Best Ice Cream Maker of 2021
The Whynter ICM-200LS is one of our all-time favorite ice cream makers. This appliance can create gelato or ice cream in as little as 35 minutes. It's not required to freeze the bowl or chill the ingredients beforehand, making it a great option for the impulsive ice cream maker out there. It's convenient, easy to use, and produced all-around excellent frozen treats. The bowl is simple 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 your frozen treat's consistency.
On the downside, the Whynter ICM-200LS is fairly large and somewhat pricey, so consider how often you might actually use it to determine if it's worth the investment in cost and countertop real estate. Additionally, we weren't too impressed with its overall build quality. The first one we ordered arrived broken and leaking, forcing us to immediately exchange it. Like most compressor-powered machines, the Whynter ICM-200LS doesn't take too kindly to being stored inverted for long periods. However, we still think this is an excellent all-around 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 pre-chilled and bowl frozen for 8+ hours). It won't take up much room on your kitchen counter and also won't drain your bank account. It produces delicious ice cream that is a bit softer and creamier than some of the other machines — usually requiring a brief rest in the freezer to firm up.
The fact that you must pre-freeze the bowl for at least 8 hours means that you can't make different batches of ice cream back-to-back. Clean-up isn't too laborious, but you will 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 this is the model you choose. Regardless, the Cuisinart ICE-21 is still one of our favorites and is a great choice for folks who like to make small batches of homemade ice cream on an occasional or semi-regular basis.
For a reasonably low-cost ice cream maker capable of making large batches of ice cream with minimal prep, consider the Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE 4-Quart Electric. This machine uses the rock salt and ice method to freeze your ice cream, meaning that it is ready to go whenever you want — no pre-freezing required — provided you have plenty of rock salt and ice on hand. This appliance churned out some delicious frozen treats in our tests, producing a softer and creamier texture than many of its compressor and freezer bowl counterparts. It has more than enough power to add mix-ins and is decently easy to clean and use. We also appreciate that it comes with a cap that you can use to store your finished ice cream right in the container where you churned it.
You will have several pounds of partially melted ice and brine to dispose of, so more cleanup is involved with these types of ice cream makers than compressors or freezer bowls. This appliance is also a little on the louder side. However, if you are trying to make large batches of freshly-churned ice cream at once and are shopping on a limited budget, we think the Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE is hard to beat.
The Hamilton Beach 68330N is one of the most cost-efficient ways to make large quantities of ice cream at home. Pre-freezing your components isn't necessary, and making multiple back-to-back batches is simple, provided you have ample rock salt and ice. It makes delicious, soft ice cream that's barely firm enough to hold a scoop shape. Overall, it's straightforward to use, with a motorized paddle that churns the ice cream and automatically stops 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 wearing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones while it was churning. Cleanup can also be a giant hassle, as you have to deal with around 3 cups of rock salt and 12 pounds of melted ice 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 love traditionally made ice cream, are shopping on a budget, and need large batches. However, be prepared to vacuum 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, given how quickly our judges finished their bowls, must have been enjoyed immensely. The gelato was silky-smooth and delicious, and the ice cream was thick enough that it held a scoop shape without additional freezing. It is relatively easy to use—the machine stops on its own once the correct consistency is churned—and reliably made excellent ice cream.
Like the Whynter ICM-200LS, storing the Cuisinart ICE-100 can be a bit of a hassle as it is a decently large kitchen appliance. We also found that many standard recipes would cause the bowl to overflow a bit, making cleanup more of a hassle. The inspection door to add mix-ins or check consistency 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.
The Breville Smart Scoop is a high-end ice cream making appliance offering plenty of novel features and more control over the churning process than its competitors. Its sleek and stylish design looks sharp in the kitchen and has all sorts of novel features, like alerts for the proper time to add mix-ins and a "keep cool" function.
Unfortunately, the Breville Smart Scoop is one of the priciest products of the entire group. 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 with all the bells and whistles imaginable — this model even plays songs once the ice cream is done — and you can afford it, then this is a great product. However, we think it is probably overkill and a bit more expensive than what most people want or need.
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 creating frozen yogurt and ice cream and allows you to dispense and serve ice cream cones quickly, making it a good option for larger gatherings. Though they didn't work with all types of candy, the mix-in dispensers are a hit at parties, 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 could no longer 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 for 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 various ice cream recipes to see how each machine handled everything from sherbet to sorbet. We had a panel of judges blindly taste the results; they didn't know which machine produced which frozen dessert. Additionally, we became exceptionally familiar with each machine's different quirks 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 texture, taste, and overall quality. We used basic recipes for this — vanilla ice cream, strawberry and chocolate gelato, and frozen yogurt — to let each product's churning skills stand out more clearly, with all ingredients pre-chilled.
While the Whynter ICM-200LS didn't claim the top spot for gelato or frozen yogurt, it was hard to beat the ice cream produced by this machine. Delicious and creamy, it 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, the Cuisinart ICE-100 is a phenomenal choice. The strawberry frozen yogurt 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 it 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 creamy chocolate and silky-smooth strawberry gelato time after time, firmly establishing it as our go-to gelato option.
The ice cream produced by the Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE was also great; it was velvety-smooth and a bit softer than some of the other options, almost akin to soft serve. However, this did mean that it would melt a bit faster.
Timing and Preparation
Next, we looked at how long it took to make ice cream with each product and the required preparation beforehand. While this doesn't necessarily differ too much from 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-chill the ingredients, so these models aren't the best option for those who don't like to plan ahead.
Compressor models such as 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 tasked with making multiple batches 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 or the Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE 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, and if there is a timer to set the churn time.
The Whynter ICM-200LS and the Cuisinart ICE-21 both stood out as particularly convenient and intuitive machines. The Whynter 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, hit go, and you're eating homemade ice cream in 15-20 minutes.
Ease of Cleaning
Unfortunately, you'll have to tackle the necessary chore of cleaning 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 thaws naturally 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. The salt and ice style machines 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 design of the machine makes it less prone to getting dirty if you're 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 annoying 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.
We found that the Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE tends to make a little less of a mess, but not by much.
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