Best Ice Cream Makers Reviewed and Tested
No one knows exactly when it appeared or who first invented it, but we’re all immensely grateful to the ancient inventor if ice cream and other frozen desserts.
Greek conquerors and Roman emperors enjoyed some form of ice cream or sorbet. Many believe the initial recipes came from China. Wherever it came from, today you can find it in essentially every grocery store and restaurant. It’s a favorite of kids and adults alike.
Home ice cream churns have been available for quite a few decades, but modern advances have transformed the ice cream making process.
Today, all some machines require is a bowl full ingredients and the tap of a button. Others reflect a more traditional approach to homemade ice cream.
Whether you want soft serve like you get from fast food chains or the luxury of homemade gelato, there’s an ice cream maker out there that’s perfect for your needs.
My Favorite Ice Cream Makers
1. Nostalgia ICMP400WD
Size: 12.2” x 12.2” x 15.8”
Weight: 6.6 lbs.
Volume: 4 quarts
Churn or Soft Serve: Churn
The Nostalgia ICMP400WD is a beautiful little appliance, inside and out. The exterior is real wood, which helps it blend into the design of any party. Best of all, the pretty design doesn’t hamper productivity. The plastic liner is easy to clean if you happen to make a mess. An interior aluminum canister with a see-through lid and lid cap allows easy freezer storage just in case you happen to have leftovers. A locking motor mount and durable paddle are a powerful answer to even the most challenging recipes. The canister does not need to be frozen ahead of time, either.
This product falls in the mid-range of the price scale, which means it should do better than basic ice cream makers. Despite how cute it is, however, there feedback wasn’t entirely positive. Although the majority of users absolutely loved this product, it’s hard to say how many times they used it before voicing their opinion. Of course, it’s difficult to tell whether disappointed customers thoroughly read the instructions before use. Still, this product performs well the vast majority of the time. Just be sure to use it several times in the two or three weeks after your initial purchase to ensure it works as well as expected.
2. Cuisinart ICE-45
Size: 7.75” x 9.86” x 17.25”
Weight: 16.7 lbs.
Volume: 1 ½ quart
Churn or Soft Serve: Soft Serve
It’s heavier than most ice cream makers, but that’s because this isn’t a traditional paddle-churn design. It functions as a shrunken version of the large soft serve dispensers you see at restaurants. The advantage, of course, is that you get real ice cream rather than whatever fast food chains put in their soft serve. Once your dessert is finished, a simple pull handle dispenses it. The lid removes and locks easily, and it comes complete with an ingredient window. Three condiment shoots allow you to add the topping of your choice to your dish as the ice cream is dispensed. One is small, designed for light condiments like sprinkles, while two larger chutes provide ample space for chocolate candies and crushed cookies. Convenient design perks include a cone holder that is compatible with multiple cone shapes. The one great inconvenience is that you have to freeze the bowl before you can use it.
This is one of the most expensive items on our list, so it has a high bar to meet. That said, this is a very touchy machine. It may not work straight out of the box, and it has its own recipes. Unfortunately, those recipes may never reach you. This product may arrive missing things like the drip tray and recipe book, both of which play a major role in the machine’s utility. If everything is in the box that should be there, then it ought to perform well. The biggest issues seemed to come from either faulty machines – which may be returned – or missing parts. Still, it’s reasonable to expect such a pricey ice cream maker to come with all its parts the first time. Since the machine depends on special recipes to prevent it from developing blockages, and the bowl has to be pre-frozen, it loses significant value points. It’s worth a try for soft serve lovers, but be ready to tango with customer service.
- Very easy to use
- Built-in condiment dispensers
- Built-in dispenser
- Handy design features
- Condiments cannot be mixed in during initial prep
- Creates small volume
- Pre-freezing required
3. Hamilton Beach 68320 1 ½
Size: 10.2” x 9.4” x 11.8”
Weight: 7.2 lbs
Volume: 1 ½ quarts
Churn or Soft Serve: Churn
An easy lock lid that covers a wide ingredient opening makes this product exceptionally user-friendly. An outer bowl also prevents your counter from getting slippery with condensation. The design is simple and straightforward. You drop in the ingredients after pre-freezing the bowl, choose your favorite add-ins, and let the machine do the work of churning for you. There are no real bells or whistles to hike the price. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its secrets, though. Unlike most other ice cream churn designs, this product does not require ice or rock salt in order to make ice cream.
You might expect a great volume of ice cream from a midrange product, but this ice cream maker does sit at the cheaper end of that middle ground. It’s a little finicky, but so long as you pour your ice cream mixture in after the paddles begin to turn, you shouldn’t suffer from the dreaded frozen paddle syndrome. For the price, however, such minor issues can be overlooked. The fact that you don’t have to waste the precious, limited interior space with a bunch of ice is also a plus.
- Large ingredient opening
- Outer bowl prevents condensation
- Compatible with essentially any add-ins
- Pre-freeze required
- Limited volume
Although no two products are exactly the same, there are certain standards we can hold all any ice cream maker too. These standards helped us evaluate the options above fairly to give you the best information possible. Our criteria for evaluation for ice cream makers are:
- Quality of Materials and Construction
- Ease of Use
- Core Performance
Quality of Materials and Construction
The best products always use sturdier, more expensive materials, such as stainless steel. While plastic ice cream makers may still function reasonably well, they are simply not as durable as steel. Products that may win style points for chrome paint usually lose construction points.
Plastic materials that pretend to be something else are rarely well constructed and are designed to deceive casual shoppers.
One of the products we examined seemed to perform very well in most areas, but the special lining inside came away if scraped too hard with a spoon. Homemade ice cream makers often build up at least some ice on the outer edge, and lots of people scrape to get the last of their dessert out of the churning bowl.
This, obviously, testifies to both poor materials and construction. Manufacturing shortcuts that lead to problems like these could jeopardize the safety of the food produced.
Since it doesn’t have its own category, we usually consider shipping damage under this criterion. Packaging often reflects the quality of construction. Flimsy materials that snap easily before the box is even open demonstrate poor design and/or materials.
If the product is missing pieces, that’s a serious concern. The more reports we find of missing or damaged products, the lower the materials and construction score drops.
Ease of Use
Ease of use covers any extra steps or frustrating design flaws users must contend with in their quest for fresh ice cream. If the ingredient funnel is too small to allow users to pour in sprinkles without making a mess, for example, the ice cream maker gets a lower score. Points are also docked for extra steps in the machine’s design.
Any machine with a freezer bowl that requires eight hours in the freezer before the machine can make ice cream is a headache. If you forget that step, you dessert won’t just be a little late. You’ll have to wait until the next day. Machines that do not require lots of ice and rock salt get more points, because topping up ice throughout the procedure is a headache.
There are ways to earn ease of use points, of course, and not just lose them. It’s all about convenience. Multiple condiment shoots, as one of the products boasted, earn lots of ease of use points. The same product was our only true soft serve machine, and the ease of dispensing also won it a few points.
Slip-proofing demonstrates consideration for the user’s experience, as do condensation-proof layers in the design. A common way for ice cream makers to improve their standing is to include recipe books. Although the internet is full of recipes these days, it’s always best to have a manufacturer-approved list to experiment with in the beginning.
Core performance addresses how well an ice cream maker actually makes ice cream. The most common issue with ice cream makers is that they don’t get cold enough, churn well enough, or simple run long enough to make proper ice cream. As noted above, you have to keep in mind that the ice cream you make at home will not be as hard as the stuff you buy at the store.
A household appliance simply can’t get that cold and still turn the interior paddle. It’s a matter of scale and technology. You’ll always be able to find industrial-made products that have characteristics you just can’t reproduce on your own.
Still, there’s still a huge difference between homemade ice cream and the cold soup with a few ice crystals that failed products create. The number of returns, as discussed above, factor in a little bit here. Core performance isn’t just about how well a product performs the first time, it’s also about how well it continues to product ice cream over its lifetime. If a product gives out within the first ten uses, it earns a low core performance standard.
To get an ideal core performance assessment, an ice cream maker needs to offer various settings or churn times to allow for a range of consistencies. It needs to make ice cream well, and users must find it reliable. Mystery failures and one-off successes do not help.
How easy is the machine to clean up and care for? Removable bowls and other parts earn lots of maintenance points. Another huge benefit are machine washable pieces, though these are rare. Complicated lids that users have to scrub around will lower maintenance value.
The product’s long term appearance plays into maintenance, too. A plastic device will typically show its age before a stainless steel ice cream maker. While you can simply wipe down plastic and steel exteriors, plastic warps and develops age spots. So long as a stainless steel appliance has time to dry, it will remain looking like new for a much longer time.
5 Tips to Make a Mean Ice Cream with an Ice Cream Maker
If you enjoy frozen desserts such as ice cream, sorbets, and sherbets, you will be glad to hear that they are not too challenging to make by yourself at home. You can find many great recipes that are available in order to help you make your favorite flavors. If you are a beginner, or you have found yourself wanting to develop your method, the following tips can help you make great homemade ice cream.
Tips to Make Ice Cream
1. The most imperative step you can make is by carefully reading your ice cream freezer’s instructions and following them accordingly. Several home ice cream freezers have bowls that require to be frozen before time, which is generally 24 hours beforehand.
A bowl that is not fully frozen will take an extended amount of time to freeze your ice cream and can greatly affect the completed creation. If you make homemade ice cream frequently, once you clean your bowl, you should store your bowl in the. This will save you time as it will continuously be prepared for your next batch of ice cream.
2. Never overfill the ice cream maker because mixing ice cream combines air into the completed creation as it freezes. This means that you will require additional room in your freezer. The amount of room needed will differ from one model to the next, but a general rule of thumb is to not fill it over 2/3 of the way.
3. Always be certain the ice cream mixture is cold ahead of time before you start placing it in the ice cream freezer. By using this step, your recipe, whichever you choose to prepare, will aid in enhancing your ice cream.
A cold mixture will aid in freezing it faster, which ends in an improved texture. It is also important to first chill it in the refrigerator a minimum of one hour before placing it in the ice cream freezer. You may also even refrigerate your base overnight if you desired.
4. Another way to aid in keeping the ice cream base texture softer is by adding some alcohol. Since alcohol does not freeze, it is able to keep the ice cream from becoming hard when it is stored in the freezer. Nevertheless, make sure you do not go overboard when adding alcohol because applying more than a couple tablespoons can keep your ice cream from freezing correctly.
5. It is important to remember that you are not absolutely required to add every ingredient that you have to your ice cream immediately. Make sure to just pick at most two ingredients to improve to your ice cream. The other ingredients can be added later as toppings.
As another note, make sure that you add your ingredients at least 60 seconds before your ice cream has completed mixing. They do not require mixing for the whole time, so it is possible to complement them when the ice cream is essentially prepared.
By doing this, you will prevent the ingredients from separating a lot. After this, you will want to shield your ice cream with foil or plastic wrap as well as close it in an air-tight container. Appropriately storing your ice cream will aid in keeping the texture and avoid it from developing ice crystals.
Don’t forget to experiment with your mixtures! Try different flavors and recipes to see which one you like the most. First you will need to start with basic recipes and alter the ingredients until it suits your own individual taste.
Interesting Homemade Ice Cream Flavors to Try
Below you will find some of the most interesting homemade ice cream flavors that are easy to make!
Southern Berry Cobbler Ice Cream
A perfect summer treat, you will find that there is nothing quite like a freshly made summer berry cobbler. Simply turn it into a fresh, cold, and creamy ice cream.
Ginger Maple Miso Ice Cream
This flavor has been described as rich and savory as well as sweet and salty. Many have compared it to French toast tasting.
Pistachio Avocado Ice Cream
This treat adds a pinch of cardamom which is a perfect spice to make this summer treat perfect. You will also find that this ice cream is packed with heart healthy fats and is also dairy-free.
Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Ice Cream
No matter what the season, for most people chocolate and cherries are a delicious combination. By adding cherries, chocolate, and cheesecake together to make ice cream, this is surely make a tasty treat.
Lemon Curd Ice Cream
Three simple ingredients make a mouthwatering, deliciously lemony ice cream!
Chocolate Coconut Joy Ice Cream
Make this tasty treat by combining almonds, coconut, vanilla, and chocolate. This is truly a perfect treat for a summer day.
Strawberry Lemonade Cheesecake Ice Cream
A blended mix including strawberries, lemonade, and cheesecake! How could this not be a tasty treat for summer?
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Mixing fresh garden mint, creamy milk, and rich chocolate chips will make a cold, rich, and vibrant ice cream.
Espresso Ice Cream
With finely ground espresso, coffee beans, vanilla extract, and your other usual ingredients, this is a delicious ice cream flavor that any coffee lover will definitely enjoy.
Guinness Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
This ice cream is definitely for those who enjoy a little alcohol content with their desserts.
Chocolate Fudge Swirl Peanut Butter Ice Cream
For this ice cream, you can choose whichever peanut butter you desire; smooth or crunchy. You will also need Dutch processed cocoa for the fudge. This ice cream treat requires a fair amount of ingredients, but it is delicious when it is done!
Dried Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream
This is a delicious ice cream treat that incorporates dried apricots, shelled pistachios, as well as a hint of lemon juice, and either dry or sweet white wine. The wine in this ice cream aids in preventing the ice cream from becoming too cold and preserves its nice soft texture.
Roasted Banana Ice Cream
This dish requires a little bit of preparation as you will need to bake your sliced bananas in the oven with some brown sugar until your bananas are browned and cooked thoroughly. After this, you will need to take all of the contents within the baking dish and place it in either a blender or food processor while adding other ingredients.
However, after this dish is complete, it will be well worth the time and patience!
Q: Why doesn’t it create ice cream like the stuff I find in the store?
The sad fact is, the ice cream you get in stores has been made through highly advanced technology. Massive freezers are used to keep it that hard, and special machines without powerful motors blend it to that consistency. No appliance you could fit on your kitchen counter could make ice cream like the stuff you find at the store.
Those products usually use a lot of artificial ingredients to achieve and maintain that texture, too. Even if you used those, however, you’d break the paddle or the motor powering your ice cream maker.
Your ice cream may be softer, but it doesn’t have to survive the transportation store-bought products do. You can also make much more authentic gelato and sorbet than you’ll ever find at the store.
Q: Why do some ice cream makers need salt?
Ice cream actually needs to be churned at below freezing temperatures in order to become solid. Ice, which is made of water, freezes at exactly 32 degrees, so it can’t get anything colder than that. Salt lowers the freezing temperature of whatever it comes into contact with, including water. This is why the ocean is still liquid under the ice caps.
Ice caps are made of fresh water, and the ocean is salty. By adding salt to the ice chilling your ice cream, you reduce the temperature just enough to allow ice cream to form. It’s a cheap way to drop the temperature, and a lot of budget ice cream makers require ice and salt to do the work of chilling the ice cream so a smaller motor can be used. The smaller motor only has to handle the paddle then, and not a cooling element, too.
Q: Is it safe to put whole cookies/fruit/candy in it?
By and large, the answer is no. Although it may sound simple, you have to keep in mind that those big chunks of food will freeze, and they’ll probably freeze faster than the ice cream itself will. Big pieces of anything can wedge churning paddles into place, which will either stop the process or burn out your ice cream maker entirely. Frozen items only increase this risk, because they could easily get stuck on the edges of the bowl and block paddles that way.
If you want to add solids to your ice cream, it’s best to wait until the end of the process. That’s what those ingredient shoots are for. Use those chutes as a rule of thumb. If your candy or fruit can’t fit down the funnel, then it needs to be chopped into smaller particles.
If you toss even small solids into the mix before it has a chance to set, they could mess up the process. At best, they’d all just sink to the bottom, because ice cream begins as a liquid, remember? Of course, those little candies could easily get frozen to the bottom of the bowl, which would create problems for the paddle again.
Additives are great, but wait until the end. Toss them in once the ice cream is pretty much done. It should only take a few turns of the paddle to blend them in. That way your dessert turns out well and your ice cream maker lives to see another day.
Q: I don’t get these sizes. How big is a quart, anyway?
If you go to your grocery store, you’ll see pints of ice cream for sale. They look big enough for one or two to enjoy, but that’s all. Two of those little pints make a quart. Larger, oval ice cream cartons used to be half a gallon, but today they’re about one and a half quarts.
So if an ice cream machine says it can make one and a half quarts, you’ll have the same amount of ice cream that you’d get from buying a regular, oval carton at the store. Some of the ice cream machines we reviewed can make up to four quarts at a time. These are the kind you’d want for a party or large gathering.
Q: Is homemade ice cream really better for you?
Yes and no. It depends on what you put in it. It’s possible to actually buy premade mixes, and these usually have all the artificial dyes and unhealthy additives you find in store-bought varieties. That said, you can cook from scratch and still have terribly unhealthy food. Be careful how much sugar you use, especially processed cane and beet sugars.
Adding bananas is a great way to get a thicker texture with a little extra sweetness. Keep in mind, there are also lots of things you can make in an ice cream maker besides ice cream. Fruit-based sorbets are typically healthier than ice cream (which, of course, uses a lot of fat-rich cream).
Frozen yogurt is also a great alternative. Take some time to experiment with different recipes and flavors. Chances are, you’ll find a healthier alternative to store-bought ice cream that suits your tastes.