Choosing an Ice Cream Maker: Buying Guide

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Not so long ago, choosing an ice cream maker meant deciding whether you’d like to undertake the process of mixing frozen desserts completely by hand, or selecting a model with an engine on top, eliminating the need for endless cranking in hopes of churning up a batch of ice cream with a consistency similar to that of soft serve.

Today, there are several different types of ice cream makers to choose from, including some that are completely self-contained. Yes, you can still purchase a hand-crank ice cream maker if you really want one, but we’ve left the old-fashioned models out of the review process as they continue to stand out as a basic option.

We’ve written this buyer’s guide to provide you with the insight you need concerning the advantages and disadvantages of some of the most popular ice cream makers, so that you head into the shopping process armed with the information you need to make a good decision.

 

Types of Ice Cream Makers

Before you get down to choosing an ice cream maker, you’ll find it helpful to know a bit about the basic types of ice cream makers on the market today. In general, there are four types. We’ll start with the simplest, most uncomplicated one and move on to the one with the most bells and whistles.

 

1. Manual Ice Cream Makers

As the category name suggests, manual ice cream makers are those that hold ice cream mix next to ice while you take the physical action that’s needed to churn it. A manual ice cream maker can be great fun, and one of the biggest benefits of this type of ice cream maker is that it allows you to burn off some of those wonderful dessert calories before you’ve even had a chance to ingest them.

The Pros:

If you want to spend a very small amount of money, a manual ice cream maker might be just the thing. Don’t stop reading yet though, because some of the more innovative models we reviewed are surprisingly inexpensive!

Manual ice cream makers are great for camping. Bring the ingredients along in the cooler, buy lots of extra ice and some salt, and make a game of fixing dessert. The old-fashioned crank style and innovative ball-style ice cream machines both fall into this category. Some of the crank-style machines also come with a motor, so you have the option of cranking by hand or plugging in.

The Cons:

These ice cream makers can be messy! They require lots of ice and salt to get the mix inside down to freezing, and the entire process can leave melted liquid all over the kitchen. The bucket can be heavy to empty, and if you’re not careful, you may end up with salty water inside the canister where the ice cream is being made.

It can take a long time to make ice cream this way, and unless you have a group of people helping, the process can be exhausting. What’s fun with friends and family soon feels tedious when you’re alone!

The Takeaway:

If you’re on a budget or plan to make ice cream just once or twice year, with friends or while camping, then a manual ice cream maker might be a good choice. Keep in mind that you’ll need access to lots of ice and rock salt or ice cream salt, and prepare to do some hard work while having fun making ice cream.

 

2. Ice Bucket Models

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Ice cream makers with ice buckets are almost exactly the same as manual ice cream makers, but with one major exception: The only real work you have to do is to make an ice cream mix, chill it, and add it to the canister, which you then place in a larger bucket filled with ice and salt.

The Pros:

Ice bucket ice cream makers are typically high-capacity. If you’re having a big picnic with lots of guests, you can easily use one of these to make about a gallon of ice cream.

As long as you have access to ice, salt, and some good ingredients, you can make ice cream. There’s nothing to pre-freeze, although it is a very good idea to refrigerate your mix for several hours before getting started. You can make ice cream with room-temperature mix, but it will take a little longer.

The Cons:

Most ice bucket ice cream makers are big and bulky. We did review the Hamilton Beach 68990 Ice Cream Maker, which is innovative for the fact that its outer bucket collapses for storage. If you’re low on space but like the idea of an ice bucket ice cream maker, this is one to consider.

These things can get messy! Just like manual crank ice cream makers, they can splash salty liquid all over the kitchen. Emptying them can be a challenge to anyone who’s of small stature.

The Takeaway:

Ice bucket ice cream makers are typically inexpensive, and they make plenty of ice cream to share with friends and family. If you don’t mind a mess and have easy access to lots of ice and salt, then this type of ice cream maker is worth considering.

 

3. Freeze-the-Bowl Ice Cream Makers

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Many of the most popular ice cream makers feature inner chambers that have a layer of liquid sandwiched between an inner wall and an outer wall. This bowl goes into the freezer, typically for 12 to 24 hours at a time, and emerges ready to take the place of the ice and salt that was once necessary for making homemade ice cream. The process requires some forethought but is almost completely automatic. This category offers lots of different models to choose from.

The Pros:

The process of using one of these ice cream makers is pretty much foolproof. The results are normally wonderful, the cleanup process is straightforward, and there’s no need to make a watery mess on the countertop.

While there is some difference in price, most of these ice cream makers are well under one hundred dollars.

Some, like the Cuisinart ICE-21 or Hamilton Beach 68881 come in a variety of colors to match your kitchen décor. Others are plainer, but offer an upstanding performance.

These ingenious ice cream makers work so well that you can even find one that operates with your stand mixer instead of a separate motor. The KitchenAid KICA0WH is powered by the mixer itself. Shaped like a bowl and designed to work with contemporary KitchenAid mixers, it serves as yet another option in this category.

The Cons:

While these ice cream makers do a fantastic job of whipping up frozen treats, it takes a bit of forethought to get started with the process. Most of the bowls need to spend a minimum of 12 hours in the freezer before they’re ready to make ice cream.

The Takeaway:

If you’re looking for a convenient way to make homemade ice cream and you’re happy with one to two quarts rather than a gallon or so of finished product, do yourself a favor and consider adding one of these ice cream makers to the kitchen. They’re generally inexpensive, they do a good job of making ice cream, and they require very little storage space.

 

4. Fully Automatic Ice Cream Makers

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Automatic ice cream makers with integrated compressors offer a convenient step up from freezer bowl ice cream makers, allowing you to make one batch after another without re-freezing the bowl between batches.

The Pros:

Ice cream makers with integrated compressors are wonderfully convenient, allowing you to make your favorite treats and try some new ones whenever you feel like it. Just shop for ingredients, do a bit of mixing, and let the machine do its magic. The Breville BCI600XL is one of these; it features different settings that allow you to make a variety of different treats such as ice cream, gelato or sorbet. This model and some others even keep ice cream frozen for a period of time so that you don’t have to transfer it to the freezer before serving it.

The Cons:

While anyone who eats a lot of gourmet ice cream will tell you that these ice cream makers pay for themselves fairly quickly, they do represent a higher cost than those in other categories.

The Takeaway:

If you love ice cream and want to eat more frozen treats without paying premium prices, you’ll like the convenience these ice cream makers have to offer. And because you can make batches of ice cream back to back, their modest capacity really isn’t much of an issue. Some, like the Whynter ICM-15LS, make well over a quart of ice cream per batch.

 

Consider Your Reasons For Wanting an Ice Cream Maker and Read Reviews

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Before choosing an ice cream maker, be sure that you spend at least a little time thinking about your reasons for wanting one. Your goals may have changed now that you know a little bit more about what some of these appliances are able to do! By making a quick checklist, you can compare your needs with the many models available.

Once you’ve narrowed your choice down to just a few options, read some reviews to see what others have experienced while using the ice cream makers that you are considering. Taking a little time to learn what people have to say will almost certainly pay off. Some tips for reading ice cream maker reviews critically follow:

  • Look for reviews that talk about various features on the machine you are considering, and don’t’ give too much weight to general reviews that simply say the ice cream maker is good or bad without providing details that explain why the reviewer feels as he or she does. You want to learn as much as you can about the appliances you are considering.
  • Pick a few different models to compare, either in the same category or in different categories. Although this type of careful side by side comparison will add a little time to your decision making process, it will give you a much better feel for what is available. You may find that keeping a few notes will help make it easier to keep all the details straight.
  • Look for ice cream maker reviews that break the machines’ features down and provide specific information about how they work. Are they easy to assemble? Easy to clean? Loud? Quiet? You’ll be surprised at the kinds of details you will find when you start reading juicer reviews.
  • Recognize that as with all appliances, manufacturing defects are possible, and the same defects are likely to be repeated across the spectrum. Even the best or highest priced ice cream makers sometimes fail right out of the box due to a defect. Do not let a few bad reviews detract from the overall picture.

 

Where to Buy an Ice Cream Maker

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While a few department stores and big box stores keep a good selection of kitchen appliances including ice cream makers in stock, you are likely to find more to choose from by shopping online at sites that carry a wide variety of merchandise, i.e. Amazon. Remember to consider the unit’s cost, ease of use, features, and of course quality as you make your decision. After all, a good ice cream maker is an investment as well as a fun addition to your kitchen, and it’s something that can make a positive difference by allowing you to save money on great desserts while maintaining complete control over what goes into them. The best ice cream maker is the one that will meet your budget, deliver fantastic treats, and pay for itself by keeping you from paying high prices for boring store-bought ice cream during the months and years to come.

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