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- Ice makers can replace your ice trays, make ice in minutes, and keep your cooler full all day.
- The best ice maker overall is the NewAir Countertop Ice Maker.
- This machine had the most size options and largest water tank of any that we tested.
If you like to entertain or just want a faster alternative to filling and refilling plastic ice trays, consider a portable ice maker. Most ice makers can produce a handful of cubes in under 10 minutes, and the more powerful models can make upwards of 20 pounds in 24 hours. For comparison, it takes three to four hours to turn water into ice in the average freezer.
Ice makers may be classified as “portable,” but since they’re heavy and typically need to be kept upright and level, you shouldn’t move them around too much. The manuals for every ice maker we tested recommended leaving space between the ice maker and heat sources, like stoves or vents. The higher the ambient temperature, the longer ice will take to form.
Most ice makers make bullet ice, which is cylindrical with a rounded base and a hollow middle. Bullet ice starts to melt fairly quickly, and most ice machines do not have insulated baskets for long term storage, so if you’re running one during a party, you will have to periodically empty it out.
We tested five ice machines and spoke to Ken Ho, co-owner of cocktail creation and consulting company One Cocktail at a Time, about what sets a good ice maker apart from the competition. After our research and testing, we chose the three ice makers below as the best ones you can buy in 2021.
Here are the best ice makers of 2021
- Best ice maker overall: NewAir Countertop Ice Maker
- Best budget ice maker: Magic Chef Portable Ice Maker
- Best ice maker for nugget ice: GE Opal Nugget Ice Maker
We put five ice makers through a series of tests to determine which ones performed consistently well. We chose ice makers that produced between 26 and 28 pounds of ice daily. We found this to be the market average.
Speed: Each ice maker we tested promised to make a certain amount of cubes in a certain amount of time, so we tested the accuracy of those claims.
Capacity: We measured the water reservoir capacity by filling it with a quart of water at a time until we reached the max line.
Ice quality: We noted if the ice came out broken or whole, and whether or not the ice cubes made on the same setting were similar in shape and size.
If the machine had multiple size settings, we evaluated the sizes separately.
We also compared the melting speeds of ice produced by the ice makers and ice from traditional cube trays in two separate tests: one where the ice cubes were placed in glasses of water, and one where the ice cubes were left out. In general, ice from the machines melted slower than ice from the traditional trays.
Noise level: We evaluated if we could have a conversation at normal volume while each machine was running.
Ease of use: We noted how easy it was to lift the machines and keep them level, as well as how much effort it took to drain the machines. We also examined each machine’s interface, and judged them on simplicity and intelligibility.
The best ice maker overall
The NewAir Countertop Ice Maker‘s three quart water reservoir and three ice sizes are great if you like to entertain or prefer all your drinks chilled.
Pros: Three ice sizes, large water tank capacity, ice is evenly shaped across sizes
Cons: Bulky, small ice is on the thin side
At three quarts, this ice maker’s water tank had the largest capacity out of all the machines we tested. After running two small cycles, one medium, and one large, there were still over two quarts left. Regardless of the size you select, each ice cycle produces nine pieces of ice and takes under 15 minutes to complete. This speed is standard among ice makers with one or two sizes, but I was impressed by the NewAir‘s consistent timing in all three sizes.
Draining the leftover water was easy because the NewAir‘s drainage port is conveniently located on its side near the bottom, as opposed to underneath the machine. If you shut off the machine mid-cycle, any ice formed will drop back into the water tank.
The small ice started losing shape just from the heat of my hand; the medium and large ice cubes were more substantial. However, this was the case for all of the ice makers I tested.
The best budget ice maker
With a small countertop footprint and two ice sizes, the Magic Chef Portable Ice Maker is perfect for small spaces and camping.
Pros: Can be used outdoors, runs quietly, small and large ice produced in under 10 minutes
Cons: Not easy to drain, white finish attracts dust
The Magic Chef doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but it delivers on its key promise: you will get nine pieces of small or large ice in 15 minutes or less. This is enough ice to fill an eight ounce glass. The ice came out fully formed and the cubes were identical in size and shape. The large ice cubes did not take much longer to form than the small ones, and I found that the Magic Chef actually over-delivered on its claim: both sizes were ready to use in under 10 minutes. The noise level was no higher than other machines, which is especially useful if you’re bringing the ice maker into a small space.
The drainage port is on the underside of the machine, so it requires some finagling to open it and place a vessel for catching the excess water underneath. I did notice that some hair and dust particles stuck to the machine and were super visible on the white exterior. The Magic Chef can be used outdoors, but as with all ice makers, the manufacturer recommends that you leave it in its final position for about an hour before using it.
The best ice maker for nugget ice
The Opal Nugget Ice Maker does one thing and does it well: it makes chewable nugget ice.
Pros: Runs quietly, one water tank is enough for an hour of ice production
Cons: Bulky, takes longer to produce enough ice to fill a glass
Nugget ice has its devoted fans, but there are few countertop nugget ice makers on the market. Unless you have an ice maker built into your refrigerator, making the perfect mint julep can feel impossible. Enter the Opal Nugget Ice Maker: it’s a portable machine that produces one pound of crushed ice in an hour.
The Opal is about $200 more than our other picks, but that’s a pretty standard price for a nugget ice maker. The machine took about half an hour to produce enough nugget ice to fill a 12 ounce glass from top to bottom. This is not surprising, since nugget ice is small and condenses in glasses. After running the machine for an hour, you’ll have enough ice for two or three full glasses.
The ice pieces are frozen solid and evenly shaped. The interface is simple and the machine is sleek; though it takes up over a foot of counter space, it is not an eyesore.
Part of the machine’s bulk can be attributed to a side water tank, which enables you to triple the Opal‘s water capacity and continuously make ice for several hours in a row. It was easy to connect with a clearly labeled tube in the back of the machine.
What else we tested
Frigidaire Portable Compact Maker: This ice maker is almost identical to the Magic Chef. It was relatively quiet and made nine cubes in nine minutes. However, it only makes one size of ice and it cannot be used outdoors, which is why it lost out on a top spot.
Luma Comfort Clear Ice Maker: This was the only machine that produced traditional cube shaped ice and claimed to make clear ice. While the ice was noticeably less cloudy, there were a few other flaws that kept this ice maker from being a top pick. The ice cubes froze into a solid rectangle and were not easily broken apart. Additionally, the small cubes had divots in the middle, which increased the surface area and therefore led to faster melting.
What we look forward to testing
Igloo Portable Ice Maker: This machine is similar to the bullet ice makers we tested, and its selling points are a three quart water tank and a small countertop footprint. Our current top pick has a three quart tank, but takes up more space.
Igloo Flip-up Door Portable Crushed Ice Maker: This is more multi-purpose ice maker than the others we tested; it produces crushed ice and two sizes of bullet ice, and dispenses water. We are curious to see if it performs all of those tasks equally well.
How do you clean your ice maker?
All ice makers have specific cleaning instructions in their manuals, and the process was largely the same for the five machines we tested. Dilute basic detergent with room temperature water and wash the inside of the water tank and ice basket with a soft cloth.
How does an ice maker work?
Portable ice makers use the same mechanical freezing cycle as refrigerators and freezers, just on a smaller scale. Because they’re not connected to a water line, you have to fill up the ice maker’s water reservoir to make the ice. Unlike a chest freezer, a high ambient temperature can significantly slow down the speed of a portable ice maker.
Why does bullet ice melt faster than cubes or spheres?
Melting speed is determined by the surface area to volume ratio. Large ice spheres melt slower than traditional ice cubes because spheres have a lower ratio. Bullet ice, with its hollow center, has a higher ratio and therefore melts faster.
“The two main purposes of ice are to chill the cocktail and to dilute it. With that in mind, depending on how you build a cocktail and how you like to enjoy it, ice plays different roles,” said Ho. Fast-melting ice results in a diluted but colder drink, while slow-melting ice keeps a drink concentrated but not as cold.
You can read more about when and why to use different ice shapes and sizes here.