Welcome to F&W Gear Guides. Each week on Wednesday, we publish a buyer’s guide to an essential piece of kitchen gear based on real world testing. Missed an installment? Find them all here.
Yes, there’s a best ice cream scoop. After testing seven popular models, we found one that blew away the competition by allowing us to produce perfectly rolled orbs of ice cream with minimal effort. Read on to see how we tested.
In Search of the Best Ice Cream Scoop
Ice cream is the food of my people. I grew up on Cape Cod, where every teenaged townie spends at least one summer scooping ice cream for tourists. I did it myself at the excellent Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium. (Yes, that’s real lobster in the lobster ice cream. No, it’s not better than it sounds.) But when I set out to test ice cream scoops to find out which one produces the prettiest, most effortless scoops, I thought it best to call a real expert: Jeni Britton Bauer, of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Jeni has been in the business for two decades, owns eight shops and is the author of two ice cream cookbooks, so she knows her way around a scoop. She has an all-time favorite model that she uses at her shops—but I won’t give away what that is just yet. In general, she says to choose a model that’s all one piece, without moving parts like a release lever. “The spring/lever ones don't work well for American hard body ice cream. Too many pieces and they pop apart when scooping. I don't recommend them,” she wrote in an email.
That narrowed down the field considerably. I also decided to restrict the testing to 2- to 3-ounce ounce scoopers. That way, a heaping ½-cup serving is about two scoops, which feels just right, neither skimpy nor over-the-top.
Starting with Jeni’s recommendation, I took a look at the brands and models recommended by Cook’s Illustrated, The Sweet Home and The Kitchn, as well as those that are best sellers on Amazon, and gathered a group of seven contenders.
To test the scoops, I spooned up cookies and cream ice cream from a 1.5-quart oblong container, mango sorbet from a pint container (both of which I put in a deep freeze for a few hours to make sure they were very solid), as well as a few pints of assorted rock-hard, freezer-burned ice cream that were hiding in the back of my freezer.
There were never going to be any true disasters here. No matter what you use to scoop—even a regular spoon—it’s all going to end with a dish of ice cream. But in an ideal world, there are a few important criteria a good scoop should meet. Imagine, for instance, you are dishing out ice cream for a big birthday party, which is probably the most intense ice cream scenario a non-professional will encounter. You want a model that’s comfortable and balanced in your hand, one that glides easily through ice cream or sorbet (no matter how hard or how chunky) corralling it into a tightly curled, neat, round orb that would be at home either in a bowl or on a cone. Then you want the ice cream to to release fairly easily from the scoop. You want the scoop to be compact enough to easily fit into a pint and nimble enough to navigate a container’s bottom corners to get out every last bit of ice cream.
In testing, I followed the protocol Jeni recommends: Make sure the scoop is completely dry and at room temperature. A wet scoop or a hot scoop will leave behind ice crystals in the ice scream that will spread and cause freezer burn. (You might see ice cream shop workers dipping their scoops into a container of water between uses, but Jeni says that’s not a good practice, and it’s only done for expediency.)
I tested the scoops myself, rating each one from one to three stars (three being the best) on all the criteria above: comfort in my hand, ease of scooping, ease of release and attractiveness of scoops. I also had my husband and a female friend with smaller hands than me to try them, to see if different hands prefer different scoops.
What Makes a Great Ice Cream Scoop?
Only one scoop was a complete flop. Most of the scoops performed well, especially in comfort and ease of scooping. A few that were otherwise great ran in to trouble on releasing the ice cream from the bowl, especially after dipping out a few scoops. It seemed like the colder they got, the harder it became to get the ice cream out of the bowl. A few were too large or blunt to get into nooks and crannies at the bottom of the carton.
Interestingly, the scoops fell into two general categories: Light and heavy. Three were in the 4 to 4.5 ounce range and four were in the 8 to 8.5 ounce range. But design mattered more than weight. There were winners and losers in both the light and heavy groups—a well-designed heavy scoop can give leverage cutting through hard ice cream. A well-designed light scoop can feel more comfortable and nimble.
Two of the scoops have heat conducting or defrosting fluid sealed inside the handle: Supposedly, that fluid transfers heat from your hand on the handle to the bowl, warming it just enough so that it glides smoothly through the ice cream and then releases the ice cream easily from the bowl. Both of those scoops performed well—one better than the other—though the downside is that you can’t put them in the dishwasher. (All the others are dishwasher safe.) However, washing an ice cream scoop by hand really isn’t much of a hardship, so I didn’t hold that against those models.
Our Favorite Ice Cream Scoop: Zeroll Original Ice Cream Scoop (2 ounce) ($16 on Amazon)
Attractiveness of scoops: ***
This is Jeni’s go-to scoop, and the one that shows up on top of most lists, and for good reason. “They are the gold standard in ice cream dishers,” Jeni said. The Zeroll made of light aluminum (4.9 ounces) with a simple, easy-to-grasp handle that’s filled with a heat-conducting fluid. That fluid transfers warmth from your hand to the bowl of the scoop, helping it glide thorough the ice cream and then release the scoop easily. The lip of the bowl is a bit sharp, too, which helps it scoop rock-solid sorbet. Because the scoop is so light, you do need a little bit of elbow grease to get going. Once you do, it works like a dream, and it makes perfectly rolled orbs of ice cream—the best-looking scoops of all. It’s not dishwasher safe, but it takes seconds to rinse it off, so that’s not much of a problem.
And this scoop has a history: In the early 1930s, Sherman Kelly of Toledo, Ohio was vacationing in Florida when he noticed that a woman working at an ice cream shop had callouses and blisters all over her hand from scooping rock-hard ice cream. He saw it as an opportunity to invent a better disher: In 1933, he patented his idea for a self-defrosting model that would make scooping ice cream painless and set up the Zeroll Company in his garage. Now the scoop is made in Florida, but the product hasn’t changed much in all the intervening years.
Best Ice Cream Scoop for Small Hands: Zyliss Ice Cream Scoop ($12 on Amazon)
Attractiveness of scoops: **
It might seem odd that the heaviest scoop—this one weighs in at 8.7 ounces—is best for small hands, but this scoop’s well-balanced heft gives great leverage for cutting through hard ice cream or sorbet. The ergonomic handle is super comfortable and made testers feel like their grip was secure. Minor quibbles: The scoop is too big and blunt to be very effective getting the last bits of ice cream from the corners of a container; ice cream sometimes sticks a bit and need a nudge to come off the scoop; the scoops themselves aren’t as pretty as those made by Zeroll. It also makes bigger portions than the other models I tested, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective!
Two More Worthy Ice Cream Scoops: OXO Good Grips ($15 on Amazon) and Sumo ($14 on Amazon)
Attractiveness of scoops: **1/2
These two scoops are virtually identical in every way. Both are solid stainless steel: That’s a plus because some online user reviews claim that models made from coated plastic—like the Zyliss—can flake or pit after long periods of heavy use. Both are on the heavy side at about 7.9 ounces. They have very comfortable rubber grips on the handles and narrow bowls with a slight sharp point at the top, which helps get a scoop going. I got prettier, neater scoops from the OXO for some reason, but other than that, I can’t see any difference between the two. Both seem like solid, well-made models that will last a long time. The big downside is that the more you scoop with them, the colder the steel bowls get, and the more the ice cream sticks, so you have to shake or pry the ice cream out.
Norpro Nonstick Anti-Freeze Ice Cream Scoop
Attractiveness of scoops: *1/2
Like the Zeroll, this lightweight model is filled with heat-conducting fluid that helps with ease of scooping and release. This one also has a nonstick coating, so it was the most effective of all in releasing the ice cream from the bowl of the scoop. However, if you’re going to get a self-defrosting scoop, there’s no reason to choose this one over the Zeroll. The handle is thinner than the Zeroll and feels slippery from the nonstick coating, so it’s hard to get a good grip on it. The shape of the bowl is more oblong than round, so the scoops are not as neat and pretty.
Tovolo Tilt Up Ice Cream Scoop
Attractiveness of scoops: *
I could have sworn that this was the heaviest scoop I tested, but when I weighed them all, it turned out that the Zyliss (8.68 ounces) was heavier than this model, which clocks in at 8.2 ounces. It feels hulking because it’s unbalanced—it’s top-heavy, with a very thin neck, which makes it feel like it’s going to fall out of your hand. The weight at the top is partially due to two little feet that prop the scoop up off the table when you set it down. It’s supposed to minimize mess, but the ice cream just drips down the feet instead. It makes large, clunky scoops. If you want the leverage of a heavy scoop, the Zyliss is a much better choice.
KitchenAid Classic Ice Cream Scoop
Attractiveness of scoops: **1/2
Everyone who picked up this scoop had one thing to say: It feels cheap. (I was surprised, since I usually like KitchenAid products.) It’s very light, but unlike the other lightweight scoops, which are aluminum, this one is plastic. It’s slippery and hard to get a good grip on the handle. The lip of the bowl is rounded and blunt, so there’s nothing to help you cut through hard sorbet or ice cream. The ice cream sticks to the bowl, and you have to use a finger to pry it out. Once you do, the scoops are fairly neat and attractive, but really, there’s no reason to buy this scoop. You’d be better off saving the eight bucks and using a soup spoon.