Whether it’s your next cooking adventure or you simply want to replicate your favorite store-bought flavors, making homemade ice cream is super simple. Once you have your ingredients together (don’t forget the mix-ins!), you have a few avenues open for turning that heavy cream into sweet ice cream. I’ve tried each and every method, and even though it requires a little planning, I always end up reaching for my ice cream maker so I don’t end up with really delicious whipped cream.
What is an ice cream maker?
Ice cream makers are small machines used to craft ice cream in a home kitchen. They come in both manual and electric versions, and have two vital aspects to them. First, they cool down ingredients enough to begin freezing, all the while churning ingredients together to incorporate air and keep the forming ice crystals to a minimum. The first versions were hand-cranked, but today, most are electric and are available in three main styles: frozen bowl, compressor, and a bucket filled with salt and ice.
Can’t I just use a bag or a jar to make ice cream?
Making ice cream in a glass jar or in a bag is a simple way to make homemade ice cream, but it creates really small amounts and you need to shake continuously for minutes. No-churn ice cream recipes also create a larger margin of error since you’re incorporating the air, not the machine.
How do you use an ice cream maker?
If you use a frozen-bowl maker, the drum will need to be placed in the freezer for at least 24 hours to solidify the internal liquid. Compressor and salt-and-ice machines have different setups. The former only needs a pre-chill, but salt-and-ice makers need a significant amount of ice (at least 2 medium-sized bags) and at least 2 cups of rock salt. You’ll layer the two around the metal barrel.
Whatever kind of ice cream machine you use, you’ll want to chill your base and any mix-ins prior to churning. The key to creamy, not icy, ice cream is keeping the post-churning ice crystals as small as possible. As you transfer your ice cream to the freezer, the water molecules inside the ice cream melt and refreeze. It's the same process that happens with the scooped top of your store-bought ice cream, which is why it can get very icy.
Can you use ice cream makers for more than just ice cream?
Yes! Ice cream makers are great for making a refreshing sorbet or creamy sherbet, but you can also mix together slushies (non-alcoholic and boozy) and churn other frozen drinks that might get watery in a blender. You can even use a freezer bowl as a tabletop ice bucker for bottles of wine.
How do I choose an ice cream maker?
Of the three types of ice cream makers, which one works best for you comes down to your needs. If you're searching for a fun activity with the kids, look at frozen-bowl or salt-and-ice models. The latter are especially fun to use during summertime parties. If you're looking to expand your kitchen expertise, frozen-bowl and compressor ice cream makers will serve you better.
Cuisinart ICE-70W Cool Creations Ice Cream Maker
What It’s Best For: Small spaces, beginners, seasonal users, small batches
The Cuisinart ICE-70 is the perfect ice cream maker for most home users. Frozen bowl models churn your ice cream within a frozen bowl as a paddle scrapes the sides. They’re not only very affordable, but also don’t take up too much storage space if you only get cravings during the warmer months. After a day in the freezer, the Cuisinart’s 2-quart bowl will mix your ice cream for about a half hour, with an open top for adding in mix-ins at the end, and it comes with programs for gelato and sorbet. Of the freezer-bowl models we’ve tested, this is one of the easiest to use, and consistently makes great ice cream.
Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Compressor
What It’s Best For: Serious ice cream connoisseurs, large kitchens, experimental batches
If you’re really into ice cream and don’t want to wait a day for the bowl to freeze, then a compressor machine is for you. The Breville Smart Scoop’s 12 settings can churn ice cream to a varying degree of hardness within minutes. Compressor machines don’t have to be pre-frozen in any way, but you do need to give them a few minutes to cool down before adding your ingredients. Another advantage they have is being much quieter than other ice cream machines.
Nostalgia 4-Quart Electric Ice Cream Maker With Easy Carry Handle
What It’s Best For: Beginners, large batches, making ice cream as a group activity
The original hand-cranked ice cream makers worked by placing a large metal canister within a bucket, and surrounding it with ice and rock salt. The salt lowers the ice’s freezing point, and the coldness is passed through the metal to your ingredients. Unlike those olden models though, this Nostalgia ice cream maker is electric, so all you need to do is flip a switch. Salt-and-ice ice cream machines are fun for the whole family since kids can help with the setup, and the ice cream is usually cold enough to eat immediately afterward.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Siobhan Wallace is a commerce editor with Dotdash Meredith and has been writing for The Spruce Eats since 2020. She’s been making ice cream for at least a decade, and recently upgraded her 1.5-quart Cuisinart ICE-21 to the 2-quart Cuisinart ICE-70.