The Best Ice Cream Makers, According to Experts
Ice cream is an essential year-round treat, but as the weather gets warmer, it becomes more of a basic necessity. While there are plenty of top-notch pints lining the freezers of even the most humble market these days, making ice cream from scratch is both easy and fun. A simple base becomes a blank canvas for creative experimentation, not to mention an impressive dessert for your next barbeque or dinner party.
Whipping up ice cream and other frozen treats at home, your options and creativity are limitless, according to Krystle Swenson, pastry chef at The Green O in Montana. "I'd recommend looking for a model that fits best for your needs when it comes to price point, counter space, and frequency of use," she says.
We asked 13 ice cream experts which machines they suggest for homemade ice cream. Some prefer frozen bowl machines (which require the bowl to be frozen for at least 12 hours before using it) and others named machines with built-in compressors that don't require pre-planning. We concluded that the Cuisinart ICE-21P1 is the best ice cream maker on the market thanks to its ease of use, great price, and delicious results. Read on for the top nine picks to help you churn out ice cream for sundaes and scoops like a pro.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall: Cuisinart ICE-21P1
- Best Entry-Level Frozen Bowl: Cuisinart Cool Creations Ice Cream Maker
- Best for Large Batches: Lello 4080 Musso Lussino
- Best Overall Compressor Ice Cream Maker: Breville Smart Scoop
- Best Splurge: Lello Musso Pola 5030
- Best for Mix-Ins: Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Automatic Ice Cream Maker
- Best for Making Vegan Ice Cream: Ninja CREAMi
- Best Entry-Level Compressor: Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor
- Best Attachment: Kitchenaid Ice Cream Maker
Best Overall: Cuisinart ICE-21P1
Best Entry-Level Frozen Bowl: Cuisinart Cool Creations Ice Cream Maker
Best for Large Batches: Lello 4080 Musso Lussino
Best Overall Compressor Ice Cream Maker: Breville Smart Scoop
Lello Musso Pola 5030
Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Automatic Ice Cream Maker
Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor
Kitchenaid Ice Cream Maker Attachment
For ice cream lovers, a home machine can be practical for whipping up relatively inexpensive, extra-fresh batches whenever the mood strikes. It's hard to beat our top pick, the Cuisinart ICE-21P1, for its low price and ability to make consistently excellent batches. For a machine that cuts out the 24-hour bowl pre-freeze, the Breville Smart Scoop's compressor-charged model is our pick. At nearly $500, it's an investment. But for serious ice cream makers, the 12 settings that allow for a wide array of ice cream consistencies makes it a winner.
Factors to Consider
The less expensive machines on this list have one or two settings for churning and keeping the ice cream cold after making a batch, and that's enough for the needs of many home ice cream makers. If you're looking to tinker a little more, however, opt for a machine with more settings that can produce a wider range of styles and consistencies.
Type of Machine
The two main types of ice cream makers we featured are freezer bowls and compressors. The former requires the bowl to sit in the freezer for up to 24 hours, while the latter employs a compressor that cools the ice cream while it's in the process of churning, so less forethought is required. Another machine category is the hand crank, which uses manual power to churn the ice cream.
Most ice cream machines either have an output of 1.5 quarts or two quarts. (The Ninja is smaller, with a 16-ounce yield.) While the batch size is pretty consistent from model to model, consider how much the machine can consistently make. The Lello Musso Pola, for example, can churn out six quarts per hour with its powerful compressor.
As an ice cream machine isn't necessarily a kitchen-must have for most home cooks, it's important to consider where it will live. Some machines are more compact, while others will take up a chunk of counter space. Those who need to save space should consider the Kitchenaid Ice Cream Maker attachment.
We interviewed more than a dozen experts, including the founders of ice cream brands Jeni's, Dolcezza, Milk Jawn, and Alec's; pastry chefs from restaurants around the country; and a Flavor Guru from the iconic Ben & Jerry's. They told us which machines they loved using at home, and why. Factors they highlighted were ease of use, settings for tinkering with batches, freezer bowls versus compressors, and price point.
Q: How do you make ice cream?
A: Start by blending the ingredients for the ice cream base. Depending on the recipe, it's usually a mix of milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks. Before adding it to the machine, heat the mixture to pasteurize. If you're using a machine with a compressor, you can add the mixture directly to the maker. Otherwise, make sure to pre-freeze the bowl for between 12 and 24 hours. Follow the machine's instructions for when to add mix-ins.
Q: How do you make vegan ice cream?
A: Vegan ice cream is made using plant-based milks like almond, coconut, and cashew. Belinda Wei, co-founder of Los Angeles-based vegan creamery Dear Bella prefers oat milk to make vibrant flavors like Mango Sticky Rice, Thick Mint, and Taiwanese Pineapple Cake. "Oat milk is a wonderful alternative milk to use when making vegan ice cream," she says. "It has a good amount of fat, protein, and a neutral flavor."
Q: How do ice cream makers work?
A: Ice cream makers work when paddles continuously turn inside a frozen canister, either automatically or manually using a hand-crank. As they move, the mixture slowly freezes against the walls of the canister. The constant movement aerates the ice cream base, which prevents ice crystals from forming and creating a smooth (crunch-free) finished product.
Regan Stephens is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor who has worked for nearly two decades in digital and print magazine production. She's worked on staff at People, Teen People, and Philadelphia magazines, and her writing has appeared in publications like Travel + Leisure, Fortune, and Conde Nast Traveler. She has contributed to Food & Wine for the last five years. For this piece, she spoke with the best in the ice cream business, including Jeni's founder Jeni Britton, Ben & Jerry's Flavor Guru Chris Rivard, Wanderlust Creamery founder Adrienne Borlongan, Dear Bella co-founder Belinda Wei, Dolcezza founders Robb Duncan and Violeta Edelman, Milk Jawn founder Amy Wilson, and Alec's Ice Cream founder Alec Jaffe, as well as pastry chefs Krystle Swenson, Marko Krancher, Victoria Montenegro, Georgia Wodder, and Saura Kline.