Why Buy an Ice Cream Maker?
The top performers in our review are Cuisinart ICE-21, the Gold Award winner; Cuisinart Pure Indulgence, the Silver Award winner; and KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 ice cream makers.
How to Choose an Ice Cream Maker
Imagine a hot summer's day. What's the one treat your mind automatically goes to? It's ice cream. Ice cream is the quintessential dessert most of the year, but especially when the weather warms up. Cold, creamy ice cream is perfect for adults and kids alike. The only thing better than eating ice cream is not having to go to the store to get it.
With an ice cream maker at home, you can have delicious ice cream, sorbet, gelato or other frozen treats without leaving the house. That's especially nice if you are entertaining guests and want to show of your culinary prowess by making homemade ice cream.
Another reason for having your own ice cream maker is that many people are vegan, lactose intolerant or have food allergies that prohibit them from eating cream, milk or other ingredients. If you – or someone you know – falls into any of these categories, you can make homemade ice cream using custom ingredients. It's also a great solution for picky eaters or foodies that want to create outrageous and unique flavors. Check out our other articles on ice cream makers and sweet treats.
So now that you want to make ice cream at home, which ice cream maker is right for you? We've narrowed down the top ten best ice cream makers on the market. Whether you're making ice cream at home, at a party or at the park, the products we reviewed produce quality ice cream and give you precise control over the ingredients, time and quantity.
Why Make Ice Cream at Home?
There are a lot of reasons why you would be interested in purchasing an ice cream maker. First, they are very affordable appliances. Think about spending around $50 for an appliance that makes ice cream for years to come; next think about spending five dollars or more for store-bought ice cream each time you want to enjoy a frozen treat. The cost of store-bought ice cream adds up fast.
Beyond cost savings, ice cream makers allow you to control what you eat. You can make ice cream that is vegan, lactose-free, free from artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, or you can make the craziest flavors you can imagine.
Also, making ice cream at home is fast. Our top ice cream makers can prepare a fresh, delicious dessert in under an hour. Try going to the store, checking out and getting home in less than an hour.
Last, ice cream at home is a fun event for the family. If you are making a solo dish, you can save time and money, but if you're making enough for your family, you can get the kids involved and have fun without ever leaving the house.
Ice Cream Makers: Key Differences
Some might think back to childhood and remember making homemade ice cream with tons of ice and rock salt while endlessly churning ingredients to get cold creamy ice cream. With modern technology, though, you don't have to put in quite as much effort. However, traditional salt-and-ice and freezer-bowl methods have their merits.
The traditional method involves pouring large quantities of ice and salt over and around a bucket that chills your liquid ingredients until they are smooth and creamy. The products we reviewed include both manual hand-crank options and automatic models.
Our top three products are all electric ice cream makers that rely on a freezer bowl you pre-freeze to make ice cream quickly with just a touch of a button. Some freezer-bowl models require you to churn the frosty mixture by hand, giving your biceps a workout. The freezer-bowl method works best at home and requires you to store the bowl in the freezer for several hours, if not always. This method is cleaner and more efficient than the traditional method, but some bowls can take up a lot of precious space inside your freezer.
Ice cream is a win-win, no matter which method you choose. Really what it comes down to is time and effort. If you want ice cream fast with minimal clean up and minimal effort expended, then a freezer-bowl method can work well for you. If you don't mind the old-fashioned method or you need to make a large amount of ice cream, you can invest the time and energy of making ice cream the traditional way.
Ice Cream Makers: What We Tested, What We Found
The great part of testing ice cream makers is eating ice cream. Our testing methods involved making several batches of ice cream with each model in order to test ease of use, ease of cleaning, consistency and other factors. We made basic vanilla ice cream, using the vanilla recipe provided in each of the ice cream makers' included recipe books, and added mini chocolate chips. This gave us a feel for each machine's basic freezing and ice cream-making ability while also allowing us to test how evenly mix-ins were distributed.
Our testing protocol included verifying whether the manufacturer's data was complete and truthful. In our tests, we closely monitored how long the ice cream took to set, which we compared against the manufacturer's data, verifying that each product's specifications were accurate.
Making ice cream gave us firsthand knowledge about which products are easy to assemble, clean, use and which models make the best ice cream. It also gave us an excuse to eat way too much ice cream.
What to Look For in an Ice Cream Maker
Ask yourself how often you plan on making ice cream at home. If it's often, then opt for a freezer-bowl method, but if it's only a few times a year or for large parties, go with salt and ice. Are you on a time crunch? Look at which products can make ice cream quickly compared to those that take a few hours. Lastly, think about the consistency of your ice cream. Do you like firm ice cream? If so, go for a higher consistency rating, but if you don't mind your ice cream being softer, then use your own preference to select an ice cream maker with the right consistency options for you. Remember: You can always freeze your ice cream after it's done churning for a harder texture.
Preparation and Easy Cleanup
After enjoying a big bowl of freshly made ice cream, you don't want a huge cleanup effort. The same can be said for preparing the ice cream: If it takes too much prep work, it might not be worth it for you. Look at ice cream makers that are easy to clean and assemble. Think about how long you'll need to prep ingredients, including pre-freezing the bowl and certain ingredients. Refer to the graph we've prepared that shows you a side-by-side comparison of cleanup times, parts to assemble and how easy it is to manage the mess afterwards.
Bang for Your Buck
Finally, think about what you are paying for. All of these products make ice cream, but which model is easy to store and which one comes with unique recipes? Take a moment to consider what matters to you as far as storage capacity, especially for some of the salt-and-ice models that are heavy. If you have lots of storage room in your home, this might not be an issue, but for those with limited space, ask yourself which model will fit best in your home. Also, consider the recipes manufacturers include with the model. It's true that with an ice cream maker, you'll be pinning recipes left and right, but the recipes that come with your machine are tailored exactly for that appliance.
Ice Cream Makers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
After making so much ice cream, we have the following tips for making the best batch of ice cream. First, pre-chilling ingredients helps the overall consistency. Second, cleaning up right away or soaking bowls helps quickly and effortlessly remove rock salt and sticky, sugary cream. Third, for harder consistencies, freeze your ice cream for a few hours after it's done mixing. Our ice cream maker reviews give you the rundown on each product's highs and lows and our experiences with each model.
Our top three products: Cuisinart ICE-21, Cuisinart Pure Indulgence and KitchenAid's Ice Cream Maker Attachment stand out from the rest for their speed, ease of use and quick clean up. These models also offer many recipes to choose from and are all electric freezer-bowl models.
The two Cuisinart models are almost neck-and-neck, with the ICE-21 beating out Pure Indulgence in speed, making good quality ice cream in just 30 minutes. The KitchenAid attachment is in its own genre though, as you'll need a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, but for serious gourmands, it's a worthwhile investment. When summer calls, or really anytime, having an ice cream maker on hand is a terrific addition to your home appliance collection.