- If you love ice cream so much that you want to make your own from scratch, you’ll need a good ice cream maker.
- A machine with a canister you pre-freeze is best for occasional ice cream makers, but a self-refrigerating machine with a compressor is better for regular use.
- Cuisinart’s ICE-30 Pure Indulgence, which requires pre-freezing, is our top pick because it’s easy to use and can produce two quarts in one go.
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 order your favorite flavors 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, from hand-crank ice and rock salt options to programmable self-refrigerating machines (you can read more about the different types of ice cream makers here).
Here are the best ice cream makers in 2021
- 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 ice cream maker: Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor Ice Cream Maker
- Best budget ice cream maker: Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker
- Best upgrade ice ceam maker: Breville Smart Scoop
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.
Pros: Large batch, easy to use and clean
Cons: Loud, some complaints about icy or not-quite-frozen results
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.
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.
Pros: Budget price, large batch
Cons: You’ll need rock salt and a lot of ice
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.
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.
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
No electricity, no rock salt, and 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.
The best ice cream maker with a compressor
The Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor Ice Cream Maker mixes and freezes your ice cream for you, so all you have to do is turn it on, add ingredients, and enjoy your frozen dessert within the hour.
Pros: No need to freeze the bowl, large batches, countdown timer
Cons: Expensive, takes up storage space, some complaints of machine not working
Compressor ice cream makers are the top of the line when it comes to homemade ice cream. These machines house their own freezer mechanism, so there’s no need for you to pre-freeze a bowl, use rock salt, mix the batter by hand, or do any other hard work, other than deciding which delicious ice cream, gelato, or sorbet recipe you want to make.
The Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor Ice Cream Maker is a state-of-the-art unit. The LED screen shows you exactly how many minutes are left until ice cream time, and it even has a 10-minute “keep cool” function if you won’t be able to get to your dessert right away (like that’s ever going to happen).
You can make up to 1.5 quarts of frozen dessert per session, and if you need more, go ahead and make it. There’s no need to wait for a bowl to chill in the freezer before making your next batch.
The best upgrade ice cream maker
If you think you’re going to become an ice cream, fro yo, and sorbet gourmet, go with the top-of-the-line Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker.
Pros: produces high-quality ice cream, wide range of automatic settings, pre-cooling feature, keeps your ice cream frozen up to three hours
Cons: Expensive, bulky, parts need to be hand-washed
In my testing, Breville’s Smart Scoop produced the creamiest ice cream with the texture closest to what you’d find in a high-end scoop shop: rich, easy to serve, and free of ice crystals.
What really sets this compressor machine apart is its vast range of automatic options, which, for a certain type of person — one who approaches new hobbies with equally high levels of enthusiasm and unearned confidence — can inspire hours-long deep-dives into gianduja gelato recipes and midnight orders of ube powder and frozen passionfruit pulp.
To start, it has 12 hardness settings, from super-soft sorbet to dense ice cream, and a unique “cool down” function that brings the Smart Scoop to the perfect temperature before you even add your ice cream base. I found the buttons to be intuitive, and getting started took a matter of seconds. I’d feel confident letting a kid use it.
The machine beeps and flashes the words “add mix-ins” across its easy-to-read LCD screen when it’s time to do just that, and your chocolate chips or chopped strawberries can be tossed in easily through the flip-back lid.
Once the Smart Scoop senses that your dessert has reached its perfect consistency, it’ll stop churning and play a little ice cream truck song to let you know it’s ready. And, if you happen to miss the machine’s serenade it will automatically enter “keep cool” mode, meaning your frozen treat will stay at a constant temperature for the next three hours. Aside from these sound effects, which can be turned off, the machine operates at a quiet hum.
I should note that while it turned out smooth, perfectly-churned ice cream, I had to run my Smart Scoop on the hardest setting more than once to get there. The whole process took about an hour (45 minutes to complete the initial cycle, plus an additional 15) using David Lebovitz’s recipe for chocolate ice cream, although the results were worth the wait. With most other machines, you have to freeze your ice cream before you can enjoy it, but the batches I made in the Smart Scoop were ready to eat immediately.
Cleanup is relatively easy, although I did find that you need to use a little force to detach the (somewhat sharp-edged) metal bucket from the base. The parts aren’t dishwasher safe, except for the paddle, which should only be placed on the top rack. This is a bulky machine — about 15 by 11 inches and 30 pounds — which is something to keep in mind if you have a small kitchen.
Time to talk about the price. At $500, the Breville Smart Scoop is certainly a splurge. But let’s do some ice cream math. A pint of Haagen Dazs costs about $5. Assuming a family of four buys one pint per week (a pretty conservative estimate), the machine will just about pay for itself in two years. (I say “just about” because I’m not factoring in the price of the milk, cream, and egg yolks you need to make ice cream from scratch.) And if that family prefers a premium brand like Jeni’s or Ample Hills, the Smart Scoop will pay for itself in half that time. So, if you’re serious about making ice cream and want a high-quality, easy-to-use machine that lends itself to all kinds of frozen dessert experimentation, it’s a solid investment. — Caitlin Petreycik, Home and Kitchen Editor
The best frozen dessert maker
If you’re trying to eat healthier or avoid dairy, you’ll love the way the Yonanas Frozen Dessert Maker turns bananas and other fruit into soft-serve “ice cream” without the fat and added sugar.
Pros: Great for those with lactose intolerance, healthy “ice cream” substitute, very easy to use
Cons: Noisy, fruit sticks inside the chute
Yes, it has a silly name, and yes, technically it’s not ice cream. But why nitpick when the results taste so good? With the Yonanas Frozen Dessert Maker, your overripe bananas, mangoes, berries, or just about any other fruit are quickly converted into creamy, smooth soft-serve desserts.
The process is simple, but your fruit does need to be frozen and slightly thawed before using the machine. You then push the fruit into the chute, turn on the spinning blade, and push down on the plunger. Voilà, you’ve got a bowlful of nature’s goodness.
There are some shopper complaints. The device is noisy, and smushed fruit tends to stick inside the chute, meaning you’ll need to disassemble the device and scoop it out with a spoon. But those seem small annoyances compared to the joy of a delicious, healthy dessert.
What we’re testing next
For our next update, we’re looking forward to trying out the models below.
Whynter ICM 15LS Automatic Ice Cream Maker($219.43): One of the more affordable compressor machines on the market, Whynter’s ICM 15LS may not have as many bells and whistles as the Breville Smart Scoop, but fans praise its smooth ice cream and fast cycle.
Whynter ICM 201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker ($324.55): The Whynter 201SB has a larger capacity than the brand’s 15LS, as well as a more powerful motor and additional programmable features, but we’re curious to see if it produces better ice cream.
Lello 4080 Lusso Mussino ($735.13): This machine churns ice cream incredibly fast, which means there’s less time for ice crystals to form, but we’re curious to see if it’s a worthy investment for those who plan to make ice cream often.
Cuisinart ICE-70 ($149.95): A newer version of our current top pick, Cuisinart’s ICE-30, the ICE-70 promises a faster run time and more options for customization.
What type of ice cream maker should I get?
Before you start shopping, here’s a rundown of the three main types on the market. 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.
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.
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.
Tips for making the best ice cream at home
If you want delicious ice cream, you need to start with good ingredients. Go for real vanilla bean, quality mix-ins, and fresh cream. All ingredients should be as fresh as possible. If you’re shopping for groceries online, here are the best places we’ve tested and recommend.
Your ingredients should all be cold before pouring them into the ice cream maker. Once you’ve added your ingredients to the ice cream maker’s bowl, start the churning cycle right away. This helps prevent ice crystals or graininess.
While you can cut back calories by using low-fat milk, you won’t achieve the same creamy results, or the wonderful “mouth feel” that makes ice cream so good.
If you’re adding chocolate chips, nuts, or other solid mix-ins, fold them in near the end of the churning cycle. Chop any mix-ins into small pieces.
Finally, don’t refreeze partially melted ice cream because doing so creates ice crystals.