- Choosing an ice cube tray requires sorting through different materials, sizes, and shapes.
- We tested 16 ice cube trays to determine the best for everyday use, large cubes, spheres, and more.
- Our top pick is the W&P Everyday Tray for its easy release and neatly shaped ice cubes.
Most ice cube trays successfully freeze water, but are difficult to maneuver when full, don’t release the ice easily, take up too much space in the freezer, or produce misshapen cubes. To solve those problems, classic plastic trays are being replaced by silicone molds and trays with locking lids. We wanted to put these features to the test to see if they improved the ice making experience.
There are three main materials for ice trays: silicone, plastic, and stainless steel. We tested trays in all three materials and focused on the most common shapes: regular cubes, large cubes, and spheres.
While ice might be the last thing on your mind when preparing a cocktail or a glass of ice water, experts told us that choosing the right size and shape cubes for your drink can make your drink taste better or stay colder longer. Joseph Gitter, senior editor at America’s Test Kitchen and recipe developer for How to Cocktail, told us that ice with a lower surface area to volume ratio (i.e., bigger cubes) takes longer to melt, cooling drinks slowly without diluting them. On the flipside, small cubes or crushed ice cool drinks faster, but provide more dilution.
I tested 16 ice cube trays and molds, making ice multiple times in each. I also spoke with Gitter and Micah Melton, Beverage Director at The Aviary, to find out what makes a great ice cube tray. Whether you’re a cocktail aficionado or just a fan of iced water, there is an ice cube tray in this guide for you.
Here are the 4 best ice cube trays of 2021
- Best ice cube tray overall: W&P Everyday Ice Cube Tray
- Best ice mold for spheres: Tovolo Sphere Ice Molds (2-pack)
- Best ice cube tray for large cubes: Samuelworld Large Ice Cube Tray
- Best spill-proof ice cube tray: OXO Good Grips No-Spill Ice Cube Tray
We consulted two experts on the uses of different ice shapes, how to make clear ice, and how to solve common ice problems. We spoke with Joseph Gitter, senior editor at America’s Test Kitchen and recipe developer for How to Cocktail, and Micah Melton, Beverage Director at The Aviary.
I tested 14 ice cube trays, making ice between three and five times in each tray according to the following tests.
Ease of use: The ideal tray is easy to bring to the freezer without spilling water, releases the ice without too much effort, and can be stacked in the freezer. We evaluated each tray based on these qualities.
Performance: We evaluated the appearance and taste of the finished ice. We looked for sharp-edged cubes and smooth spheres.
Odor retention: Silicone is a porous material and therefore can absorb scent that then imparts a taste or smell to the ice. We froze coffee in the ice cube trays, emptied and washed them, smelled them, and then froze water in the trays to see if the coffee taste or smell remained. (It’s worth noting that all but one of the trays passed this test.)
Leaking: For trays with sealable lids, we flipped unfrozen, full trays upside down to see if water spilled out.
The best ice cube tray overall
The W&P Everyday Tray had the smoothest release of all the trays we tested; each cube popped out without any resistance.
Pros: Ice cubes come out easily, you can remove exactly as many as you need
Cons: It’s time consuming to empty the whole tray of ice
The construction of the Everyday Tray is unique among the ice cube trays I tested. The Everyday Tray is made of silicone and none of the cubes share a wall, so you can release them one at a time by applying pressure to the bottom. I also found that this helps the cubes release easily because there is no friction between neighboring ice cubes and the whole tray doesn’t empty out at once.
Like many silicone trays, the Everyday Tray wobbled slightly when I walked it to the freezer, but the reinforced rim provides a good grip. The lid doesn’t seal, though it allows for stacking and promises some protection from odors. We will focus on this in our long term testing.
Best ice mold for spheres
The Tovolo Sphere Molds‘ silicone and plastic construction makes them easy to fill and store without spills.
Pros: Easy to avoid overfilling, ridge between hemispheres less prominent than others we tested
Cons: You can only make two at a time
I tested three sphere molds and overflowed all of them, except for the Tovolo. The Tovolo has a plastic bottom with a marked max fill line and a silicone top. You fill the bottom portion and then push in the top, which squeezes out any excess water. There is no space for overflow to sneak in and freeze an odd shape to the sphere.
After freezing, the instructions recommend running the plastic section under hot water, and I found the spheres popped out easily after doing so. All of the spheres had slight ridges where the top and bottom of the mold meet, but this line was less noticeable than on spheres made using other molds.
Best ice cube tray for large cubes
The silicone Samuelworld Large Cube Tray is structured enough to produce cubes with sharp edges, but flexible enough that they pop out easily.
Pros: Cubes had neat edges
Cons: Can be difficult to extract cubes when ice tray is full
The Large Cube Tray from Samuelworld had the best combination of easily release and neatly shaped cubes. Part of the appeal of large cubes is their appearance. The Samuelworld tray is made of rigid silicone so the edges of the cubes stay sharp even as the water freezes and expands.
The firm silicone is necessary for getting a precise shape, but it does make it harder to release the cubes. I have used this tray regularly for three months; it has held it’s shape and has no noticeable odor. I started using the large cubes for iced coffee because they melt slower, keeping my coffee strong for longer.
Best spill-proof ice cube tray
The OXO tray‘s silicone lid prevents leaking, allowing you to store it in small or crowded freezers without worry.
Pros: Leakproof, can be stored slanted or stacked
Cons: Cubes are an irregular shape, not dishwasher safe
The OXO was the only truly leakproof ice cube tray we tested. The lid is a sheet of thin, flexible silicone, with tabs at one end to keep it attached to the plastic base. You smooth down the silicone over the filled tray and it adheres to the plastic so that no water escapes even if you flip the tray upside down (which we did).
The plastic base produced crescent shaped ice cubes that released easily with one or two taps on the bottom of the tray. If you’re looking for aesthetically pleasing ice, this tray may not be best for you because our cubes came out irregularly shaped (though still perfectly serviceable).
What else we tested
What else we recommend and why:
TrueCubes Clear Ice Tray: This tray delivers on its promise: totally clear ice. The clear cubes were completely transparent and had sharp, clean edges, easily the most visually attractive ice I’ve ever seen. Because of how the system works, you do need 18-22 hours to freeze the whole thing properly. Additionally, I had to wait a few minutes for the ice to soften slightly before I could separate the top and bottom mold.
Target Made By Design Ice Cube Tray: This is an upgraded plastic tray. The frame and lid are plastic, but the bottom is silicone. Instead of twisting and cracking the ice, you can push on the silicone base and pop out the cubes. The lid does not make it leakproof, but it does enable you to stack thing on top of it while it freezes. Ultimately, this is an inexpensive improvement on traditional ice trays.
Lekue Ice Cube Tray and Box: This product had a lot of positives, but some design flaws. It takes three full lids of ice to fill the box, and the lid isn’t as flexible as other silicone trays so it’s harder to release the ice. However, I liked the gem-shaped ice aesthetically and the ice box itself is convenient and well-insulated. I left the full ice box covered at room temperature for a half hour and the ice inside didn’t melt.
Tovolo Perfect Cube Ice Tray: This tray was a close second to the W&P Everyday Tray in the best overall category. The Tovolo’s unified bottom and plastic lid make it easy to store. It does make three more cubes than the Everyday Tray, but the cubes are much harder to get out. Though this tray has a sealing lid, it leaks more than our favorite no-spill tray.
Tovolo King Cube Tray: Out of the large cube trays, the Tovolo had the most flexible silicone. While the ice cubes were the easiest to release, they were also the most misshapen. Since the aesthetics of large cubes are important, this was not my top pick.
Peak Sphere Ice Tray: This tray is made entirely of silicone, unlike the other spherical trays, which included at least some plastic. The silicone construction means these spheres were the easiest to get out of the mold right out of the freezer. Fortunately, excess water didn’t freeze onto the spheres because it was very easy to overflow this mold.
What we don’t recommend and why:
RSVP Endurance Old Fashioned Ice Cube Tray: If you are looking to avoid plastic and silicone, a stainless steel tray is your best solution. However, when testing the RSVP Endurance Tray, I noticed that the mechanism to break and release the cubes is not foolproof and can take several attempts to accomplish.
Peak Crushed Ice Tray and Lekue Crushed Ice Tray: I tested two crushed ice trays, but neither of them were successful. The shallow and narrow troughs produced ice spears, and twisting the molds to break them apart resulted in tinier spears, not crushed pieces. One plus is that because of the size and shape, the ice freezes quicker than in any other tray. The Lekue trays froze within two hours.
Samuelworld Ice Sphere Molds: This mold has small spouts that you pour water through, and the funnel shape did make filling the mold less messy. However, if you overfilled it even a bit, some of the water would freeze in the shape of the spout, ruining the perfect sphere.
OXO Good Grips Covered Large Ice Tray: This tray tried to fix the issues of stability and storage common to silicone trays by placing the silicone tray inside a plastic frame with a locking lid. Though the frame made it easier to stack, the lid froze to the base and was difficult to unlock. Plus, you have to remove the silicone tray from the plastic frame in order to get out the ice cubes. The problems solved were not greater than the inconveniences introduced.
What we’re testing next
Glacio Ice Sphere Maker: These are stand-alone molds, like our current top pick for ice spheres, but made entirely of silicone. Testing the Glacio spheres could illustrate whether the plastic element or the stand-alone construction of our top pick was key to its success.
Joseph Joseph QuickSnap Ice Cube Tray: This tray has push tabs next to each cube, which would allow you to release the ice cubes individually. We are curious to see if this actually works, as a benefit of our best tray overall is that you can get one ice cube at a time.
Are ice cube trays dishwasher safe?
Cleaning instructions vary by product, so we recommend consulting the manufacturer’s instructions. All but one of our top picks is dishwasher safe.
Why does ice sometimes have an odor? How can you deodorize an ice cube tray?
Water absorbs air as it freezes, which can impact the flavor. Additionally, silicone is a porous material that can absorb scent.
There are a few methods to deal with this problem. Tovolo recommends soaking its trays for an hour in a 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and water. For trays made wholly out of silicone, the New York Times suggests baking the trays for 20 minutes at 250 degrees F or lower.
Why should I use large cubes or spheres?
The main reason to use large cubes or spheres is to chill alcoholic beverages without diluting them. For example, spheres have a lower surface area to volume ratio than regular ice cubes. “Ice spheres are the worst at making a drink cold, but dilute it the least,” said Gitter. This is why large cubes are most ideal for a straight spirit.
However, large ice cubes or spheres aren’t perfect for all drinks. Some cocktails are meant to be diluted and slow melting ice can change the intended flavor. Gitter mentioned martinis as an example of this because, traditionally, the gin and vermouth are stirred with regular ice cubes before serving. The stirring action starts the melting process, which chills and dilutes the drink to a palatable flavor. An ice sphere wouldn’t melt quickly enough for this purpose, and you’d be left with a too strong and too warm cocktail.
We recommend using large cubes or spheres when serving straight spirits, or when you want to keep a drink cold without changing its flavor and strength.
What is clear ice and how is it made?
There are two factors that make ice cloudy: the direction the water freezes and impurities or air bubbles in the water.
Most ice cube trays are not insulated, so water freezes from the outside in and from all directions. Safe tap water contains impurities that aren’t dangerous to drink, but can impact the flavor of the water and the appearance of the ice. As water freezes, it also absorbs some of the surrounding air. The absorbed air bubbles and the impurities are pushed towards the center of the ice as the outer layer freezes first. The air bubbles and impurities interfere with forming an organized crystal lattice and so the ice appears cloudy, said Gitter.
When making clear ice, you eliminate or limit those bubbles and impurities and focus the direction of freezing. “Essentially the process involves freezing the ice from a single direction versus all directions like a standard freezer,” said Melton. To make clear ice at home, first purify your water by boiling it. Then, you can follow Gitter’s technique of insulating an ice tray by surrounding it with dish towels and leaving the top exposed so it only freezes from the top down.
Besides the aesthetics, clear ice is less likely to have an odor or taste because it doesn’t contain absorbed gases from the surrounding air, according to Melton.
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