The Best Snow Cone Machines for Beating the Summer Heat
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.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Little Snowie Max
Best Value: Hawaiian Shaved Ice
Best Commercial Grade: Great Northern Ice Cube Shaver
Best Attachment: KitchenAid Shave Ice Attachment
Best Retro-Style: Nostalgia Vintage Countertop Snow Cone Maker
Best Manual: MANBA Ice Shaver and Snow Cone Machine
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
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.)
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.
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.