Best Ice Cream Maker (plus Gelato, Sorbet and Frozen Yogurt!)
So you want to buy an ice cream maker? That's a great idea! There are many good reasons to have your own machine.
Most importantly: you'll be able to make hundreds of different types of frozen desserts, 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.
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
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 you 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 competitively priced machines currently available.
But more importantly: in my tests it made 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 inexpensive, durable, takes up very little counter space and makes better ice cream than almost any other domestic machine I've used. What's not to love?!
I think the ICE-21 [Amazon] 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
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.
In my tests, the ice cream quality was 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 [Amazon] is exactly the same as the ICE-70, minus the timer and is often available at a lower price.
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 you live outside the US and the other models aren't available, I think 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
The Lello 4080 is the most expensive domestic machine by a long way. It's also by far the best, in my tests 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.
I think it's head and shoulders above every other ice cream maker I've used, in every respect and if you can afford it, this is the one to go for. Check out the prices of the Lello 4080 on Amazon.
4. Best Value Compressor Ice Cream Maker: Cuisinart ICE-100
If the Lello 4080 is just too pricey but you want the convenience of a compressor machine, then I think the next best choice is the Cuisinart ICE-100.
In my tests it didn't make better ice cream than the ICE-21, the ICE-70 or the other Cuisinart freezer bowl machines.
But it did make better ice cream than all the other compressor ice cream makers (except the Lello)...
For example, the Breville Smart Scoop is usually much more expensive but takes much longer to freeze the mixture, resulting in a more icy and wet final product.
And while white labeled machines such as the Whynter ICM-15LS, can make ice cream that compares reasonably favorably with the ICE-100, their long term reliability is more 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. Check out the price of the Cuisinart ICE-100 on Amazon.
5. Best Choice for KitchenAid Owners: 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 ice cream.
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:
- 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 Ice Cream Maker
Ice and Salt
Let's have a look at each of the three types of ice cream maker 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.
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.
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 ice cream makers. So they're much more suitable for small kitchens and much easier to store away.
And secondly (and very importantly), since they use relatively basic technology, they're both inexpensive 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.
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.
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.
All you do is pour the mixture into the ice cream maker, 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 homemade 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!
They have more features and options than the other ice cream makers 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 ice cream makers.
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 after sales service with these ice cream makers.
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...
In my tests, 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
Ice Cream Quality In My Tests
The stuff that I get from the Cuisinart ICE-21 (which is one of the most inexpensive 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 I've found that 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, in my tests 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 the slow freezing compressor machines is less smooth. The difference isn't always 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! My tests suggest that unless you get a Lello that won't happen.
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...
Maximum batch size
Up to 2 quarts
Up to 2 quarts
Ease of use
8 / 10
10 / 10
$$ - $$$
• small spaces
• regular use
• no mess
• no waiting
• constant use
• automatic features
• making lots of ice cream
• unorganized people
• small freezers
• 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: I think they make much better ice cream makers 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 the Cuisinart ice cream makers also work in a slightly different way to most other machines...
In other machines, the motor spins the dasher from above to churn the mixture in the bowl below. As the liquid thickens, the motor will often struggle to propel the thin, plastic dasher through the mixture.
So the gear can slip, causing horrible grinding noises. And the dasher will often stop altogether, forcing you to remove the ice cream before it's really ready.
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!
The ability of the Cuisinart machines to continue churning the mixture more efficiently, for much longer as it hardens, produces a smoother final product.
And the reduced stress on the motor means the Cuisinart ice cream makers also tend to last much longer.
So the bottom line is this: unless there are very specific special circumstances (more on that below), I don't think there's any 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
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 from one another!
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.
So if you want to make bigger batches of homemade ice cream, you'll want to go with one of the bigger capacity machines.
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 dasher will whip less air into the mixture.
But it does work really well! In my tests, 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.
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 times 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, I'd recommend that just go for the one with the lowest price!
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 in my tests 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.
The ICE-70 and ICE-60 have a similarly re-designed dasher (but bigger bowls) so they were the next fastest in my tests.
And then finally the ICE-30 with the older dasher design and the 2 quart bowl, froze just slightly slower than the newer models in my testing.
These freezing times do translate directly into ice cream quality. The ICE-21 made 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 ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt.
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.
If you like to make bigger batches, the question is do you need the extra features of the ICE-60 or ICE-70?
My tests suggest that 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 was also noticeably different too.
So if you can afford the generally higher price, I'd say go for the ICE-70 or the ICE-60.
But if you can't (or they're not available in your country), don't worry because in my tests, the ICE-30 makes desserts that are almost as good and is usually available at a lower price too!
Are Cuisinart machines really the only option?
I think 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 I wouldn't recommend a Cuisinart ice cream maker. 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 all sorts of frozen treats.
It works in the same way as the other freezer bowl ice cream maker. 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 ice cream that is 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.
Given than the bowl itself usually costs about the same amount as the Cuisinart machine, whether it's good value for money is 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
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 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 three significant players in the compressor machine market:
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!
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, 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.
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 I make with them 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 often use in top quality restaurants!
Seriously, I think 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 usually eye wateringly expensive.
For example, the Lello 4080 is the cheapest, but it's often 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 broadly 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
Apart from the Musso machines, the Smart Scoop is probably 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 my 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!
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?
No, I don't think it does at all. In my tests it actually made coarser ice cream than both 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).
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 probably better off with a cheaper machine that will make smoother ice cream.
Cuisinart Ice Cream Makers
Along with the the Smart Scoop, the ICE-100 sits in my 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 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!
However it does make good ice cream! Better than the other domestic compressor machines? In my tests 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 white labeled machines.
However it's always much cheaper than the Smart Scoop and as we'll see, there are other reasons to be wary of the white labeled machines.
The ICE-100 is also made by Cuisinart, 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.
White Labeled Ice Cream Makers
White labeled ice cream makers are those that are manufactured by one company, which then makes them available for other companies to market as their own.
That’s why you see so many similar looking machines. They’re the same machines, just with different logos!
Now there’s nothing wrong with this. And as we’ll see, in my tests, a lot of these ice cream makers performed well. But it’s worth bearing in mind that we’re sometimes testing the same machine with different logos.
And because a lot of the companies that market these machines appear out of nowhere and then disappear again in a couple of years, getting reliable customer service can be pretty hit and miss. So if you don’t recognise the brand, you should be wary.
However in the US, Whynter has been around a long while and has a good reputation. And in Europe, Unold is the same. If you buy an ice cream maker from either of these companies, you can be confident, they’ll still be around if you need some after sales service.
White Labeled Ice Cream Machines
Whynter ICM-15LS in US
Unold Cortina in Europe
All the white labeled machine obviously look very similar and have very similar 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.
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! In my tests they were no better that the ice cream you get from the ICE-100. But they were not significantly worse either.
And they were definitely smoother than the ice cream from the Smart Scoop!
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!
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 white labeled machines are smaller and lighter and usually 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. In my tests, the Lello 4080 Musso Lussino and it's bigger brother, the Lello 5030 Musso Pola made better ice cream than any other 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.
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 very inexpensive Cuisinart ICE-21 made the next best ice cream in my tests. And it's the small size and improved dasher design that's 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 white labeled compressor ice cream makers which are probably tied with the Cuisinart ICE-30 in fourth place.
Finally at the bottom is the Breville Smart Scoop which made 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 ice cream 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.
Almost all domestic machines produce low overrun ice cream, but the Cuisinart ICE-100 (used with the gelato dasher) made the lowest in my tests, with just 19% overrun!
However the KitchenAid attachment spins super fast and is therefore able to whip much more air into the mixture. Ice cream made with the KitchenAid have up to 70% overrun in my tests 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)
The only one of these qualities that is 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 ice cream makers (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 homemade ice cream?
In my tests, 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 best value ice cream maker?
The most inexpensive 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...
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. I think they're best avoided!
Cheap Ice Cream Makers to Avoid!
(spins dasher from above)
(spins dasher from above)
(poor build quality)
And not only is the ICE-21 really inexpensive, 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 best value compressor ice cream maker, then one of the white labeled 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 ice creams, gelato, sorbets and frozen yogurt then there's no doubt...
The 1.5 quart Lello 4080 and it's bigger brother, the 2 quart Lello 5080, made ice cream that's so smooth, it's on a completely different level to every other machine I've used.
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 I've used except the Musso machines. So the frozen desserts are slightly smoother as well.
And the white labeled 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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