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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 round-up 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 easy to use, quiet, and 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 make cooking faster and easier and specializes in small kitchen appliance testing and reviews for The Spruce Eats.
What to Look for in an Ice Cream Maker
Freezing style: Many ice cream makers use a freezer bowl or insert that needs to be frozen for a period of time before the ice cream is 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 you churn batch after batch but tend to be larger and more expensive. Cooling with ice and salt is the old-fashioned method, though it still works well.
Power source: Churning ice cream can take 20 minutes or more, so electric machines make the job easier. On the other end of the spectrum, hand-churning with a manual machine can be tiring, and the job becomes more difficult as the ice cream hardens. (However, since manual models don’t need electricity, you can bring yours to the family picnic and let everyone try churning for a minute.)
Batch size: How much ice cream do you want to make at once? If you have a big family or regularly make ice cream for parties, a larger-capacity unit makes sense. If you’re eager to try new recipes as often as possible, a machine that makes smaller batches is just what you need.