Growing up in the northeast, there was no shortage of ice cream no matter the time of year. During the hot summer months, my family would go to Wahl’s Dairy Port, a family-owned ice cream parlor in Bucksport, Maine, for sundaes and flurries, multiple times a week. I remember one winter my mom got one of those nostalgia-inducing hand-crank ice creams churns that we filled with ice and rock salt, then took turns churning outside in the bitter cold. , do not recommend it.
Personal anecdotes aside, New England does have a reputation for ice cream—we’re home to Ben & Jerry’s after all. So I screamed I couldn’t resist when I got the opportunity to write this article and test a bunch of ice cream makers to determine which were the best on the market. Before getting started, I spoke with Aaron Cohen, owner of Gracie’s Ice Cream in Somerville, Massachusetts, my favorite local ice cream shop. I wanted to know a little more about commercial ice cream production so I could know what to look for in ice cream makers meant for home use. Churn speed seems to be one of the biggest factors in producing silky, creamy ice cream.
“Commercial machines are designed to bring larger quantities of ice cream base to colder temperatures faster,” Cohen says. “Some even have condensers that could power small air conditioners. Retail units are designed to be smaller and less expensive, so their cooling capacity leaves a lot to be desired if what you’re looking for is a lot of ice cream fast.”
And he means fast! Cohen tells me his commercial machines churn ice cream within eight to minutes. With that in mind, along with the other factors listed below, I tested eight ice cream makers to determine which home machines came closest to producing ice cream on par with Cohen’s commercial machines. Here’s how they measured up.
This ice cream machine is exactly what I picture in my head when I imagine an electric home ice cream maker. It feels like the prototype for every other ice cream maker of this size and style—at first glance the Hamilton Beach model I tested looks almost exactly like it. The design is pleasingly simple, consisting of just four parts: the electric base, the bowl, the paddle, and a clear plastic cover. The latter holds the bowl in place and has an opening large enough to pour your ice cream base in, along with any mix-ins later, without spilling all over the countertop. Like every canister model, the freezer bowl has to be kept in the freezer for hours before you can start churning. Something to keep in mind if you plan to make a lot of ice cream.
Using this machine is as simple as its design. Simply place the bowl on the electric base, insert the paddle, and put the cover on. Once assembled, switch it on, and pour in your ice cream base. The cover holds the paddle in place while the bowl spins. This was the fastest of all of the machines tested, churning ice cream to a soft-serve consistency in minutes flat. It produced the best-textured ice cream of all of the canister models and was the quietest in this category. Ice crystals were present in both tastings but fairly minimal, giving the ice cream an almost perfect silky texture. Because the bowl is fairly shallow and wide, it was easy to pull the paddle out without spilling ice cream onto the counter. Once I scraped the ice cream from the paddle, scooping the rest out of the bowl was a quick, easy process.
Cleanup was a breeze. Cuisinart recommends cleaning the bowl, paddle, and lid with warm soapy water, all of which only took a couple of minutes altogether. At about $ at the time of publication, it’s also one of the best value models, given the quality of the ice cream it produces.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this model since it was the smallest of all of the ice cream makers tested but was pleasantly surprised at the performance. As with all of the canister models, the mixing bowl has to be stored in the freezer for hours before churning. But that inconvenience is offset by the diminutive size of the mixing bowl on this little machine—we hardly noticed it was in the freezer at all because it took up barely any space.
Assembling the machine is pretty simple: The mixing bowl sits in a cup, and the paddle is inserted into the motor, which also acts as the lid. When you’re ready to churn, pour your base into the mixing bowl, cover with the motor lid, and switch the machine on. I thought that, since the mixing bowl is completely enclosed, this machine would churn the ice cream faster than any of the machines, but it ended up taking about minutes to reach the right consistency. Since I couldn’t see into the machine as I could with all of the other models, I felt like I had to keep stopping and opening the machine to check on my ice cream after the first minutes to see whether it was finished. Because of this, and the longer churn time, the texture was not as smooth as the Cuisinart model, but was actually better than some of the compressor models that cost to times as much money. Since the paddle is attached to the motor lid, it lifts right out when you open the machine, which made scooping the ice cream from the bowl to my storage container really easy. The mixing bowl is so small that I was able to just hold it upside down and scrape out the ice cream with just a few swipes of the plastic spoon that came with the machine.
Cleanup was simple, with only the mixing bowl and paddle needing to be washed. But none of the components are dishwasher-safe. At $, and given the quality of the ice cream it produces and tiny footprint, this was a surprisingly good value.
Okay, I get it. It’s a lot to spend on an ice cream maker. At that point, its really considered a luxury item. And this machine is bulky. And heavy. But hear me out.
This machine produces the absolute best quality ice cream of every single machine I tested, hard stop. I’d never used an ice cream maker with a built-in compressor before working on this article, so I didn’t know what to expect from any of the models I tested. I assumed they’d all produce pretty similar ice cream since they were all so much more expensive than their canister counterparts. But I was wrong. Oh, how wrong I was.
First of all, this machine is beautiful. I spoke with a representative at Lello’s US distribution center, and he told me that every Lello ice cream maker is assembled by hand in a small factory in Italy before being meticulously inspected and shipped off to be distributed. The interface is simple, though just a bit more complex than the single-button canister models I tested. One button toggles the chilling function, a second toggles the churning motor, and a dial sets the churn time, also acting as the on-off switch. The entire thing is made of stainless steel, including the paddle and the nut that secures it to the mixing bowl. One thing to note is that the mixing bowl is actually just a deep depression in the top of the machine, and is not removable. One could argue that this makes clean-up more of a pain than just being able to remove the bowl and wash it in the sink, but I found that washing it according to the manufacturer’s instructions didn’t take that much longer see below.
One big advantage over the canister models is that you can use this machine whenever your base is ready, it’s essentially always assembled assuming you put it back together after cleaning. All I had to do during testing was pour in the base, push both buttons, set the timer to minutes, and put the lid on top. Given what I knew about how to churn time can affect the final texture, I really worried that minutes was too long, especially since I tested this model after the Cuisinart ICE- and knew that minutes was the speed to beat. Despite the longer churning time, however, this machine, and I cannot emphasize this enough, produced the best-textured ice cream of all of the machines I tested, tied only with the other Lello model. The soft-serve stage was reminiscent of the ice cream I used to get from Wahl’s Dairy Port as a kid—absolutely silky-smooth ice cream. It was creamy, without even a hint of crystallization. Even more impressive: It stayed that way after freezing overnight. Consecutive batches took less time to churn, at a brisk minute, and those batches were identical in quality to the initial batch.
Because the bowl is wide and shallow, it was really easy to get all of the ice creams out. The machine comes with a big plastic spoon for removing the finished product, and its shape and size made scooping ice cream out from under the paddle really easy. I was also able to move the churning paddle manually to push it out of the way for easier ice cream removal. When it came time to clean up, I washed the lid, nut, and paddle by hand in the sink. As per the instruction manual, I poured ¼ cup of hot water into the bowl, and wiped it out with a clean sponge, rinsing the sponge, and repeating this process until the machine was clean. You can also sanitize the machine with a bleach solution, or a commercial kitchen sanitizing spray like you’d use to sanitize beer brewing equipment, or canning jars and lids. Once dry, I replaced the saddle, nut, and lid, and the machine was ready to go.
This was, indeed, a huge factor! The faster the ice cream base freezes, the less chance of ice crystals forming, which has a big effect on texture. Have you ever eaten ice cream and then felt like someone ran sandpaper over your tongue? That ice cream either took too long to churn, or melted and re-froze. The best performing machines churned out silky ice cream in minutes or less.
The best ice cream makers in this list had the simplest interfaces, limited to a button or two and maybe a dial, depending on the model. When making ice cream, you should just be able to put together a couple of parts, pour, and switch the machine on. Anything more complicated than that seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I also looked at how quietly each machine ran. Since the churn time varied from minutes to an hour, it felt important that each machine be fairly quiet while churning. Compressor ice cream makers have the added benefit of being able to churn consecutive batches of ice cream.
Kitchen space is limited, as is freezer space. The canister churns are smaller, so they take up less counter space, but they also require you to keep the bowl in the freezer for hours before you can use them. Compressor models, on the other hand, are considerably bulkier, taking up more counter space, but you can also use them as soon as your ice cream base is chilled. Because they take up so much space, I really looked at performance on the compressor models when determining whether they were worth losing precious counter space.
The price range of all of these models is from $ to $, which is a pretty enormous gap! Compressor models are considerably more expensive than the canister ones, so it was interesting to see how they compared in performance.
Be prepared to handwash most of the components of your ice cream maker, no matter what type of model you end up buying.
I used the same ice cream base to test every machine, taking care to use the exact same weight of each ingredient for every batch. Since this was a cooked custard base, I let every batch cool to room temperature on my counter, before transferring it to the fridge to chill down to °F.
Once my base was chilled, I followed the manufacturer’s instructions included with every machine to churn the ice cream to a soft-serve consistency. I took note of how simple each machine was to use, including assembly and interface, and how long it took to reach that consistency. Two tasters and I tasted each batch at the soft-serve stage, then again after chilling in the freezer overnight. We took note of texture, looking out for those scratchy ice crystals during both tastings and hardness during the second tasting.
I also looked at how easy it was to scoop the ice cream out of each machine once it finished churning and how easy it was to clean each machine once the ice cream had been removed.
Since compressor models are able to churn multiple batches of ice cream consecutively without having a bowl you have to freeze between batches, I tested that capability by cleaning out and drying each machine after the initial test and starting the second batch immediately after.
Hamilton Beach Electric Automatic Ice Cream Maker: This machine looks almost identical to the winning Cuisinart model, but took about minutes to churn the ice cream base to the right consistency. It also sounded like the rock tumbler I used to have as a kid for the entire churn time, making the entire experience pretty unpleasant. The ice cream it made was just okay, with some pretty intense crystallization.
Breville Smart Scoop BCIXL: This may have been the biggest disappointment of the bunch. I’ve seen the Smart Scoop ice cream maker in some pretty prestigious test kitchens, so it was one I coveted for a long time but could never justify the $ expense. Now that I’ve tested it, I can say that it’s definitely not worth the excessive price tag. Of all the models tested, this one took the longest, at a whopping minute, which made for some pretty unpleasantly textured ice cream. The Breville interface was also needlessly complicated, offering a ton of different settings for different types of frozen desserts, a pre-chill setting that didn’t seem to do anything especially considering I had already chilled the ice cream base before adding it to the machine. When the machine finally finished churning, the tall, narrow bowl made removing the ice cream difficult, and I lost a pretty big glob of ice cream to the counter when removing the paddle. There were some functions that seemed helpful on the surface, like an alarm that told you when to add mix-ins, but it chimed on way too early in the process, given how long it took to churn. If I’d added, for instance, chocolate cookies to make cookies n’ cream ice cream, when the machine told me to, they would have been completely obliterated and homogenized into the base by the time the machine finished churning. For the price and the prestige brand name, I really expected a lot better from this machine.
Cuisinart ICE-: Cuisinart’s entry into the compressor category was perfectly fine. It’s much easier to use than the Breville model, with just three buttons, one to toggle power on and off, one to start churning, and one to toggle the timer. It takes about minutes to churn, twice as long as its winning canister counterpart, so the texture left a little to be desired, especially considering this model is almost times as expensive as the ICE-. The bowl is removable, making it a little easier to clean than the Lello, but the quality of the ice cream is so vastly different that if you really want a compressor model, I’d still encourage you to go for the pricier option. Otherwise, stick with the Cuisinart ICE—if you want to be able to make consecutive batches, you can always just buy another mixing bowl separately.
KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment: This is a fine option if you already have a KitchenAid stand mixer and are staunchly against buying a whole separate machine for making ice cream. It is, however, more expensive than the Cuisinart ICE-, and doesn’t perform as well, so if you can spare the kitchen storage space, I’d go for the separate machine.
Lello Musso Pola: At money this is likely out of the price range for most home cooks, but if you want to be able to make two quarts of ice cream at a go and a shorter churn time just minutes then the Lussino, this is a superb machine. Besides the price, the size is a bit of a drawback for typical homemade ice cream needs. It is enormous, the largest of all the machines tested and weighs over pounds, so you’ll want to find a permanent spot for it in your kitchen and enlist some help unpackaging it and moving it.
Compressor machines are big, bulky, and expensive, but let you make ice cream on a whim with minimal preparation. However, the ice cream most of them produce hardly justifies the expense when compared to small frozen bowl models that produce consistently good ice cream like the Cuisinart ICE- and DASH My Pint. If you’re dead set on getting an ice cream maker with a built-in compressor, I just don’t see any point in buying anything other than the Lello Musso Lussino, even with its hefty price tag.