Whenever the weather warms up, I can't stop thinking about ice cream. Whether it’s a cone heaped full of frozen yogurt, sorbet, gelato, traditional ice cream from my favorite shop, or a few spoonfuls straight from my freezer, these delicious frozen desserts are my summer go-to. But I've been delighted to learn that making frozen treats at home can be just as tasty.
Finding the right appliance, however, can be confusing. Should you opt for an electric ice cream maker? Or an old-fashioned variety that's inexpensive but requires pounds of ice and rock salt? What about a compressor model?
Each has its pros and cons, but after thoroughly reviewing and testing the best ice cream makers and frozen yogurt machines, I now know that the Cuisinart ICE-21(available at Amazon for $69.95) is going to become a staple in my kitchen.
Here are the best ice cream makers we tested ranked, in order:
Cuisinart ICE-21 1.5 Quart
Cuisinart ICE-70 Cool Creations
Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop
KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment
Whynter ICM-201SB 2.1 Quart Upright
Cuisinart ICE-30BC Pure Indulgence 2-Quart Automatic
Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor Ice Cream Maker
Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE 4-Quart Electric
Hamilton Beach 68330N 4-Quart Automatic
AmazonBasics 1.5 Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker
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Easy to use, reasonably priced, and small enough to live on my counter during the summer, the Cuisinart ICE-21 can create a smooth batch of classic vanilla ice cream as well as a well-mixed rocky road. The simple design—a single switch to turn on and off, plus an open top to facilitate pouring in chocolate chips and scooping out taste tests—means that I can focus on my flavors and fixings. As well, the low price-point may have already inspired me to buy one for my sister’s birthday. The cherry on top of this fudge sundae is that the Cuisinart ICE-21 was the quickest product I tested. In about 20 minutes, I went from having a sugar-and-cream mixture to a bowl of delicious dessert.
To be fair, there are downsides: It only makes 1.5 quarts of ice cream—just enough for me and three friends (I admit, I overfilled it once, but luckily the design saved me from creating much of a mess). Also, you have to freeze the canister overnight before you can see results. The canister is full of refrigerant, which is what ultimately chills the ice cream, which takes about 12 hours to freeze. This just means that you need a bit of forethought before indulging. That said, many ice cream recipes also ask for an overnight chill in the fridge for the best flavor, so I didn’t find a night of pre-planning to be much of a downside. Ultimately, I would aim to stash the canister in a corner of my freezer during the summer, to use whenever I want ice cream or frozen yogurt in less than 30 minutes.
Hi, I'm Bethany Kwoka—and I’ve been obsessed with dessert since I was a child, and creating delicious new concoctions is a hobby of mine. As a home baker, I typically focus on cakes and cookies during the winter. But come summertime, I want something that doesn’t require me to turn on the oven.
To ensure I wouldn’t end up with a one-trick pony, I tested three different recipes in each ice cream maker. I made a classic vanilla, a chocolate rocky road, and a mixed berry frozen yogurt. To help keep each test the same, I chose simple recipes that didn’t require making an egg custard as the base.
I took careful notes of not only how the ice cream turned out, but how intuitive each model was to use, how helpful each manual was, how much counter space it took up, whether there were special features worth noting, how easy they were to clean, and more. I thought not only about how great it would be to have during the summer, but also whether it was possible to store during the times of year I’m not eating as much ice cream, or whether it was small enough to live on my counter full time.
What to Know About Ice Cream Makers
To find out which would make my favorite mint chocolate chip, Cherry Garcia, and Moose Tracks flavors, I researched various types of ice cream makers and settled on two of each kind.
To start, there are the classic ice cream makers that consist of a giant bucket you fill with ice and salt, with a metal canister in the center and motor on top to churn the ice cream mixture. These are the least expensive models, but require a lot of ice and a fair bit of storage space.
Then there's the modern version of the classic. These consist of a smaller canister that’s filled with refrigerant, which you freeze overnight before setting on top of the motor and inserting the paddle for churning. These are more expensive than the classics, but take up less space and don’t require a trip to the grocery store for ice.
Finally, there are the most advanced ice cream appliances—the compressor models. These metal behemoths don’t require any ice or pre-freezing. They come complete with their own freezing unit along with fancier settings. However, these models are pricier and take up a fair bit of counter space. Not to mention, they can be very heavy.
Overall, I found the classic ice-filled buckets frustrating and a bit wasteful. And while I loved having a compressor model around—particularly when another ice cream maker’s motor failed and I needed a way to finish an already-started batch of dessert—they’re on the expensive side.
Ultimately, the freeze-the-canister style offers the best middle ground between affordability and ease. That said, if you have a lot of kitchen space and need to be able to make ice cream at a moment’s notice, compressor models are slowly coming down in price and might be worth a second look.
Other Ice Cream Makers We Tested
Cuisinart Cool Creations ICE-70 2-Quart
Cuisinart seems to know their ice cream makers. The Cuisinart ICE-70 was a close runner-up to the ICE-21. It had a similarly easy-to-use design, with a few added bells and whistles such as a countdown timer and separate buttons for ice cream, gelato, and sorbet. However, the ice cream (even using the different modes) wasn’t noticeably better than the other Cuisinart model, and the larger canister struggled to find an easy home in my freezer.
For the significantly higher price point, I wanted significantly better ice cream or a significantly better ice cream making experience than the ICE-21.
Simple and easy-to-use design
Additional options for making gelato or sorbet
Large canister is difficult to store inside a freezer
The wonderful thing about this product was never having to worry about pre-freezing the canister. This meant I could make multiple batches in a row during the same evening. As well, it had a “keep cool” mode that let me leave my finished ice cream in the appliance while I was eating and entertaining—a very handy feature. It also had settings for different hardness levels and an option for both an automatic and manual mode. These fancy features come at a price though. This ice cream maker costs more than my KitchenAid mixer!
Despite all of these excellent features, my ice cream batches weren’t always consistent (my vanilla was overly soft despite being on the hardest setting, while my berry fro-yo was rather icy). As well, this ice cream maker is heavy and huge. It took up a solid half of my available counter space, and I have no idea where I would put it if it wasn’t out on the counter.
If you’re researching ice cream makers but already have a KitchenAid stand mixer, this KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment is an excellent choice. Intuitive to assemble, it makes great ice cream and stores away easily in your cabinet (not including the full stand mixer, of course).
The ice cream did almost creep out of the bowl while churning, but the smart rim design of the freezing bowl ultimately kept everything contained. The only real issue with this ice cream maker is that if you don’t already have a KitchenAid, the total cost would be far more than most of the others on this list.
The Whynter made my single favorite batch of this testing series. It was objectively the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. It tasted like the love child of whipped cream and vanilla gelato—I ended up shoving the remains of it into my mouth with my fingers because I couldn’t get enough of it.
Despite this batch of godly nectar, the Whynter was otherwise disappointing. The paddles stopped moving after I added the mix-ins for the rocky road, and I gave up on the berry fro-yo after an hour and half of mixing produced nothing thicker than a smoothie. Even my favorite vanilla took an hour to make, which is longer than I really want to wait for ice cream (though I would wait for this one, particularly since the Whynter is another maker that doesn’t require pre-freezing the canister).
Cuisinart has many options when it comes to ice cream makers. While this one is solid, it didn’t perform quite as well as our winner. That was because despite being easy to use—with a great pour-in opening for the mix and mix-ins—it made loud, concerning noises while churning the ice cream.
I was very nervous during each batch, as it sounded almost as though the motor was about to die. Fortunately, it lasted and the ice cream was good, but I could do without the added stress when I’m trying to relax with a bowl of dessert.
Alongside its freezer-bowl models, Cuisinart also has a compressor model that boasts impressive results. While more expensive than the other Cuisinart models, it has a much lower MSRP than similar compressor models. It makes a good, if soft, ice cream, though it takes a while to firm up.
I loved not having to pre-plan for ice cream (you’ll never have an “oh shoot” moment where you realize you didn’t put the bowl in the freezer far enough in advance), and I enjoyed being able to eat the results immediately. That said, the “keep cool” function led to slightly inconsistent ice cream texture. And the berry fro-yo mix exploded out of the bowl and over the sides—leading to a difficult clean-up. There are a lot of little crevices to clean on this model, and it can't be tossed in the sink to soak.
The Nostalgia would be a fun summer activity with kids or friends, but wouldn’t be my choice for a go-to ice cream maker. Its results were ok but not fantastic, and the added hassle of having to buy and store large amounts of ice any time you want to use it made this one not worth the effort. The low price was nice, but this bright teal ice cream maker seemed better suited to a pool party than my kitchen.
Much like the Nostalgia, the Hamilton Beach requires a substantial amount of ice, salt, and counter space in order to make dessert. But unlike the Nostalgia, you cannot see the results as you’re making them, so there’s a lot of timing guesswork or taking things apart to check as you go. Once again, my ice cream results were fine but not fantastic, and by the end, I realized I’d rather spend a little more money upfront to avoid the added hassle of ice and salt and a longer wait until dessert.
I do not recommend this ice cream maker. In fact, I would advise that you avoid it. It’s priced cheaply with a performance to match. The motor stopped working well before the ice cream was done on two of the tests, and failed to churn the ice cream after mix-ins were added on the third. This left me with gloopy, inedible ice cream batter (which I was, fortunately, able to toss into the Cuisinart compressor model to finish up).
On top of that, this model was hard to neatly pour ice cream batter into and a pain to clean. The way it’s designed, the opening for pouring in ice cream is small and awkwardly situated, and the motor is able to get messy and must be cleaned by hand. Overall, it feels cheap, ill-thought-out, and never truly finished making a bowl of ice cream.
Bethany is a freelance contributor for Reviewed. An avid home baker and aspiring home cook, she reviews and writes mostly about kitchen gadgets (with the occasional fitness review thrown in). Her specialty might be fancy desserts, but she's never met a batch-cooked dinner recipe she didn't like.
Outside of her work for Reviewed, Bethany is a content creator working on clean energy and climate change at a regional non-profit and runs a tabletop game at her local comic book shop.
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