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Best Ice Cream Maker (spoiler: it’s the cheapest too!)

So you want to buy an ice cream maker? That's a great idea! There are many good reasons to own your own machine.

Most importantly: you'll be able to make hundreds of different types of frozen treats, exactly how you like them.

But which is the best ice cream maker for you? There are loads of different types, at lots of different prices. And that can be pretty confusing when you're just starting out.

This situation is complicated by online reviews. Most of the reviewers have never even used the machines they recommend!

Maybe a few have used them once or twice. But even then, they don't seem to know what they're doing or how to get the most out of the machines they're testing.

This is why you get such conflicting, confusing and downright wrong reports about the same machines.

Seven ice cream machines on a table

A selection of my ice cream machines!

Luckily, I have used lots of different ice cream makers. I've used every one over a long period of time. And I know exactly how to get the best out of the different machines.

So I can tell you: it's really not that complicated. And in most cases spending more money will not get you better ice cream!

Once you understand a couple of important truths (that no-one else seems to talk about) and follow a couple of simple steps, it will soon become clear which machine is best for you.

More on those later. But first here are the five best ice cream makers currently available...

1. Best Entry Level Ice Cream Maker: Cuisinart ICE-21

Cuisinart ICE-21 Best Entry Level Ice Cream Maker

I've given the ICE-21 the best "entry level" machine award but it's really so much more than that!

For sure, if you've never made ice cream before and don't want to spend too much money or give up too much counter space, then the ICE-21 is the perfect choice.

That's because it's one of the smallest and cheapest [Amazon] machines currently available. 

But more importantly: it makes some of the best quality ice cream. Better in fact, than every other machine except the (far more expensive) Lello 4080.

This is because it's small size and improved dasher design enable it to freeze the mixture incredibly quickly (around 15 minutes) which results in smooth, dry ice cream every time.

There are no frills with the ICE-21. Just a on/off switch. But that means there's less to go wrong!

So it's cheap, durable, takes up very little counter space and makes better frozen desserts than almost any other domestic machine out there. What's not to love?!

I think the ICE-21 should definitely be your default choice if you're looking for a freezer bowl machine. Unless you want to make bigger batches...

2. Best Featured "No-Freezer" Ice Cream Maker: Cuisinart ICE-70

Cuisinart ICE-70 2 quart ice cream maker

The ICE-21 only has a 1.5 quart capacity. If you're looking for something bigger, the ICE-70 has a 2 quart bowl. It also has a timer and different settings for ice cream, gelato and sorbet.

The ice cream quality is no better than the ICE-21. But the different settings vary the amount of air that's whipped into the mixture, so the gelato is denser and the sorbet is less crumbly from the ICE-70.

If a timer (which beeps rather than turns the machine off), is not important then the ICE-60 is exactly the same as the ICE-70, minus the timer and is often cheaper [Amazon].

Both machines are essentially an upgrade of the famous old ICE-30 with a dasher re-design that speeds up freezing, resulting in slightly smoother ice creams.

However, there's no doubt the ICE-30 remains a fantastic ice cream maker and if the other models aren't available in your country, it should be your default choice.

So if you want to make bigger batches or you simply want to experiment with different types of frozen dessert, then the ICE-70 [Amazon] (or ICE-60) is a worthy upgrade to the ICE-21.

3. Highest Quality Ice Cream Machine: Musso Lello 4080

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino: Highest Quality Ice Cream Maker

The Lello 4080 is the most expensive [Amazon] domestic machine by a long way. It's also by far the best, making significantly better ice cream than any other machine (including the ICE-21).

It's essentially a commercial ice cream machine scaled down for domestic use. And it's capable of making the sorts of frozen desserts you get in extremely posh restaurants.

This is because the Lello (or it's bigger bother the Musso Pola 5030) is often the machine they use in those restaurants!

The build quality is also much higher than any of the other compressor machines which means you're very unlikely to experience any of the durability issues that some of those models suffer from.

It's basically head and shoulders above every other ice cream maker, in every respect and if you can afford it [Amazon], this is the one to go for.

4. Best Value Compressor Ice Cream Maker: Cuisinart ICE-100

Cuisinart ICE-100 1.5 Quart Ice Cream Maker

If the Lello 4080 is just too pricey but you want the convenience of a compressor machine, then the next best choice is the Cuisinart ICE-100.

It doesn't make better ice cream than the ICE-21, the ICE-70 or the other Cuisinart freezer bowl machines.

But it does makes better ice cream than all the other compressor ice cream makers (except the Lello)...

For example, the Breville Smart Scoop is much more expensive but takes much longer to freeze the mixture, resulting in a more icy and wet final product.

And while Foshan Nordica machines such as the Whynter ICM-15LS can make ice cream that compares reasonably favorably with the ICE-100, their reliability is highly questionable!

With the ICE-100, the build quality is good and there are 2 dashers (so you can vary the air in your frozen desserts to make better gelato and sorbet).

Plus Cuisinart provide a 3 year (5 years in Europe) guarantee, which is extremely generous (and very useful) for these type of machines.

For sure, it's not perfect: the dasher doesn't churn the mixture as well as it could do. But if you want the convenience of a compressor machine but can't afford the Lello, the ICE-100 is the best alternative [Amazon].

5. Best Choice for KitchenAid Owners: Ice Cream Bowl Attachment

KitchenAid Ice Cream Bowl Attachment

If you already own a KitchenAid then it's a bit of a no brainer: you should get their ice cream bowl attachment [Amazon] too!

For starters, just like the Cuisinart machines, it makes really smooth and creamy frozen desserts. 

This is because (unlike most other machines) the motor is powerful enough to keep rotating the dasher as the mixture freezes and hardens.

And also, if you already own a KitchenAid mixer, the chances are it's permanently on your counter top and ready to go!

This is much more convenient than having to haul out a separate machine every time you want to make frozen desserts. Why bother with yet another kitchen appliance if you don't need to?!

It's true: the bowl attachment will need to be stored in your freezer for at least 6 hours (just like with any other no-compressor machine) before use.

But the fantastic quality of the final product and the fact that you already have the motor in your kitchen make this an obvious choice for KitchenAid owners!

How to choose the best ice cream and gelato maker

If you don't fancy any of my top five picks or you're not convinced by my recommendations, don't worry!

I'm going take you through the simple steps to find the best machine for your needs... 

Step 1: Which type of ice cream maker is best for me?

The first thing to do is decide which type of machine best suits your needs. This should be pretty easy, as there's only three types and they're all very different.

The main difference between them is in the way they freeze the mixture:

  1. with ice and rock salt
  2. with a removable bowl that you pre-chill in your freezer
  3. with a built in compressor (or freezer)

The three types of Ice Cream Maker

Hamilton Beach machine
Cuisinart ICE-21
Cuisinart ICE-100

Ice and Salt

Freezer Bowl

Compressor

Let's have a look at each of the three types of machine in more detail...

Ice and Salt Machines

This is how ice cream was made in the old days! With these machines you pack a load of ice and salt around a churning canister full of mixture to freeze the ice cream.

Filling an ice and salt machine

Filling an the bucket with salt and ice

Ice and salt machines can make great ice cream. Just as good as (and often better than) the other two types. But they're not really suitable for everyday domestic use in your kitchen.

You need to make sure you've got lots of ice and rock salt. And they can make a lot of mess.

If you want to make ice cream now and again for parties or BBQs they're a great choice and I've written in more detail about them here.

But since this guide is aimed specifically at ice cream makers for everyday kitchen use, I'm not going to include them any further in this article.

Freezer Bowl Ice Cream Makers

These machines have removable bowls that you need to pre-chill in your freezer for at least 6 hours.

Cuisinart ICE-30BC freezer bowl machine

Cuisinart ICE-30BC with the bowl that's pre-frozen in your freezer

The bowl contains a special gel that gets really cold in the freezer and then transfers that coldness to the mixture as it's being churned later on in the machine.

The advantages of freezer bowl machines

Firstly, they're far more compact than other machines. So they're much more suitable for small kitchens and much easier to store away.

Cuisinart ICE-21 freezer bowl machine

Freezer bowl ice cream makers are compact and perfect for small kitchens

And secondly (and very importantly), since they use relatively basic technology, they're both cheap to buy and low maintenance...

You can pick them up for very little money and be confident they're going to last for many years.

The disadvantages of freezer bowl machines

Firstly, the bowls need at least 6 hours in the freezer before you can use them. So some pre-planning is required.

Freezer bowl with cling film

The bowls take up valuable space in your freezer

Secondly, you need to have room in your freezer for the bowl! And they're not small. Check the measurements of each model as the bowls vary in size according to the capacity of the particular machine.

Freezer bowl in freezer

Have you got room in your freezer?

And remember, because you need to pre-freeze the bowl before use, you can't make back to back batches.

Unless of course you buy an extra bowl and have enough room to store two bowls in your freezer!

Compressor Ice Cream Makers

These machines have their own built in compressors that constantly cool the mixture as it's being churned.

Breville Smart Scoop parts

Compressor machines use their own in-built freezer to freeze the mixture

All you do is pour the mixture into the machine, press a button and wait. It's that simple!

The advantages of compressor machines

These machines are the most convenient and flexible. You don't have to remember to put a bowl in the freezer the day before.

As soon as you decide you want to eat gelato, sorbet or ice cream, you can start making it. And as soon as the first batch is finished, you can start making the next batch!

Breville Smart Scoop control panel

Compressor machines have more features!

They have more features and options than the other machines too. Some can be optimized for ice cream, gelato or sorbet. Some are programmed to pre-chill the bowl.

They'll all stop automatically when the dessert is ready. And some will keep the final product at the right temperature and consistency for a while once they're finished. 

The disadvantages of compressor machines

They're big and heavy. So while they'll certainly look attractive on your counter top, make sure you've got enough room!

And despite their size, they don't have huge capacities. They don't make bigger batches than the freezer bowl machines.

Compressor vs freezer bowl machine

Compressor machines are bigger, heavier and more expensive!

And of course with a built in compressor and complicated electronics, more things can go wrong. So it's even more important to check the warranty and the after sales service with these machines.

They're also the most expensive of all the domestic machines. But like most things in life, convenience comes at a price!

Which type of machine makes the best ice cream?

For most people this is the most important question when deciding between a freezer bowl and compressor ice cream maker.

And the answer might surprise you. Because this is the first important truth that no-one else seems to talk about...

The best freezer bowl machines make better ice cream than the vast majority of compressor machines!

We'd probably expect it to be the other way round. Perhaps because the compressor machines are more expensive. Or maybe because they're constantly cooling the mixture.

But this isn't the case...

Freezer Bowl machine

Compressor machine

Cuisinart ICE-21 freezer bowl machine
Breville Smart Scoop compressor machine

Price

$

$$$$

Ice Cream Quality

The stuff that you get from the Cuisinart ICE-21 (which is one of the cheapest freezer bowl machines), is actually much better than the stuff from the Breville Smart Scoop (one of the most expensive compressor machines)!

Why is this? Well, if we look very quickly at the most important factor that determines the quality of frozen desserts, it should become clear...

When we think about good ice cream, we're usually thinking about smooth ice cream. And the biggest factor that determines whether it's smooth and creamy is how fast the machine freezes the mixture.

Faster freezing times mean smaller ice crystals and a smoother end product.

But most domestic compressor machines don't have enough power in their compressors or their motors to freeze the mixture any faster than the freezer bowl machines (which actually stay colder better!).

In fact often, they're slower! For example the ICE-21 can be as quick as 15 minutes. While the Smart Scoop can be as slow as 40 minutes.

So the ice cream, gelato and sorbet from these compressor machines is less smooth. The difference isn't massive. But it is significant.

What does this mean for your buying decision? It means don't spend more on a compressor machine expecting to get better ice cream! Unless you get a Lello that won't happen.

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino front

Only the top end compressor machines like the Lello 4080 make ice cream that's better than other machines

It's better to concentrate on other things, like convenience, price and durability. With that in mind, here's a reminder of the important features of each type of machine...

Freezer Bowl

Compressor

Cuisinart ICE-21
Cuisinart ICE-100

Maximum batch size

Up to 2 quarts

Up to 2 quarts

Multiple batches?

No

Yes

Ease of use

8 / 10

10 / 10

Price

$

$$ - $$$

Good for

• small spaces

• regular use

• no mess

• no waiting

• constant use

• automatic features

Bad for

• making lots of ice cream

• unorganized people

• small spaces

• small budgets

So hopefully you've now got some idea of which type of machine is best for you. Once that's clear, it's time to look at some individual machines...

Step 2: Which specific ice cream maker is best for me?

The Best Freezer Bowl Ice Cream Makers

The freezer bowl market is dominated by Cuisinart. And there's a very good reason for this: they make much better machines than everyone else!

3 Cuisinart freezer bowl machines

Cuisinart ice cream makers dominate the freezer bowl market

Why is this? Well, Cuisinart machines have a very high build quality and come with generous three year warranties (or five years in Europe!).

But the Cuisinart ice cream makers also work in a slightly different way to most other machines...

In most machines, the motor spins the dasher from above to churn the mixture in the bowl below. As the liquid thickens, the motor often struggles to propel the thin, plastic dasher through the mixture.

So the gear slips, causing horrible grinding noises. And the dasher will often stop altogether, forcing you to remove the ice cream before it's really ready.

Freezer bowl machine with paddle that rotates from above

In most freezer bowl machines the dasher is rotated from above

In Cuisinart machines, the motor revolves the bowl from below, (while the dasher is held in place by the machine lid).

This means that the gear has a much stronger connection and generates more torque.

So it doesn't struggle as the mixture thickens. The gears don't slip, there's no horrible grinding noises and the the machine runs until the ice cream's ready!

Cuisinart machines rotate their bowls from below

Cuisinart machines rotate their bowls from below

The ability of the Cuisinart machines to continue churning the mixture for much longer as it hardens, produces a smoother final product.

And the reduced stress on the motor means the Cuisinart machines also tend to last much longer.

So the bottom line is this: unless there are very specific special circumstances (more on that below), there's no reason to buy any other freezer bowl machine than a Cuisinart.

The question is: which model is best for you?

Cuisinart Freezer Bowl Ice Cream Makers

Cuisinart ICE-21 1.5 Quart machine
Cuisinart ICE-21R 1.5 quart red machine
Cuisinart ICE-21PK 1.5 quart pink machine

ICE-21

ICE-21 Red

ICE-21 Pink

Cuisinart ICE-30BC 2 quart machine
Cuisinart ICE-60 2 quart machine
Cuisinart ICE-70 2 quart machine

ICE-30

ICE-60

ICE-70

How to choose a Cuisinart Freezer Bowl Ice Cream Maker

There are only 4 different Cuisinart models that use freezer bowls. So it shouldn't be too difficult to choose between them. The problem is that it's not immediately clear how they differ!

Capacity

The first thing to think about is capacity. The ICE-21 (and it's colorful siblings the ICE-21R and ICE-21PK) are slightly smaller machines which have 1.5 quart capacities.

While the ICE-30, the ICE-60 and the ICE-70 are larger with bigger, 2 quart capacities.

Cuisinart ICE-21 bowl vs ICE-30 bowl

Cuisinart ICE-21 1.5 quart bowl vs ICE-30 2 quart bowl

So if you want to make bigger batches of ice cream, you'll want to go with one of the bigger capacity machines.

Features

The second thing to think about is features. The ICE-21 and ICE-30 are very basic machines. They've got an On/Off switch and that's it!

While the ICE-60 and the ICE-70 have three settings for different types of frozen dessert: ice cream, gelato and sorbet.

Cuisinart ICE-30BC controls

Just a simple on/off button on the Cuisinart ICE-30BC

Making different types of frozen dessert at the touch of a button sounds really exciting! But in reality it just means that the bowl spins at different speeds.

Since gelato and sorbet should contain less air than ice cream, if the bowl spins slower, the dasher will whip less air into the mixture.

But it does work really well! The gelato has less air so it's thicker and creamier. And the sorbet is particularly good: smoother and less crumbly than you get from the ICE-30 and ICE-21.

Cuisinart ICE-70 controls

Ice cream, gelato and sorbet settings, plus timer on the Cuisinart ICE-70

But what's the difference between the ICE-60 and the ICE-70? Well, the ICE-70 has exactly the same features as the ICE-60 but also adds a timer!

When you choose one of the three settings, the timer will default to a specific time (25 minutes for ice cream, 30 for gelato and 40 for sorbet). These are based on the idea that lower fat mixtures will take longer to freeze.

However, how long any mixture takes to freeze will depend on a whole load of factors and these times can only be regarded as a guideline.

Luckily, the ICE-70 allows you to adjust the time upwards or downwards. And the machine doesn't actually stop when the timer reaches zero, it just starts beeping!

So in reality there's almost no difference between the ICE-60 and ICE-70. Unless the advisory timer is really useful to you, just go for the cheapest!

Ice Cream Quality

As I've already mentioned, ice cream quality is mostly a result of how fast the mixture is frozen. So faster = smoother = better.

And the fastest freezing Cuisinart machine is the ICE-21. This is because it has the smallest bowl so a greater proportion of the mixture comes into contact with the freezing walls more often.

But it also has a re-designed dasher that now has two blades to scrape the frozen mixture from the bowl and leaves very little space between those blades and the sides of the bowl.

This means more frozen mixture is taken from the sides of the bowl into the middle faster.

Cuisinart ICE-30 dasher vs ICE-70 dasher

Cuisinart have upgraded the ICE-30 dasher (left) for the ICE-70 (right)

The ICE-70 and ICE-60 have a similarly re-designed dasher (but bigger bowls) so they're the next fastest.

And then finally the ICE-30 with the older dasher design and the 2 quart bowl, freezes just slightly slower than the newer models.

These freezing times do translate directly into ice cream quality. The ICE-21 makes the driest and smoothest ice cream. Followed by the ICE-70 and ICE-60. And then the ICE-30.

But just to be clear: the differences are quite small. They can all make fantastically smooth desserts.

So which Cuisinart model should you buy?

If you're still unsure, my advice would be to first think about what capacity you're likely to need as that's the biggest difference between the machines.

So if you don't need to make more that 1.5 quarts at a time, (and most recipes you'll find will fit in a 1.5 quart bowl) go for the ICE-21.

Cuisinart ICE-21 vs ICE-30BC

ICE-21 or ICE-30BC?

If you like to make bigger batches, the question is do you need the extra features of the ICE-60 or ICE-70?

The improved dasher design does make a difference to the freezing time and therefore the smoothness of the ice cream. And the gelato and sorbet is also noticeably different too. 

So if you can afford the higher price I'd say go for the ICE-70 or the ICE-60.

But if you can't don't worry because the ICE-30 makes desserts that are almost as good for a much cheaper price.

Are Cuisinart machines really the only option?

Cuisinart make the best freezer bowl machines. As far as I'm concerned, there's no doubt about this.

However I can think of one situation where you wouldn't look to Cuisinart. And that's if you already own a KitchenAid mixer!

KitchenAid with freezer bowl attachment

KitchenAid with freezer bowl attachment

KitchenAid produce a freezer bowl that you can use with your stand mixer to make all sorts of frozen treats.

It works in the same way as the other freezer bowl machines. So the bowl is lined with a special liquid gel that sets hard in the freezer. Once frozen, you attach the bowl to your mixer which powers a dasher that churns the mixture.

My experience using the bowl with my Classic Series KitchenAid stand mixer has been very positive and I've found it makes frozen desserts that are just as smooth as the Cuisinart machines.

This is because the motor on a KitchenAid is so powerful, it's able to keep churning the mixture for much longer than most other machines, 

However, I know that some people have had negative experiences with this attachment. These are generally related to the blue gel leaking from the bowl or the bowl not fitting to their particular mixer properly.

KitchenAid freezer bowl in action

KitchenAid freezer bowl in action

Given than the bowl itself costs about the same amount as the Cuisinart machine, whether it's good value for money is highly debatable!

However if you already have a KitchenAid, it makes such good frozen desserts that I think it would be crazy not to go with this attachment!

The Best Compressor Ice Cream Makers

Choosing a compressor machine might seem more complicated than choosing a freezer bowl machine: there's loads of different models and there isn't one brand that dominates.

But if we look a little more closely, it's actually a lot simpler than you'd think. I like to divide compressor machines into three distinct tiers...

Compressor Ice Cream Makers

First Tier

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino
Lello Musso Pola 5030 Stella

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino

Lello Musso Pola 5030

Second Tier

Cuisinart ICE-100
Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop

Cuisinart ICE-100

Breville Smart Scoop

Third Tier

Whynter ICM-15LS
Whynter ICM-200LS
Whynter 2.1 quart upright machine
Knox Gear machine

Whynter ICM-15LS

Whynter ICM-200LS

Whynter ICM-201SB

Knox Gear

Gourmia GSI200
Ariete DeLonghi
Ariete DeLonghi Espressione
Mr Freeze EIM-700T Maximatic

Gourmia GSI200

Ariete DeLonghi

Ariete DeLonghi Espressione

Mr Freeze EIM-700 

In the top tier are domestic machines from companies that also make commercial ice cream makers. These machines provide commercial level build quality and components, scaled down for domestic use.

In the second tier are domestic machines from long established and well known consumer brands. These ice cream makers are designed and built specifically for those brands. And they're aimed squarely at the domestic market.

In the third tier are domestic machines that are made to be white labeled by other brands. Any brand can order these machines with slight cosmetic changes and then market them as their own.

And when we look at it this way, there are actually just four significant players in the compressor machine market:

  1. Musso
  2. Breville
  3. Cuisinart
  4. Foshan Nordica
Musso Ice Cream Makers

Musso are an Italian company that have been making ice cream machines since the 1960's. There are only two machines in my top tier and they're both made by Musso!

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino

The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino is a 1.5 quart, top tier domestic machine

The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino (also know as the Mini) is the smallest and has a 1.5 quart capacity. While the Lello 5030 Musso Pola (also known as the Stella) is a bit bigger with a 2 quart capacity.

Lello Musso Pola 5030 Stella

The Lello Musso Pola 5030 Stella is the bigger, 2 quart brother of the 4080

Other than their capacities, the two machines are pretty much the same. They both feature commercial level build quality and components.

This includes a stainless steel housing, a powerful motor and compressor and a metal dasher.

You don't get any fancy control panels or programmable features. Just two buttons and a manual dial. The buttons turn the compressor and the motor on or off. And the dial sets the timer.

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino control panel

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino has a very simple, manual control panel

Unlike most ice cream makers, there's no removable bowl with the Mussos. The ice cream is churned in a depression in the body of the machine. This makes the freezing more efficient. And it also makes it easy to clean!

So they're pretty simple. But the frozen desserts they make are incredible. These Musso machines are the the only domestic appliances that can make the sort of ice cream you'd eat in a top quality restaurant.

Probably because these are the machines they use in top quality restaurants!

Seriously, the desserts these machines make really is a level above what you'll get from any other domestic machine. 

The only drawback to the Musso ice cream makers is the price. They are eye wateringly expensive.

For example, the Lello 4080 is the cheapest, but it's usually over 50% more expensive than the highest price, tier two ice cream maker!

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino dasher in chamber

Lello 4080: the only domestic machine with an integrated bowl and a metal dasher

Some people have suggested that while the Musso machines do make fantastic frozen desserts, they're not that much better than those from other domestic ice cream makers. So they don't justify the extra cost.

I disagree entirely. For me, the Musso machines are on a totally different level in terms of quality. Every machine below them makes desserts that are more or less the same. From the Smart Scoop to the ICE-21, there's not a huge amount of difference.

But when you taste the ice cream, sorbet, gelato or frozen yogurt from a Musso machine you know straight away that this is something else...

It's commercial quality from a commercial quality machine scaled down for domestic use!

Breville Ice Cream Makers

Breville only make one frozen dessert machine: the BCI600XL Smart Sccop, (which is also called the Sage Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker by Heston Blumenthal in Europe).

Breville Smart Scoop BCI600XL front

Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop: packed full of features

Apart from the Musso machines, the Smart Scoop is the most expensive domestic machine you can currently buy.

But unlike the Musso machines, the Smart Scoop is very much a domestic appliance and is in the second tier of compressor machines.

What sets it apart from other domestic machines and apparently justifies the extra cost is a huge array of automatic settings and fancy features...

The Smart Scoop is the only domestic machine with an automatic pre-cool feature, 12 distinct hardness settings for different types of dessert, and an intelligent keep-cool program that will keep your frozen dessert at the desired consistency for up to 3 hours after it finishes!

Breville Smart Scoop BCI600XL auto mode

12 automatic hardness settings on the Smart Scoop

While you certainly don't need all these automatic settings and extra features to make great frozen desserts, they can make things a little easier, especially when you're starting out.

As you get more experience, you may find you override the hardness settings and use the machine in manual mode. But many people will appreciate the fully automated experience the Smart Scoop can provide.

But the big question is: does it make ice cream that justifies such a high price?

Nope not at all. In my tests it actually made coarser ice cream than the other compressor machines and the Cuisinart freezer bowl machines.

I think this is due to an under powered compressor: it can take up to 40 minutes to freeze each batch. And as we already know: slower = less smooth.

You also need to be careful to not accidentally cause the compressor to turn off before it's finished (more information here). 

Smart Scoop finished!

Ice cream made with the Smart Scoop

The Smart Scoop has a better build quality than most other domestic machines and it's made by a renowned company.

And while Breville only give you a one year warranty, at least they'll pay for all transport costs if the Smart Scoop needs to be returned under that warranty.

But really, the only reason to choose the Smart Scoop over any other domestic machine is all the automatic settings and advanced features.

If they appeal to you, then it's a good choice. If you don't think you'll need them, then you're better off with a cheaper machine that makes better ice cream.

Cuisinart Ice Cream Makers

While Cuisinart make plenty of freezer bowl machines, they only make one compressor: the ICE-100.

Along with the the Smart Scoop, the ICE-100 sits in the second tier of compressor ice cream makers.

Cuisinart ICE-100

Cuisinart ICE-100: basic functionality but great performance

However the ICE-100 is a very different beast to the Smart Scoop. There are no automatic settings and no fancy features. In fact the ICE-100 is not super user friendly!

The LCD display is basic and hard to read. The buttons are not very tactile. And the uni-directional time controls make it difficult to set the timer.

There's no automatic pre-cool, no hardness settings and the limited keep-cool feature is next to useless!

Cuisinart ICE-100 control panel

The crappy control panel on the ICE-100!

However it does make good ice cream! Better than the other domestic machines? Yes, but not by a massive amount.

In my tests the ICE-100 definitely made smoother ice cream than the Smart Scoop. But only slightly smother than the Forshan Nordika machines. 

However it's always much cheaper than the Smart Scoop and as we'll see, there are other reasons to avoid the Forshan Nordika machines.

Cuisinart ICE-100 done

Gelato churning in the ICE-100

The ICE-100 is also made by a very reputable company that provides a generous 3 year warranty (5 years in Europe!).

It's true: if you need to make use of the warranty, you'll have to pay for the postage to Cuisinart and also contribute to the return costs.

But Cuisinart are the only company that provide more than 1 year warranties on their frozen dessert makers.

And since compressor machines can be delicate, this is significant plus point for me.

Foshan Nordica Ice Cream Makers

You've never heard of Foshan Nordika have you? But I guarantee that if you've been looking at ice cream makers, you'll have seen Foshan Nordika machines.

Because almost every compressor machine that's not made by Musso, Breville or Cuisinart is made by Foshan Nordika.

How so? Well, Foshan Nordika are a Chinese company that make various heating and cooling appliances including ice cream makers.

But they don't supply these products directly to the consumer. Instead they are available to be white labeled by other brands, who then market them as their own.

An un-branded Foshan Nordika machine

An un-branded Foshan Nordika compressor machine

Forshan Nordika will add the logo of these brands to the housing. And sometimes they'll make small cosmetic changes to the button labels. But the actual machines are always just re-branded Forshan Nordika appliances.

So which brands sell Foshan Nordika appliances?

In the US, the Whynter, Knox Gear, Gourmia, Ariete, and Mr.Freeze ice cream machines all come from Forshan Nordika.

And in Europe, exactly the same appliances are sold by Springlane Kitchen, Buffalo, Andrew James, Koölle, Cooks Professional and Domo.

Branded Foshan Nordika machines

Whynter ICM-15LS
Unold Cortina machine

Whynter ICM-15LS in US

Unold Cortina in Europe

This is the second important truth that no-one seems to talk about! I mean, there's nothing wrong with Forshan Nordika...

They've been around since 2010. They know what they're doing and they make reasonable quality products.

But if we're trying to choose between an apparently huge range of different machines, it's useful to know that in fact they're all made in the same factory, by the same manufacturer!

Foshan Nordika manufacture at least seventeen different ice cream makers! But they all have the same basic functionality.

There's a timer and a Start/Stop button. There's no automatic pre-cool and no automatic hardness settings. And most of them have the same 1 hour keep cool functionality, which (as always) is pretty useless.

Knox Gear control panel

All Foshan Nordika machines have the same basic functionality

However, they tend to do the basic things really well. The LCD displays are crisp, bright and informative, the control panels are easy to use and the compressors and motors are quietly effective.

Knox Gear: the finished product

Knox Gear: the finished product

So what are the frozen desserts like? Well, they're pretty good! They're no better that the ice cream you get from the ICE-100. But they're not significantly worse either.

And they're definitely smoother than the ice cream from the Smart Scoop! 

I've tested both the Knox Gear and the Whynter ICM-15LS. Both of these machines are made by Foshan Nordika and both performed really well.

The motors were efficient and reasonably quiet. The dashers left very little frozen mixture against the sides of the bowl. And they both made smooth desserts in around 25 minutes!

Knox Gear machine

Foshan Nordika ice cream maker: Knox Gear in US, Domo in Europe

So why don't I wholeheartedly recommend them? Well I have serious  doubts about their construction quality and their long term durability...

My Knox Gear started off great but after a month or two of regular use it started to overheat which stopped the mixture freezing properly. Then it stopped working completely.

These Foshan Nordika machines are smaller and lighter and cheaper than the Breville Smart Scoop and the Cuisinart ICE-100 for a good reason: they're not made with such high quality components.

When you're buying from one of these brands you only get a 1 year warranty and you can't be sure what sort of after sales service you'll get.

So if you think they're worth the gamble (and you buy from Amazon), I'd recommend you take out extra protection for a little more money.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which machine makes the best ice cream?

This is easy. The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino and it's bigger brother, the Lello 5030 Musso Pola make by far the best ice cream of any domestic machine.

They are commercial machines scaled down for domestic use. With powerful compressors and motors, and steel dashers, they're able to make the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you can imagine.

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino side

The Lello 4080: A commercial level ice cream maker scaled down for domestic use

With all the other ice cream makers, there's not a huge amount of difference in the quality of the ice cream they produce.

Having said that, there are differences. And the super cheap Cuisinart ICE-21 makes the next best ice cream. It's small size and improved dasher design is the secret to it's success here. 

Next comes the other Cuisinart freezer bowl machines with re-designed dashers, (the ICE-60 and ICE-70), which are tied in third place with the KitchenAid attachment.

After them (but very close), is the Cuisinart ICE-100 and all the Forshan Nordika compressor machines which are probably tied with the Cuisinart ICE-30 in fourth place.

Finally at the bottom the Breville Smart Scoop makes the poorest quality ice cream of all the machines I've tested.

Which ice cream makers add the most and least air?

This is another important question, as the amount of air that's whipped into the dessert as it freezes has a significant impact on the final texture.

Ice creams that contain lots of air are light and fluffy. Whereas those with less air tend to be more dense and creamy.

The amount of air in an ice cream is referred to as the "overrun" and is measured as the increase in volume from the air as a percentage of the original mix volume.

The speed of the dasher determines how much air is whipped into the mixture. And most domestic machines don't spin fast enough to add very much air.

Consequently, homemade ice cream tends to have between 30 and 40% overrun and is very dense and creamy, more like gelato.

Breville Smart Scoop BCI600XL dasher in bowl

The Smart Scoop dasher whips less air into the mixture

Almost all domestic machines produce low overrun ice cream, but the Cuisinart ICE-100 (used with the gelato dasher) made the lowest, with just 19% overrun!

However the KitchenAid attachment which spins super fast and is therefore able to whip much more air into the mixture. Ice cream made with the KitchenAid can have up to 70% overrun and is very light and fluffy.

KitchenAid freezer bowl

The KitchenAid whips more air into the mixture

One thing worth mentioning is that the amount of overrun will also vary according to the recipe and the amount of mixture that you add to the machine. That's why you'll see such huge variations across different reviews!

Which machine is best for gelato?

Gelato is just what Italians call ice cream. But it does tend to be different to other ice creams in three ways:

  1. it contains less air (< 40%)
  2. it contains less fat (< 10%)
  3. it's served slightly warmer (12°F / -11°C)

The only one of these that's the responsibility of the machine is the amount of air that's whipped into the mixture.

The amount of fat is down to the recipe. And the serving temperature is up to you!

And since all domestic machines (except the KitchenAid) add less than 40% air (to low fat recipes), they can all make gelato!

What's the quietest ice cream maker?

None of them are quiet! Unfortunately every machine is noisy and we just have to deal with it. Surely a little bit of noise is a small price to pay for amazing home made ice cream?

Cuisinart ICE-100 side

Cuisinart ICE-100: One of the quietest machines

While running they do tend to generate between 70 and 85 decibels. Which is quite loud I suppose. But no louder than a hair dryer!

For some reason, freezer bowl machines are usually louder than compressor machines. I'm not sure why.

But the quietest machine I've tested so far was the Cuisinart ICE-100 which made a relatively quiet 70 db from start to finish!

What's the cheapest ice cream maker?

The cheapest machine that I'd recommend is the Cuisinart ICE-21. Yes, there are slightly cheaper freezer bowl machines, but the quality isn't a patch on the Cuisinart models...

The Aicok and Gourmia machines spin the dasher from above which is very inefficient and tends to wear out the motor or break the dasher.

And the Hamilton Beach machines which spin the bowl from below (like the Cuisinart), suffer from all sorts of issues including noisy, under powered motors and leaky bowls. Avoid!

Cheap Ice Cream Makers to Avoid!

Aicok machine
Gourmia GSI170
Hamilton Beach 68881

Aicok

(spins dasher from above)

Gourmia

(spins dasher from above)

Hamilton Beach

(poor build quality)

And not only is the ICE-21 really cheap, it also makes some of the best ice cream, really quickly! What more could you want?

Well I suppose you might not want to pre-chill the bowl in your freezer! If you're looking for the cheapest compressor ice cream maker, then one of the Forshan Nordika machine is your best bet.

Some of them are incredibly cheap. However I have serious doubts about their construction quality and long term durability, so be careful.

Final Thoughts on the Best Ice Cream Makers

The best ice cream maker for you, will depend on what level of convenience you're looking for, how much money you've got to spend and how you personally rate the pros and cons of each machine.

If you just want to know which domestic ice cream maker produces the best quality frozen desserts, then there's no doubt...

The 1.5 quart Lello 4080 and it's bigger brother, the 2 quart Lello 5080, make ice cream that's so smooth, it's on a completely different level to every other machine I've used.

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino

The Lello 4080 is easily the best domestic machine

However, they're also very expensive.

If you just can't afford a Musso ice cream maker, then the truth is: there isn't a massive amount of difference in the quality of the frozen desserts from every other domestic machine.

For sure, there are slight differences. And these are directly proportional to the length of time the ice cream maker takes to freeze the mixture.

The Cuisinart ICE-21 makes ice cream slightly faster than every other machine except the Musso machines. So the frozen desserts are slightly smoother as well.

Cuisinart ICE-21

The Cuisinart ICE-21 is probably the next best choice!

And the Foshan Nordika machines and the Cuisinart ICE-100 make ice cream faster than the Breville Smart Scoop. So again it's just a little smoother.

But the differences are small. And you'd be wise to prioritize the other differences between the machines...

If the size, weight, expense and fragility of a compressor machine worries you, get a freezer bowl machine from Cuisinart.

If the hassle of pre-freezing the bowl for 6 hours before you can make your frozen desserts is annoying, get a ice cream maker with a compressor.

But ultimately, I think that if you're serious about the quality of the ice cream you want to make, you should buy a Lello 4080.

If you can't afford a Lello 4080, get a Cuisinart ICE-21 and save up for the Musso machine! I promise you won't regret it.

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