Knox Gear Ice Cream Maker Review
The Knox Gear Automatic Ice Cream Maker [Amazon] is one of the cheapest compressor style ice cream machines currently available.
Does that mean it's also one of the worst compressor style machines currently available? Or does that mean it's a bargain? Read on my friends, and we'll find out!
But before we start, some clarification. The Knox Gear is one of many ice cream makers in what I call the "third tier" of compressor machines.
These are ice cream makers that are manufactured in China by a company called Foshan Nodika and then white labelled by various other companies around the world.
So for example, in mainland Europe, the Knox Gear machine is sold by a company called Domo. And in the UK it's called the Emma!
Does that mean it's dodgy? No not at all. Foshan Nodika has been around for a few years and make many of the ice cream makers we all know well. They know what they're doing. And they do it well!
But hopefully, knowing that so many of the ice cream makers you're considering buying are made by the same company, will help make a decision, because the truth is: there's not a lot of difference between them!
Ice Cream Quality
Value for money
Things I like and Things I don't
On to the review. In my review of the Knox Automatic Ice Cream maker, I'll quickly look at how it works, I'll describe how to use it, I'll look at the quality of the ice cream it produces and finally I'll suggest some alternatives if it's not quite the right machine for you.
How does the Knox Gear work?
The Knox Gear is a "compressor" ice cream maker. If you're not sure what this means, then I'll explain. There are 3 different types of ice cream maker. And the way they differ is in the way they freeze the ice cream...
- with ice and salt
- with a removable bowl that you pre-cool in your freezer
- with an in built compressor or freezer
So the Knox Gear has it's own, built in compressor that freezes the ice cream in the machine as it's being mixed. These compressor machines are the most convenient ice cream makers you can buy.
You don't need to pre-plan anything. There's no bowl taking up room in your freezer. When you want ice cream, you just turn the machine on to pre-cool, then add your mixture and within 40 minutes you've got ice cream!
However, compressor ice cream makers are much bigger, heavier and more delicate than the other types of machines. They're also more expensive. If you're not sure whether these are the right ones for you, check out my guide to choosing the best ice cream maker.
There are just 4 parts to the typical compressor ice cream maker and the Knox Gear is no exception. But you get a couple of accessories as well...
- the main body (which contains the compressor, the motor and the control panel)
- the bowl in which the ice cream is churned
- the paddle (or dasher) which mixes the ice cream
- a transparent plastic lid
- a spatula for scraping the ice cream out of the bowl
- a measuring cup
The body of the Knox Gear
The body of the Knox Gear is pretty light and compact for a compressor machine. In fact, it's the smallest and lightest ice cream maker with a built in freezer that I've ever tested!
It measures 11" wide, 15.25" deep and 9.5" high (including the lid) (28 x 13.5 x 24 cm). And it weighs about 27 lbs (12 kg).
It features a very smart, stainless steel housing, with extensive air vents on both sides and decorative swooshes at both ends.
You must keep those air vents clear when the machine is churning, otherwise it won't cool properly. So the sides can't be pushed up too close to any walls. I'd recommend leaving at least 4" (10 cm) of space on either side of the machine.
But luckily, the Knox Gear comes with a generous 60" (152 cm) power cable, which should give you loads of options when you're looking for somewhere to put it in your kitchen.
On top there's a big chamber with a metal bar sticking up from the center. This is where the bowl sits. The walls of this chamber are cooled by the compressor in order to freeze the ice cream mixture in the bowl. And the metal bar is turned by the motor, to rotate the dasher and churn the ice cream.
In front of this chamber is the control panel of the Knox Gear. It's very simple, with just a small LCD display and 4 buttons:
- TIME +
- TIME -
The LCD display is clear and bright and will show you the time remaining, the temperature of the bowl and two symbols: one indicating that the compressor is on, the other indicating that the paddle is churning.
There's nothing fancy about this control panel. It's certainly not as feature packed as the Breville Smart Scoops but it's much more useful and user friendly than the Cuisinart ICE-100. The buttons work well. And the LCD display shows all the most important information.
The Knox Gear's removable bowl
The Knox Gear comes with a 1.5 quart (1.4 liter) anodized, aluminium bowl. There is hollow tube running up the middle of the bowl, through which the drive shaft slots when the bowl's placed in the machine. There's a thin wire handle in the bowl to hep you pull it out.
As 1.5 quart bowls go, this is a pretty small one! For sure, it can hold 1.5 quarts of liquid but it comes right up to the top of the rim. This contrasts with the 1.5 quart bowls that come with the Cuisinart ICE-100 and the Smart Scoop which are much more generous, giving you a fair bit of excess space at the top of the bowl.
In practical terms, the Knox gear won't be able to produce quite as much ice cream as the other, bigger 1.5 quart machines!
These bowls are removable to make it easier to clean them, once you've removed the ice cream. However the bowl provides an extra layer of insulation from the compressor, so in theory the ice cream mix won't be cooled to the same extent as in the machines where there is no removable bowl.
The Knox Gears's dasher
The dasher is just a fancy name for the paddle that churns our ice cream. In this case, it's a simple all plastic thing with 2 blades.
The dasher has 2 very important jobs:
- scraping frozen mixture from the sides of the bowl and moving it to the middle
- adding air to the mixture
These 2 jobs are so important because they have a huge influence on the quality and consistency of the final ice cream.
The dashers influence on the quality of the ice cream
Good quality ice cream is smooth ice cream. That's something we can all agree on. And we know from our ice cream science, that the faster the mixture freezes, the smoother the final product.
How fast the mixture freezes, is influenced by how close the blades of the dasher are to the sides of the bowl. On domestic ice cream makers there's always a gap. And that gap means there's always a thin layer of frozen mixture left on the sides.
This layer insulates the rest of the mix from the coldness of the compressor. The bigger the gap, the thicker the layer and the more the rest of the mix is insulated. The more insulation, the slower the freezing, which results in larger ice crystals and less smooth ice cream.
Luckily the gap between the blades of the dasher and the bowl walls in the Knox Gear is tiny: less than 1 mm. So the mixture should freeze faster, producing smoother ice cream!
The dasher's influence on the consistency of the ice cream
The amount of air that the dasher adds to the mixture will have a profound effect on the consistency of the final ice cream. Lots of air produces a lighter, fluffier ice cream. Little air produces a denser, creamy ice cream.
How much air is added will depend on the speed and the shape of the dasher. However, all domestic ice cream makers spin much more slowly than commercial machines, so they whip low volumes of air into the mix to produce pretty dense ice creams.
The Knox Gear dasher spins at 56 rpm which is actually pretty fast for a domestic machine. So we'd expect it to whip slightly more air into the mixture than the competition and we'll find out exactly how much when we look at the quality of the ice cream it makes later on.
The Knox Gear's lid
The lid of the Knox Gear is a transparent plastic thing. It has a tiny, unhinged hatch for adding mix ins while the machine is churning.
The hatch is held to the rest of the lid by a thin plastic chain (which I presume we're meant to remove and throw away?).
But the hatch hole is far too small for adding mix-ins comfortably. I'm not sure why they didn't make it bigger!
The Knox Gear Accessories
You also get a small spatula and a measuring cup with the Knox Gear ice cream maker. The spatula is a nice size for extracting ice cream from the bowl.
And the measuring cup has ounces, cups and milliliter measurements on the side which I always find useful!
Making ice cream with the Knox Gear
Like every other ice cream maker, there's 5 stages to making ice cream with the Knox Gear...
- make the mixture
- pre-cool the machine
- churn and freeze the mixture in the Knox Gear
- transfer the ice cream to your freezer to harden
- clean the Knox Gear
Step 1: Make the mixture
Depending on your recipe, this stage can either be done while the Knox Gear is pre-cooling or well in advance...
If your recipe needs to be cooked, then it will need to cool down before you can put it in the machine. And that means you'll need to make it well in advance. However, if it doesn't need to be cooked, as long as the ingredients are all well chilled, it can go in the machine as soon as it's mixed.
The recipe you use here is really important. You can't throw any combination of milk, cream and sugar into the ice cream maker and expect it to pump out amazing ice cream. It's a very delicate and complicated substance and all the ingredients need to be in perfect balance, or it just won't work!
With this in mind, I'd advise you to start off with well known, tried and tested recipes before you start experimenting. Once you've found your feet with these, you can start to learn a bit about the science of ice cream and get crazy!
The Knox Gear manual has several recipes you could try. Otherwise there are plenty of amazing ice cream recipes books. I've been having great success with the the recipes in Jenis Splendid Ice Cream at Home, Ices: The Definitive Guide and Gelato Messiana: The Recipes.
There's just two important things to remember here. Firstly, the Knox Gear has a small 1.5 quart capacity so you shouldn't be adding more than 1 quart (0.9 litres) of mixture. And secondly, you must make sure the mixture is chilled to at least fridge temperature before you add it the machine.
Step 2: Pre-cool the Knox Gear
You don't have to pre-cool your ice cream maker, but I highly recommend you do. As I've mentioned before, the faster you freeze the mixture, the smoother the final ice cream will be. And if you add your mixture to a bowl that's already super cold, it will freeze faster!
All you've got to do is put the bowl in the chamber, turn on the machine, set the timer and hit the START/STOP button. The compressor will start cooling and the dasher will start turning. Unfortunately you can't cool the machine without the gear turning. But it's no problem if the dasher turns in an empty bowl. Or, you could just run it without the dasher and then slip it on just before you add your mixture.
One thing you don't want to do is let the timer run out while the machine is pre-cooling. If you do, the machine will automatically turn off and even if you start it up again immediately the compressor won't come on again for a good few minutes, during which time the bowl will warm up considerably.
With this in mind, you don't want the timer to run out before your ice creams done either, or it's going to start melting before it's ready! So always be generous with the timer. Personally, I leave it at 60 minutes. And after 15 minutes I come back to check the temperature.
The great thing about the Knox Gear is that it shows the current temperature of the freezer on the LCD display. After 15 to 20 minutes of pre-cooling with the lid on, the Knox Gear display will often read -29°F (-34°C). When I've checked it with an infrared thermometer, the bowl is actually closer to -18°F (-28°C). But this is still pretty impressive.
Step 3: Churn and freeze the mixture in the Knox Gear
So now your ice cream mixture is pre-cooled in the fridge and the Knox Gear is pre-cooled on your counter top. It's time to make some ice cream!
As I alluded to in the previous section, it's really important that machine doesn't stop until your ice cream is ready to be removed. So before you add the mixture, make sure there's more than enough time left on the timer. Make sure the dasher's in the bowl and is rotating. Then just pour in the mix.
Now all domestic ice cream makers are loud. But they're no louder than a hairdryer. The Knox Gear is actually a bit noisier than some of the machines I've tested. At 79 - 83 db, your're not going to watch TV in the same room but it's certainly not unbearable.
How long it takes until your ice cream is ready to come out depends on several factors. Most importantly the recipe you're using, the temperature of the mixture and the temperature of the machine. It's going to vary, so you need to keep checking the consistency.
The ice cream in a domestic machine will never get to the same hardness as the stuff you buy in the shop. What you're looking for is a soft serve type consistency, almost like thick, whipped cream, with the ice cream coming away from the sides of the bowl. Or you could just check the temperature. When it gets down to 21°F (-6°C) it's pretty much done.
However, if you can leave it in longer to get colder, all the better, as this will promote a smoother final texture. After 20 minutes this batch was down to 21°F (-6°C), but it was still churning well, so I left it in for another 10 minutes and it got down to 18°F (-8°C). After a total of 30 minutes it looked good and I could hear the motor straining a little so I took it out.
The Knox Gear dasher is looks very similar to the dashers that come with the Cuisinart machines (particularly the gelato dashers). However, I think the Knox Gear dasher is actually much better...
Both types of dasher really efficient so the mixture starts to freeze and thicken very quickly. But in the Cuisinart machines the ice cream will start to ride around on the dasher towards the end of churning so that it's not actually being mixed. While in the Knox Gear and other Foshan Nordika machines, the dasher continues to mix the ice cream throughout the churning cycle.
This enables us to keep mixing the ice cream in the Knox Gear (and other Foshan Nordika ice cream makers) for longer and could lead to smoother ice creams.
If you run the machine until the timer reaches zero, the machine will automatically turn off. However, the Knox Gear does have an automatic keep-cool function. After 10 minutes, the compressor will start up again and will run for 10 minutes before turning off again. This cycle will keep repeating for up to an hour, when the machine will finally turn off for good.
However, I'm not very keen on this feature as a huge amount of melting can go on in 10 minutes, and then when it's re-frozen in the next 10 minutes, the quality of the ice cream will really suffer.
Step 4: Transferring the ice cream from the Knox Gear to the freezer
Once you're happy with the final consistency or temperature of the ice cream, it's time to get it out of the machine and into your freezer. Again, you don't have to do this. You could just eat it straight from the machine.
But it's not properly frozen yet. And although it will taste pretty fantastic, it'll melt incredibly quickly. It's much better to control yourself and stick it in the freezer for a couple of hours at least!
The trick here is to do it as quickly and coldly as possible. Any ice cream that melts during the transfer will re-freeze in the freezer causing the existing ice crystals to grow and become more detectable on the tongue.
So, make sure you the container you're going to put the ice cream in is really cold. I like to use wide, shallow dishes that are made of glass or metal as these encourage fast freezing. And I'll put them in them freezer to pre-cool while the ice cream is churning.
Remove the bowl from the machine and scrape the ice cream into the container as quickly as possible. Then place a layer of clingfilm or baking paper on the surface of the ice cream (this will prevent ice crystals forming on the surface), get the lid on and put the container in the coldest part of your freezer.
It will usually take between 2 and 3 hours to firm up to the consistency you want. Don't check every 10 minutes though as it will slow the whole process down and compromise the texture!
Step 5: Cleaning the Knox Gear
Thankfully this is is really easy. The bowl, the dasher and the lid can be washed very quickly in warm soapy water. The good thing about compressor ice cream makers is that the bowl warms up really fast, so any ice cream frozen to the sides melts really fast too and can be easily cleaned away. None of the parts are dishwasher safe but they're so easy to clean, it's really not an issue.
The body of the Knox Gear usually just needs a quick wipe down with a wet cloth. You need to be careful that there's no mix left in any crevices, as this will go rancid. And as with all these machines, the stainless steel is not really stainless and you'll be left with water marks that are hard to shift!
How good is the ice cream from the Knox Gear?
For such a small, cheap machine the Knox Gear makes surprisingly good ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt and sorbet!
The overrun from 800 ml of no-cook ice cream mixture was 35%, which is more or less average for a domestic machine. But it's quite low compared to most store bought stuff. So you get a nice dense ice cream.
As we know, the speed at which the mixture is frozen has a significant impact on the smoothness of the final ice cream. And with the Knox Gear able to reduce the temperature of the bowl to a very impressive -18°F (-28°C), the tiny gap between the dasher and the bowl walls and the relatively high number of dasher rotations per minute (56), this machine was always likely to freeze the ice cream quickly.
And in fact the Knox Gear does seem to produce smoother ice cream than many of it's more expensive competitors!
The Knox Gear has surprised me to be honest. I think it's great little machine that does many things right. However, it won't be for everyone. So here's 3 things I love about it and 3 things I'm not so keen on.
3 things I love about the Knox Gear Ice Cream Maker
1. It's small
This is one of the smallest compressor ice cream makers currently available. In fact, it's not much bigger than an a freezable bowl machine, which is incredible really when you think that they've got to fit a compressor in the body too.
2. It's fast
The powerful compressor and the efficient dasher mean that the Knox Gear makes ice cream fast! It's not unusual for me to be extracting the ice cream from the machine after 20 minutes.
3. It's really cheap!
The Knox Gear is one of the cheapest compressor ice cream makers [Amazon] currently available. To be honest, I'm not sure how they're able to sell it so cheaply and still make a profit. But they are at the moment and I think it's a bargain.
3 things I don't like about the Knox Gear
1. The Knox Gear brand is unknown
Knox Gear is a new and untested brand. This makes me slightly nervous. Not because I have doubts about the build quality of the ice cream maker, since they don't actually make this ice cream machine! I'm more worried about how long they'll be around for and how they'll deal with things if something does go wrong.
2. Doubts about the build quality?
I've read several reviews from people who've had this ice cream maker for longer than I have and who claim it just stopped working. Now to me the build quality seems good. Foshan Nodika, the company that actually manufacture this machine has a lot of experience and knows what they're doing. And all compressor machines can just stop working: they're delicate. But I should mention it, because it may be an issue for some.
3. It has basic functionality
You don't get any of the bells and whistles you get with the Breville Smart Scoop. There's no automatic pre-cool, pre-programmed hardness settings or intelligent keep-cool. This is a basic machine that you'll need to monitor while you're using it.
Alternatives to the Knox Gear Ice Cream Maker
If you're thinking that maybe the Knox Gear isn't the right ice cream maker for you, then don't fear as there's loads of alternatives. I recommend two good ones below...
Looking for a more automated experience?
If the Knox Gear is just too hands-on then take a look at the Breville Smart Scoop. The Smart Scoop tries really hard to take all the guess work out of ice cream making.
Pre-cooling is automatic. You just press the special pre-cool button, sit back and wait. The Smart Scoop will cool the bowl to the optimal temperature and then ding to let you know it's the right time to add your mixture. It will even start rotating the dasher towards the end of the pre-cool, just in case you decided to pre-cool the mixture too!
The Smart Scoop will also decide when your ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt or sorbet is ready. Simply choose from one of twelve hardness settings that correspond to the type of desert you want to make. The Smart Scoop will start freezing and churning the mixture and when it reaches your desired consistency it automatically turns off.
There is also an intelligent keep cool function, where once the cycle has finished, at intermittent times the it will test the consistency of the ice cream and if the machine finds it has melted beyond a certain point, it will begin churning and freezing again. In this way it can keep the finished dessert at the desired consistency for u to 3 hours.
This functionality doesn't come cheap though. The Smart Scoop is generally more than twice the price [Amazon] of the Knox Gear. But if you're looking for a fully automated service and exceptional build quality from a well established brand then it's worth looking at.
Looking for something more reliable?
I don't think the Cuisinart ICE-100 is built any better than the Knox Gear ice cream maker. And in fact, the control panel on the Knox Gear is far superior to the one on the Cuisinart machine!
But Cuisinart is a well established and highly respected brand that you know will still be operating in 25 years time. What's more, the ICE-100 comes with a nice 3 year warranty.
Having said that, the ICE-100 doesn't make ice cream that's noticeably better than the Knox Gear but it is significantly more expensive! And you can always take out extra cover on the Knox Gear for a very low fee.
So maybe the Cuisinart ICE-100 is not such a good alternative in this case!
The Knox Gear Automatic Ice Cream Maker [Amazon], is a fantastic, little budget machine. The functionality is pretty basic. But what it does do, it does really well.
The control panel is easy to use and the display panel shows you everything you need to know, including the temperature of the bowl.
The powerful compressor is able to chill the bowl to a very impressive -31°F (-35°C) and the relatively fast rotating dasher leaves very little ice on the sides of the bowl. This means that the ice cream is frozen very quickly and is pretty smooth.
And the price is fantastic [Amazon]. What's not to like?
Well, Knox Gear is an unknown brand, some people have raised doubts about it's reliability and it only comes with a 1 year warranty.
But you know what, if it suits your budget and has everything your looking for then I think it's a good buy. And if you also buy the 4 year protection from Amazon, which will cover any faults and shipping both ways you're totally covered if anything goes wrong!
Ice Cream Quality
Value for money
Things I like and Things I don't