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Best Ice Cream Maker With Compressor (and which ones to avoid!)

Best Ice Cream Maker With Compressor (and which ones to avoid!)

Last Updated on May 1, 2024 0 Comments

An ice cream maker with a compressor is one with a built-in freezer that cools the ice cream mixture from within the machine, as it is also being churned. There are a couple of significant advantages to this kind of ice cream maker:

  1. No pre-planning needed: as soon as you fancy ice cream, you can start making it!
  2. You can make back to back batches, one after the other
  3. They often have more features and functions than other machines

These advantages probably make ice cream makers with compressors the most convenient of all the domestic machines.

However, before we look at the best of the compressor ice cream makers, it’s worth mentioning a few disadvantages of this type of machine (some of which you may not be aware of):

  1. Domestic compressor ice cream makers do not (with one exception) make better ice cream than the other types of machines
  2. They are quite big and heavy
  3. The built-in compressor and extra features means there is more to go wrong.

The first disadvantage is probably the most significant and also perhaps the most surprising, and I will explain why this is the case at the end of the article.

But as long as you are comfortable with these shortcomings, and value the extra convenience of a built-in compressor, then they’re a great choice for a domestic kitchen.

So which is the best?

I’ve been testing ice cream makers since 2016 and have used almost every major domestic machine (of every type), making many head-to-head comparisons. And in fact I think it’s pretty straightforward…

1. Lello 4080 Musso: The Best Ice Cream, Gelato and Sorbet

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino: The Rolls-Royce of ice cream makers!

The Lello 4080 makes better ice cream than every other domestic machine that I have tested. The ice cream is noticeably firmer, smoother and it even seems creamier. However, the Lello 4080 is also much bigger and far more expensive than all the other machines.

So it won’t be for everyone!

But if your main priority is getting the most capable ice cream maker with a compressor, then the Lello 4080 is your best choice.

Why is it so much better than the competition? Power and efficiency, basically.

The reason that the Lello 4080 is so much bigger than the other ice cream makers is that it has a more powerful (and therefore bigger), compressor and motor. The powerful compressor allows the Lello to freeze the mixture faster. And the powerful motor means the Lello can keep rotating a metal paddle even while the mixture is quite firm.

Lello 4080 body

The Lello 4080 contains a big, powerful compressor

And both of these factors leads to smoother ice cream.

This is because faster freezing times (and to some extent colder extraction temperatures) equals smoother ice cream.

The powerful compressor is further aided by the fact that the ice cream isn’t churned in a removable bowl (as in other machines). Instead, you pour the mixture into a depression in the top of the Lello’s case, and this is where it is chilled and churned into ice cream.

Ice cream in the Lello 4080

The ice cream is frozen in a depression in the top of the Lello's case

This means there is just one very thin layer of steel between the compressor and the mixture, so the coldness is transferred from the machine to the mixture very efficiently, further speeding the freezing time.

In my tests, the Lello 4080 was the fastest compressor machine to drop the temperature of the mixture to 21 °F (-6 °C), (due to the power of the compressor and the efficiency of the body design). And it was the only ice cream maker that would still churn when the mixture was at 14 °F (-10 °C) (due to the powerful motor and metal dasher).

And in fact, if you extract the ice cream at 14 °F (-10 °C), it’s firm enough to eat directly from the machine, with a gelato like texture and temperature (although it will still benefit from a short time in the freezer).

Gelato in the Lello 4080

The Lello 4080 makes a firm, gelato style ice cream

No other domestic machine will get the ice cream temperature down to 14 °F (-10 °C), so (unlike with the Lello), you will always have to transfer it to the freezer to harden up a bit.

Beyond the amazing ice cream from the Lello, you also get an all steel construction that feels quite industrial and built to last.

The controls are very basic: one switch to turn the compressor on and off, one switch to start and stop the paddle spinning, and a dial to control the timer. All the controls are analog, which I love as there is less to go wrong.

The controls of the Lello 4080

The very basic controls of the Lello 4080 (it's all you need!)

And the truth is (and I’m specifically thinking about the Breville Smart Scoop here), you don’t need loads of fancy features and controls on an ice cream maker. Most of them are pointless frivolities rather than anything useful.

On/Off buttons and a timer are all you really need!

But what about the drawbacks of the Lello 4080?

As I’ve already mentioned, it is very big (12 x 12 x 18 inches) and very heavy (38 lb). Too big to permanently keep on most kitchen countertops. And heavy enough to make moving from storage to the kitchen and back again, a pain!

It’s also very expensive; costing around 50% more than the next most expensive (but pretty rubbish in comparison, Breville Smart Scoop). There are often deals on the Lello, so it’s worth checking the price regularly. But you’re never going to get it cheap!

Lello 4080 components

Lello 4080 components

Other than the bulk and the price, the only other thing I don’t like is the 1-year warranty, which seems a bit tight. But it is built like and tank and is unlikely to go wrong. I’ve had mine for 5 years and have never had any issues.

In fact, the Lello 4080 was my default ice cream maker, getting weekly use for all that time, and I’ve only recently stopped using it regularly (swapped for the Ninja Creami) because of the hassle of moving it around all the time.

If you can put up with that, the Lello 4080 is the best ice cream maker with compressor that you can buy. By a mile!

2. Cuisinart ICE-100: The Best Value for Money

Not everyone can afford a Lello. And even those that can, may not want such a big, heavy, expensive appliance, if it only gets used now and again. So if you’re dead set on an ice cream maker with a compressor, but the Lello is not right for you, then I recommend the Cuisinart ICE-100.

Cuisinart ICE-100

Cuisinart ICE-100: The next best ice cream maker with compressor

The ice cream that it makes is not as good as the Lello. But it’s better than the Breville Smart Scoop. And it is as good as the other ice cream makers that I’ve tested, such as the Whynter machines.

The truth is: excluding the Lello (noticeably better) and the Breville (noticeably worse), there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the quality of the ice cream from the other compressor ice cream makers.

So what has the Cuisinart ICE-100 got that the others don’t?

Firstly, it has two paddles: one for ice cream and another for gelato and sorbet. This is because gelato and sorbet tend to contain less air than ice cream, and by using a different paddle design you can whip less air into the mixture.

Cuisinart ICE-100 parts

You get 2 paddles with the ICE-100: one for ice cream, one for gelato/sorbet

The amount of air in ice cream is called the overrun and is measured as a percentage. The amount of air in ice cream has a significant effect on its texture, and you can read more about this in my air in ice cream article.

In my tests, I found that using the ice cream paddle produced overrun levels of around 39% while using the gelato paddle produced overrun levels of around 19%. And this results in a noticeable difference in the texture.

Cuisinart ICE-100 with gelato

Making gelato in the Cuisinart ICE-100

There are no other ice cream makers with compressors that allow you to vary the air in your frozen treats in this way!

The second thing that the Cuisinart ICE-100 has that other compressor ice cream makers don’t offer is a generous warranty! If you’re in the US, you’ll get a 3-year warranty. And if you’re in the UK, it’s 5 years!

This is important, as compressor machines are more likely to break down than other ice cream makers. And since all the other compressor machines only come with 1 year warranties, you'll get much more peace of mind with a Cuisinart!

So apart from the fact that the ice cream isn’t as good as from the Lello, is there anything else I don’t like about the Cuisinart ICE-100?

Cuisinart ICE-100 control panel

The Cuisinart ICE-100 controls are a bit clunky

It’s not the most user-friendly machine (especially compared to the Breville). The controls are a bit clunky and difficult to use. The lid doesn’t always go on as easily as I’d like. And the “keep-cool” function is useless (although this is a stupid feature on all the machines).

But these are minor usability quibbles rather than make a break functionality dealbreakers!

So if the Lello is just too much, I recommend the Cuisinart ICE-100 as the next best ice cream maker with compressor!

Ice Cream Makers with Compressors to Avoid!

Finally, it’s worth mentioning a couple of ice cream makers that I would avoid, if I was looking for a compressor machine.

Breville Smart Scoop body

Breville Smart Scoop: One of the slowest ice cream makers!

Perhaps most controversially, I wouldn’t go for the Breville Smart Scoop. I know that Breville appliances have armies of loyal fans, and the Smart Scoop is no exception. But while I also understand the attraction of Breville (and I do like their coffee machines), I think the Smart Scoop is a bit of a dud!

Primarily, this is because it just doesn’t make very good ice cream! Good ice cream is smooth ice cream. And to be smooth, ice cream needs to be frozen quickly. So faster = smoother. But the Smart Scoop takes considerably longer to freeze ice cream than any other machine I’ve tested.

Sometimes up to 40 min. And this means the ice cream is coarser, wetter and ultimately icier.

Breville Smart Scoop control panel

The Breville Smart Scoop has a nice control panel

The Smart Scoop does have plenty of other things going for it. It’s the most visually attractive machine I’ve used. It is clearly well-made, packed with features, and the controls are tactile and easy to use.

And if you use a really well-balanced, stabilized recipe, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between the ice cream it makes and the stuff from another machine.

But if you want to experiment a bit. If you want to make low sugar or low fat or high fruit content or no-cook recipes. Then you will notice the difference.

And since making good ice cream is its most important job. And since most of those Smart Scoop features are not particularly useful. And since it’s so expensive (second only to the Lello)...

I just don’t think it’s a very good buy!

The other ice cream makers with compressors that I would avoid are the cheap ones from Amazon that are from lesser-known (or unknown) brands. I have talked before about one particular factory in China that makes ice cream machines for other brands to white label.

Knox Gear ice cream maker

Knox Gear: stopped working after a few uses

This factory makes all the cheap compressor machines you see on Amazon from random brands (as well as Whynter). I have tested a few, and although they produce good quality ice cream, I was not impressed by the quality and durability of the machines themselves.

For example, the compressor on my Knox Gear stopped working after just a few uses, rendering the machine useless. Knox Gear doesn’t even make ice cream makers anymore, and there was no chance of invoking the warranty.

I didn’t have any such problems with my Whynter (and it makes good ice cream too), but I still don’t trust the build quality and since it's only slightly cheaper than the Cuisinart ICE-100, and it doesn’t have the two paddles or the decent warranty, I recommend avoiding it.

How I test Ice Cream Makers with Compressors

My basic testing procedure is the same for all ice cream makers. First, I make a standard base mixture. I use a no-cook base, as this will highlight any weaknesses in the machines more clearly than a cooked base.

Then I spin the ice cream at the same time in all the machines I’m testing. I measure the time it takes the machines to drop the temperature of the mixture to 21 °F (-6 °C) (which is a standard extraction temperature).

Breville Smart Scoop vs Cuisinart ICE-100 churning

Testing Breville Smart Scoop vs Cuisinart ICE-100

I then do a head-to-head taste test in three stages: directly out of the machines (if they finish at the same time), once the mixture has hardened in the freezer for an hour, and then again the next day.

This establishes the quality of the ice cream that the machines are capable of making. I then conduct further tests on the usability of the ice cream makers, using different recipes and mix-ins, to get an idea of how they will deal with more general use.

Why Compressor Machines don’t make better Ice Cream than other Machines

Since it seems so counterintuitive, it’s worth explaining why domestic ice cream machines with compressors don’t make better ice cream than the other types of machines (e.g. the ones that use a bowl that you pre-freeze in your regular freezer or the ones that use salt and ice).

It seems logical that a machine that can constantly cool the bowl through a built-in freezer, would perform better than a machine that uses a bowl that will gradually warm up once it is taken out of the freezer and is spinning in the machine.

But there are two reasons why this isn’t the case:

  1. Underpowered compressors
  2. Removable bowls

The compressors in domestic ice cream makers are just not very powerful. And the fact that most of these machines use removable bowls, means there are two extra layers of insulation (air and then the walls of the bowl), between the compressor and the mixture.

Breville Smart Scoop cavity

With a removable bowl, the ice cream mixture is well insulated from the compressor

And since the bowls that you have to pre-freeze in your regular freezer maintain their coldness so well, they tend to cool the mixture much faster than these underpowered and heavily insulated compressors!

Only the Lello 4080, which has a big, powerful compressor and freezes the mixture in a cavity in the top of the machine, rather than a removable bowl, performs as well as (and in fact better than) the other machines.

 

About the author 

Carl

Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, I'm always looking for the perfect ice cream. The "dream scoop". I document my findings, my successes and failures here...

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