Best Ice Cream Makers of 2018
An ice cream maker allows you to make your favorite ice cream flavors in the comfort of your own home. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best ice cream makers to treat your whole family.
Get the Scoop: Your Guide to the Best Ice Cream Makers
There's just one thing that's more fun than eating ice cream: eating ice cream that you made yourself right at home. And while you can make ice cream simply by mixing the ingredients, freezing the batter, taking it out to stir, refreezing, taking it out to stir, etc., there's a far easier, faster, and all-around better way to do it—with an ice cream maker.
However, there are many different types of ice cream makers on the market, and choosing the right ice cream maker for your kitchen can be complicated. It's enough to make you turn to a soothing bowl of mint chocolate chip.
Luckily, at BestReviews, we've done the hard work for you. We do the research, test products in our labs and the field, and sort through feedback from both experts and real-life owners, so we can pass along our findings to you. We never accept free products from manufacturers, so you can always trust that our recommendations are unbiased, honest, and free from hype.
If you're ready to purchase an ice cream maker, scroll up for BestReviews' top picks. For everything you need to know about ice cream makers, including the different types and how to use them, you've come to the right place.
Frozen Bowl vs. Compressor: What Is the Best Type of Ice Cream Maker?
There are several types of ice cream makers available for home use. Each ice cream maker has its pros and cons, but they all turn out tasty frozen desserts.
Frozen-Bowl Ice Cream Makers
Frozen-bowl ice cream makers are the most popular type. Frozen-bowl ice cream makers are easy to use: just freeze the bowl in advance, add your favorite ingredients, then let the machine do the heavy work of stirring the batter until it's ready to eat. There's no mess, no salt, and no lengthy cleanup with frozen-bowl ice cream makers.
While most frozen-bowl ice cream makers are straightforward machines, some do have countdown timers and speed settings for mixing the ice cream batter. Tip: Store the bowl of a frozen-bowl ice cream maker in your freezer so that it's always ready to go.
- No need for rock salt
- Very easy to use
- No need for manual stirring
- Must freeze bowl in advance
- Only 1 or 2 quarts produced at a time
Traditional Ice Cream Makers
Traditional ice cream makers use rock salt and ice to chill the ice cream batter. You can give your arms a great workout with manual traditional ice cream makers, which don't require electricity, so they are great for taking along on camping trips. Or you can save yourself some effort with automatic traditional ice cream makers that do the stirring for you with electric motors. Most traditional ice cream makers sold today are automatic.
For the most part, traditional ice cream makers are very basic machines. An electric mixing arm is generally the one feature you'll want to look for in a traditional ice cream maker if you don't want to mix by hand.
- Very creamy ice cream
- Most produce large amounts of ice cream, often more than a gallon
- The best choice if you have a large family
- No need to prefreeze the bowl
- Require rock salt and ice
- Manual makers must be cranked by hand
- Messy cleanup
Compressor Ice Cream Makers
Compressor ice cream makers are the fanciest, largest, and most expensive ice cream makers. These ice cream makers have a built-in freezer, so you don't need to prechill anything, there is no need for rock salt or additional ice, and you can whip up a batch of ice cream whenever you want with no need for manual mixing.
Compressor ice cream makers generally have a lot of bells and whistles. When shopping for a compressor ice cream maker, look for an automatic countdown timer, settings for other types of frozen desserts, a "keep cool" function, and different paddles geared for different desserts like frozen yogurt, sorbet, and gelato.
- Exceptionally creamy results without ice crystals
- Entire process is automated and easy
- Settings for other types of frozen desserts
- Little mess and easy cleanup
- Large machines that take up quite a bit of storage space
- Produce only 1–2 quarts per session
Attachment Ice Cream Makers
If you already own a KitchenAid stand mixer, you can add to its functions with an ice cream maker attachment. Basically, this attachment is a frozen-bowl ice cream maker that uses your mixer to operate the mixing paddle.
- Expands the use of your stand mixer
- No need to store a designated ice cream maker
- Only produce 1–2 quarts of ice cream at a time
- Bowl must be prefrozen
Ice Cream Balls
Ice cream balls are novelty ice cream makers, but they are fun for camping trips, picnics, or just spending an afternoon with your kids. These nonelectric ice cream makers use rock salt and ice to freeze the ingredients you enclose inside the ball. Then, instead of a manual or electric paddle mixer, you kick, toss, or roll the ice cream ball around until the ice cream is churned.
- No electricity needed
- Fun alternative to store-bought ice cream
- Very inconsistent results
- Take a lot of time—typically about 30 minutes rolling the ball
- Require rock salt and ice
- Only around 1 pint of ice cream per session
How Much Should You Pay for a Quality Ice Cream Maker?
- Inexpensive: You'll pay around $25 to $50 for a frozen-bowl ice cream maker. Most ice cream balls are between $30 and $50.
- Mid-Range: Expect to pay $25 to $40 for an automatic traditional ice cream maker. Expect to pay between $50 and $80 for an ice cream maker attachment, depending on where you buy it.
- Expensive: Compressor ice cream makers are the easiest way to enjoy homemade ice cream, but you'll pay a premium price for that convenience. Expect to pay over $200 for one of these top-of-the-line ice cream makers.
Tips for Making the Creamiest, Most Delicious Ice Cream
- Follow your ice cream maker's instructions. While making ice cream isn't difficult, you'll get the best results by following the guidelines carefully.
- If you want the best ice cream, you'll need to use the best ingredients. All the ingredients you use in your ice cream maker should be fresh and good quality.
- Skim milk might skim off calories, but you won't get smooth ice cream. Instead, use full-fat heavy cream in your ice cream maker.
- Make sure your ice cream batter is very cold before you start to churn. If you're not using a compressor ice cream maker, mix the ingredients, and then leave them in the freezer for at least an hour—although overnight is best—before placing them in your ice cream maker.
- If using a frozen-bowl ice cream maker, leave the bowl in the freezer at least overnight, and better yet a full 24 hours, before you start churning.
- Start churning right away once you've added your mixed ingredients to your ice cream maker. Otherwise, you'll likely end up with icy results.
- For the creamiest results, churn your ice cream until it's just set, and then place it in the freezer to finish the process.
- If you want to add chips, nuts, or other add-ins to your ice cream, put them in at the end of the churning process. Chop them into small pieces before adding them to the ice cream batter.
- Ice cream should sit at room temperature for a few minutes before serving. This increases the creamy texture and cuts down on ice crystals.
- You'll probably finish it in one sitting, but if you don't, cover the top of your homemade ice cream with plastic wrap, and store it in a shallow container.
Q. Can I add extra ingredients while I'm making ice cream in an ice cream maker?
A. Yes, most ice cream makers have a flap or spout that allows you to fold in chips, nuts, or other ingredients as the ice cream churns. Add-ins should be added toward the end of the process.
Q. What is the difference between ice cream and gelato?
A. Gelato is churned much more slowly than ice cream, which makes it denser. Gelato also has a higher percentage of milk and a lower percentage of cream than ice cream, so the overall fat content is usually lower.
Q. Do I really need to chill my ice cream maker's bowl for 24 hours? I want my ice cream sooner!
A. For the very best results, yes, you'll need to wait 24 hours. But if you are really in a hurry, 12 hours of freeze time is the minimum. Avoid the problem altogether by storing the bowl in your freezer so that it's always ready to go.