Have you ever tried homemade ice cream? If so, you know how delicious it is. With one of the best ice cream makers, you can have this treat whenever you want.
We love a good pint of Ben and Jerry’s, a sundae made with Mayfield’s vanilla, ice cream shakes made with Breyer’s chocolate, and pretty much every other brand, flavor, and dessert that involves ice cream. But none of that can beat how delicious and special home-churned ice cream is.
Many people shy away from making ice cream because they think it will be too difficult or messy, but the truth is it’s simpler than you’d imagine. An ice cream maker does all the work for you.
An ice cream machine can help you hit that sweet spot and enjoy the pure indulgence of delicious ice cream at home.
Here are the best ice cream makers on the market and everything you need to know about making delicious frozen treats at home.
Editors' Choice: Whynter ICM-15LS
If you’re looking for an easy to use, easy to clean ice cream maker, check out the Whynter ICM-15LS Ice Cream Maker.
This compressor machine is self-refrigerating, meaning you won’t need to deal with ice and salt or even freezing a bowl 24-hours in advance. It makes delicious and smooth ice cream, and it’s easy to scoop ice cream out of the machine.
- Ease of use: This appliance is one of the easiest to use ice cream machines we’ve come across. An LCD timer control and temperature display help walk you through the process.
- Easy cleaning: A removable bowl and blade make cleaning a cinch.
- Ice cream variety: Enables you to make sorbets, gelato, sherbets, frozen yogurts, and more.
- No mess: No need for ice and salt. Turn on this ice cream maker, and you’ll have ice cream within the hour.
- Multiple batches: There’s no need to wait until the bowl refreezes with this machine. You can make as many batches of ice cream as you want!
- Quick working: This appliance makes ice cream in 30-40 minutes.
- Small capacity: The Whynter makes 1.6 quarts of ice cream, which is on the normal-to-small side.
Best Value: Nostalgia ICMP400
If you’re new to the homemade ice cream world and aren’t sure how often you’ll be making it, you likely don’t want to spend a fortune on an ice cream machine.
The good news? You can still get a high-quality ice cream machine at an affordable price.
The Nostalgia ICMP400 is a traditional salt and ice cream machine. You’ll need a bunch of ice and some rock salt to get it going. The result won’t be as smooth as other ice cream machines, but the taste is terrific.
- Affordable price: This ice cream machine costs less than $50 and produces great tasting ice cream.
- Easy-to-clean design: The plastic bucket is easy to clean.
- Large capacity: The machine makes one gallon at a time.
- Quick production: The ice cream is ready in 20-30 minutes.
- Ice required: In addition to your ice cream base, you’ll need a lot of ice and salt.
- Less durable: Unlike other ice cream makes that are stainless steel, this is plastic, which will not last as long.
- Messy appliance: This kind of ice cream machine can get messy, so we recommend using it outside.
Cuisinart ICE-45 Mix It In Ice Cream Maker
If you love soft serve and would prefer making that instead of scoopable ice cream, check out the Cuisinart ICE-45 Mix It In Ice Cream Maker. It produces delicious ice cream and is affordable.
The only downsides are the need to plan. You’ll need to freeze the bowl 24 hours in advance. It’s also small capacity-wise, but it makes up for these negatives in fun.
It has mix-in compartments where you can store your favorite sprinkles, Oreos, or other toppings.
At 10″ x 8″ x 17″, it also won’t take up a lot of counter space.
Cuisinart Mix It In Pros
- Affordable price: This soft serve machine costs less than $100.
- Easy use: You don’t need any chemicals, salt, or ice, and the removable parts make clean-up quick.
- Fun add-ins: This appliance has compartments for your favorite toppings.
- Soft-serve specialization: If you love soft serve, why bother with an ice cream maker with bells and whistles you’ll never use?
Cuisinart Mix It In Cons
- Planning required: The bowl takes 24 hours to freeze. You have to plan to make the ice cream in advance.
- Small capacity: This machine akes only 1.5 quarts of soft serve.
Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker
Gelato is different from ice cream. If you want an ice cream maker that does gelato, you’ll need a gelato maker or an ice cream maker with a specific setting for gelato.
You make gelato from a base of mostly milk and sugar, a small amount of cream, and little or no egg yolks. This frozen treat needs to churn slower than ice cream and at a higher temperature. When finished, it’s more similar to custard than ice cream.
If your primary goal is making gelato, check out the Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker.
What sets this ice cream maker apart from competitors is its settings. It has specific temperature and churning settings for frozen desserts, including sorbet, frozen yogurt, gelato, and ice cream.
This machine has a capacity of 1.5 quarts.
Breville Smart Scoop Pros
- 12 settings: Ice cream, gelato, sorbet, and other frozen desserts require different temperatures and speeds. This ice cream maker has 12 speeds to whip up more frozen desserts than most of the ice cream makers we looked it.
- Easy use: This appliance doesn’t require any physical labor. With the push of the button and the set of an alarm, you’ll have gelato in less than an hour.
- No mess: You don’t need ice, salt, or a mess to make delicious treats. Pour your gelato base into the machine, and let the Breville do the work.
Breville Smart Scoop Cons
- High price: This is one of the more expensive ice cream makers on our list.
Best for Frozen Yogurt: Cuisinart ICE-21
If you love frozen yogurt, check out the Cuisinart ICE-21.
It has a double-insulated freezer bowl, a heavy-duty ice mode, and a lockable transparent lid so that you can watch your ice cream churn.
This device also features a spout to add flavors or other ingredients while the frozen yogurt churns without having to stop the freezing process!
Cuisinart ICE-21 Pros
- Charitable component: This frozen yogurt machine comes in pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. This year, Cuisinart is donating $32,500 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. You can buy the machine in red or white if you prefer.
- Easy use: Add your ingredients to the bowl and hit the “on” button, and then sit back and wait. You don’t have to worry about salt and ice. Plus, the removable, dishwasher-safe components are easy to clean in minutes.
- Low price: An affordable price makes this one of our top choices for frozen yogurt.
- Treat variety: This machine can make frozen yogurt, sorbet, and ice cream.
- Quick production: Your frozen yogurt will be ready in 20 minutes.
Cuisinart ICE-21 Cons
- One batch: Because the bowl needs to be pre-frozen, you can only make one batch at a time.
Types of Ice Cream Makers
Before we get into the different types of ice cream makers, let’s talk about how to make ice cream.
It’s more complicated than freezing some milk and sugar. There are many types of ice cream, each needing unique ingredients and freezing conditions.
It all begins with an ice cream base.
What’s An Ice Cream Base?
The ice cream base is the liquid mixture of ingredients (milk, sugar, vanilla, etc.) that will eventually become ice cream.
Whether your favorite is chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, or a different flavor, the base is where it all starts.
There are three main types of bases:
- Custard base: A custard base is a classic ice cream recipe similar to homemade custard or pudding. To make this base, you’ll need to cook egg yolks with cream and sugar. The result is creamy, rich ice cream.
- Egg-free base: Similar to the Philadelphia-style option, this egg-free base is free of egg yolks and instead relies on cream for the fat content. Additionally, it uses cornstarch to thicken the mixture and some cream cheese to make the ice cream smooth.
- Philadelphia-style base: Not a fan of eggs in your ice cream? The Philadelphia-style option may be the best option for you. This base uses sugar, cream, and flavor. Whereas a custard base ice cream gets its fat content from the eggs and cream, the Philly base gets its fat from the cream. You get a smooth, delicate ice cream that isn’t as rich as a custard base ice cream.
A stand mixer can sometimes help you create the perfect ice cream base. Once you create a base, you’ll use an ice cream maker to blend tiny air bubbles into the base (called “overrun”). This overrun combines with a blend of fat from the milk and sugar and ice crystals to form ice cream.
Look for ice cream recipes to help you explore the different kinds of ice cream bases.
There are three main types of ice cream makers: salt and ice chilled, freezer bowl, and built-in compressor.
Salt and Ice Chilled
When you add salt to ice, it lowers its freezing temperature and creates a solution somewhere between eight and twelve degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is perfect for making ice cream. Salt and ice are the original ice cream makers.
Have you ever seen old fashioned, hand-cranked ice cream makers? They featured a canister filled with an ice cream base set inside a bucket of salted ice.
Cranking the exterior handle caused a paddle inside the canister to spin and create ice cream. These were the original salt and ice chilled ice cream makers.
Now, most hand cranks have been replaced with a machine and an “on/off” button, but the concept is still the same.
You won’t get the creamiest ice cream (especially if you invest in the old fashioned hand-cranked ice cream maker), and the process can be messy. However, this type of ice cream maker tends to be one of the most affordable on the market.
- Capacity: This type of ice cream maker typically makes a lot (one or more gallons each time).
- Price: Salt and ice machines tend to be more affordable than other kinds of ice cream makers.
- Ice: You’ll not only have to purchase the ice cream ingredients, but you’ll need to buy ice and salt too. As such, this type of ice cream maker typically requires advanced planning or a lot of storage room in your freezer.
- Mess: Ice cream can overflow, and hands can get sticky. We recommend using this kind of ice cream maker outside.
- Physical labor: If you purchase a manual crank machine, be prepared for some hard work!
- Texture: These machines tend to make lumpy, unsmooth ice cream. Some people like this texture, while others don’t.
Freezer Bowl (Also Known As Canister Style)
Freezer bowl ice cream makers are the most popular type of ice cream makers.
They come with a removable, liquid-filled insert bowl that you must freeze at 0 degrees Fahrenheit before use. Once the bowl is frozen, put your ice cream base inside it, place it in the ice cream machine, plug it in, and turn it on. The device will do all the work.
If you’re the type to make food or desserts last minute, this won’t be the best ice cream maker for you. The canister typically takes somewhere between 8-24 hours to freeze.
The pre-frozen bowl also prohibits you from making more than one batch of ice cream at a time. These machines also typically only produce one or two quarts at a time.
- Clean: This type of ice cream maker is much cleaner to use (and clean up) than salt and chilled style ice cream makers.
- Easy to use: There’s no manual labor required. Turn the machine on, and you’ll have ice cream within minutes.
- Ice-free: Because the bowl is frozen, you won’t need a lot of ice or salt on hand.
- Capacity: Unfortunately, this type of ice cream maker only yields a few quarts per batch. Also, because the frozen bowl needs to be re-frozen between batches, you can only make one batch of ice cream every 24-hours
- Planning: If you decided at 3:00 in the afternoon you want ice cream for dessert, you’d be out of luck with this type of ice cream maker. The bowl can take up to 24 hours to freeze.
Do you love to make ice cream and want the best, easiest to use ice cream maker?
Check out the built-in compressor machines. They tend to be more expensive than other models, but they are the best ice cream makers on the market.
Built-in compressor ice cream makers are the full package. There’s no need for salt, ice, or a pre-frozen bowl. As such, you can make as much ice cream as you want, whenever you want! Pour your ice cream base into the machine and let the ice cream maker do the work.
Many of these are digital editions with all the bells and whistles that make ice cream easy to make.
This type of ice cream maker tends to make smoother, creamier ice cream than other models because the machine maintains a consistent, cold temperature. This temperature lessens the number of ice crystals formed during the process.
- Easy to use: This is the easiest type of ice cream maker to use. Clean up is also simple.
- Prep work: There’s no need to pre-freeze a bowl or buy ice and salt. This machine does it all!
- Multiple batches: You can make as many batches of ice cream as you wan. There’s no need for downtime.
- Texture: This type of ice cream maker makes the smoothest texture ice cream.
- Price: This is typically the most expensive type of ice cream maker.
Ice Cream Maker Buyer’s Guide
Now that we’ve taught you about the three main types of ice cream makers, do you know which is the best ice cream maker for you and your family?
Here are some things to keep in mind to help you make your decision.
First, decide how much ice cream you need by asking yourself questions like:
- How much do you love ice cream? Will you eat it every day, or will it be for special occasions?
- Do you plan on making it for your guilty pleasure, or will you need to share it with your entire family?
- Do you plan to serve ice cream to guests at events like dinner parties or birthday parties?
Before you purchase an ice cream maker, think about how much ice cream you want it to make.
Some machines specialize in smaller batches (typically between one and two quarts) while others can make several gallons.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Some ice cream makers are messier to use than others (we’re looking at you, ice and salt ice cream makers).
Others may be cleaner to use but take a long time to clean (i.e., non-removable parts).
Others have fully removable parts that you can throw in the dishwasher!
Consider how much time for cleaning and maintenance you have before purchasing an ice cream machine.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is a huge consideration when looking at any appliance, but particularly when looking at ice cream makers.
If you think you’ll enjoy your ice cream more if you put some sweat into making it, there are options for you. We hope you enjoy your traditional salt and chilled, hand-cranked ice cream maker.
If you prefer an easier to use, non-manual ice cream maker, there are plenty of options for you at plenty of price points.
Look for functions such as automatic shutoff features, which will ensure your ice cream doesn’t get overturned. Some of the higher end models even offer a variety of speed settings and options for ice cream, gelato, and sorbet.
With these advanced machines, making ice cream is as simple as turning a dial and hitting “start.”
If price weren’t an option, we’d tell you that the best ice cream maker is the built-in compressor ice cream maker. It is the easiest to use and makes the smoothest ice cream.
However, price is a significant factor for most people. Unless you’re planning on making ice cream pretty frequently, have high ice-cream standards, always want the best of the best, or don’t care about money, the price will be a consideration.
Here are some price factors to remember:
- If you want the cheapest ice cream maker, take a look at salt and ice options. They tend to be the most affordable.
- If you want a middle-range ice cream maker, look at frozen bowl ice cream makers.
- If the price isn’t a concern, take a look at the compressor ice cream maker. We guarantee you’ll love it.
You can find ice cream makers from anywhere from ten dollars to a thousand dollars. Even lower-priced options can make delicious, creamy ice cream.
Speed and Serving Time
If you love cooking, baking, and making homemade desserts, chances are you’ll love making homemade ice cream.
You might not care how long it takes you to make ice cream. If you’re not a Martha Stewart, however, you may want an ice cream maker that produces your favorite cool treat as quickly as possible.
No matter which category you fall into, it’s important to find an ice cream maker that meets your need for speed.
It typically takes between 20 minutes and an hour to whip up a quart (or gallon) of ice cream.
How quickly it will be ready depends on how much you are making and what type of ice cream maker you are using.
Look at the different models before purchasing to see which is the best ice cream maker for your speed and serving time needs.
Most of the ice cream makers we looked at came with a one-year limited warranty, even the expensive ice cream machines.
This warranty length is the standard, so invest in a brand you trust.
Use our buying guide and our top picks to help you pick the perfect ice cream machine for making your favorite treat.