The best ice cream maker 2020 – A comprehensive guide

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Video The best ice cream maker 2020 – A comprehensive guide

In this post, I’ll cover the two main categories of ice cream maker available to the home cook, namely those with an in-built refrigeration unit (commonly referred to as ‘compressor’ ice cream makers) and those without, the benefits and drawbacks of each, some tips, and which ice cream makers I recommend.

  • The non-compressor machine that I recommend to most home cooks is the Cuisinart ICE-30BC*. It’s relatively inexpensive and makes good ice cream.
  • If cost isn’t an issue, then I recommend the updated Cuisinart ICE-70*. This has a better dasher design and makes ice cream that is slightly creamier, but, at the time of writing, is nearly twice the price.
  • The compressor ice cream maker that I recommend to most home cooks is the Cuisinart ICE-100*. It’s a relatively inexpensive machine and makes great ice cream.
  • If you have the budget, I recommend the Lello 4080 Musso Lussino*. It’s a compressor ice cream maker that makes excellent ice cream that is smoother and creamier than that produced by the ICE-100, although it’s considerably more expensive.
  • For restaurants or small ice cream start ups, I recommend the larger Lello Musso Pola 5030*. It’s a compressor machine with a larger capacity than the 4080, and makes excellent ice cream that is extremely smooth, thick, and creamy. It is, however, an expensive bit of kit.

There are two main categories of ice cream maker, namely those with an in-built refrigeration unit (compressor, condenser, expansion valve, and evaporator), and those without. Most ice cream makers in the latter category have a removable insulated bowl that contains a sealed refrigerant liquid. Much like cooler ice packs, this bowl has to be left in the freezer overnight for the refrigerant liquid to freeze.

The main benefit of ice cream makers without an in-built refrigeration unit is cost: they tend to be cheaper than those with an in-built refrigeration unit. The main drawback is that unless you purchase a second bowl, you can’t make several batches or different flavours back-to-back; you’re limited to making just one batch of ice cream/gelato/sorbet per day and then have to clean and freeze the bowl overnight before you can make a second batch (I’ll discuss this drawback in more detail below). Ice cream makers without an in-built refrigeration unit also tend to make ice cream and gelato that isn’t quite as smooth and creamy as that made in an ice cream maker with an in-built refrigeration unit.

Ice cream makers that use salt and ice, rather than a sealed refrigerant, to freeze ice cream also fall under this category, although I haven’t tested this type of machine and so won’t be covering it in this guide. Readers are referred to reviews of the Immergood Stainless Steel Ice Cream Maker* on amazon.

1.1 What is the best non-compressor ice cream maker?

The non-compressor ice cream maker that I would recommend is the Cuisinart ICE-30BC*. It’s the first machine that I bought back in 2010 to make ice cream to sell at my first farmers market, and is still going strong after 10 years of use. It has a large 1.89 litre (2 quart) bowl made from aluminium coated with xylan (polypropylene) that has an optimum capacity of 900 ml (0.95 quart) of ice cream mix, producing about 1100ml (1.16 quart) of finished ice cream with about 22% overrun (the air that’s whipped into the mix) in about 31 minutes. There is an update to this model, the Cuisinart ICE-70*, but primarily because of price, I still recommend the older ICE-30 (more on this below).

1.1.1 Benefits

This biggest benefit of the ICE-30BC is that it’s a relatively inexpensive way for people to start making good ice cream at home. That’s it. Inexpensive and good quality ice cream. That’s why I recommend it for most people over the updated ICE-70, which, at the time of writing, is nearly twice the price but, although it does produce ice cream that is slightly smoother and creamier, it doesn’t produce ice cream that is nearly twice as smooth and creamy. If price isn’t an issue for you, then yes I’d recommend going for the updated Cuisinart ICE-70* because of the slightly smoother and creamier ice cream and the improved dasher (more on this below).

The second most significant benefit, which also applies to the updated ICE-70, is that the gear system and motor are strong enough to continue rotating the bowl until the ice cream freezes to a low draw temperature (the temperature at which ice cream is extracted from the bowl) of between -10°C and -12.8°C (14°F and 9 °F). This is important because the lower the draw temperature, the smaller and more numerous the ice crystals and, consequently, the smoother and creamier the texture will be (123). On some machines I’ve tested, most notably the Breville BCI-600XL*, the motor isn’t strong enough to continue mixing the ice cream below -9°C (15.8°F), resulting in fewer and larger ice crystals and, consequently, grainier texture.

When you extract the ice cream at between -10°C and -12.8°C (14°F and 9 °F), it will be at a consistency similar to soft-serve ice cream. You’ll need to quickly transfer it to a container and place it in your freezer for an hour or two to get it down to around -15°C (5°F), the temperature at which ice cream is typically served. You can serve your ice cream straight out of the bowl at between -10°C and -12.8°C if you really want to, but it will just melt quite quickly.

1.1.2 Drawbacks

The ICE-30 does have a few drawbacks. The first is that the large (19.7cm (7.75”) in diameter and 16.5cm (6.5”) in height) 1.89 litre (2 quart) bowl takes up quite a bit of freezer space, which may be an issue if you’re already short on space.

The second is that unlike machines with an in-built refrigeration unit, you can’t freeze more than one batch of ice cream/gelato/sorbet per day. This is because the liquid refrigerant that is sealed inside the bowl doesn’t stay cold long enough to freeze consecutive batches; you’ll just end up with a cold slurry, instead of ice cream, if you try and freeze a second batch right after the first. This drawback may not actually be an issue for you though as the large 1.89 litre (2 quart) bowl does allow you to freeze an optimum of 900 ml (0.95 quart) of ice cream mix, which produces about 1100ml (1.16 quart) of finished ice cream. You can also buy a second bowl*, although just bear in mind the space that two bowls will take up in your freezer.

Also read: Cuisinart ICE-100 Series Compressor Ice Cream and Gelato Maker

The third drawback is the dasher design. The dasher is the mixing device that sits inside the bowl and is designed to scrape off the ice that forms at the cold bowl wall as it rotates. The issue is that when inserted into the bowl, the dasher leaves a gap of between 2 mm and 3 mm between the vertical scraping arm and the side of the wall. Researchers have found that when the gap between the dasher and the bowl wall is big enough (3 mm), a relatively thick layer of ice builds up on the bowl wall, which lowers the rate of heat transfer (4). A high rate of heat transfer is important because it promotes the formation of many small ice crystals and, consequently, smooth and creamy texture. When the gap is 1 mm, the ice layer is not strong enough and is periodically removed from the wall. Cuisinart have improved the dasher design in the upgraded Cuisinart ICE-70, which leaves a smaller gap of just 1 mm between the vertical arm and the bowl wall.

The dasher sitting inside the ICE-30’s bowl

1.1.3 How to get the best out of the ICE-30 and THE ICE-70

TIP #1 – Freezer temperature

For the liquid refrigerant sealed inside the bowl to work properly, it’s imperative, IM-PE-RA-TIVE!, that your freezer is set to at least -18°C (-0.4°F), preferably colder. If your freezer is warmer than -18°C (-0.4°F), the liquid refrigerant won’t be cold enough to adequately freeze the ice cream mix and you’ll likely end up with a cold slurry instead of frozen ice cream. I’ve found that I get significantly smoother and creamier results when I freeze the bowl overnight at -26°C (-14.8°F) in my commercial freezer than when I freeze it at -18°C (0.4°F). You don’t have to get your freezer as cold as -26°C (-14.8°F), the point is that the colder you can get your freezer, the better quality ice cream you’ll produce. This is because lower bowl temperatures promote the formation of smaller ice crystals and, subsequently, smoother and creamier ice cream (156).

A good way to check whether the refrigerant is cold enough is to shake the bowl after you’ve left it in your freezer overnight. If you can hear a gushing sound as you shake it, the refrigerant isn’t cold enough, which will be due to either your freezer temperature being too high, or you not leaving the bowl in the freezer long enough. You can also use a cheap infra-red thermometer* to check the temperature of the bowl wall.

TIP #2 – Cling film

When you freeze your bowl overnight, cover the top with cling film to stop vapour inside your freezer from condensing on the inside of the bowl.

TIP #3 – Keep the ice cream mix moving

Both the ICE-30BC and the ICE-70 have a horizontal arm in the centre of the dasher. After about 8 minutes, I’ve noticed that ice cream starts to clump on top of this horizontal arm. If you see this, use a spoon to push these clumps off the arm and back into the rest of the mix. The idea is to keep static lumps of ice cream moving to ensure that they make contact with the side of the cold bowl wall. The longer these static clumps stick to the top of the relatively warm arm and stay away from the cold bowl wall, the larger the ice crystals in these clumps will grow and the grainier the texture is likely to be.

TIP #4 – The bowl is not dishwasher safe

The bowl for both the ICE-30BC and for the ICE-70 is made of aluminium coated with xylan (polypropylene). You’ll need to clean it with good old-fashioned elbow grease as it’s not dishwasher safe. You also can’t use an abrasive sponge in case you scratch off the xylan (polypropylene) coating.

The Cuisinart ICE-70

Ice cream makers in this category have an in-built refrigeration unit that freezes the bowl. The main benefits over non-compressor machines are that you don’t need to leave the bowl in the freezer overnight before it can be used, and you can make several batches, or different flavours, in the same day; you just clean the dasher and bowl after the first batch, place them back in the machine, and you’re ready to freeze the next batch. Ice cream makers with an in-built refrigeration unit do, however, tend to be more expensive.

2.1 What is the best compressor ice cream maker?

The compressor ice cream maker that I would recommend to most home cooks is the Cuisinart ICE-100*. It’s a relatively inexpensive machine that produces great ice cream and gelato with smooth, creamy, and dense texture, beating both the Whynter ICM-200LS* and the Breville BCI600XL* in my comparison tests. I’ve also found that it produces ice cream that is slightly smoother and creamier than that produced by the Cuisinart ICE-30BC and by the Cuisinart ICE-70.

It has a removable 1.4 litre (1.5 quart) aluminium bowl with an optimum capacity of 800 ml (0.85 quart) of ice cream mix, producing about 1000 ml (1.06 quart) of ice cream with about 25% overrun in 25 minutes.

2.1.1 Benefits

The main benefit of this machine is its strong motor that is able to continue spinning the dasher until the ice cream reaches a draw temperature of -10°C (14°F). This is important because, as I mentioned above, the lower the draw temperature, the smaller the ice crystals and, consequently, the smoother and creamier the ice cream is likely to be. I’ve found the motor in the Whynter ICM-200LS to be slightly weaker, with its dasher stopping at temperatures between -9°C and -10°C (15.8°F and 14°F), and the Breville BCI 600XL weaker still, with its dasher stopping at -9°C (15.8°F).

A second benefit is the design of its two dashers; it comes with two plastic dashers, one for ice cream and the other for gelato. Both dashers have two vertical plastic scraper arms that scrape the ice that forms at the freezer bowl wall. When fitted onto the central pin inside the bowl, both dashers leave a gap of 1 mm between the scraper arms and the bowl wall. This results in a 1 mm layer of ice that freezes to the bowl wall during freezing, which isn’t thick enough to lower the rate of heat transfer.

2.1.2 Drawbacks

Also read: Top 10 Best Compressor Ice Cream Maker Picks For 2022

My only complaint is the two small holes on the gear in the underside of the bowl, which let in diluted ice cream mix during cleaning. If not properly cleaned, this diluted mix can then solidify over time and impart a mouldy smell. Diluted mix may also seep into the drive train and gears when the bowl is placed back in the machine after cleaning, which, over time, may cause the gears to seize up. I don’t think this is a show stopper, but it does mean that you’ll need to take greater care when cleaning the bowl. I also now regularly unscrew the plastic seal on the underside of the bowl and pour boiling water over the seal and gear to sterilise both. I then make sure that both are dry before I screw the seal back on.

2.1.3 How to get the best out of the ICE-100

TIP #1

Switch the machine on and leave it running for 15 minutes before you add your mix. This ensures that the bowl is as cold as possible when the mix is added, which promotes the formation of more and smaller ice crystals and reduces the time it takes to freeze the mix, both of which contribute to smoother and creamier texture. I recommend this step for all of the ice compressor ice cream makers in this guide.

2.2 The best compressor ice cream maker if you have the budget

For those with a higher budget, I’d highly recommend the Lello 4080 Musso Lussino*. This machine produces excellent ice cream that is substantially smoother and creamier than that produced in the ICE-100. It has a non-removable stainless steel bowl (very easy to clean) that has an optimum capacity of 700 ml (0.74 quart) of mix, producing about 900 ml (0.95 quart) of ice cream with about 29% air in an average time of 17 minutes and 30 seconds.

2.2.1 Benefits

The first benefit of this ice cream maker is its heavy stainless steel dasher, which has 2 protruding stainless steel arms, one longer than the other. Only the long, curved arm scrapes the ice that forms at the bowl wall and on the bowl floor. I’ve found that when fitted onto the central pin inside the bowl, the long arm leaves a gap of just 1 mm at its closest point to the wall, where it starts to curve upwards, increasing to 2 mm just over half of the way up the arm where it curves slightly away from the wall, and a gap of just 1 mm at the bowl floor. This results in a 1-2 mm layer of ice freezing to the bowl wall and floor during freezing, which isn’t thick enough to significantly lower the rate of heat transfer. As I mentioned above, a high rate of heat transfer is important because it promotes the formation of many small ice crystals and, consequently, smooth and creamy texture.

The 4080’s stainless steel dasher

The second is that the the dasher motor is able to produce sufficient torque to continue mixing the ice cream until it reaches an optimum draw temperature of -10°C (14°F). As I mentioned above, the lower the draw temperature, the smaller and more numerous the ice crystals and, consequently, the smoother and creamier the texture will be.

2.2.2 Drawbacks

The only drawback of this machine is the gap between the central pin that rotates the dasher and surrounding plastic, which, if you’re not careful, can let in ice cream when you’re cleaning or extracting the finished ice cream from the machine. Over time, the build up of hardened ice cream can not only start to smell a bit cheesy, but can also increase the friction between the rotating central pin and surrounding plastic, placing more stress on the drive system, which will wear out the gears faster. My advice is to be extra careful when extracting the ice cream and cleaning the bowl so you don’t get any on the central pin. If some does happen to fall on the pin, quickly wipe it off, spray it with some antibacterial surface spray, and dry with a disposable kitchen towel.

2.3. The best compressor ice cream maker for restaurants or small ice cream start ups

If you own a small restaurant or are starting a small ice cream or gelato business, I’d highly recommend the Lello Musso Pola 5030*; this was the ice cream maker that I used to produce ice cream to sell at my first food market here in Manchester.

The Lello Musso Pola 5030

2.3.1 Benefits

The first benefit is that it has a larger non-removable stainless steel bowl (again, very easy to clean) than the 4080. This bowl has a maximum capacity of 1500 ml (1.59 quart) of ice cream mix, although I’ve found an optimum capacity of 1100 ml (1.16 quart) of mix, which produces about 1300 ml (1.37 quart) of extremely smooth, dense, and creamy ice cream with about 18% overrun in 11 minutes 55 seconds. I’ve run the 5030 pretty much continuously for 3.5 hours to produce 13.5 litres (14.27 quart) of ice cream and didn’t have any overheating issues.

The second is, like the 4080, the heavy stainless steel dasher leaves a gap of just 1 mm at its closest point to the wall, where it starts to curve upwards, increasing to 2 mm just over half of the way up the arm where it curves slightly away from the wall, and a gap of just 1 mm at the bowl floor. This results in a 1-2 mm layer of ice freezing to the bowl wall and floor during freezing, which isn’t thick enough to significantly lower the rate of heat transfer.

The third benefit is that the dasher motor is able to produce sufficient torque to continue mixing the ice cream until it reaches an optimum draw temperature of -11°C (12.2°F). Below -11°C (12.2°F), the dasher slows and comes to a stop. I wouldn’t recommend running the dasher below -11°C (12.2°F), or until it stops, as this will very likely cause the plastic gear wheels connecting the dasher motor to the drive shaft to quickly wear. On the few occasions that I have let my ice cream get below -11°C (12.2°F) with the dasher still running, I’ve noticed a very slight smell of warm plastic coming from the front of the machine, which I’m guessing is the smell of the two plastic gear wheels wearing.

2.3.2 Drawbacks

Also read: The Best Ice Cream Makers for Homemade Frozen Treats – Epicurious

Like the 4080, you need to be careful not to get any ice cream on the central pin during extraction and cleaning as this will likely get in the gap between the central pin and surrounding plastic. This will then dry, give off a not-so-pleasant cheesy smell, and may add stress to the drive system that spins the dasher.

If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive ice cream maker, I’d recommend the Cuisinart ICE-30BC*. It makes good ice cream but you need to freeze the bowl overnight at at least -18°C (-0.4°F), or preferably colder, before it can be used. The bowl takes up quite a bit of space in your freezer and you can’t freeze more than one batch of ice cream/gelato/sorbet per day. If cost isn’t an issue, I’d recommend going with the updated Cuisinart ICE-70*. This uses the same bowl as the ICE-30BC but has an improved dasher and makes ice cream that is slightly creamier.

If you don’t want to have to freeze the bowl overnight before you can make your ice cream, or are looking to make several batches or different flavours in the same day, I’d recommend the Cuisinart ICE-100*. This ice cream maker has an in-built refrigeration unit and makes great ice cream, but you may need to periodically take the bottom of the bowl apart with a screwdriver to give it a thorough clean. If you have the budget, I’d highly recommend the Lello 4080 Musso Lussino*. This too has an in-built refrigeration unit, makes excellent ice cream and gelato that is smoother and creamier than that produced in the ICE-100, but is nearly four times the price. You also need to be careful not to get any ice cream on the central pin during extraction or cleaning.

If you’re looking for an ice cream maker for your restaurant or are starting a small ice cream or gelato business, I’d highly recommend the Lello Musso Pola 5030*; this was the ice cream maker that I used for my first food market here in Manchester. It has an in-built refrigeration unit, a larger bowl than the 4080, and makes excellent ice cream and gelato that is extremely smooth, dense, and creamy. Like the 4080, you need to be careful not to get any ice cream on the central pin during extraction and cleaning.

Transparency is key. On that note, I haven’t been paid to write this guide, nor was I given any of these machines for free. I paid for these bad boys with my own money and have written this guide in my own time. If there is a * after a link, it means that I will earn a payment if you go through it and make a purchase on amazon. This doesn’t increase the cost of what you purchase, nor do these links influence what I write, ever.

1. Drewett, E. M., and Hartel, R. W., 2007. Ice crystallisation in a scraped surface freezer. Journal of Food Engineering. 78(3).

2. Goff, H. D., and Hartel, R., W., 2013. Ice Cream. 7th ed. New York: Springer

3. Eisner, M. D., Wildmoser, H., and Windhab, E. J., 2005. Air cell microstructuring in a high-viscous ice cream matrix. Colloids Surf A. 263(1-3). 390-9.

4. Ben Lakhdar, M., Cerecero, R., Alvarez, G., Guilpart, J., Flick, D., and Lallemand, A., 2005. Heat transfer with freezing in a scraped surface heat exchanger. Applied Thermal Engineering. 25(1), 45-60.

5. Russell, A. B., Cheney, P. E., and Wantling, S. D., 1999. Influence of freezing conditions on ice crystallisation in ice cream. Journal of Food Engineering. 29.

6. Cook, K. L. K., and Hartel, R. W., 2011. Effect of freezing temperature and warming rate on dendrite break-up when freezing ice cream mix. International Dairy Journal. 21(6).

For more information please see the list of Compressor ice cream maker

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