Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Nothing beats a scoop or two of cold ice cream on a sweltering summer day, but it may taste even better if it's homemade. Making your own ice cream tends to taste less processed than store-bought varieties, and it gives you complete control over flavorings and ingredients—especially important if you have food allergies or are limiting your intake of added sugars.
An ice cream maker lets you churn whatever kind of ice cream strikes your fancy, all in the comfort of your own home. It's a great activity to get kids cooking in the kitchen, too. From manual to electric to soft serve, there's an ice cream maker for everyone. Here's our roundup of the best ice cream makers.
Automatic and manual modes
Opening for adding ingredients
Heavy freezer bowl
Cuisinart was one of the first companies to popularize electric ice cream makers for home users, and the company continues to improve the product offerings. This one makes a whopping two quarts of ice cream per batch, and has a simple control panel with an LCD screen that’s easy to read. If you can't find the ICE-70 model, the ICE-60 model offers the same design and functionality without the built-in automatic timer.
There are settings for ice cream, gelato, or sorbet, which control the speed of the mixing paddle. The time is automatically set for each option, but can be adjusted manually. When time is up, the machine automatically shuts off. The unique gelato setting is a standout for our product tester due to its slower churn, one of the hallmarks of genuine gelato.
The lid has a removable cup for measuring up to 1/2 cup of add-ins, and when the cup is removed, there’s a handy hole for pouring those ingredients in.
The 2-quart freezer bowl should be refrigerated overnight for best results, or store it in your freezer so it’s ready to go whenever you have that ice cream craving.
"The result was fluffy soft serve that hardened into lovely ice cream after a few hours in the freezer." — J. Fergus, Product Tester
Easy to use
Clear, concise instructions
Smaller capacity than other similar models
Need to freeze bowl 24 hours before use
Cuisinart is a trusted brand when it comes to ice cream makers and they have a model to meet every budget. The ICE-21 model may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the brand's higher-end models, but it's fully automatic and promises to deliver quality homemade ice cream in 20 minutes. The process is simple and designed to be mess-free, for which several people have given it positive reviews. The double-insulated freezer bowl means you don't even need ice to churn a batch of ice cream.
This model has a smaller capacity (1 1/2 quarts) than some of Cuisinart's other models so be mindful of batch size when you're following recipes. A few reviewers note that they've had to scale some recipes down to fit this bowl.
Ready in a few minutes
12 hardness settings
“Keep Cool” feature
Large and heavy
Warms rapidly when the cover is open
If you’re ready to get serious about making ice cream, this might be the perfect ice cream maker for you. Yes, it does come with a steep price tag, but it also has quite a few benefits. The 1 ½ quart ice cream maker contains a compressor, just like a window air conditioner, that freezes the ice cream while it churns. That means you don’t have to worry about freezing and refreezing a bowl between batches.
The other benefit of this model is that it has 12 specifically calibrated settings for different levels of softness. You won’t end up with rock hard sherbet or gelato or soft-serve when what you really want is a scoop of vanilla that will hold its own in a root beer float. A pre-cool setting preps the machine to start churning immediately and internal thermometers make sure the temperature stays just right. Our tester highlights the "Softer to Harder" option, which lets you choose softer ice cream or harder sorbet instead of a one-size-fits-all setting. "The only downside," they said, "is there isn’t a slower churn setting for gelato."
Keep in mind that this investment piece takes up a lot of room, so it might not be ideal for those with small kitchens, and the compressor makes it the heaviest ice cream maker on the list at a whopping 30 pounds. But hey, moving this ice cream maker around will get you some exercise before you enjoy your dessert.
"The machine knew what was best—the hardened ice cream had a light buttery taste—but in a good, creamy way and not an over-churned, frozen butter way." — J. Fergus, Product Tester
Electric cranking mechanism
Easy and quick to use
Motor is loud
If you like the idea of an old-fashioned ice cream maker and you want to make large batches, this fun machine is the one you’re looking for. Just like old-style ice cream makers, this uses ice to freeze the ice cream, but the cranking mechanism is electric, so you don’t have to work so hard to get your treats.
The ice bucket is made from plastic and doubles as a storage container when used with the included lid. For easy transportation, the machine has a handle and the motor locks when power is off, so all parts stay secure. The interior wipes clean easily when you’re done.
If you want easy ice cream, the company also makes mixes that can be used with this machine or use one of the included ice cream recipes or one of your own. This makes up to four quarts of ice cream, so you’ll have plenty for parties.
Aside from its large capacity, customers rank this ice cream maker highly because it's so easy to use and operates quickly.
Simple and straightforward attachment
Saves you from having to buy a standalone appliance
Quiet when compared to countertop models
No automatic shutoff
If you already have a KitchenAid stand mixer and don’t want to add yet another appliance to your kitchen, this might be the ice cream maker for you. Compatible with both tilt-head and bowl-lift style mixers, this ice cream attachment consists of a freezer bowl similar to the Cuisinart model and a dasher that spins just like the paddle attachment for the mixer.
The two-quart bowl should be fully frozen for 24 hours before use to ensure that your ice cream freezes properly. You can store it in there to make sure it’s always ready to go, and keep it toward the back if possible where temperatures are coldest. Keep in mind that if your kitchen is warm, this bowl will warm up fairly quickly and start to sweat, so it’s not a bad idea to keep a kitchen towel underneath to catch the drips.
A batch of ice cream should take about 30 minutes to churn. If you prefer a harder, scoop-able consistency, you'll want to freeze the ice cream before serving, but soft-serve fans can enjoy it directly from the freezer bowl. One drawback of this model is that there isn’t an automatic shutoff like some of the dedicated machines have, so you’ll have to keep an eye on it while it’s churning.
The one inconsistency our product tester experienced while using this attachment is when freezing different flavors of ice cream. Her plain vanilla batch never progressed to fully frozen so it had to be put in the freezer at that point; two other flavors ended up with a creamy, whipped soft-serve texture. Regardless, all batches were evenly mixed and ended up delicious. "Even if you have trouble with freezing, the mix will freeze later on and it’ll still taste good," she says.
"We made one batch of blackberry and one batch of banana ice cream. Both turned out creamy and delicious with the texture of soft serve." — Stacey L. Nash, Product Tester
Easy to use and clean
Can only make small amounts at a time
Chef'n Sweet Spot Instant Ice Cream Maker provides a quick and easy way to make your favorite frozen treats. All you have to do is freeze the dish ahead of time, add your fresh ingredients, and the ice cream begins forming instantly. Then, you simply scoop and turn the mixture for a couple of minutes until you get your desired consistency.
If storage space is limited or your kitchen is already overrun with gadgets, this ice cream maker is the perfect solution. At less than 3 inches tall, it can be stored and stacked in your cabinets like a pie plate.
With no electricity—or crank turning—required, making ice cream with the Chef'n Sweet Spot is a great activity to do with kids and perfect for parties. Each Sweet Spot can make six 1/2-cup individual servings. It also comes with a scoop, blade, and recipe book. You do need to store the dish for at least 24 hours ahead of time, so keep it in your freezer if you have the room, and that way it's always ready to go. Other than this waiting period, several customers are happy with how quickly this works to make ice cream.
Fun and easy to use
Prepping takes time
If you're looking for a way to really get the kids involved in making ice cream, look no further: This soft-shell ice cream ball from YayLabs! is a toy and an ice cream maker all in one. First, you add your ingredients into one side and ice and rock salt into the other. Then, it's time to play! Roll and shake the ball around for about 25 minutes and you'll end up with delicious ice cream! Plus, cleanup is easy because the ball is dishwasher safe.
These ice cream balls come in pint and quart sizes and make great gifts. They're perfect for picnics, backyard birthday parties, and camping trips. Just be careful where you decide to use it as some reviewers warn of leaks.
Makes thick soft-serve
Removable drip tray
While most of our ice cream maker picks can dish up a decent soft-serve, this machine excels at it. Plus, it has a few bells and whistles that make hosting an ice cream social even more enjoyable. The soft-serve maker is fully automatic and can make 1 ½ quarts of ice cream, or about 10 to 12 servings at a time. Like the other Cuisinart model on our list, you will need to freeze the inner bowl before making your soft-serve, which means if you want to make two different flavors, you’ll have to have two different freezer bowls.
The best part of this model comes when it’s time to serve up your ice cream. It basically turns your kitchen counter into an ice cream parlor with a cone holder that fits both flat-bottomed wafer cones and pointy sugar cones. To serve simply press on the lever just like you would a commercial soft serve machine. You can also add in your favorite toppings and mix-ins thanks to the three dispensers on the side.
Finally, once you’re done dishing up your soft-serve, this model is easy to clean with a removable drip tray. Just be warned that it is a bit on the heavy side at 15 pounds, so you’ll want to be careful when moving it around.
A budget buy
Pretty large capacity
Lightweight when empty
Loud, obnoxious operation
Requires a lot of ice
Want lots of ice cream? Hate the idea of hand-churning? Got no freezer space for a giant freezer bowl? This is the ice cream maker you need. It can make up to four quarts of ice cream per batch, in 20 to 40 minutes.
There are no settings or controls to worry about. Just plug the machine in to begin the churning. When the mixture is so thick that the machine turns off, the ice cream is ready to go into the freezer to finish firming up. All you need to do is stay nearby so you can see that it’s done or listen for the churning to stop, since it’s a little louder than the more expensive compressor-style ice cream makers.
Since this has no freezer bowl, you’ll need to use ice and rock salt to create the chilling needed, so plan ahead to have a sufficient amount of ice available. When you’re done, the container and paddle should be hand washed.
Our reviewer loves what a bargain this lightweight ice cream maker is, especially because it can make so much ice cream. What they aren't a fan off is how loud the spinning motor is and that you need at least 8 pounds of ice, plus rock salt, to use the machine.
"As soon as I turned on the appliance, I knew that any hope of listening to a podcast as my ice cream churned was gone." — J. Fergus, Product Tester
The Cuisinart ICE-70 Electronic Ice Cream Maker is our top pick because of its useful features, especially the gelato setting and built-in timer. Plus, it has both manual and automatic modes. If you already have a KitchenAid mixer taking up counter space and you don't make ice cream that often, go for the KitchenAid Stand Mixer Ice Cream Maker Attachment. It's quiet and easy to use, and most importantly, it makes tasty ice cream.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Anthony Irizarry is a freelancer who writes roundups for The Spruce Eats. Having previously worked as an appliance reviews editor, he's no stranger to kitchen appliances. In addition to ice cream makers, Anthony has also rounded up our picks of the best toasters and best waffle makers of 2020.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, a home cook who happens to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She happily makes space for any gadget that makes cooking faster and easier and specializes in small kitchen appliance testing and reviews for The Spruce Eats.
The Ultimate Ice Cream Maker Buying Guide
By Donna Currie
When the craving for a bowl of ice cream hits, store-bought varieties may be convenient, but they can be limited in flavor choices and quality of ingredients. Imagine making fruit-filled ice cream with roasted figs or berries you grew in your own yard. How does pairing cinnamon ice cream with apple pie sound? With a dedicated ice cream maker, all these flavors combinations and more are possible.
You’ll also gain complete control over the ingredients in your ice cream. Only want to use organic, grass-fed dairy or avoid food dyes and artificial flavors in your ice cream? No problem. Ice cream makers can even handle non-dairy treats and frozen yogurt, granitas, and sorbets.
No matter which ice cream maker you choose, most machines operate the same basic way. The ice cream mixture is placed in a container that is chilled to below freezing temperature. A mixing paddle constantly keeps the ice cream mixture moving, while scraping the frozen ice cream from the sides and moving it toward the center of the container. The continuous scraping and stirring motion adds air to the ice cream, helping it acquire a smooth texture and ensuring it doesn’t freeze into a hard, solid block.
From manual ice cream makers and freezer bowls that free up counter space to old-fashioned models that use salt and ice to chill ice cream, there are plenty of ice cream maker options to choose from. Here’s what you need to know.
Let’s admit it: ice cream makers aren’t exactly essential kitchen items for most homes, so it might be tough to justify storing one. However, they are an awful lot of fun to experiment with, and most people enjoy a scoop or two of cold, extra smooth ice cream year-round, so if you can find a model that fits in your storage space, an ice cream maker will likely be a welcome addition to your kitchen.
Ice cream makers range in size, from small, single-serve models that take up virtually no counter space to non-electric bowls designed for freezer use and large compressor models that are too heavy to move around.
Ice cream makers range in capacity, or how much ice cream they can make per batch. When shopping for an ice cream maker, you’ll want to keep in mind how much ice cream you need or want to make at once.
The most popular ice cream makers typically produce between 1 and 2 quarts—that’s 4 to 8 cups—of ice cream at a time, but there are also models designed to make one single-serve cup of ice cream, as well as large-capacity models that can make up to 6 quarts or 24 cups at a time.
A large-capacity machine is a good option for a big family or if you want to make big batches of ice cream for parties. Larger models tend to be less efficient at handling smaller batches of ice cream, though. If you’re eager to try new recipes as often as possible, a machine designed to make smaller batches is just what you need.
Settings and Options
The most basic ice cream machines may just have an easy-to-use on/off switch. Other machines come equipped with timers, automatic shut-off or "keep cool" features, extra freezer bowls, settings for making gelato, special paddles, and more. In general, the compressor-style ice cream makers are designed with more controls and options for making different styles of ice cream from other models. While it’s great to have options and versatile appliances, sometimes a basic model that does its one job well is all you really need.
Ability to Make Multiple Batches
The style of ice cream maker you choose will determine whether you can make multiple batches in a row. Freezer bowl models require the bowl to be frozen before using, and most can only make one batch of ice cream before the bowl needs to be frozen again. If an extra freezer bowl is included, it’ll be easier to make multiple batches back to back. Compressor models can produce a second or third batch more easily. The salt-and-ice models can also accommodate as many batches as you like, as long as you have enough ice and salt to keep the machine cold.
While you can theoretically make endless batches of ice cream with some ice cream makers, churning hard ice cream can stress and overheat the motor of less-robust models. If you routinely want to make many batches of ice cream for large parties and events, a low-end commercial model may be a better buy than one that’s made for lighter-duty home use.
Electric ice cream machines do all the churning for you, so making ice cream is as easy as adding the ingredients, pushing the start button, and waiting until the ice cream is done. The process is similar to using other hands-off kitchen appliances like slow cookers.
Manual machines require more work (and muscle) because churning ice cream can take 20 minutes or longer, and the job becomes more difficult as the ice cream hardens. Since they don’t need to be plugged in, manual ice cream makers are portable, so you can bring one along to backyard parties, camping, and beach trips, and let everyone—children included—help churn. Some manual models are even more simple to use, only requiring you to stir the ingredients in a freezer bowl.
Many ice cream makers use a freezer bowl or insert that needs to be frozen before the ice cream can be churned. If you’re short on freezer space, this might not be convenient—plus, if you want to make a second batch, you’ll have to wait for the bowl to freeze again. Compressor models let your churn one batch after another but tend to take up more space and are more expensive. There are also ice cream makers that use the old-fashioned ice and salt freezing method.
On average, you can find plenty of decent electronic ice cream makers priced in the $50-$100 range. You'll find some of the more simple ice cream makers for under $30, while heavy-duty compressor models that work like miniature freezers can cost several hundred dollars. Although the supplies aren't expensive, the more old-fashioned salt and ice style ice cream makers will require you to buy salt and bags of ice whenever you want to make ice cream.
The average warranty for manufacturing defects on most ice cream makers is one year, although you may find some with longer or shorter warranty periods. Manufacturing defects are likely to appear early in the lifecycle of the product, while later failures are more likely to be caused by everyday wear and tear, which would not be covered under a normal warranty. A quality ice cream maker that has not been misused should typically last well beyond its warranty date, but if you have bad luck with appliances or want coverage for accidental breakage, you can purchase extended warranties for most electronics. Read the fine print before purchasing, as the extended warranties typically start at the date of purchase but can’t be used until the manufacturer’s warranty has expired.
Types of Ice Cream Makers
Salt and Ice
While hand-cranked salt and ice-style ice cream machines have been around since the mid-1800s, the method still works well. Some of these models require manual cranking to turn the paddle, while others are electric and will do the churning for you. If you want to make multiple batches, you simply need to clean the machine, add more ice, salt, and the ice cream ingredients and start churning again.
If you opt for this style, you’ll need to have plenty of ice and salt on hand. Keep in mind that if these ice cream makers are overfilled with ice, the cold, salty water can seep into the ice cream mixture and ruin it. Many salt and ice-style ice cream makers are available with larger capacities than other styles designed for home use.
Freezer bowl ice cream machines are the most popular for home use. Most are electric so they’re easy to use and take up little countertop space. The freezer bowls need to be placed in the freezer well ahead of churning, typically about eight hours, so you need to plan ahead or store the freezer bowl in the freezer so it’s always ready to go. The ice cream mixture also needs to be chilled before churning; otherwise, it might not freeze as solidly as you’d like before the bowl begins to lose its chill.
Churning a single batch of ice cream typically warms the bowl enough so the freezer bowl can’t be used for a second batch. Some ice cream makers include a second freezer bowl (or you can purchase one separately) so you can make two different batches of ice cream, one after the other. The only downside is that multiple freezer bowls take up even more freezer space.
Compressor-style ice cream makers operate like small freezers. Instead of chilling before churning, these models begin chilling after the ice cream mixture is added, although some machines can be pre-chilled before adding ingredients. These machines typically have more features, with settings for making gelato, sorbets, and more. Some models have timers to remind you when to add mix-ins, and/or keep-cold features that will keep the ice cream chilled if you can’t immediately transfer the ice cream to the freezer when it’s done churning.
This style of machine is the easiest for making multiple batches because you simply need to clean the bowl between batches. These machines tend to be the most expensive, and they’re also much larger and heavier than other ice cream makers. While a compressor-style ice cream maker might be overkill for most home kitchens, they produce excellent ice cream and are always ready to go.
Soft serve ice cream machines are designed to both churn and dispense soft serve style ice cream and frozen yogurt. These models are usually fitted with a freezer bowl and operate just like the freezer bowl style ice cream makers, but they're designed to keep the ice cream chilled at a higher temperature so the ice cream won't harden as much and will stay smooth and, well, soft. A lever lets you dispense the soft serve straight into a cup or cone and some models even have topping dispensers so you can mix in sprinkles, nuts, or bits of candy as you fill your dish. Soft serve ice cream machines are a favorite among kids, who love to make their own sundaes.
Cuisinart has a reputation for quality kitchen products, and it has several ice cream makers that are top-rated for quality and are favorites among consumers. These models are also moderately priced, so if your budget is in the mid-range, this is a good brand to check out. Cuisinart makes several freezer bowl-style ice cream makers that are extremely popular, as well as a compressor-style and soft-serve ice cream maker and dispenser.
Known for high-end kitchen electronics, Breville makes the highly rated Smart Scoop compressor ice cream maker. While this machine is bulky, heavy, and will take up a significant amount of counter space, it’s versatile, with settings for different types of ice cream and other frozen treats. Breville currently makes just this one ice cream machine, which carries a splurge-worthy price tag. However, this model ranks consistently as a favorite compressor-style ice cream maker by both users and reviewers.
The Nostalgia company makes a variety of retro-looking kitchen appliances, including several models of old-fashioned bucket-style ice cream makers that use the traditional salt-and-ice freezer method. Most models are electric, so you can enjoy the nostalgic design without having to hand-churn like in the olden days. These ice cream makers are affordably priced, but larger models and those with old-school wooden bucket designs cost more.
Hamilton Beach has been around for generations and is known for mid-range kitchen appliances that are well-built without breaking the budget. The brand offers a number of ice cream makers in the budget to mid-priced range in a variety of styles, including both freezer bowl models and salt-and-ice machines. It also make a battery-operated 1-cup single-serve ice cream maker.
KitchenAid is known for its iconic stand mixers and the variety of attachments that are powered by the mixer’s motor. There are attachments for food processing, pasta making, juicing, and yes, even making ice cream. If you already own a KitchenAid mixer and don’t want to sacrifice any more counter space for another appliance, the ice cream freezer bowl attachment may be a perfect choice. The freezer bowl attaches to the mixer in place of the standard mixing bowl, and an ice cream paddle replaces the mixer’s beater. Both can be stored in the freezer between uses so they’ll always be ready when you want to make a batch of ice cream.
Probably best known for its innovative ice pop freezers, Zoku also makes a single-serve freezer bowl that simply requires stirring to make a fresh bowl of ice cream. Like other freezer bowl ice cream makers, the bowl needs to be stored in the freezer before churning. The bowl is small, so it won’t take much space, but you’ll need more than one if everyone in the family wants ice cream for dessert.
Most ice cream maker bowls, mixing paddles, and lids should be washed by hand in warm, soapy water. It is not recommended to place ice cream freezer bowls in the dishwasher because doing so can damage them and prevent them from adequately freezing. All ice cream maker parts need to be thoroughly dried before reassembling and using. Freezer bowls need to be totally dry before being placed in the freezer; otherwise, ice can accumulate on the walls of the bowl and can interfere with the ice cream making process.
Ice cream makers typically don’t include any major accessories, although some might include ice cream scoops, extra bowls, or additional paddles. You’ll need a spoon or spatula to remove the ice cream from the machine, and a freezer-safe container to store the finished product.
If you want to take your ice cream making to the next level, you may want to consider investing in special molds for making ice cream bars and a quality ice cream scoop. Toppings like sprinkles and fudge sauce, sundae dishes, and milkshake glasses may be fun accessories to have as well.
Two of the most important factors to consider in choosing an ice cream maker is which method of freezing you prefer and how much ice cream you’ll regularly be making. You’ll also want to factor in your budget, the amount of space you have available, and the capacity of the machines you’re considering.
If you have limited space and/or only occasionally want to make homemade ice cream without much user involvement, an electric freezer-bowl style should suit your needs. But if you want to make large batches of ice cream or get the whole family involved in the activity, you’ll probably benefit more from an old-fashioned ice-and-salt model or a compressor-style ice cream maker.