The Best Snow Cone Machines for Beating the Summer Heat

A nostalgic dessert gets the proper treatment, thanks to the Little Snowie Max.

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best snow cone machines
Amazon

There's something just so unapologetically cheerful about a snow cone. The sweet zip of sugar; the bright, outlandish colors; and the promise of a frosty reprieve from the summer heat makes them irresistible. A home snow cone machine is a festive addition to a summer party for both kids and adults, regardless of whether you prefer the traditional rainbow stripe to experiment with making your own flavors or want to make a different icy dessert altogether.

To decide which machine is right for you, consider how many snow cones you'll need to make and how quickly you'll need to do it. If you're making them occasionally for a couple of people, you likely don't need to invest in a super powerful unit that can crank out 50 pounds of snow in short order. But if you're the snow cones maestro at a party, the last thing you want is for a sluggish motor to overheat and conk out. We checked in with three snow cone experts to find out the best recommendations: Lauda Flores of Sno Con Amor, Yesenia Garcia of Unicorn Snow Cones, and Ashley Hansen of Sno-Bliz.

Our favorite snow cone machine was the Little Snowie Max. It's the only consumer snow cone machine we found made by a manufacturer that also makes professional models. Its high-quality components and simple design make it easy for anyone to whip up an icy treat, regardless of whether you're making two or twenty.

Best Overall: SNOWIE Little Snowie Max Snow Cone Machine

4
SNOWIE 2 Snow Cone Machine

Amazon

Pros: The Little Snowie borrowed some of the premium features of Snowie's professional models and applied them to a smaller version more suitable for home use—at a fraction of the cost of their other models.

Cons: We'd prefer more versatility/fine tune from a machine at this price point, the blade isn't adjustable, and it only accepts cubed ice.

Snowie is the only manufacturer in the US that makes snow cone machines for professionals and home users. For the Little Snowie Max, Snowie took the high-quality stainless steel blades, large ice hopper, and powerful motor from their premium models and scaled them down to fit in this compact countertop unit. "I would recommend the Little Snowie," says Flores. "They've been around for a long time, they know what they're doing, and they make a high-quality machine."

While we'd prefer a hybrid hopper design that accepts both cubes and block ice (which most professionals think produces a finer, uniform texture in the shavings), cubes take the cake for convenience. "My machine is a hybrid," says Flores. "With cubes, you're just never going to get the fineness that you'll get with block ice, but after 12 years working outdoor markets, I find that it gets really hectic working with blocks of ice. As temperatures change and it starts melting, it starts getting lopsided," she explains. "There are so many factors; it's not as easy as you might think." The Little Snowie is the best at managing all aspects of shaved ice and a great tool for snow cone lovers at home.

Price at time of publish: $209

  • Included Accessories: 6 assorted flavor powder sticks; 2 mixing bottles with pour spouts; 8 miniature shovels
  • Weight/Dimensions: 11 pounds; 16 x 8 x 14 inches
  • Type of Ice Required: Cubes only

Best Value: Hawaiian Shaved Ice S900A Shaved Ice and Snow Cone Machine

Snow Cone Machine

Hawaiian Shaved Ice

Pros: If you're only making a few snow cones or don't mind the wait, this machine is a fantastic option.

Cons: Shaving snow for a crowd is time-consuming with the slower 55W motor, and figuring out how much pressure to apply to get your preferred ice texture takes some practice.

At a quarter of the price, the Hawaiian Shaved Ice machine is a compelling alternative to the Little Snowie. Sure, it's a bit slower, but if you're not in a hurry to feed a crowd, that's fine. This is also the most compact and lightweight model we reviewed, allowing easy storage when not in use (or bringing it along to a party!).

One advantage of the Hawaiian over the Little Snowie is how versatile it is, using both block ice and cubes with an adjustable-height blade. The machine also comes with two molds for freezing your own ice blocks. "The ice blocks consistently give you this really fine, smooth, snow-like texture," explains Yesenia Garcia.

The trickiest part of using this model is achieving your desired texture, which is determined by the amount of pressure applied to the ice against the blade. A lighter touch will yield finer shavings; more force will shave chunkier ice. While this requires some practice to get it how you like it, it also offers a high degree of flexibility to make it exactly how you like it, whether coarse and crunchy or fluffy and snow-like.

Price at time of publish: $60

  • Included Accessories: 2 round block ice molds
  • Weight/Dimensions: 3 pounds; 5.5 x 8 x 12 inches
  • Type of Ice Required: Blocks and cubes

Best Commercial Grade: Great Northern Popcorn Company Ice Cub Shaved Ice Machine

Great Northern Popcorn Company Hawaiian Shaved Ice Machine and Snow Cone Maker

Amazon

Pros: This machine is fast and powerful and churns out a large volume of shaved ice as fast as you can catch it.

Cons: It only accepts block ice and doesn't include molds for making your own.

Throwing an epic party or hosting a barbeque for the whole neighborhood? The last thing you want is a line of hot, impatient guests waiting for a snow cone. If volume and speed are priorities, the heavy-duty Great Northern is the answer. It boasts a 400-watt motor that can shave 6 pounds of ice a minute. Unsurprisingly, this model is heavy, weighing in at 55 pounds, so plan your snow cone station spot ahead of time.

Bear in mind that this unit only accepts block ice, and while it doesn't come with molds, Great Northern advises that you can use a plastic paint bucket or milk jug as a DIY mold. Of course, if you don't want to make your own, you can always buy your ice from a local distributor. "I used to use a local company," explains Garcia, "but my mom bought an ice machine and became a distributor, so now I buy from her. And she's my neighbor!" (If you lack the luxury of a family ice empire, a quick Google search will tell you other sources in your area.)

Price at time of publish: $500

  • Included Accessories: None
  • Weight/Dimensions: 55 pounds; 15 x 12 x 30.5 inches
  • Type of Ice Required: Block only

Best Attachment: KitchenAid KICA0WH Ice Cream Maker Attachment

4.2
KitchenAid KICA0WH Ice Cream Maker Attachment - Excludes 7, 8, and most 6 Quart Models
Courtesy of Amazon.com.

Pros: With a built-in snow chamber that will hold up to 20 snow cones worth of shaved ice, this unit is great for a party where you don't want to spend hours catching ice and distributing cones.

Cons: If you don't already have a KitchenAid stand mixer, this unit won't work.

If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer in your kitchen, this attachment blends the best of both worlds: a petite ice shaver powered by a robust 250-watt motor. Because of its small size, it can live in a drawer and be easily whipped out for applications beyond icy treats—like making a bed of fine ice for oysters or making icy cold water for a pie crust. It also conveniently comes with two blades and four ice molds, more than any other machine we researched.

Price at time of publish: $100

  • Included Accessories: None
  • Weight/Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 5 inches
  • Type of Ice Required: Cubed

Best Retro-Style: Nostalgia SCM525BL Vintage Countertop Snow Cone Maker

nostalgia-countertop-snow-maker

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros: With a built-in snow chamber that will hold up to 20 snow cones worth of shaved ice, this unit is great for a party where you don't want to spend hours catching ice and distributing cones.

Cons: The slow motor won't shave a large volume of ice quickly, so you'll have to slowly fill up the snow chamber and scoop before the ice melts into a slushy mess.

This adorable snow cone machine is made to party. It may not boast the most powerful motor or the finest ice shavings, but the retro design is charming, and the large snow chamber is great for a crowd, whether you're making desserts for kids or frozen cocktails for adults. The built-in side shelf is also a handy spot to stash cones as you scoop to keep the ice flowing while you tend to your guests.

Price at time of publish: $75

  • Included Accessories: Ice scoop, two reusable cones
  • Weight/Dimensions: 5 pounds; 12 x 11 x 15 inches
  • Type of Ice Required: Cubed only

Best Manual: MANBA Manba Ice Shaver and Snow Cone Machine

Ice Shaver

Manba

Pros: Lightweight, portable, and self-contained, the Manba is our pick for making snow cones when you don't have access to an outlet.

Cons: The plastic housing is rather flimsy, and the hand-crank method is inefficient if making a lot of snow cones.

If you can have a snow cone in your backyard, there's no reason you shouldn't have one on a picnic, at the beach, or while tailgating. In the absence of an electric outlet, you can power your snow cone machine the old-fashioned way: with a hand crank.

Because kids and adults can crank and scoop their own snow, it's a fun interactive addition to any outdoor activity. "Make it part of the party!" encourages Ashley Hansen, third generation Snow-Bliz in New Orleans, "It's fun! And don't be too concerned about the mess. It's just sugar—you can hose everyone off later."

Price at time of publish: $32

Conclusion

Snow cone machines run the gamut from small, inexpensive handheld models to hefty professional behemoths that cost as much as a month's rent. What you're planning to use your machine for, how frequently you plan to use it, and how much storage space you have to store it all impact which device makes sense for you. We think that the compact size, powerful motor, and mid-range price point of the Little Snowie Max hit the sweet spot across all these considerations.

Factors to Consider

Power

A powerful motor is required when working with a substance as strong as ice. The Little Snowie's 110-watt motor is twice as powerful as the Hawaiian model and three times as powerful as the Nostalgia model, meaning it can churn out an 8oz bowl of shaved ice in less than five seconds. The Great Northern machine boasts a 400-watt motor that can shave 6lb of ice a minute, while a hand crank model is as strong as the elbow grease that powers it.

Size & Weight

It's perfectly understandable to want to be every party's Snow Cone Hero. However, if being able to bring your machine to all the season's barbeques and birthday parties is important, make sure you select a lightweight, portable model.

Ease of Use

None of the models we considered require an advanced degree in engineering. Some models, like the Nostalgia, turn on as soon as they are plugged in and are ready to do (OK, an on-off switch would've been nice). Others require a bit of technique to find the right combination of ice type, user pressure, and blade height to achieve perfect results. If keeping the process simple is the priority, the Little Snowie, Nostalgia, or Manba models are right for you. If tinkering towards perfection is in your nature, go for the Hawaiian or Great Northern models. (Interestingly, we found no correlation between ease of use and price.)

The Research

We consulted three snow cone-preneurs who run their own successful snow cone businesses: Lauda Flores of Sno Con Amor in Los Angeles, CA, Yesenia Garcia of Unicorn Snow Cones in Houston, TX, and Ashley Hansen of Sno-Bliz in New Orleans, LA. We interviewed them about the machines they use, what went into their selection process, and what advice they would offer a home cook looking to purchase their own.

Pro Panel Q+A

How does a snow cone machine work?

Operating a snow cone machine is easy: load up the hopper with ice, turn it on, and a spinning blade will shear off ribbons of ice as it's fed from above. Some machines take standard ice cubes, while others require special "block" ice (a larger single piece of ice). While block ice is the professional gold standard in getting fluffy, snow-like cones, you'll need to plan ahead to make ice in a special mold. Cubed ice is convenient but can yield a more granular, crunchy texture. Some models use a blender-style blade to crush the ice, but we don't recommend this style as they can only produce crunchy ice. At the same price point, it's easy to get a machine that does both. Besides, according to Yesenia Garcia, owner of Unicorn Snow Cones in Houston, "most people prefer the finer ice," owing to its lightweight texture. Plus, "the smaller ice holds the flavors more evenly."

How much ice do I need for a snow cone machine?

"It entirely depends on how and how many people you're serving and how big your snow cones are," says Flores. For the pros, this can mean a LOT of ice. "On a hot day in the summer, we can go through two tons of ice. That's the size of an SUV," says Hansen. For the rest of us, eyeballing it will do the trick. Just remember that the ice will triple in volume when it's shaved.

How much is a snow cone machine?

Snow cone machines vary widely in price, ranging from $20 for a small hand-crank machine to well over $2,000 for a commercial model. Home-use units typically cost $200 or less, and the price roughly corresponds to the power of the motor.

How do I clean a snow cone machine?

"It's important to sanitize your machine regularly," says Garcia, "yes, it's 'just water,' but when it lingers and gets hot, it can breed bacteria." To do this, disassemble the machine according to the manufacturer's instructions and wash each piece that comes in contact with ice in hot, soapy water.

Our Expertise

Liz Mundle is a writer, editor, and chef in New York City with over a decade of experience in kitchens and magazines. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, Saveur, and Domino, among others. She is opening Circus Provisions, a specialty grocery store in Brooklyn, later this year.

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