How We Tested
We tested 10 of the top ice-cream makers in our Lab by seeing how well they churned vanilla ice cream and vegan coconut milk cookie dough ice cream. The testers cleaned each machine repeatedly and placed any dishwasher-safe parts through a few washing cycles. All of our reviewers evaluated the ice cream makers on ease of use, performance, versatility, ice cream texture, cleaning, and overall value.
We also sent a handful of ice cream makers to the homes of our experienced food writers so they could spend weeks testing their capabilities. They used the machines to churn a variety of ice creams, tried out all the functions and features, cleaned them, stored them, and ultimately decided what their strengths and weaknesses were.
Other Options We Tested
- Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Capacity Ice Cream Maker: This salt-and-ice ice cream maker was included in a previous version of this roundup. It’s very similar to the Nostalgia 4-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker in design and is also very affordable. It also has some of the same downsides, namely, it’s incredibly loud and best if used outside. Ultimately, the lack of a handle for easy transport and a bland design give the Nostalgia version the winning edge over this Hamilton Beach model.
- Cuisinart ICE-45 Mix-it-In Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker: This Cuisinart model promises soft-serve ice cream and features automatic mix-ins and a sugar cone holder. However, in home testing, we found that this soft-serve machine caused an ice cream mess, the mix-ins didn’t mix in, and everything has to be just right for it to work smoothly.
- Whynter ICM-128BPS Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker: With high ratings, a built-in LCD timer, and a cute design, we brought the Whynter ice cream maker into our Lab for testing. It ranked well for ease of use and was very impressive when we added mix-ins to the ice cream base. But the 1.28-quart bowl was simply too small, and the final ice cream textures were too inconsistent to recommend it.
- Cuisinart ICE-100 1.5-Quart Compressor Ice Cream and Gelato Maker: Cuisinart takes our top spot for freezer-bowl machines, so we wanted to put its compressor model through our Lab tests. This countertop machine looks promising with its brightly lit screen and minimal need for pre-freezing (2 hours). It failed to evenly distribute our mix-ins, though. The paddle doesn’t reach the bottom, causing ice cream base and mix-ins to collect there.
- Lello 4080 Musso Lussino 1.5-Quart Ice Cream Maker: Our Lab testers brought in this Lello Musso to see if it was a good fit for our Best Splurge category. And it just might be if you’re looking to professionally sell your ice cream or use it in à la minute desserts. The compressor-style machine is powerful enough to make scoopable ice cream, not soft ice cream that needs to be in the freezer ASAP. Although, for a machine this expensive, we thought that it’d be easier to clean (the bowl isn’t removable). We’re keeping it off our list due to that fact and the price. If you want to go high-end, we recommend the Breville.
What to Look for in an Ice Cream Maker
Let’s admit it: ice cream makers aren’t exactly essential kitchen items for most homes, so it might be tough to justify storing one. However, they are a lot of fun to experiment with, and most people enjoy a scoop or two of cold, extra smooth ice cream year-round. So if you can find a model that fits your storage space, an ice cream maker will likely be a welcome addition to your kitchen.
Ice cream makers range in size, from small, single-serve models that take up virtually no counter space to non-electric bowls designed for freezer use and large compressor models that are too heavy to move around.
Ice cream makers range in how much ice cream they can make per batch. When shopping for an ice cream maker, you’ll want to keep in mind how much ice cream you need or want to make at once.
The most popular ice cream makers typically produce between 1 and 2 quarts—that’s 4 to 8 cups—of ice cream at a time, but there are also models designed to make one single-serve cup of ice cream, as well as large-capacity models that can make up to 6 quarts or 24 cups at a time.
A large-capacity machine is a good option for a big family or if you want to make big batches of ice cream for parties. Larger models tend to be less efficient at handling smaller batches of ice cream, though. If you’re eager to try new recipes as often as possible, a machine designed to make smaller batches is just what you need.
Settings and Options
The most basic ice cream machines may just have an easy-to-use on/off switch. Other machines come equipped with timers, automatic shut-off or “keep cool” features, extra freezer bowls, settings for making gelato, special paddles, and more. In general, the compressor-style ice cream makers are designed with more controls and options for making different styles of ice cream from other models. While it’s great to have options and versatile appliances, sometimes a basic model that does its one job well is all you really need.
Ability to Make Multiple Batches
The style of ice cream maker you choose will determine whether you can make multiple batches in a row. Freezer bowl models require the bowl to be frozen before using, and most can only make one batch of ice cream before the bowl needs to be frozen again. If an extra freezer bowl is included, it’ll be easier to make multiple batches back to back. Compressor models can produce a second or third batch more easily. The salt-and-ice models can also accommodate as many batches as you like, as long as you have enough ice and salt to keep the machine cold.
While you can theoretically make endless batches of ice cream with some ice cream makers, churning hard ice cream can stress and overheat the motor of less-robust models. If you routinely want to make many batches of ice cream for large parties and events, a low-end commercial model may be a better buy than one that’s made for lighter-duty home use.
Electric ice cream machines do all the churning for you, so making ice cream is as easy as adding the ingredients, pushing the start button, and waiting until the ice cream is done. The process is similar to using other hands-off kitchen appliances like slow cookers.
Manual machines require more work (and muscle) because churning ice cream can take 20 minutes or longer, and the job becomes more difficult as the ice cream hardens. Since they don’t need to be plugged in, manual ice cream makers are portable, so you can bring one along to backyard parties, camping, and beach trips and let everyone—children included—help churn. Some manual models are even more simple to use, only requiring you to stir the ingredients in a freezer bowl.
Many ice cream makers use a freezer bowl or insert that needs to be frozen before the ice cream can be churned. If you’re short on freezer space, this might not be convenient—plus, if you want to make a second batch, you’ll have to wait for the bowl to freeze again. Compressor models let your churn one batch after another but tend to take up more space and are more expensive. There are also ice cream makers that use the old-fashioned ice and salt freezing method.
On average, you can find plenty of decent electronic ice cream makers priced in the $50-$100 range. You’ll find some of the more simple ice cream makers for under $30, while heavy-duty compressor models that work like miniature freezers can cost several hundred dollars. Although the supplies aren’t expensive, the more old-fashioned salt and ice style ice cream makers will require you to buy salt and bags of ice whenever you want to make ice cream.
The average warranty for manufacturing defects on most ice cream makers is one year, although you may find some with longer or shorter warranty periods. Manufacturing defects are likely to appear early in the lifecycle of the product, while later failures are more likely to be caused by everyday wear and tear, which would not be covered under a normal warranty. A quality ice cream maker that has not been misused should typically last well beyond its warranty date, but if you have bad luck with appliances or want coverage for accidental breakage, you can purchase extended warranties for most electronics. Read the fine print before purchasing, as the extended warranties typically start at the date of purchase but can’t be used until the manufacturer’s warranty has expired.
Types of Ice Cream Makers
Salt and Ice
While hand-cranked salt and ice-style ice cream machines have been around since the mid-1800s, the method still works well. Some of these models require manual cranking to turn the paddle, while others are electric and will do the churning for you. If you want to make multiple batches, you simply need to clean the machine, add more ice, salt, and the ice cream ingredients and start churning again.
If you opt for this style, you’ll need to have plenty of ice and salt on hand. Keep in mind that if these ice cream makers are overfilled with ice, the cold, salty water can seep into the ice cream mixture and ruin it. Many salt and ice-style ice cream makers are available with larger capacities than other styles designed for home use.
Freezer bowl ice cream machines are the most popular for home use. Most are electric, so they’re easy to use and take up little countertop space. The freezer bowls need to be placed in the freezer well ahead of churning, typically about eight hours. This means you should plan ahead or store the freezer bowl in the freezer, so it’s always ready to go. The ice cream mixture also needs to be chilled before churning; otherwise, it might not freeze as solidly as you’d like before the bowl begins to lose its chill.
Churning a single batch of ice cream typically warms the bowl enough so the freezer bowl can’t be used for a second batch. Some ice cream makers include a second freezer bowl (or you can purchase one separately), so you can make two different batches of ice cream, one after the other. The only downside is that multiple freezer bowls take up even more freezer space.
Compressor-style ice cream makers operate like small freezers. Instead of chilling before churning, these models begin chilling after the ice cream mixture is added, but some machines can be pre-chilled before adding ingredients. These machines typically have more features, with settings for making gelato, sorbets, and more. Some models have timers to remind you when to add mix-ins and/or keep-cold features that will keep the ice cream chilled if you can’t immediately transfer the ice cream to the freezer when it’s done churning.
Also read: Best Ice Cream Makers – Which? Magazine
This style of machine is the easiest for making multiple batches because you simply need to clean the bowl between batches. These machines tend to be the most expensive, and they’re also much larger and heavier than other ice cream makers. While a compressor-style ice cream maker might be overkill for most home kitchens, they produce excellent ice cream and are always ready to go.
Soft serve ice cream machines are designed to churn and dispense soft-serve style ice cream and frozen yogurt. These models are usually fitted with a freezer bowl and operate just like the freezer bowl style ice cream makers. But they’re designed to keep the ice cream chilled at a higher temperature, so the ice cream won’t harden as much and will stay smooth and, well, soft. A lever lets you dispense the soft serve straight into a cup or cone, and some models even have topping dispensers so you can mix in sprinkles, nuts, or bits of candy as you fill your dish. Soft serve ice cream machines are a favorite among kids, who love to make their own sundaes.
Cuisinart has a reputation for quality kitchen products, and it has several ice cream makers that are top-rated for quality and are favorites among consumers. These models are also moderately priced, so if your budget is in the mid-range, this is a good brand to check out. Cuisinart makes several freezer bowl-style ice cream makers that are extremely popular, as well as a compressor-style and soft-serve ice cream maker and dispenser.
Known for high-end kitchen electronics, Breville makes the highly-rated Smart Scoop compressor ice cream maker. While this machine is bulky, heavy, and will take up a significant amount of counter space, it’s versatile, with settings for different types of ice cream and other frozen treats. Breville currently makes just this one ice cream machine, which carries a splurge-worthy price tag. However, this model ranks consistently as a favorite compressor-style ice cream maker by both users and reviewers.
The Nostalgia company makes a variety of retro-looking kitchen appliances, including several models of old-fashioned bucket-style ice cream makers that use the traditional salt-and-ice freezer method. Most models are electric, so you can enjoy the nostalgic design without having to hand-churn like in the olden days. These ice cream makers are affordably priced, but larger models and those with old-school wooden bucket designs cost more.
Hamilton Beach has been around for generations and is known for mid-range kitchen appliances that are well-built without breaking the budget. The brand offers a number of ice cream makers in the budget to mid-priced range in a variety of styles, including both freezer bowl models and salt-and-ice machines. It also makes a battery-operated 1-cup single-serve ice cream maker.
KitchenAid is known for its iconic stand mixers and the variety of attachments that are powered by the mixer’s motor. There are attachments for food processing, pasta making, juicing, and even making ice cream. If you already own a KitchenAid mixer and don’t want to sacrifice any more counter space for another appliance, the ice cream freezer bowl attachment may be a perfect choice. The freezer bowl attaches to the mixer in place of the standard mixing bowl, and an ice cream paddle replaces the mixer’s beater. Both can be stored in the freezer between uses, so they’ll always be ready when you want to make a batch of ice cream.
Ice cream makers typically don’t include any major accessories, although some might include ice cream scoops, extra bowls, or additional paddles. You’ll need a spoon or spatula to remove the ice cream from the machine and a freezer-safe container to store the finished product.
If you want to take your ice cream making to the next level, you may want to consider investing in special molds for making ice cream bars and a quality ice cream scoop. Toppings like sprinkles and fudge sauce, sundae dishes, and milkshake glasses may be fun accessories to have as well.
How do you clean an ice cream maker?
Before using and cleaning your ice cream maker, always consult the instruction manual for recommendations and best practices on how to clean each part. Most ice cream makers are not dishwasher safe, so you’ll have to wash freezer bowls, paddles, and lids by hand in warm, soapy water with a mild detergent. Freezer bowls can not be put in the dishwasher because the high temperatures can damage the insulated seal and result in the cooling liquid leaking out.
All ice cream maker parts need to be thoroughly dried before reassembling and using. Freezer bowls need to be totally dry before being placed in the freezer; otherwise, ice can accumulate on the walls of the bowl and can interfere with the ice cream making process.
Can you rent an ice cream maker?
Commercial soft serve style ice cream machines are available to rent for parties and special events, but we’re not aware of rentals for countertop ice cream makers designed for home kitchen use. If you’re concerned you won’t use an ice cream maker enough to justify the cost, consider a budget model or manual model. Be sure to check out warranties and return policies in case there’s a problem, or you change your mind.
Can ice cream makers be used to make gelato and frozen yogurt?
Yes! Ice cream makers can be used to make ice cream, gelato, and frozen yogurt. You’ll get the best results with an ice cream maker that has settings to control churning speed and freezing time, though. You’ll find these features on electric models only, but not all electric ice cream makers have this capability. Be sure to read about dessert settings to make sure the ice cream maker offers the versatility you’re looking for.
Is ice cream expensive to make?
It depends on the quality of ingredients you buy. The basic ingredients needed to make your own ice cream, regardless of the ice cream maker you use, are cream, milk, eggs, and sugar. The dairy aisle can be pricey, especially if you buy organic or grass-fed cream and milk. Eggs are relatively affordable but increase in cost if they’re sourced from pastured hens. Flavorings and mix-ins vary in price. And, although not expensive, salt-and-ice style ice cream makers will require you to have a box of salt and a bag of ice on hand.
How does homemade ice cream compare to store bought?
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: homemade ice cream tastes better and fresher than store-bought. Homemade has none of the artificial or weird ingredients some grocery store varieties contain. Plus, making your own ice cream puts you in the driver’s seat to create flavors that just don’t exist in grocery store freezers.
What are some tips for making homemade ice cream?
“I always recommend mastering vanilla ice cream before moving on to more complicated flavors,” says Ellen Coatney, creator and owner of Fifth Scoop. “This helps you get the technique down without worrying about your chocolate breaking or your fruit swirl getting icy. Once you’re confident you can mix and churn a delicious vanilla ice cream, start adding some basic mix-ins—cookie pieces or chocolate chips are easy ones to start with—and then you can get more creative.”
What are some tips for making vegan homemade ice cream?
“For vegan ice creams, adding a little vodka to the mix before churning helps produce smoother, more scoopable ice cream because the vodka prevents it from freezing so hard,” explains Coatney.
What are popular mix-ins for homemade ice cream?
For inspiration when it comes to mix-ins, some of Coatney’s favorite combos include almond extract and candied cherries, frozen passion fruit pulp and coconut, and coffee and brownie pieces.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
The Spruce Eats Editor Siobhan Wallace wrote this roundup based on testing insights from our Lab and at-home testers’ full product reviews. The accompanying buying guide was written by kitchen tools expert Donna Currie, who has tested over 100 products for The Spruce Eats and knows what makes a good kitchen gadget.
This roundup was updated by Katrina Munichiello, a writer and editor who specializes in the tea and food industries. She currently focuses on small kitchen appliances for The Spruce Eats.
Through this article, we hope to help you understand Ice cream maker machines