It’s hard not to love ice cream, whether it’s full-strength or dairy-free. After all, it’s a nearly timeless treat: it dates back to at least 550 BCE when ancient Persians were known to whip up milk, fruit syrup and snow-chilled honey confections in their pioneering walk-in freezers. In 1843, Nancy Johnson of Philadelphia patented the first ice cream maker for domestic use, for which we should all thank her. Now there are many options, so choosing the best dessert machine for your kitchen comes down to capacity, method of power, and desired consistency. Whether you’re looking for a fun and hands-on family activity or a quick and easy way to make a large batch, there’s a machine out there for when you scream for ice cream.
The best ice cream makers of every type operate upon the simple principle of taking a sweet mixture, exposing it to very cold temperatures, and constantly moving it around. This churning motion gives ice cream its signature creamy texture and prevents it from becoming solid, crystallized, and unpleasant. Most models of ice cream machines on the market are automatic designs that perform this churning automatically, but users looking for a more traditional feel can opt for an old-fashioned ice cream maker that allows for manual hand-crank operation that’s perfect for bringing nostalgia and fun to a get-together.
Before you find the best homemade ice cream maker, think about your use case. Are you looking to prepare small single-serving quantities, or for large amounts for sharing? Ice cream makers with at least a 2-quart capacity should be plenty big enough for families and small gatherings. Yearning and churning for large parties? Go for a big one, perhaps up to 6 quarts. Although some large ice cream makers allow users to prepare quantities below their capacity, this often requires plenty of annoying adjustments to ingredient amounts and prep times, so it’s often best to stick to making an entire batch at once unless the model explicitly accommodates smaller batches. For this reason, couples and individuals may prefer one with a smaller maximum prep capacity.
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An electric ice cream maker offers consistent results
Electric ice cream makers are far and away the most compact and versatile designs in this product class and are the ideal choice for casual users and professional home cooks alike. When considering an electric ice cream maker, look for a model that includes convenient modern features like digital display controls and timers that automate the ice cream formation process to take the guesswork out of the equation. There are two main types: one requires you to freeze a liquid-filled container, typically overnight. The other version has a compressor, like for an air conditioner, that is built-in and removes the need to pre-freeze, which is certainly easier and quicker—but pricier.
Best electric: Whynter ICM-15LS Automatic Ice Cream Maker
This Whynter ice cream maker has a capacity of 1.6 quarts and cools ice creams, sorbets, and other creamy confections to a chilly -31 degrees Fahrenheit without the need for pre-freezing. It has a removable BPA-free aluminum mixing bowl and churn blade for easy cleaning and uses an automatic alarm system so you’ll know when to shiver with excitement.
Old-fashioned ice cream makers are perfect for preparing old-timey ice cream
If you’re looking to feature the ice cream-making process front and center for entertaining purposes, nothing beats an old-fashioned design. These models emulate old-school designs from the earliest days of ice cream making by using a wooden bucket and a hand crank combined with lots of ice to deliver a hands-on user experience with a delicious payoff. The best old-fashioned ice cream makers on the market are great for keeping family members or partygoers of every age engaged and entertained with a truly novel group activity.
The specialized designs and materials of old-fashioned ice cream makers often come at a cost that’s comparable to pure electric models, but this is typically offset by the inclusion of modern options and features for added versatility. When shopping for an old-fashioned ice cream maker, look for a design that includes an electric motor option to ensure that you’re able to get the most flexibility out of your purchase and use it in a variety of circumstances.
Best old-fashioned: Elite Gourmet Electric Motorized Maker
Elite Gourmet’s old-fashioned ice cream maker (available in 4 quart and 6 quart sizes) is a versatile answer to traditional electric designs, offering a preparation process built upon rock salt and lots of ice in a classic wooden bucket (salt lowers the freezing temperature of the water, making things colder). Users can dial in their ideal experience by choosing between the included whisper-quiet 90 RPM electric motor or the hand crank to prepare soft-serve goodness, and the removable internal aluminum canister allows for easy cleanup and storage.
Bring nostalgic treats straight to your kitchen with a soft-serve machine
Soft-serve ice cream is a popular variant of the frozen treat, given a silky, light texture by infusing the ice cream with air while churning. While most soft-serve machines are bulky and expensive pieces of equipment that would be impractical for home users, there are a handful of companies manufacturing compact models aimed squarely at home users and families.
Much like their commercial counterparts, the best soft-serve ice cream machines for personal use are set apart from other ice cream makers by offering integrated dispensing options for serving directly into a cone or cup. These soft-serve machine designs are a great option for parties and families with kids due to their speed and novelty, especially if you go with a model that offers automatic toppings of sprinkles, nuts, and more.
Best for soft-serve: Cuisinart Mix It In Soft-Serve Ice Cream Maker
Here’s a Cuisinart ice cream maker that will prepare up to 1.5 quarts of ice cream in as little as 20 minutes and allow you to automatically apply up to three toppings. The soft-serve ice cream maker includes a double-insulated freezer bowl and contains plenty of easy-to-clean BPA-free parts. Soft-serve ice cream is dispensed in one motion, just like on commercial machines, and its included cone holder accommodates an entire stack of ice cream cones.
The best kids ice cream makers offer a hands-on experience
While many products for kids attempt to blur the line between toy and useful tool, few are as fun as an ice cream maker. Even the most basic designs can be considered an appropriate device for keeping kids entertained with hands-on preparation, but if you’re looking for a truly special experience that simply can’t be replicated otherwise, an ice cream maker cleverly disguised as an interactive toy is by far the best way to keep kids coming back for more.
When shopping for an appropriate kids option, hand-crank designs are likely to be the most common variety you’ll encounter, but we highly recommend opting for a toy-like design, such as a rolling ball. These balls contain ice and rock salt, much like old-fashioned manual designs, but instead of churning, you use kinetic energy by rolling the ball around. Because of this mechanism, ice cream balls are much better suited to group collaboration and also provide kids with a relatable illustration of motion’s role in preparing ice cream.
Best for kids: Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball
Kids will love this ice cream ball from Play and Freeze thanks to its interactive design that encourages play, learning, and collaboration. It requires no electricity and relies upon salt, ice, and manual agitation to render a pint of ice cream in roughly 30 minutes. This kids pick is a great option for teaching scientific principles in a fun and unique way.
Even cheaper kitchen appliances can deliver quality results
It’s easy to enjoy homemade ice cream on a budget, with plenty of manufacturers offering barebones ice cream makers at an accessible price point. Less expensive ice cream makers won’t have compressors to keep things cold, so you’ll have to go with either a rock salt-and-ice combination or a bowl that you freeze overnight. We like the rock-salt version because it requires less forethought.
One benefit of this style is that these machines don’t have a large, dedicated refrigeration system, so these budget options are often more compact than one might expect. Motorized stirring is also frequently present in the lower price bracket, so you won’t have to settle for a manually operated ice cream machine if you’re just looking to save a few bucks. When shopping for a cheap ice cream maker, it’s especially important to keep an eye on the capacity of your desired unit, as they often become smaller as the price gets lower.
Best budget: Hamilton Beach 68330N Automatic Ice Cream Maker
Here’s a Hamilton Beach ice cream maker that comes with the same features you’d expect from a pricier model. It’s fully motorized and equipped with automatic timers, and all it requires is ice and rock salt. It’s designed with an easy-lock lid to prevent spills and includes over 20 ice cream recipes that are sure to spark inspiration for users of every taste.
Q: How to make homemade ice cream with an electric maker?
There are a few different ways to make homemade ice cream with an electric ice cream maker, largely depending on where your frigid temperatures are coming from. Electric ice cream makers come in automatic freezing designs as well as manual freezing designs that require users to add ice or freeze a canister. However, all-electric makers utilize a motor to automatically stir the mixture, sparing users the need to churn manually.
Q: How to make ice cream without an ice cream maker?
The most common method for making ice cream without an ice cream maker involves using plastic bags and either a conventional freezer or a large quantity of ice and salt to lower the mixture’s temperature. This technique requires a lot of manual agitation and can be quite messy, but it works in a pinch. We’d recommend a proper ice cream maker, however.
Q: What is the best ice cream maker for home use?
The best ice cream maker for home use will be an electric model that offers automatic freezing, automatic stirring, or both. These features drastically reduce the requirements of user operation and pack plenty of power into a compact form, making them space-efficient and easy to use.
The final word on choosing the best ice cream makers
Finding the best ice cream maker for handcrafting delicious cool treats on-demand is first and foremost a question of capacity and cooling. Most first-time users should go for an electric option since they’re ideal for feeding small and large groups alike. For a custom-tailored twist on entertaining, a kids ice cream machine, a soft-serve machine, or an old-fashioned design are by far the best choices if you’re looking for a unique hands-on group activity.