The Best Ice Cream Maker
When the mercury starts climbing, nothing screams “summertime” like homemade ice cream. When you make it yourself, the possibilities for unique flavor combinations are endless; the right ice cream maker can guarantee success every time. We like the Whynter SNO Ice Cream Maker ($210) for its intuitive design, superior results, and no-prep-needed compressor—while many competitors require time-consuming pre-freezing of the bowl, this one lets you churn out batch after batch. And it produced the creamiest ice cream of all the makers we tested.
Why you should trust me | How we tested and picked | Our pick | Flaws but not dealbreakers | The runner-up | The step up | Budget pick | Great for KitchenAid stand mixer owners | Types of ice cream makers | What makes great ice cream | What is overrun? | The competition | What else did we look at? | Wrapping it up
Why you should trust me
Although I didn’t spend very much time as a pastry cook in my career, I have made a bunch of ice cream and frozen yogurt. When I was a fresh-faced line cook in New York City, I would hang out in the pastry kitchen as much as I could. Not only did I have to spin a horseradish creme fraiche sorbet that was served as a garnish on the tuna tartare everyday before service, but I would also learn about ice cream from the pastry cooks. Ice cream is the best because you don’t have to turn on an oven and it always makes people smile.
How we tested and picked
There are three main types of ice cream makers: frozen bowl inserts (either electric or hand-cranked), ice and salt churners (electric or hand-cranked), and compressor machines which can freeze the custard on their own. (Read more in Types of ice cream makers.)
To figure out which would be best, we read editorial from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and Good Housekeeping. We also talked to three professional ice cream makers to ask what they use for making smaller batches at home. While there was no consensus, some of the experts did point us to specific models they enjoyed using. We also polled Sweethome readers to find out what they were looking to pay for an ice cream maker and what features would be most convenient for them.
Here at the Sweethome, we are pretty big fans of Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn. We decided to use their ice cream recipe as a baseline. The cream to milk ratio is one to one, and there are only three egg yolks per batch, which is unusually lowfat for ice cream recipes. In his cookbook, Brian explains that many ice creams have more cream than milk in them. Cream has more fat and less water, and less water means fewer ice crystals. Ample Hills wanted to make an ice cream that was lower in fat but still had great texture. To achieve that, Brian adds nonfat milk powder to the ice cream base, which soaks up some of the excess water in milk and provides body.
The prospect of tasting the same base spun on nine different machines excited this food nerd to no end. To test, we brought in nine ice cream makers and tested them with the Ample Hills Walt’s Dream Sweet Cream Base to gauge overrun (how much air is incorporated into the custard) and texture. We then ran a second batch of Walt’s Dream and added mix-ins to see how each machine handled the task. Mix-ins included homemade fudge sauce and crushed Oreo cookies. One thing that was pretty consistent with most of the ice cream makers is that once the quart of base increased in size, there was little room for much else, and mix-ins had to be added slowly and periodically. Maybe that’s the reason the Ample Hills cookbook suggests adding all additional mix-ins by hand once the ice cream is transferred to a storage container.
I then called a friend and fellow food writer, Sara Bonisteel, to taste each sample and weigh in on her thoughts. Together we tasted and discussed texture and flavor.
The two-quart removable bowl is easy to lift out, thanks to a built-in handle, so you can scrape out all of the ice cream with ease. There’s an automatic shut-off function so that the machine isn’t damaged if your mixture happens to freeze solid.
The machine measures 11″ x 15″ x 13″ (wlh). That means it’s a bit taller than other compressor models, but there wasn’t an issue clearing my low-hanging cabinets. The timer has an alert bell that was audible on the other end of my apartment. While it was louder than the Cuisinart ICE-100 and the Breville Smart Scoop, the difference was minimal. Cook’s Illustrated names this model as their top pick as well.
With 18% overrun, it made fairly dense ice cream, similar to a decadent soft serve. Sara liked that she could “taste the cream right away with hardly any icy taste.” Despite the fact that Sara thought the “texture was not as good as the Breville,” we both agreed that this is a great ice cream maker for the price. The Whynter SNO comes with a one-year limited warranty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Nothing comes without a couple of flaws, though. The Whynter SNO was pretty loud—the loudest of the three compressor machines. It wasn’t ear-piercing, but it’s worth noting if you plan on spinning a bunch of ice cream next to a sleeping baby.
Second, the opening for adding mix-ins is tiny, almost comically tiny, at about 2½” x 1” compared to the Breville’s 4¾” x 2”. Even though many of the machines couldn’t handle mix-ins simply because of the size of the bowl, it was really easy to add them by hand after the ice cream was finished churning. In fact, the Ample Hills book suggests mixing all additions in by hand after churning.
As we mentioned earlier, it came in third of the three self-refrigerating models we brought in for testing, but it far outperformed the models that required pre-freezing (such as our KitchenAid pick below). Controls are intuitive and easy to use, similar to our top pick, and it has a low-profile design—good for low-hanging cabinets. It made ice cream (34% overrun) in about 30 minutes. However, the end result was a bit icier and not as creamy as the Whynter SNO.
The step up
A “stay-cool” function keeps your ice cream cold for up to three hours if you happen to walk away when it’s done churning. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have the time (or just don’t want to bother) to cool down your ice cream base, the Breville Smart scoop has a “cool down” function that brings the temp on your base down to the perfect turning temperature before it starts to churn. A large, bright LCD display is easy to read and the buttons are intuitive. There’s also a manual function that gives the user complete control.
The ice cream made in the Breville had a texture that was most similar to the pint that I bought at Ample Hills. At 30% overrun, it was so smooth and perfectly churned that it could be eaten straight from the machine, no additional freezing necessary. If you want a more scoopable ice cream, just transfer the mixture to a freezer-safe container and freeze for a few hours. At $400, this is definitely an investment, but if you find yourself making a lot of ice cream, this could be the machine for you. It’s also great for kids. Brian Smith at Ample Hills has one of these at his house and says his kids love to use it, probably because of the cheery jingle that plays when the ice cream is finished churning.
The Nostalgia produced delicious ice cream with a moderate overrun of 31%. While a bit icy, it wasn’t the biggest offender in the testing lineup. Sara Bonisteel and I both preferred this ice cream over the ice cream made in the equally affordable Hamilton Beach 68330R. She noted that it had a “nice bite” and “pretty nice texture” with a “hint of ice crystal.” The flavor of the cream really came out in the finish.
While this type of ice cream maker takes some preparation (as you need to have a good amount of ice and salt on hand), it’s an inexpensive way to make great ice cream. You can make multiple batches in one day, and they can be large batches to boot. However, this type of maker is designed so that adding mix-ins while the machine is on is impossible. You have to remove the motor and lid to add anything to the canister. Even then, you run the risk of accidentally getting salty ice in your ice cream. Best to stir in any additional nuts, cookies or candy by hand after it’s done churning.
Great for KitchenAid stand mixer owners
The KitchenAid made perfect, fluffy ice cream every time. And we really mean fluffy—ice cream from the KitchenAid had the highest overrun at 68% percent. This is due to the fact that the lowest speed on a KitchenAid is still faster than the churn speed on all of the ice cream makers that were tested. The resulting ice cream was smooth and light, with no discernable ice crystals. Billy Barlow, Culinary and Production Director at Blue Marble, an ice cream shop in New York City, uses this because he already has a KitchenAid mixer and he has space constraints in his New York City home. He did note that while you have control over speed when using the KitchenAid attachment, if you run it too fast, the friction will prevent your ice cream from setting. I ran it on the lowest speed and it worked really well.
Types of ice cream makers
Where domestic ice cream makers are concerned, there are a few types of models: frozen bowl inserts, ice/salt churners, and compressors.
The most common is the liquid-filled insert bowl, which you have to freeze for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. While these models can be budget friendly, there are many drawbacks. The bowl takes up valuable space in the freezer, if you decide to store it there. If not, you need to pre-freeze it for at least eight hours. In the case of the Cuisinart ICE-21, the bowl needs to be frozen for 24 hours or it won’t turn your ice cream base into anything thicker than a milkshake. You also have to be content with making only 1½ to 2 quarts of ice cream before refreezing.
While these inserts made great first batches, the second batches were more or less flops with all of these models. I froze the inserts for the same amounts of time, 24 hours each, and I tested them on different days, ensuring I wasn’t running into the same defrost cycle with my chest freezer. The bowls were also placed in the same spot at the bottom of the chest freezer, where it is coldest, and I lowered the temperature to the coldest setting. Lauren Tempera, Founder of Spoon’d Ice Cream (currently on hiatus) agrees. She told us, “I hate those things… they’re not consistent!” The KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker attachment was an exception. It turned out fluffy, evenly frozen ice cream for both batches.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, a traditional ice/salt ice cream maker with a motorized dasher might be for you. Yes, you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of ice and salt on hand, but once you do, you can turn out batch after batch of ice cream. Since this type of maker generally has a four-quart capacity, making ice cream for a crowd is simple. These machines run in the $30 range, so there’s little risk in trying one out. What about all that “mess” that people talk about with the ice and salt? I ran the two models we brought in for testing outside in my backyard and there was no mess to speak of. Alternatively, if you are really worried about a mess and don’t have any outside space, put the whole rig in your kitchen sink; just make sure the motor, cord, and plug don’t get wet.
Some people are nostalgic for hand-crank ice cream makers. Brian Smith at Ample Hills Creamery feels that they offer a sense of community. “It’s not about the quality if the ice cream, it’s an experiential one. It’s just fun. It’s historic because it’s the way that it’s been done for a long time. It creates a communal atmosphere.” Others, like my father and my boyfriend, cringe at the very mention of them. Both have childhood memories of having to turn the crank on one if these beasts on a hot summer day. Billy Barlow says that hand cranking can become a drag, and doesn’t necessarily result in the best end product. “If you want to have it so that everyone’s churning, that’s cool, but you definitely want to have something that’s motorized. That constant churning will limit your ice crystallization for a more consistent and creamy product.”
When buying an ice cream maker, ask yourself how often you really see yourself using it: are you planning to turn out a couple of batches each summer, each month during the warm months, or regularly year-round? Also look at the storage and counter space you have to dedicate to a new appliance. The compressor models can weigh around 30 pounds, and that’s something to consider if you’re thinking about storing it on a low shelf. If you’d like to keep it on the counter, be prepared to clear off 11” x 15” for our top pick and 16” x 10” for our step-up.
What makes great ice cream
In the Ample Hills cookbook, Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna say, “What separates great ice cream from mediocre ice cream is the quality of those ingredients—and the process by which they’re prepared and churned into product.”
Billy Barlow at Blue Marble understands the issues that can come with making ice cream at home. “One of the complaints a lot of people have when making ice cream at home is that’s it’s icier than they thought it would be. That’s primarily because of how cold the freezing process is and how cold your home freezer is. If your home freezer is your normal, 0 degree freezer or slightly warmer, your ice cream is going to take a lot longer to harden than in a commercial freezer, and therefore more ice crystals are growing. Those are the two challenges. If you can make your ice cream get colder faster, it has the potential to be smoother and creamier.”
Once the ice cream is spun, it is very soft, but completely edible. This is my favorite texture, but it’s definitely not scoopable. This is the point where you “set” the ice cream, which means transferring it to a container to freeze for at least a few hours. Additional freezing is an important step because the colder your freezer is, the quicker your ice cream sets, and the smaller the ice crystals will be. And that’s it! It really is one of the simplest things to make. Once you get your technique down, you can play around with flavors, fat content, and maybe even some stabilizers like xanthan gum to tweak texture.
We decided to leave out gelato makers since gelato is a different animal. It differs from ice cream in that it is mostly milk and sugar with little cream and little to no egg yolks, sometimes using cornstarch to thicken instead. Gelato is churned slower and at a higher temperature to maintain a “stretchy” quality. The result is a product with little to no overrun that more resembles a custard than ice cream. Don’t get us wrong; it’s delicious and we love it. It’s just not the same.
What is overrun?
Actually, the air whipped into ice cream plays a major role is texture and flavor delivery. Billy Barlow, Culinary and Production Director at Blue Marble Ice Cream says, “Air is very important when you take into account texture, as well as, whenever you incorporate air into a product if you have mint or vanilla in your ice cream, something that’s aromatic, those air capsules actually hold the aroma of whatever it is you’re flavoring with.”
The Donvier by Cuisipro was the only hand cranked model we tried, and its smaller-capacity (1 qt.) frozen bowl probably makes the work much more manageable. It only needs to be turned four complete turns, every three to four minutes, for 20 minutes. The result is surprisingly smooth and very dense ice cream with the lowest overrun (3%!) of all models we tested. After the first batch, I thought it was badass. The insert was so cold that it was really hard to turn the handle, so hard that I thought I might snap it in half. However, the next day, after the insert froze for 12 hours in my chest freezer, the following batch of ice cream barely froze, resulting in some ice crystals.
The Cuisinart ICE-21 is a smaller machine with an insert bowl that requires pre-freezing. It made the first batch (39% overrun) very well in under 30 minutes, and the results were similarly icy. The ICE-21 does have a large opening in the top for mix-ins, which is a real plus. The biggest disappointment with the ICE-21 was that when I went to make the second batch the next day, it wouldn’t freeze at all. The mixture resembled a half-melted milkshake.
The Hamilton Beach 68320 (23% overrun) was adequate when handling freezing the base of the first batch, but it failed on the second batch when it came time to add the mix ins. As soon as the cookies were added, the whole mixture melted to the consistency of a milkshake.
What else did we look at?
White Mountain’s Appalachian Series Wooden Bucket Electric Ice Cream Maker uses ice and salt, and it has a motorized dasher. It has an attractive wooden bucket and is made in the USA. It also costs a whopping $250.
The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino 1.5-Quart Ice Cream Maker gets pretty good reviews, but it costs $800. Also, it doesn’t have a removable bowl, which makes cleaning a bit of a pain.
Whynter’s ICM-15LS Ice Cream Maker is the other self-refrigerating ice cream machine from Whynter. We chose to bring in the cheaper SNO because of the glowing reviews from Cook’s illustrated.
The Maxi-Matic Elite ($90) offers either motorized or hand-crank turning. Again, the pine bucket made this ice-and-salt machine too expensive.
Cuisinart’s ICE-30BC Pure Indulgence ($80) is a frozen insert machine. Cook’s Illustrated wasn’t entirely pleased with it and one of the editors here at the Sweethome had an unfavorable experience while owning one.
The Deni Automatic Ice Cream Makers with Candy Crusher wasn’t well-liked by Good Housekeeping.
BELLA’s 13716 Ice Cream Maker had 1.7 stars on Amazon, so we decided to take a pass on reviewing the model.
The Nostalgia Electrics’s ICMW400 4-Quart Wooden Bucket Electric Ice Cream Maker ($45) had all the same features as our budget pick, and cost an extra $15. And again: a wooden bucket!
Wrapping it up
While it’s easy to just pick up a pint of premium ice cream at the store, making your own is much more fun and rewarding. With our pick, the Whynter SNO Ice Cream Maker, you can turn out continuous batches of ice cream without ice, salt, or forethought.
Ample Hills Creamery (Book), Amazon,
Owner of Ample Hills Creamery, Interview,
Equipment Review: Ice Cream Makers, Cook's Illustrated, September 1, 2010
Ice Cream Maker Reviews, Good Housekeeping
Ice Cream Makers: Buying an Ice Cream Machine, David Lebovitz
Secret Tools and Tricks of the Ice Cream Pros: How to Make Creamy Ice Cream, Serious Eats, March 21, 2014,
Test Drive: Ice Cream Makers, Fine Cooking,
Originally published: June 13, 2014