The Best Ice Cream Makers
Get ready for summer by making your own frozen desserts
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With warm weather here, I cannot stop thinking about ice cream. Whether it’s a cone heaped full of ice cream from my favorite shop or a few spoonsful straight from my freezer, this delicious dessert is my summer go-to. But recently I learned making your own frozen treats at home can be just as tasty.
Finding the right kind of ice cream maker, however, can be confusing. There are the old fashioned nostalgic varieties that are inexpensive but require pounds of ice and salt, mid-sized makers that need to be cooled in a freezer overnight, and larger appliances that ask for no forethought but can be expensive and require too much counter space.
Each has its pros and cons, but after thoroughly reviewing and testing ice cream and frozen yogurt machines, I now know the Cuisinart ICE-21 (available at Amazon for $39.99) is going to become a staple in my kitchen.
Here are the best ice cream makers ranked, in order:
- Cuisinart ICE-21 1.5 Quart
- Cuisinart ICE-70 Cool Creations
- Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop
- Whynter ICM-201SB 2.1 Quart Upright
- Nostalgia ICMP400BLUE 4-Quart Electric
- Hamilton Beach 68330N 4-Quart Automatic
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 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 ice cream maker 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 half an hour.
How We Tested
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.
Ice Cream Maker Options:
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 is the modern version of the classic. These are 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 is the truly forward-thinking ice cream appliance. 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.
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 ice cream maker 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.
Other Ice Cream Makers We Tested
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.
The wonderful thing about this ice cream maker 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 Kitchen Aid 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.
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).
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 up front to avoid the added hassle of ice and salt and a longer wait until dessert.
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