Who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s creamy, delicious, and the best treat for any summer (or winter) afternoon. While you can find ice cream at any grocery store, making it yourself is both enjoyable and tastier. There are plenty of no-machine-necessary ice cream making methods, but these usually take a long-time and produce sub-par results. Purchasing an ice-cream machine can ensure that you make delicious tasting ice cream in a fraction of the time. Ice cream machines might not be on everyone’s “must-have” list, but they are a great addition to any kitchen.
We reviewed dozens of ice cream makers while on the search for the best of the best. We judged each product based on the customer reviews, ease of use, ability to handle flavor additions, capacity, and of course, taste.
In the end, the Cuisinart ICE-21 quickly beat the competition and took our top pick spot. Not only is this ice cream maker incredibly fast, but it also has an extremely high capacity and is very simple to use.
In This Article
The 5 Top-Rated Ice Cream Makers for 2018
|Best Overall||Cuisinart ICE-21||4.5|
|Runner Up||Hamilton Beach 68330N||4.3|
|Best Budget Buy||Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE||4.2|
|Best Soft Serve Maker||Cuisinart ICE-45||3.6|
|Best Gelato Maker||Cuisinart ICE-100||4.4|
*Ratings are from Amazon at the time of publication and can change
Our Top Pick: Cuisinart ICE-21
The Cuisinart ICE-21 hosts a number of features that easily make it the best ice cream maker available on the market. It is extremely fast, producing a batch of ice cream in 20 minutes or less. Many customers reported that spreading the ice cream mixture manually helped it freeze faster and decreased the time even more. However, the freezer bowl, which allows the ice cream to be made without the use of ice, must be completely frozen before you begin making the ice cream. This, technically, does increase preparation time if you freeze the bowl before each use. Many people stated that they simply left the freezer bowl in their freezer in-between uses, which could cut down on waiting time.
This ice cream maker is also very easy to use. It features an ingredient spout that allows you to add in ingredients without interrupting the freezing cycle and has a transparent, easy-lock lid that allows you to watch the freezing process as it happens. This can be extremely interesting to smaller children (and can keep them distracted while you’re waiting for the ice cream)! Plus, it also features non-slip feet that hold the base stationary while the ice cream is being prepared.
Most importantly, the ice cream maker also produces delicious ice cream! It comes with a user’s manual that contains some recipes with simple directions. Many customers were astonished by how good the recipes taste. If you’re in the mode for something other than ice cream, this machine can also make frozen yogurt, sherbet, and even frozen drinks.
Cuisinart ICE-21 Key Features:
- Ingredient Spout
- Easy-lock lid
- Freezer bowl eliminates the need for ice
- Extremely fast
Our Runner-Up Pick: Hamilton Beach 68330N
With a 4 quart capacity, this ice cream maker is the star of every party.
Featuring a 4-quart capacity, the Hamilton Beach 68330N ice cream maker is great for hosting parties and making a batch of ice cream that will last for the whole week. Its high capacity easily tops most ice cream makers of the same caliber, and was one of the most praised features by customers. It is also reasonably fast, taking anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to make a batch. Truthfully, it can make more ice cream in a shorter amount of time than our top pick, and might easily be a better performer at parties and larger events.
However, this ice cream maker does require ice and rock salt to make ice cream. It needs quite a bit of ice and rock salt, which have to be spread in layers manually. It also produces a large bucket of salt water at the end of the freezing process. These are the main reasons that this ice cream maker came in second place.
Still, this ice cream maker is always a great addition to any kitchen, especially if you have a large family or commonly host parties and events. It comes with a recipe book that contains over 20 unique combinations. This ice cream maker has no trouble handling additional ingredients, so don’t be afraid to mix it up and try a number of different recipes to suit your unique tastes!
Hamilton Beach 68330N Key Features:
- 4-quart capacity
- Comes with 20 recipes
- Easy-lock lid
- Produces ice cream in 20 to 40 minutes
Best Budget Pick: Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE
Don’t let the long, complicated name fool you. The Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE is both one of the best and cheapest ice cream makers on the market and the cheapest. It’s great if you’re on a budget but still want delicious tasting ice cream for minimal effort. This machine features a powerful electric motor and does all the churning, so you don’t have to. It also has an easy-to-clean plastic bucket to make clean up extremely easy as well. Plus, with a see-thru lid, you can sit back and watch as it makes your ice cream for you!
Like many of our top picks, it comes with a manual that contains a number of recipes to excite your taste buds. However, this machine does work best with Nostalgia Ice Cream Mixes, so there is somewhat less room to experiment than with other devices. Some customers also complained that the machine had difficulty with large amounts of added ingredients. If you’re interested in sophisticated, flavorful ice cream, you might want to look elsewhere.
Still, this ice cream maker is great if you want old fashion ice cream without all the manual labor that goes with it. It comes with all the features necessary to enjoy your ice cream without many of the bells-and-whistles that tend to drive up the price.
Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE Key Features:
- See-thru lid
- Powerful electric motor
- Recipes included
Best Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker: Cuisinart ICE-45
With a number of fun features and the ability to make delicious soft serve, this is a great choice for any family of ice cream lovers.
Featuring a fun, commercial-style design, the Cuisinart ICE-45 is a great choice for families with small children who love soft serve ice cream. This machine mixes and aerates ingredients simultaneously to create smooth, soft ice cream. The ice cream can then be dispensed with an easy pull-down of a lever, similarly to the big machines often seen at restaurants. Many customers claimed that their children loved the lever feature. Out of all of our top-picks, this ice cream maker is probably also one of the easiest to use. It comes with a recipe book that contains many easy-to-follow recipes featuring minimal, easy to find ingredients. In fact, it is so easy that many customers reported their children could use the ice cream maker independently. It really is so easy that a child could do it!
On top of the unique lever feature and ease of use, this soft serve ice cream maker has a number of features that make it stand out from the crowd. It features three condiment mixing containers to ensure that any flavor combinations you want to try are effortless. A mix-in gauge allows you to check the size of your mix-ins ahead of time to prevent the machine from clogging. A drip tray prevents messes, which is extremely useful if you have smaller children. This soft serve maker even comes with a cone holder. What more could you ask for?
Cuisinart ICE-45 Key Features:
- Lever dispensing system
- 1 ½ quart capacity
- Three condiment containers
- Drip tray
Best Gelato Maker: Cuisinart ICE-100
Featuring a traditional gelato paddle, this machine allows you to make authentic gelato without the manual work usually required.
The Cuisinart ICE-100 can make ice cream, gelatin, and frozen yogurt. It is a fully automatic, commercial-style compressor, which allows you to make batch after batch without waiting or running out of ice. It features two mixing paddles and a cool-down timer to ensure that your gelato has the perfect consistency and flavor every time. You no longer need to worry about whether you’re gelato has been mixing for the correct amount of time or not.
This gelato maker also makes it incredibly easy to try different recipes and add-in ingredients. It comes with a recipe book that contains instructions on creating a variety of flavors, and a transparent lid makes it very easy to add ingredients and then watch the mixing process in action. The lid even comes outfitted with a mix-in opening to allow you to add in your favorite topping or flavors without interrupting the freezing cycle. The mixing bowl is equip with a lift-out handle to make cleaning effortless, and no pre-chill or freezing of the mixing bowl is required like in some ice cream makers.
This machine is controlled and programmed using a simple touchpad and LCD. When the unit is on, the power button is lit by a red LED light. With the touchpad, the countdown timer can be set from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on how much gelato you’re making and what the recipe calls for. Feel free to experiment with the amount of time you mix the gelato for; different mixing times will produce different flavors and consistencies, so feel free to experiment to find your favorite.
Cuisinart ICE-100 Key Features:
- Fully automatic
- Gelato paddle for authentic gelato
- Countdown Timer
- 1 ½ quart capacity
Who Should Buy an Ice Cream Maker
Ice cream is delicious, plain and simple, and you know what is even more delicious? Homemade ice cream. Sure, you can purchase ice cream from nearly every grocery store, but there is no way to compare home-churned ice cream to store-bought. It just tastes better, has a better consistency, and is entirely customizable. Want low-fat chocolate rum ice cream? You can get it with your ice cream maker.
Plus, ice cream makers are not that expensive despite popular belief. Our top pick is only 48 dollars. If you’re buying a gallon of ice cream from the grocery store every week, an ice cream maker will pay for itself in just three months. Ingredients are incredibly inexpensive for making ice cream, especially if your ice cream maker doesn’t require rock salt or ice.
Everyone who enjoys and regularly purchases ice cream should get an ice cream maker. It’s cheaper, tastes better, and can create flavors you would never dream of finding in a store.
Important Features to Consider
When purchasing an ice cream maker, there are a few features you should keep in mind. Some ice cream makers are simply better than others, and some are better for certain people than others. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping around for an ice cream maker:
- Capacity. How much ice cream can the ice cream machine make in one batch? If you live alone or with only one other person, this might not be a huge deal. After all, who eats more than a quart of ice cream in one sitting? However, if you have a large family or commonly host parties, you might want to search for ice cream makers with a larger capacity. No one wants to be stuck continuously making batches of ice cream because their ice cream maker can’t make enough to feed everyone. Plus, if you live a busy lifestyle and don’t have time to make ice cream every time you want it, a large capacity ice cream machine would allow you to store some in the freezer after each batch.
- Speed. It takes most ice cream makers about 20 minutes to make a quart of ice cream, but some can make more in the same amount of time, like our runner-up pick for example. And, others require a significant amount of preparation time before a batch can be made, especially those that don’t need ice as an ingredient. If you only want to make ice cream once a week or so, this might not be a significant feature on your must-have list. However, if you want fresh ice cream daily, you should keep the time requirement in mind while shopping.
- Ease of use. There is no doubt that ice cream makers vary a lot when it comes to how easy it is to use them. Some require lots of options to be set and a great deal of manual mixing to be done. Others only need you to pour in ingredients and push a button. Those that require more work are usually also those that give you more control over the ice cream being made, while those that make ice cream at the push of a button can often only make it at one set consistency. It just depends on what is important to you.
- Ease of cleaning. Every ice cream maker requires you to clean it after each use. Look for ice cream makers that have a removable bowl, which is usually far more accessible to clean than those with a permanently installed bowl. Also, if an ice cream maker has a lot of independent parts, it usually means that there are more parts to clean. While some people might not mind the extra cleaning too much, if washing dishes is your least favorite chore, it is something to keep in mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an ice cream maker and how does it work?
An ice cream maker is a small appliance that makes ice cream. There are four main categories of ice cream makers, and each one makes ice cream in a slightly different way. The most common variant relies on a double-bowl system. One bowl is frozen, and the ice cream mixture is added to the other bowl. The paddles rotate, stirring the mixture as it slowly freezes due to contact with the chilled bowl. The second variant sits inside the freezer, and operates similarly to a food processor but in slow-motion. The third and possibly most expensive type comes with a built-in freezer. This works very similarly to the last two variants, but has an integrated freezer and doesn’t rely on a chilled bowl or outside freezer. The last option is usually referred to as a compressor ice cream maker. These variants tend to be top-notch (with a price tag that comes along with it) and often create much higher quality ice cream when compared to other models.
What does an ice cream maker do?
Simply put, an ice cream maker makes ice cream! What EXACTLY is does though depends on the variant. Most ice cream makers employ a paddle or two that stir the mixture while it freezes. The speed of the mixers can vary a lot from one brand to the other and can play a huge role in how the consistency of the ice cream turns out. How the machine freezes the ice cream also varies a lot. Some have chilled bowls while others rely on a mixture of ice and rock salt.
How can you make ice cream with an ice cream maker?
Making ice cream with an ice cream maker first starts with an ice cream mixture. Recipes for blends can be found online, and often ice cream makers come with some recipes. You can also purchase mixes from Amazon, though how well these mixes work depends a lot on the particular machine. If you want to use a pre-made mixture, make sure you get one that is made for the machine you have purchased.
Often, the only thing you need to do is pour the mixture into the mixing compartment of the ice cream maker and begin the cycle. However, some machines require you to do extra preparation or pour the mix in a particular way. See your machine’s owner manual for specific instructions.
How do you make ice cream in a blender?
You can make ice cream in a blender by merely pouring in frozen fruit, a vanilla bean, heavy whipping cream, and frozen sugar. Pure vanilla extract can also be added to taste if necessary. However, it is important to point out that the consistency of ice cream made with a blender can vary widely, and is often not as creamy as ice cream made by an ice cream maker. If you’re in a rush or do not have an ice cream machine, this method can work.
Other Ice Cream Makers We Reviewed
We also looked at 20 other ice cream makers. Even though these ice cream makers did not make our top 5 list, they are still better than most and worth considering. All the information you’ll need for comparison is included in the listing.
If you’re looking for a soft serve machine that can handle larger parties and gatherings, this is your safest bet. While it is more expensive, it’s automatic features, and large capacity makes it worth it.
- Just fill and go
With a child-friendly design, this ice cream maker is a great choice for ice-cream-loving families with smaller children.
- Able to handle frozen fruits
- Easy to clean
- Extremely simple to operate
Love soft serve and regular ice cream? This machine can make both! With a built-in freezing system, no pre-freezing is required.
- Makes hard and soft ice cream
- No Pre-freezing
- Comes with bonus accessories, such as a measuring cup and scoop
This Gourmia features a different design than our previous listing with a slightly different functionality.
- One touch button
- Creates ice cream in minutes
- Easy to clean
Looking for a commercial ice-cream experience at home? Then this machine has you covered. Featuring the ability to hold three different flavors at once, it is like visiting the ice cream parlor without leaving your home!
- Two flavors + one mix design
If you’re looking for something fun for the kids to do, this might be a good choice. It’s super easy, and customer’s reported that their children loved it.
- Creates ice cream in minutes
- Simple design
- Makes all sorts of frozen desserts, including gelato
With an extremely aesthetic design, this machine can make 2-quarts of ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato, or sorbet.
- 2-quart capacity
- Ingredient spout
- Control panel with three-speed settings
This is a cheaper option for those who love gelato but don’t want to spend too much money on an at-home gelato maker.
- Includes Recipes
- 5-liter capacity
- Countdown Timer
This gelato maker specializes in creating delicious frozen desserts quickly. Plus, its family-sized capacity means that it can hold make enough to feed the whole family.
- No pre-cooling
- Family sized
This gelato maker is completely self-contained and does not require pre-freezing for use. Plus, a removable bowl and churn blade make clean-up effortless.
- Easy to clean
- No pre-freezing needed
- Built-in timer
Featuring a 12 hardness settings and a fully automatic design, this ice cream maker is high-tech while also presenting you with lots of options.
- 12 hardness settings
- 5-quart capacity
- Keeps ice cream cool for 3 hours
If you’re looking for a compressor that makes a small amount of ice cream fast, get this one. It features a heavy-duty motor that makes frozen desserts in as little as 25 minutes.
- Heavy duty motor
- Limited 3-year warranty
- Large ingredient spout
Have a family of varied tastes? This ice cream maker is extremely versatile, with the ability to make almost any frozen dessert you can think of including both soft and hard ice cream.
- Most desserts are ready within an hour
- LCD digital display
This ice cream maker features a high-efficiency CFC-free compressor, so you can feel good about using it. Plus, its motor protection function automatically shuts off the motor if the mixture freezes solid to prevent possible damage.
- High-efficiency design
- Easy to clean and store
- Motor protection function
With a compact design and built-in timer, this ice cream maker is extremely easy to use and store.
- Stainless steel housing
- No pre-freezing
- Removable bowl and churn blade for easy storage and cleaning
If you’re buying an ice cream maker for a church, camp, or another reoccurring gathering, this is the one to get.
- 22L capacity
- High-quality compressor
Interested in a commercial grade ice cream maker? This is one of the best on the market.
- LCD Display
- Three flavor design
- Fast refrigeration
Love making old-fashioned ice cream? Or maybe you just have A LOT of people to feed. Either way, this unique ice cream maker features both an electric maker and hand crack along with a 6-quart capacity.
- 6-quart capacity
- Old-fashioned feel
With an incredibly large capacity, this ice cream machine is wonderful for parties and other social gatherings.
- 20L capacity
- LCD system
High capacity ice cream makers can be expensive, just look at some of our other listings. If you’re looking for one that comes with a reasonable price tag for home use, this is a good option.
- 4-quart capacity
- Durable stainless steel
- Self-adjust to ensure a uniform texture