If you’ve been considering having an ice cream maker in your kitchen, we’re here for you! The choices available in the market are wider than ever before, with newer models that work in novel and interesting ways, as well as our favorite classic models.
And it's not only ice cream: Some of these machines can make any recipe into a semi-frozen or frozen treat. This means a tomato gazpacho made into a semifreddo for lunch, or maybe throw in a frozen strawberry daiquiri or a frozen virgin pomegranate citrus sangria into the mix! Really, the possibilities are endless. The other great bonus is you can also take charge of what ingredients are—and aren't—in your treat.
There are a few questions you’ll want to ask to determine which ice cream maker is best for you, including how much ice cream you want to make at once and how much work you want to put into making it. To help you choose, we took our top picks to our Lab's dedicated test kitchen. Using both a regular no-cook vanilla ice cream recipe and a vegan cookie dough one, we rated how well each machine churned and distributed mix-ins, the texture of the resulting ice cream, how easy it was to use and clean, and more. Of course, we'll keep on testing and updating this list as we collect more data (read: eat more ice cream).
Here, the best ice cream makers, according to both our research and test data. We’re sure there’s one here that’s just right for you!
Cuisinart ICE-30BCP1 Ice Cream Maker
A long-time favorite of the Simply Recipes team, this Cuisinart ice cream maker remains the best of its kind because it really does have all the right stuff: good looks, strong build, great performance, and lasting power.
The sleekness of its brushed stainless-steel design may make it easy to tuck away in a cupboard, but it also looks good right out on your kitchen countertop. Just pre-freeze the two-quart container, place it on the base, add your ingredients, and turn it on. Less than a half-hour later, you’ve got two quarts of ready-to-eat custom, homemade ice cream!
Other details that make this ice cream maker stand out are its spout for adding creative mix-ins to your ice cream and built-in cord storage. When you're done churning, the freezer bowl, lid, and mixing arm are easy to clean in the sink.
"I love that I can make 2 quarts of ice cream right off the bat with this maker, as opposed to the 1.5-quart capacity of the Cuisinart ICE-21, another popular ice cream maker. ... I recently made strawberry ice cream in this machine, and it came out amazingly rich and creamy." — Cambria Bold, Senior Editor, Cooking Education
Price at time of publish: $85
Hamilton Beach 68330N Automatic Ice Cream Maker
This Hamilton Beach ice cream maker is a hybrid of the old-fashioned hand-churn type combined with the newer type electric models. It’s versatile, with the ability to make up to 4 quarts of ice cream, gelato, or frozen yogurt with your choice of mix-ins in approximately 30 minutes.
The design has a vintage look with a top churner and space around the bowl for the ice and rock salt. To use it correctly, you’ll have to allow slightly more time than with the models that are fully automatic, as well as making sure you’ve got the right kind of ice and salt to put in the outside compartment. It does come with more than 20 recipes to help you discover your inner Ben & Jerry.
The fact that this is both hands-on (adding ice and salt) and automatic (no hand-churning) made it quite fun to use for our testers. However, we knocked some points off because we had to pre-freeze the actual ice cream (and not just the bowl insert) beforehand. Plus, cleanup, while easy, took a long time, due to us having to melt a bucketful of salt and ice after use. Still, we were quite pleased with the texture of the ice cream itself, which was smoother than we expected.
"I was pleasantly surprised by how creamy—not watery—the ice cream turned out, even before I put it in the freezer. And the color from the M&Ms I mixed in didn't seep into the ice cream. — Fran Sales, Associate Editor
Price at time of publish: $63
Breville The Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker
This compressor-style ice cream maker from Breville is the easiest of all types to use since there’s no advance preparation required: all you need is a recipe and the ingredients. This was super easy to set up, plug in, and get started. We also liked that it has a brightly lit interface, which would be great for a dimly lit kitchen.
Though it’s fully automatic, you can also change the settings to operate manually. It’s quite flexible, with 12 settings to create different consistency levels, a great feature for ice cream sandwiches where softer is better. Plus, the timer indicators let were handy for us to know when it was time to put in our mix-ins (and at the end when the ice cream was ready). It makes up to 1.5 quarts in under an hour and has a holding feature that keeps the ice cream at the right temperature for 3 hours after it’s ready.
There’s a flip-back lid that allowed us to easily add our mix-ins (M&Ms), thanks to its finger loop that made it easy to open and close. We also found that the plastic paddle mixed the M&Ms evenly throughout the ice cream base. We did knock off a point for how loud the paddle was once the mix-ins were added and it had to work twice as hard. On the other hand, because the blade was plastic, it was very easy to clean.
The size of the Breville was also a mixed bag: It was really heavy and bulky at its base, making it a bit too wide to hold in our hands. But, its heft and footed base meant it stayed in place on our lab countertop.
"Using this was fool-proof (don't let all the buttons fool you). Each button was clearly labeled and the menu options were self-explanatory; all I had to do was pour in my mix, set the mode and time, and watch it churn. I liked the Keep Cool option, too, because I couldn't get to scooping the ice cream out right away." — Fran Sales, Associate Editor
Price at time of publish: $465
Best for Kids
Chef'n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker
Made by the Chef’n company in Seattle, this ice cream maker is quite different from other ice cream makers in its design, how it works, and what you can do with it. The best part is kids can make their own dessert to explore their creative side.
If you’ve ever visited an ice cream parlor that makes rolled ice cream, you’ve watched as a creamy mixture is poured onto a freezing surface, stirred, then rolled into neat little bundles that can be set into a bowl in a flower-like display. That is exactly how this ice cream maker works. Just make sure to put the pan in your freezer for 24 hours before use. The set includes two paddles to create rolled ice cream, but you can also easily create regular stirred-but-not rolled ice creams, sorbets, or other frozen treats.
Price at time of publish: $55
Related: The Best Blenders
Best Soft Serve
Cuisinart ICE-45P1 Mix-it-In Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker
One of the few soft-serve home ice cream makers, this is designed to stay out on your kitchen countertop. It actually looks like an ice-cream shop soft-serve machine with a cone holder and three built-in condiment dispensers that add your mix-ins by pressing the levers on the side of the machine.
The removable freezer bowl does have to be placed in your freezer for at least 8 hours (preferably more) before using but the rest of the job is fully automatic! Once you turn the dial, it churns for about 20 minutes before you can start indulging. It makes up to 1.5 quarts of soft-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Price at time of publish: $130
Best Single Serving
DASH My Pint Electric Ice Cream Maker
It’s surprising how easily this portable ice cream maker churns 1.5 cups of fresh ice cream at a time. Like many home ice cream makers, it's important to freeze the container for eight hours or more, and equally important to use chilled ingredients. Then all you have to do is push a button and the rest is automatic. The base is used as the freezer bowl, the lid is used as the churn.
It’s battery-operated and has a 1-year warranty. You’ll also have the opportunity to access online recipes developed with perfect measurements for this personal serving ice cream maker.
Price at time of publish: $25
KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment
The KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment adds another way to use the iconic stand mixer! Simply place the bowl in your freezer for at least 24 hours ahead of time and you’ll be ready to make up to two quarts of any type of iced dessert you like: ice cream, sorbet, fro-yo, or gelato. This attachment set is composed of the dasher, the bowl, and the drive assembly. As with other KitchenAid products, the set is exceptionally well made and very sturdy.
Price at time of publish: $100
Related: The Best KitchenAid Mixers
Our best overall choice, the Cuisinart ICE-30BCP1 Ice Cream Maker (view at Amazon), continues to churn out great ice cream and will last you through many pints. And if you've got the budget and want something easy to set up and use, you can't go wrong with the Breville Smart-Scoop Ice Cream Compressor (view at Amazon). There's virtually no prep work required, and the settings are foolproof.
What We Made
We made a batch of both full-cream, no-cook vanilla ice cream and vegan coconut milk cookie dough ice cream for each machine we tested. We tested the ice cream makers on the following:
Paddle Test: To test the quality of each machine's paddle, we set a timer for 20 minutes and throughout noted whether the paddle easily scraped off the frozen base and if it evenly mixed it with the still-unfrozen portion. After 20 minutes, we looked at whether there were visible ice crystals or bits of fat left unmixed.
Mix-In Distribution: We also investigated the machine's ability to evenly distribute mix-ins while churning using a quarter-cup of mini M&Ms, and noted whether the paddle had trouble moving through the batter. We scooped out one cup of the finished ice cream and counted how many M&Ms were mixed in to measure the mix-in density, as well as noted whether pieces gathered at the bottom or corners of the machine.
Churning Ability and Texture: We recorded how long each machine took to fully churn each ice cream into a thick, almost soft-serve consistency, then ran a spatula through the base to see if a "valley" is left behind. We also stuck a spoon in the ice cream and noted if it stood up, which indicates readiness. We then rated them for this category on a scale of 1 to 5.
Ease of Use: We took note of how easy the machine was to operate, how clear the manufacturer's instructions were, whether the buttons were easy to understand, how easy it is to read and understand each machine's display, and whether the bowls need to be pre-frozen.
Cleaning: Finally, we looked at how easy each machine was to clean, especially when it made dairy ice cream. Without proper cleaning, dairy ice cream can leave behind a sticky machine and bacteria. We looked at whether there were removable parts, such as a removable mixing bowl and paddles, for easier cleaning, as well as whether any parts were dishwasher-safe. We also noted whether areas of the machine were hard to reach and properly clean.
What Are the Other Options?
Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker (view at Amazon): This 1.5-quart is the ice cream maker Commerce Editor Siobhan Wallace has in her pantry. It's decent enough as a first-time machine, but you'll quickly see its limitations. First, it's incredibly loud for such a small machine. But more importantly, it's difficult to find recipes for such a small amount and you'll frequently have too-big batches crystallize in the freezer. Siobhan even recommends the 2-quart Cuisinart over this one.
What to Look for in an Ice Cream Maker
There are a few different ways ice-cream makers operate. Old-fashioned hand-churn makers require ice and rock salt to freeze the liquid mix and you turn a handle until the mix is frozen. The most popular models today are the pre-frozen models, where the bowl must be frozen in your freezer for up to 24 hours and the rest of the operation is automatic.
A hybrid of the two is an automatic model that requires salt and ice to be placed around a built-in bowl while the churning operation is done by a machine. Also available is the pre-frozen with hand mixing model that is specifically designed to make small batches at a time as well as rolled ice cream.
Finally, compressor models have a built-in motor that does everything automatically and runs on electricity. All you do is add your ice cream mix, and the machine will freeze and churn it completely plus hold it frozen for several hours afterward.
Ice-cream makers have a wide range of how much ice cream is made per batch, how large (or small) to buy depends on your needs, and how you will store the machine when not in use. For those who plan on making ice cream regularly, an ice cream maker that can handle 1 to 2 quarts—2 to 4 pints—might be best. Keep in mind that many ice cream recipes are developed for a full 2 quarts, and you should not overfill the machine (it will cause icy ice cream).
Smaller, more personal-sized ice cream makers are good for experimenting and getting kids involved. Larger machines (up to 6 quarts) are great if you want to make big batches, though they usually don't handle smaller batches well and can be hard to store.
How quickly should you freeze ice cream after churning?
Waste no time here! Chef Cathy Asapahu of Ayara Thai in Los Angeles says to freeze “Immediately! You need to transfer it to a frozen container immediately because anything that melts will create ice crystals in your ice cream." Chef Carla Contreras, chef, food stylist, and health coach, adds that “The churning process can only take you so far in terms of freezing it, and over churning can lead to an icy texture which is not desirable.”
What kinds of dairy should you use for ice cream?
Contreras says fat is key. "The best dairy to use is with high-fat content such as heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk," she says. "Coconut milk is a great dairy-free option. The fat is flavor, it will give you a better tasting ice cream with a smooth consistency." Asapahu recommends to "always use high-quality milk and cream, organic if possible. It just tastes better and taste buds never lie!"
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Karen Resta is a NYC-based writer specializing in food culture and history, cooking, pastries, and restaurants. A former executive chef who began her professional journey as a pastry chef, she travels around the globe as a photographer and writer, always finding the best authentic food and pastries along the way. She spends a lot of her free time in her kitchen and is passionate about finding quality within your given budget. Having the right tools and knowing how to use them makes all the difference in baking and cooking, and she curated this list with that in mind.
Associate commerce editor Fran Sales assisted with testing in our lab and updated this piece. As a long-term vegan with an insatiable sweet tooth, she was in ice cream heaven when we got to the coconut-milk cookie dough ice cream portion of the tests.
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