5 Best Ice Cream Makers, Tested by Food Network Kitchen

We churned out dozens of pints to find the best at-home ice cream makers.

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April 14, 2021
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Photo by: Layla Khoury-Hanold

Layla Khoury-Hanold

Our Top Ice Cream Maker Picks:

There’s no denying that ice cream is a summertime staple, but it’s also a timeless treat that can be enjoyed year-round — especially if you have your own ice cream maker at home. At-home ice cream makers are a great way to create custom flavors with add-ins like seasonal fruit, chocolate chips or nuts. You can also alter the base ingredients with different milk or sweeteners, like this Stevia-sweetened Keto Chocolate Ice Cream, or even take things boozy. And making ice cream from scratch can be less expensive than premium store-bought brands or artisanal scoops.

Ice cream makers can produce all kinds of frozen confections, including sorbet, sherbet, frozen yogurt, gelato and frozen cocktails (hello Ice Cream Maker Margaritas). And once you’re an ice cream making pro, you can use homemade ice cream to step up your frozen dessert game with dishes like ice cream sandwiches, ice cream cupcakes or a show-stopping ice cream cake.

Photo by: Layla Khoury-Hanold

Layla Khoury-Hanold

What To Know Before You Buy and Use an Ice Cream Maker

  • The texture of homemade ice cream is more akin to soft serve than the hard scoop consistency you might be used to from your favorite scoop shop or store-bought brand.
  • After the ice cream maker finishes freezing the ice cream, you’ll need to let the ice cream set-up in the freezer for another hour, longer if you prefer a harder consistency. For faster chilling, transfer the ice cream to a wide, shallow container with a lid.
  • When transferring the frozen ice cream from the maker to the freezer, it’s best not to mix the soft ice cream with the more frozen bits that are stuck to the wall of the bowl or canister, as this can result in an uneven texture in its final form.
  • It’s worth reading the manual before you begin because all ice cream makers work a little differently. For example, you’ll want to ensure you put your bowl in the freezer in advance for the recommended amount of time, make sure the KitchenAid attachment fits your model, or have ice and rock salt on hand.
  • Keep in mind that homemade ice cream doesn’t have as long of a freezer shelf life as store-bought ice cream. If your base ingredients are partially cooked, the finished ice cream will last about 2 weeks. If your base ingredients are not boiled, it’ll keep for up to 1 week. Sorbets last between 1 to 2 weeks in the freezer.
$499.95

This is the Rolls Royce of ice cream makers. It’s ready to make ice cream straight out of the box, works quietly and efficiently, and produces super creamy ice cream with a uniform texture. This a compression model with a built-in refrigeration system, so you can make back-to-back batches of ice cream without needing to refreeze the bowl. The Breville Smart Scoop boasts plenty of bells and whistles, including pre-programmed settings to make four different types of frozen desserts ranging from soft to hard, such as sorbet, frozen yogurt, gelato and ice cream. The manufacturer states that the ice cream will need an average of 50 minutes to churn and chill; we found that it produced harder ice cream in 40 minutes. It has a pre-cool setting that cools the machine to 14 to 22 degrees Fahrenheit in 5 to 10 minutes, speeding up the ice cream process even further (though you’ll need to press start to begin the churning process once it’s pre-cooled). There’s also a keep cool setting, which keeps your frozen dessert chilled and churned for the selected duration.

The Breville Smart Scoop is also fully automated and will stop once the ice cream has reached the programmed setting for desired hardness, or when it’s time to add mix-ins. The alert sound is a beep, but can also be customized with three different jingles. It also comes with a spatula to scrape down the bowl and a bottle brush for cleaning the paddle and bowl. The plastic paddle and lid are both dishwasher safe, though the bowl must be washed by hand.

The digital interface also tracks progress, displaying the current temperature, timer count, and firmness. You can also toggle to manual mode if you’d like to make a recipe according to specific timings. And if you have kids around, there’s a handy child lock to prevent interference.

One drawback is that the machine takes up a lot of counterspace and weighs 35 pounds, though it does have built in handles for easy carrying. The canister design has a paddle mount built into it, which can make it challenging to use a regular size ice cream scoop to scoop out ice cream. It was also the most expensive ice cream maker we tested, but its quality materials and durable construction make it built to last. If you make ice cream regularly, it’s a worthy investment.

Buy It
$69.95

This easy-to use, budget-friendly model makes smooth ice cream in 20 minutes or less, making it an ideal pick for beginners, too. The model’s pieces — including a base, paddle, lid and double-insulated bowl—were intuitive to put together, and with just an on/off switch, it was straightforward to operate, too. Once the bowl was chilled for the recommended time (between 16 and 24 hours), the maker lived up to its promise of churning ice cream in 20 minutes or less. We found that it delivered a smooth, gelato-like consistency and benefited from the additional 1 hour of chill time per our testing recipe. (If you want a harder scoop consistency, it’s best to chill the frozen mixture overnight.) The manual was easy to read, included a recipe book, and helpful recipe tips for sweetener and milk substitutes, and when to add mix-ins or alcohol.

This model wins props for its design, too. The easy-lock plastic lid attaches seamlessly to the base and the clear plastic allows you to monitor the freezing process. It also has an ingredient spout that allows you to easily pour in your ice cream base and to add mix-ins like chips or nuts without interrupting the freezing cycle. The base is designed with a heavy-duty motor that’s strong enough to make a variety of frozen confections, including frozen yogurt, sherbet, sorbet and frozen drinks. It also has a safety feature that automatically stops the motor if it overheats. The base also has non-slip rubber feet to keep the base stationary during use and tucked-away cord storage on the bottom of the base. All the machine’s materials that come into contact with food are BPA-free. We also appreciate that this model’s performance is backed by a limited 3-year warranty.

Buy It
$19.89

This pint-size ice cream maker is ideal for quickly and easily making small batches of ice cream or frozen yogurt. It’s user-friendly and intuitive to assemble the cooling bowl, cooling cup and plastic paddle, then mount the motor on top. This maker promises to make 1.6 cups of ice cream in 30 minutes or less; we found that after 30 minutes, the maker yielded a soft, spoonable ice cream with a smooth texture. Because of the smaller quantity, the ice cream set-up nicely after an hour in the freezer. (For best results, manufacturer suggests pre-chilling the ice cream base in the freezer for 30-45 minutes prior to churning.)

It’s lightweight (under 1 pound) and compact, making it a good choice for first apartments, small kitchens, college dorm rooms and camper or RV travels. The maker can also be used manually and includes a mixing spoon if you want to churn the ice cream by hand-stirring the mixture. The contemporary design comes in 3 colors, including aqua, white and pink. The wallet-friendly price also makes it a great gift-giving option. We also appreciate that it comes with a 1-year limited warranty.

Buy It
$36.99

This model delivers big batches of frozen treat — to the tune of four quarts — on a budget. This model relies on the addition of ice and rock salt (also known as ice cream salt, although the manufacturer states that Kosher salt can be used too) to cool the canister and chill the mixture while the motor, which is mounted on top of the paddle and canister, automatically churns the mixture. The machine auto-stops when the ice cream is done; the manufacturer states that the frozen dessert is ready in 20 to 40 minutes. We found that the maker stopped after around 28 minutes and produced a spoon-able and super creamy soft-serve-like ice cream. Once it set-up in the freezer for an hour, it achieved a more gelato-like consistency. The maker comes with an easy-to-read manual, which is especially helpful for your first time using the machine to understand how to layer the ice and salt in the bucket. It also provides troubleshooting and storage tips, as well as more than 20 recipes. The canister, lid and stopper means you can take seamlessly move the canister and ice cream from maker to freezer.

There are a few drawbacks to this type of model, most notably the loud noise level. The plastic materials may not hold up for years and the large plastic bucket isn’t very aesthetically appealing. Because of its large-quantity capacity, the maker takes up a lot of counterspace. It requires 8 to 12 pounds of ice and 3 cups of rock salt per batch. It’s helpful to run the maker close to a sink to catch any salt that scatters once the machine is first turned on, as well as for drainage purposes (though we didn’t have any melted ice that needed to drain through the bucket’s drain hole while the machine was running). And you can’t add mix-ins while the machine is running; if you want to add fruit, nuts or chocolate chips for example, you’ll need to fold them in by hand once the maker is done churning.

Overall, for the price and the four-quart capacity, this family-friendly ice cream maker is a great pick for making frozen desserts and drinks for a crowd.

Buy It

If you already own a KitchenAid, there’s no need to buy another appliance to make ice cream. The KitchenAid ice cream attachment comes with a drive assembly, paddle and freezer bowl that can be used with most tilt-head and bowl-lift KitchenAid models (except Mini Artisan).

Once you’ve chilled the bowl for at least 15 hours, the attachment operates on the KitchenAid’s stir setting and promises to churn ice cream in 20 to 30 minutes. We checked after 20 minutes and found that the mixture transformed into a cold, spoonable and creamy ice cream. After an hour in the freezer, it set-up to a gelato-like consistency. With a 2-quart capacity, the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment also backs up its claim of having the largest single bowl capacity in the industry. We also appreciated its low noise volume.

It comes with a helpful quick-start guide and an easy-to-read manual that includes instructions for attaching the drive assembly for both types of KitchenAid mixers, as well as a selection of recipes. It’s helpful to read through the directions the first time you use the attachment and ensure that the attachment works with your model. After that, it’s intuitive to use, though sometimes it’s challenging and a little messy to pour the ice cream base in while the motor is running (as specified by manufacturer instructions). The paddle is dishwasher safe; all other parts must be washed by hand.

Buy It

How We Tested

Photo by: Layla Khoury-Hanold

Layla Khoury-Hanold

We purchased seven top-rated ice cream makers according to various online sites, reviews and bestseller rankings. We tested automatic ice cream makers, including compression, frozen bowl, ice and salt, and attachment models, in a variety of price points.

Part 1: Product Intake & Pre-Use

Here we assessed the ice cream maker’s design, measurements and weight. We noted what material the interior and exterior were made of and whether the paddle was plastic or metal (all models tested had plastic paddles). We noted how many quarts the ice cream maker holds as well as the footprint of the whole machine on the countertop, taking into considering its measurements and weight.

We observed if a manual was included, whether it was easy to read through and if it included a recipe booklet. We also read instructions for first use, noting any considerations for washing parts, pre-freezing bowls or additional equipment needed, such as ice and rock salt. We noted if the interface was digital or manual, how many functions the maker had, and whether it was easy to use without looking at the manual. We also recorded any claims, such as speed, special settings or extra features, like an easy-lock lid or ice cream storage capability.

Photo by: Layla Khoury-Hanold

Layla Khoury-Hanold

Part 2: Food Testing

For each ice cream maker, we made a batch of Food Network Kitchen’s Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and followed the recipe directions and timings exactly. After cooking the base — comprised of heavy cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, Kosher salt and egg yolks — we brought the mixture down to room temperature before chilling it in the refrigerator for 3 hours. Once the base chilled, we tested each ice cream maker by following the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing the ice cream. Once the ice cream was finished, we assessed how easily the ice cream froze, whether the ice cream was scoopable, and whether it was smooth in texture. Per the test recipe, we then transferred the ice cream to the freezer to set-up for 1 hour, and noted the texture and consistency again.

Part 3: Cleaning

Here we noted whether any of the parts were dishwasher safe. Most of the parts were hand-wash only, though a few models included plastic paddles and lids that were dishwasher safe. Manufacturers recommended hand washing parts in warm, soapy water and rinsing and drying thoroughly before re-freezing bowls or canisters or storing parts. Motors and base exteriors were wipe-clean only.

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