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It seems like the simplest of conveniences. Run water into a tray, pop it in the freezer, and presto change-o, you have yourself some ice.
But once upon a time, ice was a luxury. Now, it has definitely come a long way from the BCE ice houses—insulated buildings and underground areas insulated with straw or sawdust and packed with ice chunks—to the through-door ice dispenser ubiquitous on fridges. Ice cube trays themselves have changed since they were invented in 1928 by Lloyd Groff Coperman. These first versions were rubber; the next generation by Guy L. Tinkman was made of flexible stainless steel (similar to this) and the first to eject ice cubes.
Now you have your choice of material, from metal to food-grade silicone, an almost endless variety of shapes and sizes, and to lid or not to lid. They all have one thing in common though—all of them are better than the small plastic trays that came with your freezer.
Whether you want mini cubes, extra-large cubes, or are looking for ice spheres, here are the best ice cube trays.
Best Overall: Icebreaker Pop Silicone Ice Cube Tray With Lid
What We Love: Super sanitary with no contact with ice, dishwasher-safe, stackable, self-storing, comes in several colors
What We Don't Love: Pricey, tricky to release ice
We’ve all been there, wrestling with an ice cube tray, trying to twist all of them victoriously free only to have them pop every which way except your glass. That’s exactly why our top pick is not a conventional tray, but a self-contained one.
The way this works is simple: you fill it like a water bottle and freeze it. When it's frozen, push the top and bottom against each other, then pop it all apart using the straps. Thanks to its silicone construction, ice releases easily in between the layers once you shake it. It’s ready to pour out into your glass without ever having to touch the ice, much less chase it across the countertop as it skitters across it. This means you can whip up a batch of Palomas without any concern for germs.
Of course, there is a trick to properly release the ice cubes, so you'll need to read the instructions (or watch a video online). And for those where squeaky-cleanliness is a priority, the whole contraption disassembles for a thorough cleaning by hand or machine.
Material: Silicone | Dimensions (LxWxH): 8.2 x 5 x 2.5 inches | Yield: 18 ice cubes
Best Overall, Runner-Up: OXO Good Grips Ice Cube Tray with Lid
What We Love: Sliding cover keeps ice sanitary, dishwasher-safe, stackable, affordable
What We Don't Love: Can’t twist the tray without removing the lid
Prefer something a little more familiar and affordable? OXO’s got you. These sturdy plastic ice cube trays freeze, stack, and store the way you’re used to, only a little bit better. Like nearly all of our picks, these come with lids to protect against that nasty freezer flavor and save you freezer space by permitting stacking. Easy-to-grip, thick handles let you easily move from sink to freezer with confidence. (I know I’m not the only one that’s done the ice tray shuffle!)
What really sets it apart, though, is how the ice comes apart. Like all plastic ice cube trays, the twist method works. But the unique semi-rounded shape of the molds allows you to release your cubes individually with the push of a finger on the edge of the cube. And if you want more at a time, the lid slides so you can let out what you need and keep the rest of the gang in their seats until you’re ready for them.
Material: Plastic | Dimensions (LxWxH): 12.2 x 5.6 x 1.5 inches | Yield: 14 ice cubes
Best Silicone: GoodCook Prep and Freeze Easy Release Silicone Cube Tray
What We Love: Stability of plastic meets the material advantage of silicone, all or single-release capability, dishwasher-safe
What We Don't Love: Ice cubes are on the large side
Most of the complaints among silicone sets are that releasing the cubes can get t-e-d-i-o-u-s. The majority of silicone ice cube trays require you to push them out individually from the bottom of the mold. But not this one!
Although you can individually eject the large 2-ounce cubes for your sangria, this 2018 Housewares Design Awards-winner’s sturdy inner spine lets you use the twist method to knock ‘em all out at once, something few other silicone trays can do. Plus, this rigid support addresses another common grievance against silicone trays, in that they flop and spill in transit. Not our pick, though! A snap-tight lid that stacks well keeps liquid contents extra secure.
Material: Silicone | Dimensions (LxWxH): 14.5 x 4.5 x 2.25 inches | Yield: 12 ice cubes
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Best Mini: Kyelsee Ice Cube Bin Bucket Tray Set
What We Love: Trays nest in the box, comes with a serving accessory and airtight storage bin
What We Don't Love: Tray is basic plastic
Teeny tiny ice cubes aren’t just adorable, they can be practical, too. Smaller pieces are great for smoothies or to substitute for ice chips. They also melt faster, which is great for iced coffee in two ways: if you want to water it down more quickly to make it an iced Americano, like me, or if you want to freeze your coffee in the trays and drink that concentrate without waiting too long. Then there are the Sonic fans out there that just plain prefer their drinks on pebble or nugget ice.
Either way, this all-plastic set can have you covered, with four stackable trays that nest in a clamp-sealed plastic bin to keep freezer smells out and all of your ice contained. It’s also great for storage if you want to make and store a second batch, with an included pair of ice tongs to keep things clean. If you want to stay small and prefer silicone or a more novel shape, this easy-release hex set is the best of them. Sure, it’s wobbly and soft like most silicone trays, but a hard plastic lid helps it keep its form once you get it safely to the freezer.
Material: Polypropylene | Dimensions (LxWxH): 11.5 x 6.77 x 4.75 inches | Yield: 144 ice cubes
Best Extra Large: Tovolo Large King Craft Ice Mold Freezer Tray of 2-Inch Cubes, Stratus Blue
What We Love: Large, food-safe shape, thicker silicone resists ripping, dishwasher-safe, beveled bottom for easy removal
What We Don't Love: No lid, not stackable, soft base may deform cubes
Slow-melting, extra-large cubes chill your drinks fast and for extended amounts of time with minimal dilution, which is why they’ve become immensely popular among the spirits-sipping set. After all, when you’re paying double, maybe even triple-digit dollars for a dram of the good stuff, the last thing you want is to water down its character.
Enter: the King Cube, a small but mighty silicone tray that creates 2-inch squares of easy-to-remove ways to keep your cool. Being of a smaller size, it’s much more stable than other silicone trays and comes in fun colors to bring in that festive feeling even before the pour. Plus, a square is hassle-free. It eliminates the risk of spillage from trendy spheres and will also save you space in the freezer over bulky molds, letting you make more rocks for another round. Alternatively, you could also go the wholesome route with this food-grade tray, and save baby meals for the little one for later, or prep ingredients for your healthy lifestyle.
"I fully endorse the Tovolo silicone ice cube molds. It's really easy to pop the ice cubes out of the molds, and they make the perfect size for cocktails!" — Emma Christensen, Editor in Chief
Material: Silicone | Dimensions (LxWxH): 6.25 x 4.6 x 2 inches | Yield: 6 ice cubes
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Best for Meal Prep: YEPPIKO Freezer Food Tray Cubes
What We Love: Easy to fill, built-in date markers help to track freshness, tight-fitting lids, easy-release valve, dishwasher-safe
What We Don't Love: Thin plastic, shallow basin, not microwave-safe, small trays
These Korean-made plastic 1.25-cup freezing trays are double-XL for the sole purpose of meal prepping. We can’t even technically call them ice cube trays since they're shallow. However, what makes them more functional than a certain Shark Tank-famous set are built-in date markers, grip-tab shake-tested lids, and patented valve technology that makes each section easy to pop out one by one without struggle.
They come in a pack of three trays and lids, which means with these in hand, you’ll be ready to freeze 6 cups or 1.5 quarts of recipe ingredients, soup, or broth, which is why I decided to give them a shot. Don’t get me wrong, the Ziploc/freeze-flat method is brilliant, and honestly, the best and most space-efficient way to go about preserving your liquids. But if you’re a messy soup ladler without a funnel and have the freezer space to spare, these aren’t a bad solution.
Material: Plastic | Dimensions (LxWxH): 9.8 x 6.4 x 3.5 inches | Yield: 6 ice cubes
Related: The Best Chest Freezers
Best for Cocktails: KITESSENSU Ice Cube Trays
What We Love: Good variety pack for a budget, all pieces come with lids
What We Don't Love: Soft silicone bases
We touched on hex ice, mentioned spheres, and gave you our favorite pick for big cubes. But this set makes it so that you don’t have to choose between them all for your next stint attending bar for yourself or your friends. What we really like about this combo pack is that the sphere takes its cue from Tovolo’s design, which is a more secure way to make dramatic ice balls. Every piece comes with a lid to seal against freezer air and stabilize the silicone forms.
These basic molds are just the tip of the iceberg, though. There are different ones for almost every interest now! From roses, skulls, and cobra snakes, to diamonds, golf balls, and anchors, these make great conversation-starters and—dare we say it?—icebreakers.
Material: Silicone | Dimensions: Varies | Yield: Varies
Related: The Best Drinking Glasses
For your basic ice cube-making needs, the all-in-one, zero-contact “tray” and dispenser Icebreaker Pop Silicone Ice Cube Tray With Lid (view at Amazon) combo keeps things clean and doesn’t take over your freezer. However, for those who want a more conventional take on this tried-and-true kitchen gadget with the added benefit of modern updates, the OXO Good Grips Ice Cube Tray with Lid (view at Amazon) offers exactly that.
What to Look for in an Ice Cube Tray
Although the first ice cube trays invented were rubber and metal, plastic and silicone are the most common ones you’ll find today. No matter which material you go for, look for easy-to-grip edges and keep durability in mind. Cracking is often the cause people need to replace their plastic ice cube trays, while ripping is the reason silicone versions get tossed with the (ice) bathwater.
Plastic forms are great for holding their shape, which is great for making uniformly shaped ice cubes. Another benefit is that plastic ice cube trays allow you to release multiple units of ice with a simple back-and-forth twisting motion. Additionally, they tend to be affordable and stackable. Just make sure they’re BPA-free for safety.
Silicone, on the other hand, releases ice easily. What most don’t love is that more often than not, they do it one at a time. However, these durable, dishwasher-safe trays are lightweight, easy to store, will not absorb weird smells or flavors, and are tolerant of both high and low temperatures—handy if you’re looking to freeze food. Look for ones with reinforced infrastructure, whether it’s in the rimmed edges or cube separators, to avoid the hassle of floppy bases and inevitable spills. A good lid can also serve as a tray against accidents. Also, keep an eye out for assurances that what you’re getting is food-grade silicone.
Ice cube trays with lids are tops, particularly compared to ones without. The lids are functional in a variety of ways: they seal against freezer smells or odors leached from nearby foods, prevent contamination by other food or items falling into or onto your cubes, and save you the headache of cleaning up after a spill.
Lid material also matters. Many ice cube trays will mix and match plastic bases with silicone tops or vice versa. Both have their benefits. Plastic lids are ideal for stacking and add structure to your tray. They can seal tightly into snap seams to better contain any spillover. Silicone allows for the natural expansion of the ice, and can also be leakproof in the right design and with proper use. Cubes made under the protection of a silicone lid that presses flush into the frame may also be more uniform, as they prevent spillover between dividers.
Are ice cube trays dishwasher safe?
Many are, but it depends on the material, thickness, and manufacturer. Because they’re so lightweight, ice cube trays are known to warp, so even if they’re labeled as dishwasher-safe, it’s typically best to hand wash them.
How do you wash ice cube trays?
Like any other food receptacle, use soap and water. The only thing is, you’ll want to use unscented detergent to avoid any soapy or artificial flavors or smells transferring to your ice. Alternatively, you can soak trays in diluted white vinegar to sterilize them or return them to neutrality if they’ve already picked up some funk.
Why is the lid of my ice cube tray sticking?
There are usually two reasons for this: you’re either overfilling the tray and the expanding ice has attached to the lid or there’s some spilled water at the seam that’s holding the lid too securely in place. It’s best practice to leave some room at the top of each ice cube to accommodate the greater volume ice takes up than liquid. This will also keep your cubes from linking together.
Can you freeze food in ice cube trays?
Yes, but make sure you do it properly. All ice cube trays should be graded food-safe, but make sure they’re clean and dry before you attempt anything. What you freeze should also be suspended in a liquid or already in liquid form. If not, they’ll just be frozen chunks of random blueberries or the like rattling at the bottom of your tray.
And don’t forget to cool the food first. Sure, silicone trays will tolerate high heat, but if you toss them in the freezer right away, you’re raising the overall temperature of your appliance suddenly and quickly. This can be detrimental to everything else you already have in there and create frost and freezer burn.
How do you keep the freezer smell out of ice?
The first thing is to buy an ice cube tray with a lid. This is your preliminary line of defense against freezer odor. The next one is to keep your freezer clean. That means cleaning it regularly with white vinegar and water, baking soda and water, or diluted bleach. It also means getting rid of any food that could be past its prime, freezer burnt, and otherwise stinking up your icebox. Finally, clean your ice cube trays regularly. Keeping them fresh will keep your ice the same.
What about reusable cubes?
For a time, reusable plastic ice cubes were all the rage. They’re easy, stay dry, seem eco-friendly, and won’t water down your drinks. But they've fallen out of style for many reasons.
One is that even if they’re BPA-free, they can still break down into your beverages over time. They also absorb odors and flavors easily. And yes, that includes the yucky freezer air. Silicone reusable ones may not absorb as much of these unsavory elements, but the gel can leak.
Then there are soapstone cubes, which have developed a fan base among whiskey drinkers. However, they don’t hold low temperatures as effectively or as long as could be hoped for. Stainless steel ice cubes are safe when food-grade, easy to clean, will last a lifetime, stay cool for an average of 30 minutes, and remain relatively neutral smelling and tasting with minimal metallicness. On the other hand, they take the longest to freeze and are expensive.
In other words, good old-fashioned water should do you just fine.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
This guide was authored by Su-Jit Lin, who has over a dozen years of experience writing about food, twice that in cooking it, and thrice in enjoying all of it with extreme and likely unseemly gusto. Up until recently, she hasn’t had a refrigerator with an icemaker, and so was forced to wrestle with a lot of lousy ice cube tray models—uncool. Her goal for this buying guide is to help you maintain your chill in your search for the right one.
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