If you love ice cream so much that you want to make your own from scratch, you’ll need a good ice cream maker.
If you’re going to make ice cream once or twice a month, a machine with a canister that you pre-freeze is your best bet. If you’re going to make ice cream once or twice a week, a self-refrigerating machine with a built-in compressor is the way to go.
The Cuisinart ICE-30 Pure Indulgence — a machine that requires pre-freezing — is our top pick because it makes creating your own delicious ice cream at home a breeze, and it produces up to two quarts in one go.
Read more: The best frozen dessert makers you can buy
In the immortal words of the 1927 song, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Considering that the average American eats more than 23 pounds of ice cream per year, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, it’s a sentiment that just about all of us agree with.
Although it’s easy to get a scoop at your local ice cream shop, pick up a pint at the supermarket, or even get a few online, there’s something undeniably special about ice cream you make yourself. That’s why we tested and did the research to find the best ice cream makers you can buy.
Before you start shopping, here’s a rundown of the three main types on the market.
Ice and rock salt
The most traditional — and, occasionally, the most physically taxing — ice cream makers, these machines feature an inner metal container surrounded by ice and rock salt in an outer bucket. (The rock salt lowers the temperature so that the ice cream mixture in the container will freeze; ice alone isn’t cold enough.) Some models operate by hand-crank — a feature that either provides old-timey fun or a workout that goes against the very nature of ice cream, depending on how you look at it — but most are powered by electric motors these days. It’s important to note that many motorized models can’t be opened to add mix-ins while churning.
If you plan on making ice cream once or twice a week, a machine with a canister that you freeze is an affordable option. These types of ice cream makers do require a degree of advanced planning, though; the canister, which is filled with liquid coolant, typically needs to be placed in the freezer up to 24 hours in advance.
A pro tip: turn the machine on and get the paddle moving before you pour in the ice cream base. The motion will prevent the mixture from immediately freezing against the sides of the canister.
Also called compressors, these self-refrigerating machines are the easiest to use. They often require nothing more than pouring in your ice cream mixture, flipping a switch, and waiting 30 to 40 minutes. Unfortunately, that kind of convenience comes with a high price tag, and compressor models are often noisier and bulkier than their pre-frozen and bucket-style counterparts. Still, they’re a solid investment if you’re serious about frozen desserts.
So, consider your budget, how frequently you plan on making ice cream, the amount of real estate in your freezer, and the size of the crowd you’re planning to feed before making a decision.
Does homemade ice cream really taste the same as store-bought?
Yes and no. You may find that the stuff you make at home freezes harder than store-bought ice cream. That’s because commercial-grade ice cream makers are powerful enough to run at super-high speeds, meaning they can whip extra air (called overrun) into ice cream in a way that home machines just can’t.
Plus, your typical supermarket pint often comes with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients that make it easier to scoop. That being said, many people prefer the denser, richer texture of homemade ice cream — to retain a little softness, just scoop it straight from the machine or let it rest on the counter for 10 minutes prior to serving.
There are so many ice cream recipes out there. Where should I start?
While testing, I used recipes from David Lebovitz’s excellent ice cream primer “The Perfect Scoop.” Its recipes run the gamut from basic (chocolate, vanilla, coffee) to ambitious (lemon-speculoos, orange Szechuan pepper, labneh with pistachio-sesame brittle), with some illuminating detours into gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and granita along the way. Lebovitz’s thoughtful instructions on mastering perfect ice cream custard, which can be a bit of a balancing act, are particularly helpful.
Here are the best ice cream makers you can buy in 2020:
Best ice cream maker overall: Cuisinart ICE-30 Pure Indulgence
Best fast ice cream maker: Chef’n Sweet Spot Instant Ice Cream Maker
Best compression maker: Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor Ice Cream Maker
Best affordable option: Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker
Best upgrade: Breville Smart Scoop
Updated on 06/4/2020 by Caitlin Petreycik: Prices, links, and formatting are accurate as of 6/4/20. We also added the Breville Smart Scoop after testing, as well as information on the different types of ice cream machines.
The best overall
While most frozen-bowl ice cream makers only make a quart or so per batch, the Cuisinart ICE-30 Pure Indulgence produces up to two quarts of sweet, sweet goodness.
If you make ice cream for the family — or let’s be honest, if you just want a really, really big bowl of ice cream for yourself — you can’t go wrong with the Cuisinart ICE-30 Pure Indulgence. This baby cranks out up to two quarts of ice cream per batch, so you’ll have enough to share, although you might not want to.
This is a frozen-bowl machine, so you’ll have to remember to freeze the metal bowl for at least 12 hours before using it, but it’s really better to freeze the bowl for a full day. Go ahead and store the bowl in your freezer when not in use if you plan on using the ice cream maker frequently.
Once your bowl is frozen and your ingredients added, the machine takes over for you. Churning is automatic, and ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet is ready in around half an hour. That’s not so long to wait for delicious, creamy goodness.
Some Amazon shoppers have complained about the results being too icy or not-entirely-frozen, and the loudness of the machine (to be fair, that’s a fairly common complaint about nearly all automatic ice cream makers). If you find the ice cream to be a bit liquidy, pop it in the freezer for a bit to firm it up.
Pros: Large batch, easy to use and clean
Cons: Loud, some complaints about icy or not-quite-frozen results
The best budget ice cream maker
There’s no reason to spend big bucks when the Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker turns out such good ice cream at a bargain price.
If you want ice cream and lots of it, but you aren’t interested in spending a lot of money or taking up a lot of storage space, and you don’t mind needing to keep rock salt on hand, you’ll love the Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker.
There’s no need to pre-chill the bowl with this machine. It uses rock salt and ice, which you add to the outer container, to freeze the ingredients. Those go in an inner bowl, where a paddle automatically churns the batter until it’s frozen. You can produce delicious and creamy ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and gelato with this machine in roughly 45 minutes.
Pros: Budget price, large batch
Cons: You’ll need rock salt and a lot of ice
The best fast ice cream maker
If the dish is frozen in advance, you can have ice cream in minutes with the Chef’n Sweet Spot Instant Ice Cream Maker.
No electricity, no rock salt, no lengthy churning: Just pour your ice cream batter onto the pre-frozen surface of the Chef’n Sweet Spot Instant Ice Cream Maker, mix with the included spoon, and in just a few minutes, you’ll be enjoying your frozen dessert.
Basically, this is a quick-freeze shallow metal bowl, so the Chef’n Sweet Spot Instant Ice Cream Maker is super-easy to use. You do have to plan in advance because the bowl must be frozen at least overnight, but once it’s frozen, you should be able to mix up a couple of batches of fresh ice cream before you need to refreeze the bowl.
You can make up to three cups of ice cream in a 30-minute session or use the device for adding mix-ins to softened commercial ice cream.
Pros: No need for electricity, quick results, easy to use, fun for kids
Cons: Bowl must be frozen before use, small batches of ice cream, expensive for what it is
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