Best ice cream maker: A buyer’s guide
So you want to buy an ice cream maker? That's a great idea! 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's loads of different types, at lots of different prices. And it 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! The few that do, generally only used them once or twice. And 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 and confusing (and downright wrong) reports about the same machines.
Luckily, I have used lots of different ice cream makers. I've used each 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 if you follow a couple of simple steps it will soon become clear which machine is best for you.
Now, this is a fairly long post and some of it may not be relevant to you. If you just want to compare the different machines I've tested you can use the table below...
Pros & Cons
Ice cream quality
Value for money
And you also use the Quick Navigation to jump to any sections that your particularly interested. But if your still not sure which type of machine will be best for you, I suggest you read the whole guide from the beginning!
Step 1: Which type of machine 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:
- with ice and rock salt
- with a removable bowl that you pre-chill in your freezer
- with a built in compressor (or freezer)
The three types of Machine
Ice and Salt
The way they freeze the mixture also determines how convenient they are, with ice and salt machines being most difficult to use, compressor machines the easiest and the freezer bowl machines somewhere in the middle.
Let's have a look at each of the three types of machine in more detail...
1. Ice and Salt machines
This is how ice cream was made in the old days! These machines use a mix of ice and salt to freeze the mixture...
So, there's a long, metal canister which sits in a bucket that's full of ice and salt. You pour the mixture into this canister and it's then churned by a big paddle (or dasher) while the ice and salt cools it down.
The salt is used to lower the temperature of the ice enough to freeze the mixture. You can use any type of salt but people generally use rock salt as it's much cheaper.
In the olden days, the churning would be done manually with a hand crank. But modern machines usually have an electric motor that does all the hard work. Some modern machines offer both, so the motor will do most of the churning and then you finish it off by hand at the end!
The advantages of ice and salt machines
Ice and salt machines have a couple of advantages over other types of machine. There are no bowls to pre-chill, so you can start making your frozen desserts as soon as you want them. And once you've made one batch, you can make another batch straight away!
Also, unlike the other machines, the ice and salt machines usually have big capacities of between 4 and 6 quarts. So you can make lots of frozen treats in one go!
The disadvantages of ice and salt machines
However, on the negative side, a certain amount of pre-planning is required. You need to make sure you have a plentiful supply of ice and salt. And things can get quite messy.
You also need to keep a close eye on these machines, adding more ice and salt as needed. You can't just add the ingredients and then sit back an wait for the ice cream. It's quite an involved process.
And of course, if it's a bigger size machine, you've got to think carefully about where you're going to store it.
Who are ice and salt machines best for?
These machines are best if you don't make ice cream very often. If you want something to keep in the garage and bring out once or twice a year to feed big groups at BBQs and parties, then these machines are ideal.
But if want to make ice cream more regularly, using something you keep in the kitchen and you're not trying to feed a small army, then you're probably best off with one of the other types of machine.
2. Freezer Bowl machines
These machines have removable bowls that you need to pre-chill 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
The machines with pre-freeze bowls have four clear advantages over the other machines. Firstly, they're much easier to use the ones that use salt and ice. You just add the ingredients, turn them on and come back 20-30 minutes later.
Secondly, they don't make any mess. There's no bags of ice and salt to deal with. And no melting ice to mop up. They're very neat and tidy.
Thirdly, they're the most compact of the all the domestic machines. So they're much more small kitchen friendly and much easier to store away.
And finally, since they use relatively basic technology, they're both cheap 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
However there are some very clear disadvantages with these machines too. Firstly, the bowls need at least 6 hours in the freezer before you can use them. So once again, some pre-planning is required.
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.
Thirdly, the bowls tend to have much smaller capacities than ice and salt machines. They'll generally produce between 1 and 2 quarts of frozen dessert per batch. So they're not as good for large groups, unless you pre-prepare several batches in advance.
And remember, because you need to pre-freeze the bowl, 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!
Who are freezer bowl machines best for?
These machines are best if you eat frozen desserts reasonably regularly and are organized enough to pre-plan. They're good for people with limited budgets and small kitchens. And the basic technology make them great for involving kids with the whole process.
However, if you're more serious about your frozen treats, if you eat them quite often and want maximum flexibility and ultimate convenience, then you should probably consider a compressor machine.
3. Compressor machines
These machines have their own built in compressors that constantly cool the mixture as it's being churned.
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 of all. There's none of the mess and faff you get with the ice and salt machines. And 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 any other frozen treat, you can start making it. And as soon as the first batch is finished, you can start making the next batch! Which is great if you've got a big family or you're entertaining guests.
They have more features and options than the other machines too. Some can be optimized for ice cream, gelato or sorbet. Some will automatically 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 very best compressor machines are also the only domestic appliances than can make frozen desserts that are as good as you'll find in a high end restaurant.
The disadvantages of compressor machines
However, there are some disadvantages with these machines too. 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 won't make bigger batches than the freezer bowl machines.
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, quality and convenience come at a price!
Who are compressor machines best for?
These machines are best for people that take their frozen desserts seriously. If you make them regularly and don't like to plan things in advance, then a machine with a built in freezer is a great choice.
They're also good if you like automatic features and hands off operation.
And at the very top end, compressor machines make the best quality ice cream. So if you're after the smoothest, creamiest ice cream, then a high end compressor machine is the way to go.
Talking of which...
Which type of machine makes the best ice cream?
For most people, this is the most important question! And the answer might surprise you. Because with most domestic machines, there's actually very little difference in the quality of the frozen treats they make.
You might think that compressor machines would make better ice cream, gelato and sorbet. Maybe because they're more expensive. Or maybe because the freezer is constantly cooling the mixture. But unfortunately, in most instances, this isn't the case...
Freezer Bowl machine
Ice Cream Quality
The stuff that you get from the Cuisinart ICE-21 (which is one of the cheapest freezer bowl machines), is just as good as 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 or coarse and watery is how fast the machine freezes the mixture. Faster freezing times generally mean a smoother end product.
But unfortunately, most domestic compressor machines just don't have enough power in their freezers or their motors to freeze the mixture any faster than the ice and salt or the freezer bowl machines. And because of this, they don't make gelato, sorbet or frozen yogurt that's any smoother.
So, unless you've got enough money to buy the very top end compressor machines, when you're trying to choose, give more thought to which one best suits how you want to make your frozen desserts.
With that in mind, here's a reminder of the important features of each type of machine...
Ice and Salt
Maximum batch size
Up to 6 quarts
Up to 2 quarts
Up to 2 quarts
Ease of use
6 / 10
8 / 10
10 / 10
$ - $$
$$ - $$$
• big spaces
• big families
• BBQs and parties
• small spaces
• regular use
• no mess
• no waiting
• constant use
• small spaces
• frequent use
• 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 machine is best for me?
Once you know whether you want an Ice and Salt machine, a Freezer Bowl machine or a Compressor machine, you can start thinking about which specific appliance is best for your needs.
The best Ice and Salt machines
I don't have a huge amount of personal experience with Ice and Salt machines at the moment. And since I want to limit this page to those that I've actually used, I'm not going to cover them any further here.
Popular Ice and Salt machines
However, I have prepared a separate page that previews some of the most popular Ice and Salt machines with summaries of their strengths and weaknesses based on other peoples experiences.
The best Freezer Bowl machines
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!
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 Cuisinart frozen dessert makers also work in a slightly different way to most other machines...
In most machines, the motor spins the paddle from above to churn the mixture in the bowl below. As the liquid thickens, the motor often struggles to propel the thin, plastic paddle through the mixture. So the gear slips, causing horrible grinding noises. And the paddle will often stop altogether, forcing you to remove the dessert before it's really ready.
In Cuisinart machines, the motor revolves the bowl from below, (while the paddle 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 dessert's ready!
The ability of the Cuisinart machines to continue churning the mixture for much longer as it thickens, 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 special circumstances (more on that below), I don't see any reason to buy any other freezer bowl machine than a Cuisinart. The question is: which model is best for you?
Cuisinart Freezer Bowl Machines
How to choose a Cuisinart Freezer Bowl machine
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!
Comparing the capacities of different Cuisinart machines
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-30BC, the ICE-60 and the ICE-70 are larger with bigger, 2 quart capacities.
So if you want to make bigger batches of frozen treats, you'll want to go with one of the bigger capacity machines.
Comparing the features of different Cuisinart machines
The second thing to think about is features. The ICE-21 and the ICE-30BC 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.
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 paddle 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-30BC and ICE-21.
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!
Comparing the build quality of Cuisinart machines
I've read a couple of comments from people who suggest that the ICE-21 is an entry level machine and is somehow flimsier than the bigger capacity Cuisinart models. This isn't the case at all. It's true, it is smaller and lighter but I think the build quality is equal to the more expensive machines.
It's more about different capacities than different build qualities. All the Cuisinart machines are built to the same high level. So don't let the lower price give you the impression it's of a lower quality. If it's good enough for Jeni Bauer to use in her labs, it should be good enough for us!
Comparing the speeds of Cuisinart machines
Cuisinart claim that this newer design is more efficient and the mixture will therefore freeze faster. This is great news as faster freezing mixture should mean smoother final product!
And, in my tests, (with all other things being equal), I saw significant speed increase using the new paddle design and this leads to slightly smoother frozen desserts...
Comparing the ice cream of Cuisinart machines
I've read countless reviews that claim that one of these machines makes fantastically smooth desserts whereas another produces icy abominations. Absolute rubbish! Why would they?
They use the same bowls, and almost identical paddles and motors. Clearly they're going to make almost identical frozen treats! It's true that the smaller capacity ICE-21 should freeze the mixture faster and this can lead to a slightly smoother final product. But there's not a huge amount of difference!
All these Cuisinart models are capable of making amazingly smooth frozen desserts. But they're also capable of making very coarse, icy desserts. It depends on the recipe and the way you prepare both it and the bowl.
If you put either a bad recipe or a badly prepared recipe in, you'll get poor desserts out. And equally, if you don't freeze the bowl properly, it doesn't matter how great the recipe is, your mixture won't freeze properly either.
However, if you use a well balanced recipe, prepare it and chill it properly and make sure the bowl is fully frozen, all these Cuisinart machines will make equally smooth and creamy desserts. Just as good in fact as most compressor machines!
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, go for the ICE-21.
If you like to make bigger batches, the question is do you need those extra features? The improved paddle design does make a slight difference in the speed and therefore the smoothness of the desserts. 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-30BC 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 produce a freezer bowl that you can use with your stand mixer to make 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 paddle that churns the mixture.
My experience using the bowl with my Classic Series KitchenAid stand mixer has been fairly positive, and I'll be posting a full review shortly. However, I know that many people have had very 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.
Given than the bowl itself costs about the same amount as the Cuisinart machine, whether it's good value for money is highly debatable. I would say that the Cuisinart machines are certainly better quality.
But I can totally understand the reluctance to shell out for another new kitchen appliance if you can get an attachment for an existing kitchen appliance that does a reasonable job!
The best Compressor machines
Choosing a compressor machine might seem more complicated than choosing a freezer bowl machine, as there's loads of 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...
Lello 4080 Musso Lussino
Lello Musso Pola 5030
Breville Smart Scoop
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 made by well established and widely recognized consumer brands. These ice cream makers are designed and built specifically for these 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 only four significant players in the compressor machine market:
- Foshan Nordica
Musso Frozen Dessert Machines
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!
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.
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 paddle.
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.
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. Super, super smooth, they're really, really good!
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!
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 really very little noticeable 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.
Breville Frozen Dessert Machines
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 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.
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.
Does it make better frozen desserts than other domestic machines? No. It can certainly make great desserts. You need to be careful not to accidentally cause the compressor to turn off before it's finished (more information here). But as long as you do so and use a good recipe, you can make very smooth treats with the Smart Scoop.
On the hardest setting, the Smart Scoop is also capable of making harder ice cream than any of the other domestic machines apart from the Musso models. Unlike the Musso machines, it's not really hard enough to eat directly from the bowl, but it's close, so it will need less hardening time in the freezer.
The Smart Scoop has a better build quality than most other domestic mchines, it's really easy to use 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 reason to choose the Smart Scoop over any other domestic machine is all those automatic settings and advanced features. If they appeal to you then this is a really good choice. If you don't think you'll need them, then you're better off with another (cheaper) machine.
Cuisinart Frozen Dessert Machines
While Cuisinart make plenty of freezer bowl models, they only make one compressor machine: the ICE-100. Along with the the Smart Scoop, the ICE-100 sits in the second tier of compressor ice cream makers.
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 very user friendly at all!
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.
However it does make good frozen treats! Better than the other domestic machines? Mmm, no not significantly. In my tests I thought the ICE-100 made slightly smoother ice cream than the Smart Scoop. But only slightly.
No, the reason to choose the ICE-100 over the Smart Scoop is the price. This Cuisinart machine is usually much cheaper than the Breville model. So if you don't need all those features and the ICE-100 makes frozen desserts that are just as good as, if not better than the Smart Scoop, it's really a no-brainer!
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 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 Frozen Dessert Machines
You've never heard of Foshan Nordika have you? But I guarantee that if you've been looking at frozen dessert 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.
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, Cooks Professional, Buffalo, Andrew James, Koölle and Domo.
Branded Foshan Nordika machines
Whynter ICM-15LS in US
Unold Cortina in Europe
Now there's nothing wrong with this at all. Foshan Nordika have been around since 2010. They know what they're doing and they make good 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 frozen dessert makers! They range in capacity from less than 1 quart to over 2 quarts. Some turn the paddle from above, some from below. And the control panels vary enormously.
But they all have the same basic functionality. There's a timer and 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 is pretty useless.
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.
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 no worse either. And they're definitely slightly smoother than the desserts 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 compressors were powerful. The motors were efficient and reasonably quiet. The paddles left very little frozen mixture against the sides of the bowl. And they both made smooth desserts in around 20 minutes!
Why should you choose one of the Foshan Nordika machines over one from a more established brand? Well, the price probably! These machines tend to be cheaper than the Cuisinart and the Breville models.
And since they make better frozen desserts than the Smart Scoop and their user interfaces are easier to use than the ICE-100, they're a great choice!
For sure, 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. But if you're worried about this (and you buy from Amazon), you can always take out extra protection for very little more money.
And remember, whether you're buying a Whynter, a Knox Gear, a Gourmia or a Springlane Kitchen, you're essentially buying a Foshan Nordika machine. They're all made in the same factory, with the same components, to the same standard. And they all have the same basic functionality.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is no definitive "best ice cream maker". Which one is right for you will depend on your individual priorities and circumstances. So I hope I've given you a useful two step framework that will help you find the best ice cream maker for you.
However, I tend to get asked the same questions again and again. So I've added the most popular ones here for quick reference. I hope you find these useful too...
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
These are commercial machines scaled down for domestic use. With powerful compressors and motors, and all metal paddles and components, they're able to make the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you can imagine.
They're on a completely different level to every other domestic machine I've used. Unfortunately they are also incredibly expensive. But if you want the very best, you always have to pay more!
If you're unable or unwilling to pay for a Musso machine, then there's actually very little difference between the frozen desserts from the other domestic machines. The Cuisinart ICE-100 and all the Forshan Nordika compressor machines will freeze the mixture fast, but no faster than the Cuisinart freezer bowl models. So the desserts turn out more or less the same.
But I would say that after the Musso machines, the super cheap Cuisinart ICE-21 makes the next best ice cream! And this is because faster machines tend to make smoother frozen desserts and the ICE-21 is one of the fastest there is...
What's the fastest machine?
This is an important question. And that's not just because the sooner the machine finishes, the sooner we can start eating dessert! It's also because the faster the machine freezes the mixture, the smaller the ice crystals and the smoother the final product.
How fast an ice cream maker freezes the mixture depends on how cold it can make the bowl and how efficiently the paddle scrapes the frozen mixture from the side of the bowl.
So you might think, with their constant freezing power, compressor machines would freeze the mixture faster than the freezer bowl machines, whose bowls are of course warming up from the moment they're removed from the freezer.
But that isn't the case at all. Freezer bowl machines freeze the mixture just as fast as compressor machines. Sometimes faster.
I think this is because when we add the warmer mixture to the machines, while the gel in the freezer bowls is able to maintain it's temperature really well, the compressors in most domestic machines are just not strong enough to stop the bowl from warming up.
You can see the evidence for this in the compressor machines that show you the current temperature on the LCD displays. For sure, they can lower the bowl temperature to -22°F (-30°C) when it's empty. But as soon as the mixture's added, the temperature starts to climb and it takes a long time to come down again.
All that being said, is there a significant difference in freezing times between the different machines? Well, yes there is...
For maximum speed, what we're looking for are machines with small capacities and fast rotating paddles that leave the smallest possible gap between the blades and the sides of the bowl.
Smaller capacities mean there's less mixture in the bowl and more if it is in contact with the freezing sides. And fast rotating paddles with small gaps, move more frozen mixture into the middle of the bowl to cool the whole lot quicker.
So the Cuisinart ICE-21 with a small 1.5 quart bowl and a double bladed paddle that sits very close to the sides, is a very fast frozen dessert maker, often freezing the mixture in 15 minutes!
The only compressor machine to rival the ICE-21 is the Lello 4080. It actually freezes the mixture faster than the ICE-21, but we tend to leave it churning for longer (around 30 minutes) as it's powerful enough to keep mixing while the mixture hardens much more than the Cuisinart is able to manage.
The Knox Gear is also pretty fast for a compressor machine, owing to it's small capacity and a super efficient paddle that spins very fast and leaves almost no space between the blades and the sides of the bowl. I'm often extracting my frozen treats from the Knox Gear after just 20 minutes!
The slowest machine is the Breville Smart Scoop which often takes up to 45 minutes to freeze the mixture. On the plus side, as the mixture hardens, the Smart Scoop is powerful enough to churn the mix for much longer than most other machines, so the final product is harder and needs less time to firm up in the freezer.
Which machines 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.
In store bought ice creams, overrun varies enormously. Since air is free, cheap brands tend to be full of it! Economy ice creams may have 100% (or more) overrun, so half of what you're eating is actually air. While premium brands tend to have between 20 and 30% overrun.
But it's all a matter of taste really. If you like light, fluffy ice cream you'll want more air. If you like dense, creamy gelato you'll be after less air.
The speed of the paddle determines how much air is whipped into the mixture. And most domestic machines don't spin fast enough to add very much air. Consequently, the stuff made at home tends to have between 30 and 40% overrun and is very dense and creamy, more like gelato.
Almost all domestic machines produce low overrun ice cream, but the Cuisinart ICE-100 (used with the gelato paddle) made the lowest, with just 19% overrun!
At the other end of the scale is 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.
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:
- it contains less air (< 40%)
- it contains less fat (< 10%)
- it's served slightly warmer (12°F / -11°C)
A frozen dessert maker can only influence the amount of air that's in the ice cream. 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!
Is one machine better than the others? Well the biggest problem with making gelato at home is the serving temperature. Once it's been transferred to your freezer, it quickly gets too cold, so you have to leave it out for a long time to soften and then once it's re-frozen the texture is compromised!
There's a small window of time (when the gelato has been in your freezer for a couple of hours or so) when the temperature is ideal, but it's easy to miss and you have to eat it all in one go, or once again the texture is compromised!
However, the Lello 4080 is powerful enough to freeze the mixture so that it's hard enough to eat straight from the machine. It won't quite be at the right temperature. And it will melt a bit fast too. But with the Lello 4080 you can just about make small batches of gelato that don't need to be hardened in the freezer at all!
So the Lello 4080 is the best machine for gelato. But you can make gelato perfectly well in every domestic machine except the KitchenAid.
What's the quietest frozen dessert machine?
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?
But I have actually read loads of complaints about the noise they make. I suspect that this is because most people don't expect them to make any noise at all.
You never hear anyone complaining about noisy hairdryers! And ice cream machines are no louder. Although to be fair, no-ones drying their hair for 30 to 40 minutes are they?
Anyway, while running they tend to generate between 70 and 85 decibels. Which is loud. You don't really want to be sat watching the TV in the same room as a churning frozen dessert maker for half an hour. But I certainly don't find it unbearable.
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 frozen dessert machine?
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 paddle from above which is very inefficient and tends to wear out the motor or break the paddle. 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!
(spins paddle from above)
(spins paddle from above)
(poor build quality)
And not only is the ICE-21 really, really cheap. It also makes really good frozen desserts, 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 machine, then the Knox Gear is a fantastic choice.
It's compact, efficient and incredibly cheap. There's nothing fancy about the Knox Gear but everything it does, it does well and it's superb value for money.
What's the smallest machine?
The Cuisinart ICE-21 takes up the least space, because the body above the base is much thinner than the other Cuisinart freezer bowl machines. However, the Cuisinart ICE-30BC actually has a slightly smaller footprint than the ICE-21...
The ICE-21 measures 9" wide, 9.25" deep and 11.25" high. While the ICE-30BC is 8.5" wide, 8.5" deep and 11.5" high.
So there's not much in it. The footprint of the ICE-21 is less than an inch bigger in either direction, and it feels much more compact due to it's smaller volume. Unless that inch is really important, I'd still go for the ICE-21 if I was after the smallest machine.
If you're looking for the smallest compressor frozen dessert machine then the Knox Gear is very compact, measuring just 11" wide, 15.25" deep and 9.5" high (28 x 13.5 x 24 cm).
The Whynter ICM-15LS is the same size as the Knox Gear and since it's also made by Foshan Nordika, it's likely to be just as good. So this is a great choice if you're looking for a compact compressor machine.
Which is the best ice cream maker for you, will depend on how you want to make your frozen desserts, how much money you've got to spend and how you rate the pros and cons of each machine.
If you just want to know which domestic machine makes 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 desserts that are so smooth, they're on a completely different level to every other machine I've used.
Exceptionally well built, these machines have powerful compressors and motors and are entirely made from metal. In fact, they're basically commercial level machines, scaled down for domestic use.
Or even small scale commercial use. They make the sort of frozen desserts you eat in high end restaurants, precisely because high end restaurants do actually use these Musso machines!
However, they're also incredibly expensive. If you just can't afford a Musso machine, then the truth is: there's very little difference in the quality of the frozen desserts from every other domestic machine.
So whether you buy the cheapest 1.5 quart Cuisinart Freezer Bowl machine, an enormous 6 quart Ice and Salt machine, one of the second tier compressor ice cream makers from Cuisinart or Breville or a Foshan Nordika manufactured compressor machine from Whynter or Gourmia, the quality of the final product will be more or less the same!
For sure, there are slight differences. And these are directly proportional to the length of time the machines take 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 just slightly smoother as well.
And the Foshan Nordika machines and the Cuisinart ICE-100 make frozen desserts faster than the Breville Smart Scoop. So again they're 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 24 hours before you can make your desserts is annoying, get a machine with a compressor. And if you only make frozen treats now and again for big parties and don't mind the mess, get an ice and salt machine.
Similarly, if you like all the features and automatic functions you get with the Breville Smart Scoop, go for it. The desserts from the Smart Scoop aren't quite as smooth as the other compressor machines, but there's so little difference, if these features appeal to you, then I think it's a good choice for you.
But ultimately, I think that if you're serious about the quality of the frozen desserts 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.