Growing up in the northeast, there was no shortage of ice cream no matter the time of year. During the hot summer months, my family would go to Wahl’s Dairy Port, a family-owned ice cream parlor in Bucksport, Maine, for sundaes and flurries, multiple times a week. I remember one winter my mom got one of those nostalgia-inducing hand-crank ice cream churns that we filled with ice and rock salt, then took turns churning outside in the bitter cold. 0/10, do not recommend.
Personal anecdotes aside, New England does have a reputation for ice cream—we’re home to Ben & Jerry’s after all. So I screamed (I couldn’t resist) when I got the opportunity to write this article and test a bunch of ice cream makers to determine which were the best on the market. Before getting started, I spoke with Aaron Cohen, owner of Gracie’s Ice Cream in Somerville, Massachusetts, my favorite local ice cream shop. I wanted to know a little more about commercial ice cream production so I could know what to look for in ice cream makers meant for home use. Churn speed seems to be one of the biggest factors in producing silky, creamy ice cream.
“Commercial machines are designed to bring larger quantities of ice cream base to colder temperatures faster,” Cohen says. “Some even have condensers that could power small air conditioners. Retail units are designed to be smaller and less expensive, so their cooling capacity leaves a lot to be desired if what you’re looking for is a lot of ice cream fast.”
And he means fast! Cohen tells me his commercial machines churn ice cream within eight to 15 minutes. With that in mind, along with the other factors listed below, I tested eight ice cream makers to determine which home machines came closest to producing ice cream on par with Cohen’s commercial machines. Here’s how they measured up.
Table of contents
Best ice cream maker overallMost convenient ice cream makerBest compressor ice cream makerA more affordable compressor ice cream makerWhat I looked forHow I testedOther ice cream makers I testedThe takeaway
This ice cream machine is exactly what I picture in my head when I imagine an electric home ice cream maker. It feels like the prototype for every other ice cream maker of this size and style—at first glance the Hamilton Beach model I tested looks almost exactly like it. The design is pleasingly simple, consisting of just four parts: the electric base, the bowl, the paddle, and a clear plastic cover. The latter holds the bowl in place and has an opening large enough to pour your ice cream base in, along with any mix-ins later, without spilling all over the countertop. Like every canister model, the freezer bowl has to be kept in the freezer for 24 hours before you can start churning. Something to keep in mind if you plan to make a lot of ice cream.
Using this machine is as simple as its design. Simply place the bowl on the electric base, insert the paddle, and put the cover on. Once assembled, switch it on, and pour in your ice cream base. The cover holds the paddle in place while the bowl spins. This was the fastest of all of the machines tested, churning ice cream to a soft-serve consistency in 20 minutes flat. It produced the best-textured ice cream of all of the canister models and was the quietest in this category. Ice crystals were present in both tastings but fairly minimal, giving the ice cream an almost perfect silky texture. Because the bowl is fairly shallow and wide, it was easy to pull the paddle out without spilling ice cream onto the counter. Once I scraped the ice cream from the paddle, scooping the rest out of the bowl was a quick, easy process.
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