The Best Ice Cube Tray
After seven hours of research and testing and over a year of long-term testing, we recommend the OXO Good Grips Ice Cube Tray. While other ice cube trays we tested (and previously recommended) used smell-retaining silicone, the Good Grips tray has a rigid, sliding plastic lid that allows clean stacking in the freezer. Each tray makes 14 20-mL cubes with a unique half moon shape that can be pushed out of the tray easily with short-nailed fingers.
Table of Contents
How we picked and tested
There are countless styles of ice cube trays out there, making water into every size and shape of ice imaginable. We decided to narrow our focus to non-silicone trays in traditional ice cube shapes. Why not silicone? After long-term testing with our previous pick, the Tovolo King Cube tray, we found that after a few months, silicone starts to retain freezer burn smells and impart that flavor into the ice. Since the smell problem appears to be related to the material, we decided not to include silicone trays this time around.
During our research, we found that almost every ice cube tray makes 12, 14, or 16 cubes; the trays with more cubes tend to take up a slightly longer footprint in the freezer than those with fewer cubes. Despite these differences in size and quantity, all of the trays make ice cubes that are about 20 grams each.
We set a price cap of $10 per tray. Anything more than that seemed too expensive for such a simple tool.
Lids can be great for keeping smells out, but some designs worked better than others. All prevented spilling when being moved from the sink to the freezer. However, one poorly designed lid turned the freezing water into a giant hunk of ice. The best lid not only stops spills, but also allows the tray to be stored at an angle and keeps smells out of the ice. When stacked, a tray with a good lid also keeps the tops of the ice clean, no matter what you stack on top of it.
From cube to cube, the differences in cooling power and meltwater rise was negligible, though the one with extra-large cubes, the 25mL Mumi&Bubi, had the least drop in temperature.
Our results ultimately proved that the shape of the ice at this size doesn’t make a substantial difference. Among the six trays, we recorded average decreases in temperature ranging from 41.11% to 45.65%, and ice mass loss of between 91.57% and 94.87%, after 17 minutes, across three tests. Those differences are too small to declare one shape as better than any other among these models.
Unlike the cheaper plastic trays from Sterilite and Rubbermaid, the lid allows trays to be stacked easily dirtying the tops of the ice. The lid’s wavelike edge also allows you to turn over the tray to dump out as few or as many cubes as you’d like at a time.
Another advantage the plastic-lidded version has over the silicone-lidded version is that there are small channels for runoff between each ice cube groove, which means you can fill the tray by pointing the water spout at one end of the tray and tilting it.
Over at Gizmodo, Sam Biddle named this one the best ice cube tray of all time. “I liked the OXO because it was clever without feeling clever—an ice cube tray should just give you some damn ice when you want it, not feel like a gadget,” Biddle told us via email. “I didn’t like the trays that tried too hard.”
While cheaper ice cube trays we’ve had in the past have cracked after becoming brittle in the freezer, we haven’t had any problems with the OXO so far. In any case, as with all OXO products, if you have a problem with durability, you can contact OXO and get a replacement under their satisfaction guarantee.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
While the lid does keep some smells out without touching the tops of the cubes, it’s far from air- or water-tight. If you tilt the tray at an angle on the way to the freezer, the water will come gushing right out. It’s also pricier than some of the lidless models, but we think the lid is worth it.
For more ice cubes
At about $25, Mumi&Bubi’s Solids Starter Kit is five times as as expensive as our top pick, but it comes with two trays that make 21 extra-large cubes each. The BPA-free, dishwasher-safe plastic trays are square rather than rectangular, measuring just shy of 9 inches long and wide and standing 1½ inches tall with the included lid in place. Each indentation holds about 25mL of water, rather than the 20mL-capacity of the others we tested.
While they leave the least amount of meltwater to your drink, in our tests they also didn’t cool the drink quite as quickly as the smaller 20mL cubes, though the difference was pretty small. The shape of the cubes is very similar to that of OXO’s, with a half-moon design that makes removal of a single cube easy: push on the end and and grab the other as the ice pops up. It’s just as simple to knock out the entire tray into a bucket when you’re having a party.
The covers protect the ice from freezer burn and also allow you to stack anything on top of the trays. They also help prevent any spillage; even if the water sloshes around when you’re moving from the sink to the freezer, none of it will end up on the ground. The trays can’t be stored at angles like our top pick, though.
Because of the high price and large footprint, the Solid Starter Kit doesn’t quite compete as the “best” option, but it’s a smart choice for those who want to make a lot of ice at once. We’re actually a little surprised Mumi&Bubi doesn’t market the tray as an option for plain ol’ ice cubes, although based on the 4.5 star rating on Amazon, plenty of people love it for its intended purpose.
Smells and white residue
The first problem was that the cubes left an off-putting, lacy white residue on the inside of the ice cube trays. Readers wondered what it was and whether it was safe. As Sweethome and Serious Eats contributor Kevin Liu explained, “Since the cubes in the Tovolo are larger, the water freezes more slowly and also circulates more within each cube before it freezes. This action deposits the minerals on the outside of each cube; with smaller cubes, the minerals get trapped inside the ice cube.”
Tovolo has tested the residue left in trays and found that they were elements from the water used to make ice. The residue is more prevalent the harder your water is; still, there’s nothing harmful about it.
We had a pretty rigorous debate about this issue among ourselves. Some Sweethome editors insisted that the freezer burn flavor of ice made in the Tovolo tray was a dealbreaker, while other Sweethome editors couldn’t taste anything off. Accusations about stinky freezers and dull palates flew.
Both the residue and the flavor problems may stem from the nature of silicone. While its flexibility lends itself well to releasing large-form cubes that might otherwise crack more brittle plastic, the material may also have a tendency to hold on to both the hard-water deposits and smells. Tovolo representative Kerry Niesen told us, “Silicone is a rubber material and at low temperatures can absorb odors from the freezer and refrigerator.”
Tovolo told us these problems could be fixed. “The best solution is to clean your Tovolo ice trays in a dilute solution of vinegar and water about once per month,” says Niesen, recommending a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water. “Sometimes it is necessary to soak the trays in the solution for up to an hour.”
She also recommended storing the trays outside the freezer when not in use. “Once the cubes are frozen, decant them into an airtight container so they stay fresh in the freezer,” she said.
But would this really solve both issues? We decided to conduct an experiment. We had an 8-month-old Tovolo tray that had been sitting in a mostly empty freezer and exhibited both the residue and stink issues. We cleaned the silicone tray in vinegar-water, as directed by Tovolo. After an hour in the bath, the trays still smelled of freezer burn, though the scent wasn’t as assertive as it had been before. We washed a plastic Rubbermaid tray in plain soap and water. Then we filled one side of each tray with distilled water and the other side with filtered Los Angeles tap water, which tends to be quite hard. We froze the trays for 1½ weeks, melted equal amounts of each of the four ice samples, and examined the meltwater for residue and taste. This experiment was repeated once for confirmation.
As expected, the distilled water left no residue from either the plastic or the silicone tray. The cubes started far more clear than the the filtered water cubes and melted clear.
With filtered water, Kevin’s theory proved true: the smaller cubes from both the plastic tray and large Tovolo cube contained equal amounts of mineral residue once melted. The silicone tray didn’t display the lacy white residue it had prior to the vinegar cleanse; the deposits likely build up over time and use. We suspect that all filtered water ice always has that residue, regardless of the ice cube tray; it’s just that the sticky silicone trays hold onto the residue that would otherwise be trapped in the ice.
Our previous pick was OXO’s Good Grips No Spill Ice Cube Tray. We liked the innovative silicone lid which allows you to fill the tray from the tap, pour off the excess, and stick the lid on using the surface tension of the water. This design means you can stack the tray anywhere in the freezer, even at an angle, without spilling the contents. However, after long term testing we found that the silicone lid imparted the flavor of freezer burn to the cubes. Also, the moat around the outside of the tray created useless and messy shards of ice that would fall out and turn into puddles of meltwater. At about $10 a tray, it’s also more expensive than most trays we looked at.
In addition to the two OXO models, we called in four other trays for testing. Some were plain old plastic trays, and others had innovative tricks, but none was strong enough to earn the title. Only Fox Run’s No Spill Ice Cube Tray showed any real issues when it came to the cubes themselves.
Joseph Joseph’s QuickSnap Ice Cube Tray ($8) offers a unique way to remove the cubes. Each of the twelve divisions has a silicone switch mechanism embedded in it. Water freezes into it, and then when it comes time to remove a cube, you move the rubber back and forth to loosen it. Most of the time, this causes the cube to pop right up at you. Cool idea, but it didn’t always work.
Both Sterilite’s Stacking Ice Cube Tray ($5) and Rubbermaid’s Easy Release Ice Cube Tray ($5) are pretty much quintessential ice cube trays. Coming in white plastic, each holds 16 cubes, and comes without a lid. They stack just fine and make perfectly acceptable ice. There’s nothing special about them though, and for the same money, we’d definitely take Good Grips Ice Cube Tray with its odor-fighting lid. You might find these bundled in multi-packs for a low price though, so they’re not a bad idea if you need a lot of ice at once.
We wanted to like the $8 No Spill Ice Cube Tray from Fox Run, but it turned out to be more problematic than expected. The 14-cube tray is the last of the models we tested to come with a lid. You’re supposed to snap the lid into place onto the empty tray, and then open up a cover in the center that reveals a 1½-inch hole underneath. Pour your water in through the hole to fill the tray; the lid is supposed prevent any water from spilling out. The problem is the design doesn’t prevent overfilling, and when you put too much water in, you end up with solid chunks of ice rather than individual cubes. As Cook’s Illustrated put its, “When the tray is overfilled, a solid sheet of ice atop the ice cubes made them hard to pry out, and after a few rounds of making ice, the lid stiffened and felt brittle.” Gizmodo’s Biddle echoes, “The Fox Run suffered the worst from overfill, leaving you with one enormous, malformed tectonic plate of ice, rather than neat cubes.”
Even when the tray was filled to a lower level, it was problematic. Almost every cube cracked when we removed them, leaving shards of ice behind.
Onyx’s Stainless Steel Ice Cube Tray looks cool, but its $29 price tag kept it out of the running.
The same goes for Lekue’s $33 Ice Box, which at least has the benefit of coming with a storage container.
The Container Store’s Covered Ice Cube Tray makes 21 cubes, but because it is made of rigid plastic and has a middle row, it’s hard to remove individual cubes; it’s more of an all-or-nothing kind of deal.
Originally published: September 19, 2014