Making your own ice cream can be messy and time-consuming. But there’s no denying that homemade ice cream tastes better and is much healthier than the store-bought alternative. It’s nice to be able to choose the ingredients and control the quality and nutritional value. When you make your own frozen desserts, you also have the option to experiment with different flavors, some of which you can’t get at the grocery store.
To make ice cream, you need the best ice cream maker, either hand-cranked or motorized. While both the machines make equally good ice cream, each of them produce different ice cream textures.
Hand-powered machines involve a bit more effort on your part, but incorporate a lot of air, making a nice, fluffy ice cream. They usually consist of a bucket with an inner canister that has a dasher or stirrer. In some models a layer of cracked ice mixed with rock salt is placed between the bucket and canister, which works to chill the cream as it churns. Electric ice cream makers on the other hand, do not require you to do the mixing, but the more steady motion of their motor produces a denser ice cream.
Everyone likes their ice cream a little different. It’s important to note that electric ice cream makers are much more versatile than hand crank ice cream makers. Beyond ice cream, some electric models also allow you to experiment with a lot more chilling options, such as fruity sorbets, gelato, and frozen yogurt.
Because electric ice cream makers are fully automatic, they work faster and are more convenient than manual or hand crank ice cream makers. A typical electric ice cream maker might take around 20-30 minutes to churn the desired creamy consistency, while a hand crank model often needs at least 30 minutes to get the job done.
If you crave a convenient way to make homemade frozen treats, want to stay away from food additives, or keep within dietary restrictions, then you should buy an electric ice cream maker.
Electric Ice Cream Maker vs. Stand Mixer
If you feel an ice cream maker is too much money for not enough capabilities, another option is to buy a stand mixer with an ice cream maker attachment. If you already own a powerful stand mixer and only want to make ice cream a few times during the summer months, buy an optional ice cream maker attachment to make your favorite frozen treats.
Stand mixers are all-in-one kitchen appliances. From shredding chicken breasts to kneading pizza doughs, powerful stand mixers can be handy sidekicks. Though they’re pricey they’re often worth it, given their top-notch performance, multifunctional uses, and long-lasting life.
Many people have made ice cream with their KitchenAid stand mixers, which do a great job of replicating the churning movement of a standard ice cream maker. So it is a viable option.
It should be pointed out that when using a stand mixer, before making a batch of luscious homemade ice cream or any frozen treats, you will have to pre-freeze the mixer’s bowl for at least 15 hours. The bowl must get cold enough for the liquid ice cream mixture to churn.
Also, ice cream melts quickly in a stand mixer, especially without any additives. Though you can put it in the freezer for later use, it doesn’t taste quite as good once frozen. This makes a huge distinction between a built-in ice cream maker and an electric stand mixer.
Before you buy any additional attachment, check to see whether it’s compatible with your mixer or not.
How to Choose a Ice Cream Maker
To find a good ice cream maker, there is nothing you should do more than thoroughly understand each style of ice cream maker. While most ice cream makers are fairly well made and work well, the type of your machine will highly affect how long it takes to churn a batch of ice, how easy it is to use, and how good the result it produces.
There are three basic kinds of ice cream machines, each coming in a range of prices, from as low as $40 to hundreds of dollars.
1. Ice-Salt Coolant Machines
These old-style ice cream makers are practical, inexpensive, and fun to use. They usually come with a bucket, a canister with a lid, a dasher, and a small electric motor. The canister should be pre-chilled in the fridge before the churning process. When the chilled canister is filled with all the ingredients, put the dasher inside it, then place the canister in the middle of the bucket full of salt and ice. To make ice cream, the powerful motor that locks on top of the machine will rotate the canister and keep the churning paddle stationary. The more efficiently the canister is rotated, the better result you will have.
Ice-salt coolant machines require manual effort to produce a perfect batch of ice cream. Because the ice will melt and settle before your ice cream is complete, you will need to add ice and salt frequently to keep the process running smoothly.
Most ice-salt coolant machines can deliver soft-serve consistency ice cream in around 30 minutes. That being said, while they can make ice cream they cannot keep it frozen. You may need to transfer your ice cream to an airtight container and harden it in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours until it’s ready to serve.
2. Countertop Machines
Countertop machines generally feature a double-walled bowl that has a liquid between the walls that freezes below 32 °F (0 °C). This means you must pre-freeze the bowl for up to 24 hours before making your ice cream. The frozen bowl ensures the ice cream will freeze as it’s being churned or stirred. It usually takes around 20-30 minutes for the bowl to thaw and the ice cream to freeze. While these ice cream makers are budget-friendly, you will have some pre-planning to do and the setup can get pretty messy.
Because you have to pre-freeze the mixing bowl in advance, you can’t churn two or more batches consecutively. There will be a delay between uses. If you want to make multiple batches at a time, you can buy extra bowls for your machine. Just make sure your freezer has enough space for all the spare bowls.
To get the best possible results, make sure the bowl is fully frozen and the ice cream mixture has been kept refrigerated or chilled. The best and fastest way to tell if your bowl is ready for use is to shake it. If you don’t hear any liquid moving around inside its wall, then you know your bowl is completely frozen.
Most pre-freezer bowl ice cream makers don’t shut off automatically. You have to do it yourself after the recommended churning time. So make sure you know how long a given recipe will take to prepare. If you over-churn the mixture, your ice cream will never have the consistency of soft serve.
3. Built-In Freezer Machines
If you are looking for a quick, convenient way to make batch after batch of frozen desserts without a delay between batches, you may consider a built-in freezer machine.
Among the three main types of ice cream maker, built-in freezer machines are the easiest to use. Since these models come equipped with a compressor that does the chilling for you, there is no need to pre-chill a bowl prior to the ice cream making process.
Though this type of machine is more expensive and usually larger than its counterparts, it offers a more efficient way to make your favorite ice cream, gelato, sorbet, frozen yogurt, and even some icy drinks.
Many affordable built-in freezer machines are packed with automatic settings so you can get a fresh batch of homemade ice cream with little effort. If money is not an obstacle, the self-freezing ice cream maker is the machine to buy.
Reviews of the Best Ice Cream Makers in 2021:
1. Cuisinart ICE-30BC – Best to Buy 2021
The Cuisinart ICE-30BC is a portable and compact ice cream maker. Its rapid working process and one-touch operation are great advantages that make this ice cream maker especially attractive to those who want to become an ice cream making connoisseur. If you’re after an ice cream maker that is affordable and can bring you soft serve ice cream quickly for parties or meals, the Cuisinart ICE-30BC is definitely one to look at.
- Easy to use
- A bit noisy
- Pre-freezing required
The Cuisinart ICE-30BC weighs about 12 pounds, with a footprint of 11.26 inches tall by 8.31 inches wide. It’s comparable in size to a rice cooker. Being somewhat compact, you can easily stash it in a deep drawer or cabinet while not in use. Its relatively small size also makes it a perfect option for anyone who lives in a dorm, small apartment, or RV.
The Cuisinart ICE-30BC is a pre-frozen bowl machine, so the mixing bowl needs to be frozen solid. This means you either need to store the bowl in your freezer all the time so it’s ready when you need it, or you have to think in advance and freeze it ahead of time. If you skip this step, your ice cream will never freeze. The colder the bowl is, the better the ice cream turns out. The process is clearly time-consuming, since it requires a little more thought and planning, but for its performance and price point, it’s definitely worth the investment.
This fully automatic machine produces good ice cream. While the ice cream can be a bit icy, it’s still smoother and creamier than store-bought ones.
Another feature we love about this ice cream maker is the ability to make fruit smoothies. You also have the option to try a lot of other frozen treats, and all seem to come out great. Just make sure that the bowl is thoroughly frozen when making sorbet and ice cream.
The machine consists of four main parts: a transparent locking lid, a 2-quart double-insulated freeze bowl, a heavy-duty mixing arm, and a brushed stainless steel base with a powerful motor. None of the parts are dishwasher safe. Some people complain that the clear acrylic lid is easily scratched up, so you should hand wash it gently with a soft sponge.
We love the Cuisinart ICE-30BC because of its user-friendly design. On the front of the machine, there is an on/off dial. Turn it on when everything is ready and shut it off when your ice cream comes out soft serve. With one-touch operation, this model is particularly easy to use and can get the task of ice cream making done fast. From start to finish, it takes about 29 minutes to freeze 0.95-quart of ice cream mix.
You can easily add ingredients through the device’s large spout without interrupting the churning process. The rubber feet are non-slip so as to keep the base stationary during operation. The clear lid firmly locks to the base and conveniently allows you to keep track of the freezing cycle.
In terms of drawbacks, the Cuisinart is a little noisy, producing a whopping 91db of noise, measured at 5.9-inches from the machine. All compressor ice cream makers, mixers, blenders, and food processor motors make sounds. And the noise will of course lessen as you move away.
Reasonable pricing, usability, technology and aesthetics all come together in this one machine. If your family likes experimenting with different flavors and ingredients without preservatives or fillers, go for the Cuisinart ICE-30BC.
2. Whynter ICM-201SB -Best Commercial Ice Cream Maker
Whether you’re preparing ice cream for a crowd or wanting to experiment with all kinds of frozen treats, the Whynter ICM-202SB makes it easy with its strength and high-efficiency compressor.
- Even-textured, flavorful ice cream
- Fairly heavy
Compared with our top pick, the Whynter ICM-202SB produces slightly creamier ice cream. It’s also much more convenient. Though it is about three times more expensive than the Cuisinart, it’s absolutely worth the premium price tag.
The Whynter ICM-202SB is a versatile, fully automatic ice cream maker, which allows you to easily make your favorite ice cream, gelato, sorbet, yogurt, and more. With a self-refrigerating compressor, it freezes the mixture without the need to pre-freeze the mixing bowl. The built-in compressor also enables continuous use, so you can make batch after batch without any downtime.
This frozen ice cream maker has a small, easy-to-read LCD display that shows the internal temperature and the operating time. Its interface is simple to operate, with only four buttons: on/off, timer, menu (ice cream, cooling, and mixing), and pause. It also has an automatic shut off mechanism, which is essential to protecting the motor from overheating once the job is finished.
Operation is simple: Just add your pre-mixed liquid into the bowl, select your desired churning mode, set the time, push a start button, and watch the machine do the rest through the transparent viewing window. You can use the pause button to easily add ingredients or check the consistency of your ice cream during the churning process.
Normally, the Whynter ICM-202SB takes 45-60 minutes for 1.7-quart of ice cream to achieve ideal hardness. Once done, the ice cream needs to be transferred into a freezer-safe container and stuck in the freezer to firm up for two more hours. As a nice bonus, it’s quick and easy to scoop out the ice cream. You can remove the dasher before commencing extraction to speed things up. The BPA-free dasher is easy to remove, too.
The stainless steel bowl is removable and easy to lift out for cleaning. One thing to note before purchase: While the capacity of the mixing bowl is 2.1 quarts, the ingredients will often become ice cream before increasing in volume to that level. So, if you expect 2 quarts, you won’t get it unless you slow down the freezing process.
Many users are pleasantly surprised at how quiet this machine is. We were expecting it to be really loud because of the compressor, and while it isn’t whisper-quiet, it’s actually quieter than any rock salt maker, producing about 72 dB. Instead of a high-pitched annoyance from a cheap motor, it’s more of a smooth mechanical hum, like maybe a loud refrigerator, which is less offputting.
Equipped with all sorts of convenient features, the Whynter ICM-202SB offers an efficient way to make your favorite summertime treats. Not only does it make smooth, creamy, and dense ice cream consistently, it’s also easy to use and exceptionally durable. If you can afford it, we think this model is absolutely worth the extra pennies.
3. KitchenAid KICA0WH – Best Value Ice Cream Maker
With this nifty gadget, you can have fresh, fluffy homemade ice cream with very few ice crystals in about 20-30 minutes. Keep in mind that you’ll need a KitchenAid stand mixer to use this attachment. The accessory itself cannot make ice cream, but must be powered by a stand mixer.
- Reasonable price tag
- Compact size
- Dishwasher-safe dasher
- Makes a decent amount of ice cream
- Easy to clean with warm soapy water
- Requires freezer space
Like our top pick, the Cuisinart ICE-30BC, it is necessary to have the bowl fully frozen in your freezer ahead of time—at least 15 hours. We highly recommend keeping it in your freezer with parchment paper lining the inside at all times so it is always ready to go. This also helps prevent leaking from the blue ice in the middle of the bowl.
We also recommend freezing the ice cream after mixing to allow it to firm up a bit. Although this ice cream maker produces soft serve ice cream, the result is still very soft, softer than the consistency of a runny milkshake. If you don’t fancy drinking your ice cream, you’ll need to transfer it to a container and put it in the freezer for a couple of hours before use to have a higher quality outcome.
The attachment is compatible with most KitchenAid stand mixers from 1990 or later.
A lot of the reviews claim the machine is difficult to assemble, but we don’t think so. The bowl and paddle easily attach to the mixer and it’s easy to operate. Just remember to start the paddle in motion before pouring the mixture into the frozen bowl, unless you want to see the mixture immediately freeze to the sides of the mixing bowl (which will prevent the paddles from turning.) We agree the instructions are a little unclear, but the process is simple enough.
Your KitchenAid stand mixer has the advantage of allowing you to switch between 10 speeds, but even the lowest is still faster than most ice cream makers available. So the resulting mixture is usually fluffy and extremely airy, not dense. If you’re a fan of dense ice cream, a built-in compressor machine, like the Whynter ICM-201SB, should be a more appropriate option.
The amount of air that is incorporated into the mixture highly affects the physical and sensory properties of ice cream. Light, fluffy ice cream has more air whipped into it than thicker, denser, and creamier ice cream. The amount of air also affects the storage stability. Ice cream with lots of air is likely to melt more quickly than ice cream with less air. How much air is added depends largely on the rotation speed. If the dasher rotates at a slow speed, the ice cream will get less air incorporated.
So far, this attachment works as advertised and is very simple to use, bringing about excellent results. The only downside is the length of time it takes to freeze everything prior to use, but that’s just the type of ice cream maker this is.
4. Cuisinart ICE-21R -Best Homemade Ice Cream Maker
The Cuisinart ICE-21R ice cream maker is great for experimenting with flavor options and healthy alternatives. It’s also a fun project for kids. It’s not too loud, works fast, and is super easy to operate.
- Easy lock transparent lid
- Large capacity
- Quite loud
In comparison with the Cuisinart ICE-30BC, this plastic ice cream maker is quieter. Of course, both of them make noise, but the stainless steel one is considerably louder with a high-pitched sound. However, our best to buy unit may be more appealing because it has a capacity of 2 quarts, while the ICE-21R has a 1.5-quart capacity.
Keep in mind that while the machine is advertised to make 1.5 quarts of ice cream, usually the most you can get into a storage bowl to store in the freezer is a quart. This means the yield is probably no more than 4 small servings. If you’re planning on holding an ice cream party, buying an additional freezer bowl would be a smart choice.
This compact ice cream maker delivers quite good ice cream, especially when made with sweetened condensed milk. It takes 20-25 minutes to freeze 1-quart of ice cream. That said, the ice cream is not as smooth and creamy as that produced by the three models already mentioned.
The control is intuitive to use, with only an on/off button. No technical knowledge is required. Just remember to pre-freeze your bowl for at least 12 hours if you want to get the best possible results. Also, the final result is not supposed to be hard like store-bought ice cream. If you want it to be firmer, put it in the freezer.
In terms of cleaning, the bowl is not dishwasher safe, as the dish soap will react with the aluminum on the inside. You can rinse the cover and toss the paddle in the dishwasher. Both are completely dishwasher safe.
The Cuisinart ICE-21R is a solid, reliable ice cream maker. If you want to make soft serve ice cream without the hassle of purchasing bags of ice and rock salt, go for this model.
5. Nostalgia WICM4L – Best Ice-and-Salt Ice Cream Maker
The Nostalgia WICM4L is a reliable ice-and-salt ice cream maker— the type has been used for over 100 years with good results. There is no magic to the design. A tub with a scraper/paddle rotates in a bucket of ice and salt. If you’re looking for a solid “old fashioned” ice cream maker, but with a more modern touch, the Nostalgia WICM4L could be the one for you.
- Easy-to-clean plastic bucket
- Convenient carrying handle
- No manual effort needed
- See-through lids
- High capacity
- Less effective recipe book
- Must use ice & salt
We like the Nostalgia WICM4L because it is a particularly easy ice cream maker to use, assemble, and store. For such an inexpensive price, the machine is well built and offers more than you’d expect. With a heavy-duty electric motor, useful see-through lid, and easy-to-clean plastic bucket, it’s a terrific value.
Measuring about 15 inches by 12 inches, the Nostalgia WICM4L is compact enough to fit inside most cupboards or cabinets. Despite the small size, it can hold 4-quarts of ice cream mixture at a time— which is enough to feed a small family reunion.
Some users said they noticed ice crystals, which could be due to the churning, but others ended up with great tasting ice cream. In agreement with many buyers, this ice-and-salt ice cream maker produces better results than some in-freezer automatic machines, though the churning process may take longer. We also agree that the recipe book was missing some key steps, which is frustrating.
The locking electric motor helps keep all parts secure, so there is no chance that damage can occur. The Nostalgia WICM4L makes good ice cream that has the consistency of a milkshake. If you prefer a firmer consistency, you can use the see-through lid that fits on top of the canister to store the ice cream in the freezer.
Putting the machine together is relatively easy. Though it may be a little confusing at first, once you figure it out, it runs smoothly with very little manual effort. Simply insert the metal container, fill around it with a mixture of rock salt and ice, then pour the mixed ingredients into the metal container. Finally, insert the mixer and place the motor on top.
Keep in mind that the device requires a bit more attention to the ice and salt levels. It’s not a “set it and forget it” kind of machine.
Salt is used to lower the temperature below 32°F. Too much salt will make it too cold and the mix will crystalize too fast, creating granular or icy ice-cream. While too little salt will not freeze the ice cream. Be sure to follow the instructions!
The Nostalgia WICM4L is as powerful as most pre-freeze bowl ice cream makers, but it’s more affordable and comes with a smaller footprint. It allows for portability and can be used both indoors and outdoors. Featuring real wood construction with a durable aluminum canister, this tool is made to last for many generations.
6. Yonanas 987 Elite -Best Sorbet Ice Cream Maker
Yonanas 987 Elite is not really an ice cream maker—it’s a fruit soft serve maker, which is designed to puree almost any type of frozen fruit to a smooth and creamy consistency, similar to ice cream.
- Automatically shuts off
- Easy-lock lid
- Quick and efficient
- Requires lots of ice
If you have tried making sorbet from 100% frozen fruits using a blender, you may already know that blending takes a bit of practice. Since the ingredients can get caught in the blades, you have to pause and scrape them a few times until a nice soft-serve, fruit-based sorbet is complete. Even with the most powerful blenders, you have to add a bit of liquid to ensure a smooth blend. This is part of the reason why you should switch to a fruit soft serve maker, which allows for faster and easier sorbet-making, with more flexibility.
The Yonanas 987 Elite is the strongest, most quiet, and energy-efficient Yonanas machine available, turning 100% fresh fruits into yummy tasting desserts quickly and effortlessly. Measuring about 15.5 inches tall by 10.25 inches deep, the machine is as tall as a countertop blender. It’s quite compact and shouldn’t take up too much kitchen space.
We like that the machine is practical, inexpensive, and straightforward to use. Here’s how it works: Insert frozen fruits and mix-ins like chocolate chips, nuts, or spices, into the chute, then push them down using the plunge. Normally, it takes about 5-7 seconds for the final mix to come out through the opening.
The Yonanas also encourages more healthy choices. You can make a batch of soft serve without all the added condensed milk, whipping cream, and sugars found in traditional ice cream. Just make sure you let all the ingredients pre-freeze for at least 24 hours. You should also let frozen fruits thaw for about 5-7 minutes at room temperature before you blend them. Once the “ice cream” is done, just put on your favorite toppings and serve it right away. Alternatively, keep it in the freezer to produce a firmer consistency.
Compared with cheaper sorbet makers, the Yonanas 987 Elite has a powerful motor. It’s strong enough to work through almost every frozen fruit and some vegetables, without rocking or excessive straining. Though its 250-watt powerful motor makes some noise, it’s still much quieter than other models.
Fruit soft serve makers with a less powerful motor usually strain and rock back and forth when pureeing larger frozen fruits, making them quite noisy. Their max runtime is only 2-5 minutes, making it impossible for you to prepare a big batch of sorbet in a continuous run. They need to have a rest after they make just a couple of servings.
We recommend the Yonanas Elite for anyone who wants an affordable fruit soft serve maker that quickly turns frozen ingredients into fresh, full-flavored, and creamy sorbet. This machine is less versatile than other picks—it can only make sorbet—but it’s definitely worth your consideration, given its long-lasting performance and user-friendly design.
7. Hamilton Beach 68330N – Best Small Ice Cream Maker
The Hamilton Beach 68330N is a versatile, “old-fashioned” ice cream maker that lets you enjoy delicious homemade ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and gelato with very little manual effort. It’s a churning machine, so some noise should be expected, but the noise itself is not really bothersome.
- Automatically shuts off
- Easy-lock lid
- Quick and efficient
- Requires lots of ice
This machine is the lightest ice cream maker on our list, weighing about 5 pounds. That may be because its body is made of plastic. If you don’t mind that, this model would be your perfect option, given its consistent performance, compact footprint, and inexpensive price tag. Because the 68330N is not very heavy, you can move it around and store it away without problem.
This appliance and its accessories are not dishwasher-safe, but they are extremely easy to clean, except for the mixing paddle, which is a little harder to clean than the old wooden ones. For the price, however, one can’t complain.
The only thing we don’t like about this type of ice cream maker is that there is no gap or chute to add the nuts and other desired extras during the final 5-10 minutes of mixing. If you want to do so, you have to stop the motor.
If you’re on a budget and looking for a standard ice-and-salt ice cream maker model that works efficiently, this is the machine to buy.
Top-rated Ice Cream Makers Comparisons
|2 quarts||Stainless Steel||3 years|
|Whynter ICM-201SB||2.1 quarts||Stainless Steel||1 year|
|KitchenAid KICA0WH||2 quarts||Plastic||1 year|
|Cuisinart ICE-21R||1,5 quarts||Man-made-material||3 years|
|Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE||4 quarts||Plastic||1 year|
|Yonanas 987 Elite||—||Plastic, Stainless Steel||3 years|
|Hamilton Beach 68330N||4 quarts||Metal||1 year|
That is our list of the best ice cream makers for this year. Whether you want to eat healthier or would rather spend your evenings hanging out with your family than being stuck in the kitchen, browse and buy yourself a good electric ice cream maker—a fun and delicious addition to any kitchen.