When the mercury starts climbing, nothing screams “summertime” quite like homemade ice cream. After researching for 85 hours, testing 14 makers, talking with pro ice cream makers and a food scientist, and churning gallons of the frozen stuff over the past two years, we think the Whynter ICM-15LS ($260) is your best bet for making consistently great ice cream at home. It’s not cheap, but because it’s so easy to use and essentially guarantees success, it’ll likely get a lot more play in your kitchen than cheaper, more finicky machines.
The Whynter ICM-15LS not only made some of the smoothest ice cream in our testing, but it was also the quietest-running maker we tried and the easiest to scoop from and clean. And since it’s a self-refrigerating compressor machine, you won’t have to deal with freezing an insert bowl or futzing with messy ice and salt.
If the Whynter ICM-15LS sells out, or you just want more bells and whistles, the Breville Smart Scoop ($400) is a great alternative. Although it made slightly creamier ice cream than our top pick, the difference was so subtle that we don’t think it’s worth the extra $150 for most people. It has an auto function with 12 hardness settings and a “keep cool” function so you can set your ice cream and walk away. And its brightly lit LCD display and control panel with big buttons make it easy to use—even for kids.
The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino ($645) is the crème de la crème of home ice cream makers. The large, sleek machine churned out smooth and creamy batches of ice cream in less than 30 minutes, the fastest of any model we tested. And our tasters unanimously voted its ice cream the smoothest and best-flavored. But its jaw-dropping price makes the Musso Lussino too expensive for casual dessert-making. If you plan on making more than one quart of ice cream a week, this might be the machine for you.
If spending more than $200 on an ice cream maker sounds steep to you, the Nostalgia Electrics ICMP400 ($30) is just one step beyond the old-fashioned hand-crank models. While it still requires ice and salt to freeze the mixture, this machine is fitted with a motor to do all of the hard work for you. Its ice cream was slightly icier than that from our main pick, but still tasty. It makes up to 1 gallon at a time, and as long as you have enough ice and rock salt, you can turn ice cream all day.
If you own a KitchenAid stand mixer, we really like the KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Stand Mixer Attachment ($80) attachment as well. This is a bowl that requires pre-freezing, which necessitates more planning ahead than our main pick. It made the absolute fluffiest ice cream of the machines we tested, since the lowest setting on the KitchenAid stand mixer is still faster than the speed at which ice cream makers spin. We didn’t mind the texture at all; in fact, it was quite pleasant.
Although I haven’t spent much time as a pastry cook in my long culinary career, I have made a lot of ice cream and frozen yogurt. When I was a fresh-faced line cook in New York City, I hung out in the pastry kitchen as much as I could, learning about ice cream from the pastry cooks. Every day before service I also had to spin a horseradish crème fraîche sorbet that was served as a garnish on the tuna tartare. Ice cream is the best because you don’t have to turn on an oven and it always makes people smile.
For this guide, we spoke with several ice cream experts, including Brian Smith, owner at Ample Hills Creamery; Billy Barlow, Director of Culinary and Production at Blue Marble Ice Cream; Lauren Tempera, avid home ice cream maker and one half of Red & Brown; and Douglas Goff, a professor and food scientist at the University of Guelph with more than 30 years of experience in the field of ice cream. We read editorial from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and Good Housekeeping. Finally, we 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.
An ice cream maker isn’t an essential kitchen tool, but if you love ice cream and like experimenting with unique flavor combinations, it’s worth investing in one. Which type you should buy depends largely on how often you plan to use it and how much you want to spend. Generally, you’ll find three styles of ice cream makers:
The primary task of an ice cream maker is to produce creamy ice cream with few ice crystals. The faster the mixture freezes, the less time ice crystals have to form. Although machines will do this in about 20 to 40 minutes, there’s no optimal time cycle—you just want the mixture to freeze as quickly as possible. That’s why compressor machines tend to make smoother textures; they churn and freeze the ice cream base faster than those that rely on frozen inserts or ice and salt.
A good compressor machine will freeze at around -32°F and maintain that temperature until the end of the cycle. A machine that uses a frozen bowl will only get warmer as the mixture freezes (and if your freezer is at the end of a defrost cycle when you take the insert bowl out, you’ll end up with a milkshake rather than actual ice cream). You can improve results in any type of machine by making sure your ice cream base is as cold as possible (see our ice-cream-making tips for how to do this).
Last year we tested nine ice cream makers of all types: a specialty hand-cranked style, electric high-capacity ice/salt, frozen insert, and compressor. The only kind we knew we didn’t want to try were the large capacity hand-cranked ice/salt models. Those are too much of a pain to churn since they require a strong arm to constantly crank for 20 to 30 minutes.
For this update, we only brought in self-refrigerating compressor ice cream makers. These tested the best last year—producing the highest-quality ice cream—and in surveying our readers we found most respondents were looking to buy a compressor machine. We kept our budget and KitchenAid attachment picks the same because no new models of these styles have come out over the past year (and we’re still satisfied with these selections). This year’s contenders included: Whynter ICM-15LS, Breville Smart Scoop, Lello 4080 Musso Lussino, Cuisinart ICE-100,and Sunpentown KI-15.
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 that “stretchy” quality, which is why you ideally should use a specific gelato machine. The result is a product with little to no overrun that resembles a custard more than ice cream. Don’t get us wrong, it’s delicious and we love it, it’s just not the same.
Last year we tested the machines using a relatively low-fat recipe from Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn, and I tasted them for texture and flavor with friend Sara Bonisteel, staff editor for the food section of The New York Times. For this update, we wanted to see how the machines handled different recipes. We ran a higher-fat vanilla ice cream base through each machine; it contains more cream and egg yolks than the Ample Hills recipe, which has more milk than cream. Higher-fat ice cream bases are more forgiving because there’s a lower percentage of water to crystallize and ruin the creamy texture. If a machine made icy ice cream from this luxurious base, we figured it wouldn’t be worth buying.
We also made a simple lemon sorbet without added glucose or corn syrup to smooth out the texture. We thought an unforgiving sorbet recipe that didn’t have any aid from fruit fiber or special sugars would show us the differences between these machines. But we were wrong. All the ice cream makers made the same sorbet. After the initial two tests, we dismissed the lowest-performing machine and made chocolate ice cream in the remaining four makers. (If you’re curious, we used all David Lebovitz recipes.)
Instead of the informal tasting we held for the previous guide, we held a blind taste test with six tasters. From our two years of testing, we’ve learned that with ice cream makers, you truly do get what you pay for. The prices of the machines we tested directly reflected the resulting quality of ice cream.
We like the Whynter ICM-15LS ($250) because it made smoother ice cream in a shorter amount of time than most of the other models. Although it didn’t create the absolute smoothest texture, it does hit the sweet spot of great results at a reasonable price. It’s also one of the quieter machines we tested, and the simple, compact design makes it easy to store. It’s also one of the simplest models to use, scoop from, and clean. And because the Whynter is a compressor machine, no pre-freezing of any kind is required.
The Whynter made some of the best ice cream in both rounds of testing. It had a pronounced creaminess with very few ice crystals. With an overrun of 53 percent, the mixture was quite airy, but still very rich. It wasn’t as smooth as that from the Lello Musso Lussino, but the machine also costs roughly 60 percent less. The Whynter churned out creamy ice cream in 33 minutes, falling into second place in freezing time after the Musso Lussino. Our runner-up, the Breville Smart Scoop, made ice cream in 35 minutes, and the longest freeze time went to the Cuisinart ICE-100 at 42 minutes.
This year we learned that the cost of the compressor machines is directly proportionate to the quality of ice cream they produced. The cheapest machine, Sunpentown KI-15 ($175), literally stopped working halfway through the cycle and didn’t completely freeze the ice cream. Part of the mixture was still liquid, which resulted in uneven, icy ice cream. The Cuisinart ICE-100 ($220) was slightly better, but also produced an icy texture. For $30 more, the Whynter made a far creamier ice cream. Both the Breville Smart Scoop and Musso Lussino made better ice cream, but they’re significantly more expensive (by 47 and 133 percent, respectively). The Whynter ICM-15LS hits the right balance of making really good ice cream at a decent price.
One of the great things about the Whynter is the lack of noise. It was the quietest in our testing sample this time around. This was in stark contrast to our previous runner-up, the Cuisinart ICE-100, which was high-pitched and loud.
The machine itself is pretty compact, measuring 8.5 by 15 by 9.25 inches (hlw), the smallest of our recommendations. This makes it easier to stash under a workbench or in a cabinet while not in use. Compare that to the Breville, which measures slightly larger at 9.5 by 16.5 by 11.5 inches (hlw), and the Lussino at 10.5 by 17.5 by 12 inches (hlw). It’s pretty heavy, weighing 32 pounds, but it’s easier to pick up and move than our step-up pick, which clocks in at 40 pounds. Nevertheless, it’s better to store in a low cabinet than a high shelf.
The Whynter is simple to use. The 1.5-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. The Musso Lussino, on the other hand, doesn’t have a removable bowl, so scooping out finished ice cream and cleaning gets pretty messy. Setting up the machine was effortless and took less than 3 minutes. The Breville was more difficult to navigate; we had to give the manual a once-over and figure out the many buttons and functions before we could start churning.
The Whynter is also very convenient. It’s a compressor machine, so it doesn’t require ice and nothing needs to be frozen in advance; just pour in your chilled base and turn it on. This doesn’t make it any different than the other compressor machines we tested, but does put it leagues ahead of the insert and salt-and-ice models we tried last year.
Fine Cooking likes the Whynter ICM-15LS for its value and it has a slew of great reviews on Amazon (4.3-star average of 82 reviews). Our prior pick was the Whynter SNO (since discontinued), and this is basically the same guts just with a smaller bowl.
Our previous pick, the Whynter SNO, had a 2-quart capacity, while the Whynter ICM-15LS has only a 1.5-quart capacity. It’s not that big of a deal because you can run batches back-to-back in this machine, since there’s no pre-freezing required.
The opening for adding mix-ins is almost comically tiny (2.5 by 1 inches, compared to the Breville’s 4.75-by-2-inch opening). But because you can remove the lid and the motor keeps turning, adding mix-ins is pretty easy without fussing with the opening in the lid.
For the price, we think the Whynter ICM-15LS is the best ice cream maker for most people. But the Breville Smart Scoop ($400) is a good—albeit substantially more expensive—option if the Whynter sells out. It made slightly creamier ice cream than the Whynter, but we don’t think that makes it worth the $150 price jump.
The Smart Scoop was our higher-priced option last year, but this year it didn’t beat the much more consistent (and expensive) Lello Musso Lussino. What the Smart Scoop really has going for it are more automatic options—basically a lot of extra bells and whistles that most people probably don’t need. It has an auto mode that lets you choose from 12 hardness settings (which seems excessive), from soft sorbet to super-firm ice cream. A bell alerts you when the time is right to add mix-ins, and the lid’s wide-mouth opening makes it easy. When the cycle is done, the Smart Scoop automatically stops turning the ice cream, and an alert bell or ice cream truck song signals that the cycle is finished (this can be turned off).
A “stay-cool” function keeps your ice cream frozen and churned for up to 3 hours. It also has a unique “cool down” function that brings the temp on your base and the machine down to the perfect turning temperature before it starts to churn—no other ice cream maker we tested has this feature. A large, bright LCD display is easy to read, and the buttons are intuitive. And if you prefer, there’s also a manual function that gives you complete control (the Whynter, by comparison, has no presets).
At 54 percent overrun, the Smart Scoop’s ice cream was so smooth and perfectly churned that it could be eaten straight from the machine, no additional freezing necessary. You could do that with any of these makers, but the Breville, and the Musso Lussino for that matter, produce a firmer product straight out of the machine. 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 a splurge. And there’s nothing you can do in this machine that you can’t do in the Whynter. But the preset auto functions do take a lot of guesswork out of timing, which is great for beginners and even kids.
Brian Smith at Ample Hills has one of these at his house and said his kids love to use it, probably because of the cheery jingle that plays when the ice cream is finished churning. It has a 4.4-star average rating on Amazon and comes recommended by Serious Eats and Bon Appétit.
The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino ($650) is truly the most luxurious home ice cream maker we’ve ever used. In our blind tasting, the Musso Lussino placed first or second place with every taster. But for the price, it’s only worth it if you’re a serious connoisseur or you have cash to burn. Musso is an Italian company that makes domestic and commercial ice cream and gelato makers. The design is sleek and simple with no bells and whistles. But we do have a few small gripes about its build.
The stationary bowl is not fun to clean, especially if the machine isn’t situated near a sink. You basically have to scrape out every last bit of ice cream and let the bowl warm up a bit, otherwise your cleaning water will freeze. Then fill a mixing bowl with soapy or bleach water and wipe it out, making sure to rinse it completely. It took more paper towels than we care to use, but we’re sure that can be streamlined with practice.
The machine is also really big and heavy, measuring 10.5 by 17.5 by 12 inches (hlw) and weighing 40 pounds. This isn’t something you can stash on a shelf; this guy should permanently be parked on your countertop.
Like the Whynter, using the Musso Lussino is incredibly easy. The metal dasher—all the others we tested are plastic—sits in the depressed stainless steel bowl. After pouring in the ice cream base, just set the timer and press the two green buttons, one for freezing and one for churning, no extra controls or settings like our runner-up. We aren’t sure why there are two separate buttons, but the cooling button could be helpful for keeping ice cream cold once you turn off the churn button; just remove the dasher so it doesn’t get frozen into the mixture. Ice cream took 22 to 25 minutes, the quickest churning time of all the models we tested. What does that speed get you? Less ice crystal formation and an intense creaminess that’s reminiscent of store-bought premium ice cream, thanks to a more powerful compressor that freezes the mixture faster. The difference is evident when you scoop out the finished product. It’s stretchy, like gelato, and actually visually smoother. The Whynter ICM-15LS and Breville Smart Scoop, by comparison, turned vanilla ice cream in 33 and 35 minutes, respectively, and their product was more icy.
But, again, the Musso Lussino is really expensive. For it to pay for itself you’d need to make 1 quart of ice cream at least once a week for two and a half years. For the same price you could easily buy 275 pints of premium store-bought ice cream at $5/pint, if you factor in the cost of the Musso Lussino plus quality ingredients (and why use anything but in such a machine?). But if you like to make ice cream for friends and family on the regular, and have the money, this just might be your ideal ice cream maker. It receives an average of 4.5 stars from 192 Amazon users. Like the other machines we picked, this comes with a 1-year warranty, which is a bit short given the hefty price tag.
If you’re not ready to commit to an expensive compressor machine, the Nostalgia Electrics ICMP400 ($30) gives good results, although it requires more work and won’t produce the creamiest textures. Of the two models we tested that require salt and ice, the Nostalgia Electrics was the winner. This simple machine can make up to 4 quarts of ice cream, easily twice the capacity of the others.
The Nostalgia produced decent ice cream with a lower overrun of 31 percent, which is on the dense side. The final product was also icier than our previous top pick. While the ice cream was a bit icy, it wasn’t the biggest offender in the testing line up. Sara Bonisteel and I both preferred this ice cream over that 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. (We didn’t test this again this year with the higher-fat recipe. It’s very possible this machine would yield an ice cream with higher overrun with a different recipe.)
The construction is simple, with a canister, cover, dasher, bucket, and a motor that fits over the top. Layer ice and salt in the bucket around the canister and plug in the motor. (We used kosher salt because we couldn’t find ice cream rock salt and it worked just fine.) The bucket has a big, comfortable handle and the motor runs at a low hum. The ice cream took about 30 minutes to churn, but it was only a quarter full. At full capacity, it would’ve taken longer. Since it was a cool day, we didn’t need to add additional ice.
Keep in mind that this machine isn’t designed to add mix-ins while it’s running. 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. The Nostalgia Electrics has a 4.5-star average rating on Amazon from more than 600 ratings, and Good Housekeeping also likes it.
Even though we were not impressed with other frozen inserts, we found that the KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker ($80) attachment was the only frozen bowl model that worked well consistently. It’s a space-saving, affordable alternative if you have a KitchenAid stand mixer from 1990 or later.
The KitchenAid made perfect, fluffy ice cream every time. And we do mean fluffy, with the highest overrun (68 percent) in our tests last year (using the lower-fat recipe). 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 extremely airy, with few discernable ice crystals. If you like a denser ice cream, this is not the maker for you.
Because of the fluffier texture, the flavors also aren’t as pronounced and you don’t get a super indulgent mouthfeel. Billy Barlow, Culinary and Production Director at Blue Marble 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. We ran it on the lowest speed and it worked really well.
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.” Starting with the best ingredients will give better results.
To minimize the size of ice crystals, temperature matters. Everything needs to be as cold as possible. Before you spin your base, thoroughly chill it down in an ice bath. There is no skipping this step, unless you have a Breville Smart Scoop which can do it for you. The colder the base, the sooner it starts to freeze. Sometimes I’ll even put my base in the freezer until ice crystals just begin to form on the edges, then I’ll give it a vigorous stir before pouring into the machine.
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 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°F 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’s soft like soft serve. It’s completely edible but definitely not scoopable. This is the point where you “ripen” 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 it reduces the formation of ice crystals; the colder your freezer, the quicker your ice cream sets, and the smaller those ice cream 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, maybe even some stabilizers like xanthan gum to tweak texture.
If you’re new to ice cream making and aren’t sure how long to churn, no worries, there’s an automatic shut-off function on the Whynter so that the machine isn’t damaged if your mixture happens to freeze solid. We also made sure the outside of the bowl was dry before placing it in the machine. This was a tip Breville specifically called out so that the bowl doesn’t freeze into the machine, and we adapted it for all the makers with removable bowls.
As we mentioned, overrun refers to the amount of air whipped into the ice cream. There’s no “optimal overrun,” as commercial ice cream overrun can range from super dense 24 percent (Häagen-Dazs) to light and fluffy 94 percent (Breyers), according to Cook’s Illustrated. Think of it as the difference between pudding and mousse. They’re both stirred custard desserts and they’re both delicious.
The air whipped into ice cream actually plays a role is texture and flavor delivery. Billy Barlow of Blue Marble Ice Cream said, “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.” Ice cream that has a higher fat content holds more air. Not only that, those air capsules deliver better mouthfeel and texture.
Cheap ice cream makers cut corners with cheap ingredients and high overrun. More air means higher profits for ice cream producers. Douglas Goff, a food scientist with extensive experience in ice cream, said, “Manufacturers are caught in the middle of ingredient and fixed costs on the one hand (which keep going up) and retailing demands for price point on the other hand (can’t go up!), so overrun is a way to try to straddle that line and keep up margins.”
He goes on to explain how this impacts quality of the finished product, “…yes it is one of the defining characteristics of quality(!) – too low and it is very dense, heavy and rich (Haagen Dazs as the quintessential example, that is their market niche…) and too high and it is too marshmallowy/fluffy, the cheap supermarket no-name brands being a good example.”
If you’re a fan of both fluffy texture and high-quality ingredients, the best way to have the ice cream of your dreams is to make it yourself.
Our previous runner-up, the Cuisinart ICE-100 ($275) fell from grace after this round of testing. Pitted against other compressor models, it couldn’t compete and came in dead last. It took the longest to churn ice cream, 42 minutes, and the result was the iciest in our testing group.
The Sunpentown KI-15 ($175) was an underperformer. It churned the vanilla ice cream base with ease, and the blind tasters liked it a lot. But that’s where the good news ends. It stopped churning the lemon sorbet and chocolate ice cream before it was completely set, resulting in an icy and uneven texture.
The Donvier was the only hand-cranked model we tried, and the smaller capacity (1 qt.) of the frozen bowl probably makes the work much more manageable. It only needs to be turned four complete turns, every 3 to 4 minutes for 20 minutes. But we found it made inconsistent batches; the first was great, but the second was very icy.
The Cuisinart ICE-21 is a smaller machine with an insert bowl that requires pre-freezing. In our tests, it generally made icy ice cream. The ICE-21 does have a large opening in the top for mix-ins, which is a real plus. The biggest disappointment of the ICE-21 was that when we 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 percent overrun in last year’s testing) 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.
As for the Hamilton Beach 68330R, it made fine ice cream (38 percent overrun last year) and it froze fast and easy. The Nostalgia Electrics model beat it because it was quieter and the bucket had a handle.
The Whynter SNO was our prior top pick, but it has since been discontinued. I still have this model in my home and have been using it for longterm testing. It makes delicious, smooth ice cream on par with our new pick, the Whynter ICM-15LS. The SNO is bigger, heavier, and a little louder than the ICM-15LS, but if you happen to find this on closeout somewhere, go ahead and pick it up. We still stand by this maker.
Whynter ICM-200LS ($400) is a higher-capacity version of our top pick. A sales representative told us that the machines have the same motor and compressor; the only difference is the ICM-200LS makes 2 quarts of ice cream as opposed to 1.5 quarts. We didn’t think an extra pint of ice cream was worth the extra $140, so we opted not to test.
White Mountain Appalachian Series Wooden Bucket 6-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker uses ice and salt and has a motorized dasher. Although it has an attractive wooden bucket and is made in the USA, it costs a whopping $250. Since you can get an easier-to-use compressor machine for that price, we opted not to test.
MaxiMatic Elite ($90) offers either motorized or hand-crank turning. Again, the pine bucket made this ice-and-salt machine too expensive.
Cuisinart 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 unfavorable experience while owning one.
Deni Fully Automatic Ice Cream Maker with Candy Crusher wasn’t well-liked by Good Housekeeping.
BELLA 13716 Ice Cream Maker had an average of 1.7 stars on Amazon, so we passed on reviewing this model.
Nostalgia Electrics ICMW400 4-Quart Wooden Bucket Electric Ice Cream Maker ($45) Again with the wooden bucket! This model had all the same features as our budget pick but costs an extra $15.
Originally published: July 9, 2015