Those among us with a sweet tooth will be familiar with a regular craving for ice cream, regardless of the season, but as summer sets in its compounded by the climate and joined with those of friends, family and colleagues. Ice cream is the undisputed king of desserts with the cold, creamy, fluffy, sweet goodness of countless flavors cooling the tongue, delighting the senses and bringing a smile to even the most frowny of faces. Enjoy this photo of a delicious batch of Pistachio nut ice cream and then read on for our guide to the best ice cream maker for 2018.
Note: I've tried to make this guide as comprehensive as possible but if you're short on time, click here to see my number one recommended Ice Cream Maker for 2018 (link to Amazon).
I've discovered how to make my enjoyment of this delectable dessert even better. That's right, you guessed it, home made ice cream. Its actually quite easy to do, all you need is some basic ingredients and one very important machine: the ice cream maker. This article is all about how to find the best ice cream maker available in 2018 so you can make the right decision with your purchase and launch yourself into the scrumptious world of home made ice cream.
Regular supermarket ice cream is satisfactory but the gourmet stuff is where its really at. The problem is, gourmet ice cream is pricey and they have a limited flavor selection. With an ice cream machine you can make any flavor and style you want (there's literally thousands of variations) and have a whole lot of fun doing it. I'm sure you'll also have a lot of fun sharing photos of your creations on social media and making everyone jealous! It won't be long before your friends and family are tripping over each other to get to try your latest batch.
How to Determine the Best Ice Cream Maker?
There are several important factors to consider when choosing an ice cream maker. We'll go through each of them here.
- Easy of Use
The size and capacity of your ice cream maker is obviously going to determine how much you can make in each batch. If you're going to be making ice cream for a large group of people, for a party for example, then you're going to want a bigger machine. If you're only ever going to make ice cream for yourself and your partner then you can get away with a smaller machine.
Its important to note that the machine's listed capacity is usually the simple volume of the canister/mixing bowl and not indicative of the amount of ice cream you'll get from each batch at your desired consistency. There's many factors that will affect the actual volume such as desired consistency, amount of mixins, the type of dessert you're making and the recipe.
The capacity will also affect the size of the device. If you have limited bench and/or storage space then that might be a reason to choose a smaller capacity machine.
Ease of Use
Making delicious ice cream at home is not that difficult overall, but the experience can definitely be affected by the machine. The main factor to consider here is the cooling mechanism of the machine/maker. The way these devices work is to mix and incorporate air into your mixture as its being frozen. As such, there must be a mechanism for doing the freezing and there's three main types;
- Ice and salt - the device has a compartment for you to insert ice and salt
- Pre-frozen canister - the device has a canister/bowl which you need to freeze in your freezer for at least 24 hours before you make your ice cream
- Compressor - the device has a freezing mechanism built into it (like your freezer) so there's no preparation required, you just add your mixture and you're off to the races
For maximum ease of use, my choice is definitely the compressor version because there's no pre-freezing preparation required. However, these machines also tend to be more expensive which we'll discuss further in the pricing section.
The 'ice and salt' type is a bit outdated these days as it was what the first generation of ice cream machines were built on. If you want a retro feel though then maybe they're more for you. In terms of easy of use, there is some preparation required here to make sure you have the ice and salt on hand. The reliability of this machine may also be less because ice and salt aren't the best way to cool your mixture so you might have mixed results until you figure the ins and outs of your device.
This brings us to the most popular type of machine these days which is the 'Pre-frozen canister' type. The canister has distilled water inside its sealed shell (you can't open it) and the inside of the bowl is made of metal to allow the frozen canister to cool and freeze your mixture as efficiently as possible. Its easier to use than the ice and salt device because everything is contained in the canister. Once the canister is frozen, all you need to do is add your mixture and turn on the machine and you'll have the finished product in around 30 minutes. The results are very consistent too. The only down-side is that sometimes the canister decides not to freeze. Its not a regular occurrence but its incredibly frustrating when it happens which is why I think that if its in your budget, its definitely worth considering the compressor type machine.
This isn't really a measure of the best ice cream maker in general but its certainly and important factor when determine which machine is right for you. The prices of the various machines tend to reflect their quality and features. You get what you pay for basically. There are a few key brands in this space that are well known for their quality and reliability. You will find some cheaper options but while they may look full featured, you need to consider why they're cheaper and what you're giving up.
In terms of features, get a size that makes sense and if you're serious about your ice cream and its within your budget then I'd definitely consider a full featured machine with a compressor.
We've already discussed the different freezing mechanisms under the 'easy of use' heading above which covers an important set of features. However, there's various other features that different machines have which you might want to consider in your buying decision. Some of those features include;
- Automatic timers and shut-off options
- Multiple speed and hardness options (can help you make different frozen desserts such as gelato, sorbet and frozen yogurt)
- 'Keep cool' setting to keep the ice cream cool until you're ready to take it out and put it in the freezer, or eat it
- Audible alerts to let you know when the ice cream is done or when its time to add your mix-ins
- Pre-cooling setting to get your mixture ready for churning if its been cooked or warmed as part of the preparation (if there's no setting for this you'll need to do this manually using an ice bath or by putting your mixture in the fridge for several hours before churning)
If you want your machine to last then you want one constructed with quality materials and made by a respected brand. You're going to pay a bit more for quality but honestly what's the point of buying a machine in the first place if its gamble whether its going to last the summer. As we discussed above, the best ice cream maker for you is going to going to depend on your budget but do yourself a favor and invest in a quality device from a quality brand so it continues to produce delicious ice cream for years to come.
Here are the options I think you should consider.
The ICE-70 is one of the prime candidates for the best ice cream maker for 2018. Cuisinart is the most trusted brand in the home ice cream maker space and this model doesn't buck that trend. Like all Cuisinart products, it is well made with quality materials and a good design which means it should last.
Capacity: 2 quarts
One of the innovations of this machine is an improved paddle (mixing arm) design which allows for faster churning, around 20 minutes. The improved design is better at incorporating air into the mixture which helps it get to its desired consistency quicker. Another innovative feature of this machine is the inclusion of a handy compartment at the bottom of the unit to store the cord when you're not using it (or to store any excess cord length when you are). There's also an LCD screen with handy countdown timer with an auto shut-off to help you time when your desserts will be ready.
The other main additions to this machine are the 3 different speed settings for different dessert types; sorbet, gelato or ice cream. Testing seems to reveal that two of the speeds are actually the same so its really 2 rather than 3 but that's still better than one!
The Cuisinart ICE-70 comes in either a brushed chrome or white exterior along with a manual and recipe book and the three year manufacturer's warranty. With this model, the freezer bowls need to be frozen for at least 24 hours before churning to achieve the best results. The bowl takes much of the weight of the machine. If you remove the bowl, the rest of the machine remains light and hollow. The display lights enable you to know when the machine is on after you have plugged it in to the power source. Once you have put the bowl inside, ensure the machine sits firmly on its base and remains stationary during the preparation process. The lid helps to cover the top of the machine.
This is generally a high quality ice cream machine with modern features. These features improve the convenience of using this machine and the range of desserts you can create with it. Best of all, the simple design of this machine means its easy to clean so there's nothing to put you off making another batch the next time you have a craving.
This is one of the most popular ice cream makers and for good reason. Its well priced, good quality and easy to use. There are no bells and whistles but this leads to complete simplicity of operation and affordability. This is a pre-freeze device which means you'll need to freeze the machine's canister 24-48 hours before use. Once its ready, you just put the canister in the machine, switch it on and come back in 25 mins when its ready. If you're adding mix-ins (choc chips, nuts, fruit etc.) you can add those shortly before its finished churning through the large 'ingredients spout' that this machine has in the lid.
Capacity: 2 quarts
This machine is suitable for making ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and gelato. It comes with a manual, recipe booklet and a limited 3 year warranty.
Keep in mind that it is pretty noisy so you'll probably want to go in another room while its churning. The noise level is somewhere in between an electric can opener and a blender.
Here are the main features explained in more detail:
a) Ingredient Spout - the ingredient spout is large enough to allow you pour in your favorite ingredients. There's enough room between the churning blade and the canister walls that it will let your mix-ins (ingredients) through and still work fine. Such ingredients as chips and nuts can be added 5 minutes to the completion of the preparation process. The ice cream mixture would have started thickening by the time you add these ingredients. You should also ensure that the ingredients are not bigger than the size of a chocolate chip.
b) Easy lock lid – the lid of the Cuisinart ICE-30BC Automatic Ice Cream Maker is transparent for easy monitoring of the process. The lid has been designed in a way that makes removing and locking it easy. Once you place the lid on the base it drops all through to cover your ingredients. The easy lock lid mechanism enables the resting of the lid on the base in several positions.
c) Mixing Arm - once your ingredients are in the freezer bowl, use the arm to mix and aerate your ingredients in order to create a smooth and soft ice cream. The arm is designed in a way that allows it to rest in the bowl's center with the circular side facing upwards. The arm doesn't fit tightly and hence can be easily removed for cleaning purposes. The non-slip rubber feet will ensure the base is stationary when the machine is being used.
d) Heavy duty motor - the Cuisinart ICE-30BC automatic Ice Cream Maker comes with a powerful motor that is able to handle a range of desserts. These include sorbet, sherbet, frozen drinks, yogurt and ice cream. This power motor drives gears that will turn the ingredients bowl to ensure you get your favorite ice cream product. The unused electrical cord can be easily stored by pushing it into the base. This will keep the counter both neat and safe.
e) Freezer bowl - this contains the cooling liquid that will freeze your ice cream. The insulated double wall ensures quick and even freezing for your desserts. The wall keeps the temperatures constant. It is recommended to put the bowl in the freezer several hours (I suggest 24 - 48 hours to be sure and avoid disappointment) before using it to churn out your ice cream. You can also store it permanently in the freezer so that you can use it anytime you need it.
While this model obviously lacks some of the features of the ICE-70, if size and price are key factors for you then this might be the best ice cream maker for your needs.
The Cuisinart Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker is something a little different which is more focused on the serving of your ice cream than just the making. The freezing process is actually the same as the models mentioned above with a pre-frozen canister being required, but the canister sits inside the machine so you can't see it when its in operation.
Pretty much all home ice cream makers produce your desserts to a soft serve consistency but people usually then transfer to the freezer to harden up before serving. With this machine, the idea is to serve while its still soft and the device lets you dispense it directly into a cone and even has a special mechanism which allows you to add your mix-ins to the soft serve as its being dispensed. If you're going to be entertaining kids then this might be the best ice cream maker for your needs but it will probably disappoint those in search of gourmet home made ice cream.
Capacity: 1.5 quarts (although many suggest that if you're going to use this machine you should consider buying an extra canister so that you can make and dispense multiple flavors and obviously increase the capacity as well)
You should be aware that due to the extra moving parts, it may be more difficult to get consistent results with this machine. Cleanup is also a bit more involved. You also need to be aware that this is definitely a consumer level product and as such you shouldn't be expecting results the same as you would get from a soft serve machine in a restaurant or store.
The Breville Smart Scoop is the ultimate machine for making ice cream with minimal preparation which makes it a prime candidate for the best ice cream maker for 2018. This device has a built in compressor which provides its own freezing mechanism without needing to pre-freeze a canister as is needed with the models discussed above. In addition, the Breville BCI 600 XL has a 'pre-cool' function which will also bring your ice cream mix down to the correct temperature prior to beginning the churning cycle. This is a very important step for any recipe that requires heating or cooking such as any recipe involving making an egg custard.
Capacity: 1.5 quarts (although, you can make another batch right after if you needed so you're not as constrained as with the devices requiring the pre-frozen canister)
Another unique feature of this ice cream maker is the setting to allow continued cooling and occasional churning of your mixture after its finished for up to 3 hours. This is perfect if you want to eat your ice cream straight out of the machine but you don't know the specific time, such as for a party. Alternatively, you might be busy with other things in your day and this setting allows you to come back to your ice cream maker when you have a chance, rather than at an exact time.
This machine is also king when it comes to options.
- There are 12 (yes, twelve!) hardness presets - the device measures the hardness of your dessert and auto shuts off when the desired hardness is reached. Different desserts such as sorbet, gelato, frozen yogurt and ice cream, tend to have different hardness levels so these granular settings help you to create authentic and professional versions of each
- There's a manual option to allow you to set your own churn time if you don't want to follow the presets
- There's a child lock option for while the machine is in operation
- A beep and visual notification on the LCD screen will let you know when its time to add any mix-ins
- A beep or music will sound when your ice cream is ready (mute option also available)
This is premium machine made from quality materials and parts from a well known and trusted brand. This is particularly important for a machine, such as this, which is much more complex than the basic 'canister' machines.
This Whynter machine is another great ice cream maker with a self freezing compressor but also a high capacity of 2.1 quarts. Its well constructed with a powerful motor and encased in stainless steel. The ice cream bowl and paddle a removable for easy cleaning and the ice cream is as smooth and creamy and gourmet store bought products.
Capacity: 2.1 quarts
The unit has an LCD screen with the options, countdown timer, temperature display and comes with a manual and recipe booklet. There's also a cooling option to keep your dessert cool until you have time to take it out and store it in the freezer or eat it if you're eating directly from the machine.
This ice cream maker doesn't have as many bells and whistles as the Breville discussed above but it has a higher capacity and a lower price point which makes it worthy of consideration.
The Whynter ICM-15LS is pretty much exactly the same as the ICM-200LS that I covered above but I thought it was worth including due to its slightly lower capacity and therefore more affordable price. If one of your key determining factors of the best ice cream maker is size, then this might be the machine for you.
Capacity: 1.6 quarts
This machine is considered by many to be the best ice cream maker in the compressor category but we believe some of that confidence is due to the strong Cuisinart brand. While this is obviously relevant, we try not to let is blind us and look past to the important features and quality.
The Cuisinart ICE-100 Ice Cream Maker is a machine for domestic use but I've seen it mentioned in connection with small batch commercial operations, not to mention keen hobbyists. This is Cuisinart's version of the self-freezing compressor style ice cream maker and, like their other models, it doesn't disappoint. Like all their products, this device is well constructed from high quality ingredients in a solid design that will last. It doesn't have all the possible bells and whistles but it has a solid feature set including LCD screen, programmable countdown timer (up to 60 mins) and cooling cycle to keep the ice cream or gelato cool until you're ready to take it out of the machine. The device also comes with two (2) different types of mixing blades/paddles, one built for ice cream and one of gelato.
Capacity: 1 - 1.5 quarts
Like most other models, the ice cream churning bucket and paddle/mixer/blade are removable for easy cleaning.
This machine is a little more compact than the other compressor machines reviewed above and it looks great with its stainless steel finish. Cuisinart is probably the most well known brand in the home ice cream maker category and they've got a great track record in general which is important when you're looking to invest in a premium level machine.
I'm sure you're dying to get started on your home-made ice cream journey (I know I was licking my lips just writing this guide) so I'll keep this conclusion brief. My number #1 recommendation for the best ice cream maker for 2018 is the Cuisinart ICE-70 Electronic Ice Cream Maker. This machine provides the best combination of capacity, features, easy of use, quality construction and affordability.
However, I will say that if you have the budget and would like to invest in a machine that has a built in compressor then I want to point you towards the Breville BCI600XL "Smart Scoop" Ice Cream Maker. This machine has the widest feature set of all the machines I've looked at which will allow you to produce mouth watering batches of cool creamy ice cream one after the other and in many different scenarios.