After looking at dozens of different appliances, we bought the 6 best ice cream makers available in 2020 to test side-by-side. We had a panel of judges — including culinary professionals — evaluate and compare the texture, and taste of the frozen treats made by each machine, as well as their overall user-friendliness and ease of cleaning. Bowl after bowl of ice cream, frozen yogurt, and gelato later, we had a pretty good idea which machine took the cake, whether you are looking for a freezer bowl, compressor, or an old-fashioned rock salt and ice model.
The Best Ice Cream Makers of 2020
The Whynter ICM-200LS is one of our all-time favorite ice cream makers. This appliance doesn't require the ingredients to be cooled beforehand or a bowl to be frozen overnight, so it's a great option for the impulsive ice cream maker out there, creating ice cream or gelato in as little as 35 minutes. It made all-around excellent frozen treats and is overall convenient and easy to use. The bowl is very easy to clean — especially since you don't need to wait for it to thaw like its freezer bowl counterparts — and has three different operating modes so you can fine-tune the consistency of your frozen treats.
Unfortunately, this appliance is decently large and on the more expensive side, meaning you should really think about how often you will make ice cream when considering if the Whynter ICM-200LS 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 — like most compressor-powered machines, the Whynter ICM-200LS doesn't take too kindly to being stored inverted for long periods. However, the Whynter ICM-200LS 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.
The Cuisinart ICE-21 is one of our favorite non-compressor ice cream machines and we think it is the best bet for most people shopping on a budget. This model only took about 15 minutes to make excellent ice cream given the correct preparation — ingredients prechilled and bowl frozen for 8+ hours. The Cuisinart ICE-21 doesn't take up a ton of countertop space and — even better — comes at a relatively reasonable price. It makes very tasty ice cream that is on the creamier side, being much softer than other machines — usually requiring a brief rest in the freezer to firm up.
However, the Cuisinart ICE-21 is a freezer bowl style machine, meaning that you do need to pre-freeze the bowl for at least 8 hours and can't make different batches of ice cream back-to-back. Cleaning up once you're done isn't too bad but you do need to wait until the bowl is thawed completely, as hot water can damage the fluid inside and room temperature or cold water will immediately freeze to the bowl when washing. Get used to leaving a bowl of melting ice cream in your sink for hours on end if you decide to go with the Cuisinart ICE-21. Regardless, this is still one of our favorite ice cream makers and is a great option for someone who likes to make small amounts of homemade ice cream on an occasional or semi-regular basis.
The Hamilton Beach 68330N is one of the least expensive ways to make large quantities of ice cream at home. You don't need to pre-freeze components for long periods and you can make multiple batches back-to-back, provided you have ample rock salt and ice. It makes delicious ice cream that's on the softer side — barely firm enough to hold a scoop shape. Overall, it's very easy to use, with a motorized paddle that churns the ice cream and stops automatically once it reaches the correct consistency.
Unfortunately, this ice cream maker is exceptionally loud, bordering on ear-splitting. It's almost impossible to carry on a conversation over it and our testers resorted to earplugs or noise-canceling headphones when they were staying in the same room while it was churning. Cleanup can also be a giant hassle, as you have to deal with around 12 pounds of melted ice and 3 cups of rock salt per batch. In addition to the machine being hard to clean, it always seemed to make a giant mess across the surrounding area — even when we laid out a plastic tray to contain it. The Hamilton Beach 68330N is great if you are shopping on a budget, love traditionally made ice cream, and need large batches, but you better get used to vacuuming up large amounts of rock salt every time you use it.
We found the Cuisinart ICE-100 to be the best of the group when it came to frozen yogurt, creating a thick and creamy confection that must have been enjoyed immensely by our judges, given how quickly bowls were emptied. The gelato was delicious and silky-smooth and the ice cream was thick enough that it held a scoop shape without additional freezing. It reliably made excellent ice cream and is fairly easy to use, with the machine stopping on its own once the correct consistency is churned.
Similar to the Whynter ICM-200LS, the Cuisinart ICE-100 is a decently large kitchen appliance, so storing it can be a bit of a hassle. We also found that most recipes we followed would cause the bowl to overflow a bit, making cleanup a bit more of a hassle. The inspection door to check consistency or add mix-ins also dips into the ice cream when you lift it and the paddle has plenty of nooks and crannies to catch ice cream in, creating even more cleanup work.
Unfortunately, the Breville Smart Scoop is one of the most expensive products of the entire group and it doesn't seem like this price increase translated to a noticeably improved ice cream making performance compared to other products. If you want an ice cream maker that has all the bells and whistles imaginable — the Breville Smart Scoop even plays songs once the ice cream is done — and you can afford it, then this is the product for you. However, we think it is probably overkill and a bit more expensive than what most people need or want.
While it's hard to beat a soft-serve ice cream cone on hot summer days, we found making it ourselves to be a bit of a challenge. The Cuisinart ICE-45 did an alright job making ice cream and frozen yogurt and allows you to dispense and serve ice cream cones quickly, making it a good option for larger gatherings. The mix-in dispensers are a hit at parties, though they didn't work with all types of candy, and it makes a decently large batch each time.
Unfortunately, we found that there is a very, very short window — approximately five minutes or so — where the ice cream made by the Cuisinart ICE-45 was at an acceptable consistency for serving. It quickly moved from too thin to hold its shape to so thick the paddle couldn't churn, forcing us to scoop ice cream out of the bowl and effectively defeating the point of a soft-serve machine. Larger candies would clog the dispensers and it ended up being a bit of a pain to clean out. Overall, we wouldn't recommend it to most people unless you really like homemade soft serve and are willing to put up with quite a bit of hassle for it.
Why You Should Trust Us?
Our ice cream maker testing and review team is led by Michelle Powell, Austin Palmer , and David Wise . Michelle is armed with over a decade of culinary experience in a professional setting, covering everything from latte art competitions to managing artisanal bakeries. She has exceptionally high standards when it comes to kitchen appliances and little patience for products that don't behave as they should. David and Austin have extensive experience reviewing and testing kitchen appliances for TechGearLab, having tested
not only ice cream makers, but bread machines, food processors, microwaves, blenders, juicers, food processors, and vacuum sealers, as well as tons of other home and office products.
We spent weeks testing these products, making a variety of different ice cream recipes to see how each machine handled everything from sherbert to sorbet. We had a panel of judges blindly taste the results; they didn't know which machine produced which frozen dessert, to ensure they were completely unbiased. Additionally, we also were exceptionally familiar with the different quirks of each machine and the difficulty in cleaning each one after all this ice cream and had some strong opinions about which ones were a breeze to use and which ones were a total pain.
Analysis and Test Results
We comprehensively tested these products head-to-head, with a panel of judges ranking and scoring their performance in a variety of different evaluations. Our results are below, with particularly notable product performances highlighted.
Ice Cream, Gelato, and Frozen Yogurt Quality
First and foremost, we made ice cream, gelato, and frozen yogurt in each ice cream maker. Our panel of judges ranked and scored each dessert, noting taste, texture, and overall quality. We used basic recipes for this — vanilla ice cream, strawberry and chocolate gelato and frozen yogurt — to let the churning skills of each product stand out more clearly, with all ingredients prechilled.
While the Whynter ICM-200LS didn't claim the top spot when it came to frozen yogurt or gelato, it was hard to beat the ice cream produced by this machine. Creamy and delicious, the Whynter ICM-200LS's ice cream tasted exactly how we wanted homemade ice cream to taste. Unfortunately, the gelato and frozen yogurt came out much more like traditional ice cream than we would have liked.
If you want top-tier frozen yogurt, then the Cuisinart ICE-100 is a phenomenal choice. The strawberry froyo made by this product was velvety-smooth and a universal favorite amongst our judges. The Cuisinart ICE-100 was also able to churn a much stiffer frozen yogurt than most other models, able to support its own weight and didn't immediately melt when transferred into a room-temperature bowl.
The Breville Smart Scoop is a game-changer when it comes to homemade gelato. It whipped up a silky-smooth strawberry and creamy chocolate gelato time after time, firmly establishing it as our go-to gelato option.
Timing and Preparation
Next, we looked at how long it took to make ice cream with each product and the amount of preparation required beforehand. While this doesn't necessarily differ too much product to product, the freezing mechanism used is the main differentiating factor.
Freezer bowl models, like the Cuisinart ICE-21 and the Cuisinart ICE-45 require the bowl to be frozen for at least eight hours and can't be used to make multiple batches the same day. They also work best if you pre-cool the ingredients, so these models aren't great options if you don't like to plan ahead when it comes to ice cream.
Compressor models, like the Whynter ICM-200LS, the Breville Smart Scoop, and the Cuisinart ICE-100 can be used anytime — the ingredients don't even have to be chilled ahead of time, though it will take longer to churn if they aren't. These appliances can usually be used multiple times a day, though most manufacturers recommend giving them a brief rest in between batches. Finally, ice and rock salt machines, like the Hamilton Beach 68330N can be used immediately and repeatedly, provided you don't run out of rock salt and ice, with these products running through a surprising amount of ice with each batch.
In general, we favored the compressor models the most but the freezer bowls are a close runner-up if you are only making ice cream on a sporadic basis and don't mind planning ahead.
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.
The Whynter ICM-200LS and the Cuisinart ICE-21 both stood out by being particularly convenient and user-friendly to operate. The Whynter ICM-200LS has a digital timer and three different operating modes to fine-tune the churning of your frozen concoction. The interface is intuitive and easy to understand as well.
The Cuisinart ICE-21's simplicity is what makes it so easy to use. This freezer bowl model's one-button interface doesn't leave a lot of room for confusion. You just pop the pre-frozen bowl into place, dump in your ingredients, and hit go, with the ice cream ready to consume in 15-20 minutes.
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 and clean up copious amounts of --inevitably — spilled salt.
The Breville Smart Scoop is one of our favorites when it comes time to clean up. You don't need to wait for a freezer bowl to thaw and the layout of this machine means it isn't prone to getting dirty if you are careful, limiting your cleanup to the bowl, lid, and paddle. The bowl is easily wiped out by hand and the paddle and lid are even dishwasher-safe, though you should double-check the manual for any special cleaning instructions.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Cuisinart ICE-45 can be quite painful come cleanup time. It has lots of parts in contact with the ice cream and the soft serve dispensing mechanism requires considerably more attention to get clean than other appliances. The Hamilton Beach 68330N also can be a hassle to clean.
You have to dispose of 12-15 pounds of semi-melted ice and rock salt inside the ice cream maker for the best-case scenario or 12-15 pounds of semi-melted ice and rock salt plus everything you spilled for the worst-case scenario. We found the latter to be true virtually every time.
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!
— Michelle Powell, Austin Palmer, and David Wise