bowl holds your ice cream ingredients, preferably pre-chilled and the paddle to churn the mixture. The outer bowl is filled — and refilled — with ice and rock salt. The salt caused the ice to melt, creating a very cold (8°F-12°F brine mixture) that can very efficiently pull heat from the liquid ice cream and cause it to freeze. Usually, you need to replenish this mixture while the ice cream is churning, but these products make up for it by being relatively inexpensive and mixing much larger batches of ice cream.
Ice Cream Quality
First and foremost, we made ice cream with each of the machines that we bought and compared the quality. We started off with two relatively rudimentary recipes: strawberry gelato and vanilla ice cream. We used the same recipe for each machine, precooling the mix to yield the best results. We did side-by-side taste tests, evaluating the flavor, consistency, creaminess, and texture of each frozen treat. We also noted how quickly it melted once it came out of the machines. For the gelato test, we used the gelato setting and paddle, if there is one.
Ease of Use
While making the ice cream to evaluate, we also judged how difficult it is to operate each machine. We compared the initial unboxing and assembly of each appliance — if there was any — and how much work it took to get each one set up to make ice cream. We also looked at the user-friendliness of each interface and how intuitive the controls are, as well as if there is a timer to set the churn time.
Ease of Cleaning
Unfortunately, the necessary chore of cleaning exists each time you want to indulge in homemade ice cream. Fortunately, our favorites aren't too much work to clean. The compressor models require you to clean out the bowl, paddle, and lid by hand — the components for these machines aren't usually dishwasher safe. The freezer bowl machines are a little more effort to clean, as you need to wait until the bowl naturally thaws before cleaning it. Hot water can damage the bowl and room temperature or cold water will simply freeze to the bowl if you don't wait. Salt and ice style are about the same difficulty to clean, but require you to dispose of large quantities of brine.
Next, we looked at how long it took to actually make ice cream. While the churning time between machines doesn't differ dramatically, ranging from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, it is the preparation time that sets the different types of machines apart. To compare and rank these products, we looked at both the churning time and the pre-cooling time. Freezer bowls take the longest with the 8+ hours freeze time, then rock salt & ice with an hour or two required to pre-cool the ingredients. Compressors are the fastest taking less than an hour even with room-temperature liquid ice cream, but pre-cooling them is recommended for better results.
Finally, we took into consideration how much countertop space each appliance took up when considering our rankings. For most people, kitchen storage and counter space are at a premium, so we looked more favorably on smaller models.
Hopefully, this has helped you get well on your way to churning some delicious homemade ice cream and alleviated some of the confusion in selecting the perfect style of ice cream maker for you!