The Best Ice Cream Maker (2024)

The research

  • Why you should trust us
  • Who this is for
  • How we picked and tested
  • Our pick: Cuisinart ICE-21
  • Also great: Whynter ICM-15LS and ICM-201SB
  • Upgrade pick: Lello 4080 Musso Lussino
  • Other good ice cream makers
  • The competition
  • What to look forward to

Why you should trust us

We’ve been covering the best ice cream makers since 2014, churning out pints and pints of custard, Philly-style ice cream, sorbet, and vegan frozen desserts. We’ve tested 21 machines in all, including compressor models, old-school hand-crank machines, salt-and-ice contraptions, frozen-bowl churners, and stand-mixer attachments.

Mace Dent Johnson, who wrote this guide, is a staff writer on Wirecutter’s kitchen team, and they have covered soda makers, frozen pizza, vegan ice cream, and more. For this update, they pored over reviews for ice cream makers, forums on ice cream making, and ice cream cookbooks, and they spent about 25 hours testing our picks against new competitors.

Previous contributors to this guide include other members of Wirecutter’s kitchen team: writer Anna Perling, senior staff writer Lesley Stockton, and senior editor Marguerite Preston.

Who this is for

If you love ice cream and want to learn a new skill, an ice cream maker can be a good investment. Making ice cream does require some time and commitment: To churn ice cream from scratch in one of our picks, you’ll need to make a base, chill it, churn it to a soft-serve consistency, add mix-ins (if desired), and freeze to harden.

You’ll need to take time to find ice cream recipes and perfect your process—regardless of which machine you use, you might not make great ice cream right away. And you’ll have to drop some cash on ingredients, which aren’t cheap (and might even cost you more than if you just bought ice cream).

But if you want or need to have more control over what goes into your frozen treats, getting an ice cream maker could be especially worthwhile. When you have an ice cream maker at home, you can fine-tune ingredients to fit any dietary restrictions or flavor preferences. (We test these machines with non-dairy recipes, too.)

Consider how an ice cream maker would fit into your lifestyle and kitchen. If you know you’ll want to store it away and pull it out only occasionally—and you don’t mind keeping the bowl in your freezer—our top pick should work great for you. If you think you’ll use it every day, or multiple times a day, and you have the counter space to leave an ice cream maker out, you may want to go for a compressor model.

If you’re not sure how likely you are to dust off a potentially bulky and heavy machine (as opposed to just popping to the store for a premium pint), you might start by getting a secondhand ice cream maker. Our top pick is a popular appliance, and, in our experience, it turns up pretty often in local or online secondhand marketplaces.

Advertisem*nt

SKIP ADVERTIsem*nT

How we picked and tested

An ice cream maker does two things: It spins and freezes. Spinning is what creates that soft, creamy texture. By rotating either the bowl or the dasher (the technical name for the paddle that churns the ice cream), ice cream makers scrape frozen material from the walls of the bowl and evenly and gradually incorporate it back into the liquid base. This process also whips air into the mixture, until the whole batch is frozen to a soft-serve consistency (to firm it up more, you’ll need to transfer it to the freezer).

We prefer machines that spin using a motor. We’ve tested hand-crank models in the past, and they’re just too much work. Ice cream makers with a motor also spin faster than hand-crank models, leading to finer ice crystals and smoother textures.

An insulated bowl or compressor freezes best. Our top pick freezes your ice cream in an insulated bowl filled with a cooling liquid. Before using the bowl, you need to freeze it for 16 to 24 hours—or until the liquid inside is frozen solid. The Whynter models we recommend freeze using a built-in compressor, similar to the mechanism used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

Both freezing methods have their merits. Bowl insert machines are lighter, smaller, and more affordable; compressor machines can churn out smoother, fluffier batches, one after another, without someone having to freeze a bowl.

In the past, we’ve tested machines that freeze using good old-fashioned ice and salt, but we have found them to be messy and cumbersome.

While researching and testing ice cream makers, we focused on the following criteria:

Freezing speed: The faster the freeze, the less time there is for large ice crystals to form. Plus, we think most people will be more likely to use a machine that works quicker, since there are already wait times baked into the process of making ice cream. Our picks froze to soft-serve consistency in 20 to 40 minutes.

Churning speed: The faster a dasher spins, the more overrun (or added air) an ice cream maker can whip into an ice cream base, to create something with a light, creamy texture, rather than ice cream that’s too dense and hard. Quick churning also means there’s less time for large ice crystals to form on the walls of the maker’s bowl.

Ease of use: We favored ice cream makers with simple interfaces and little room for error. Operating all of our picks can be as easy as dumping in your base and turning on the machine.

We also looked for machines that were simple to assemble and had wide openings for sampling your creation or adding mix-ins. We appreciate that the compressor models offer an extra layer of ease—with no pre-planning or pre-freezing needed.

Ease of cleaning: We made note of any particularly tricky aspects in cleaning each machine, and we favored machines with removable, hand-washable elements.

Size: We considered how bulky each machine was and how much room freezer bowls took up in the freezer.

Warranty: Great ice cream makers can be expensive. Our picks have at least a one-year warranty.

To test the ice cream makers, in each machine we churned a vanilla custard base, a vegan cocoa-butter and coconut-cream base, and an eggless, Philly-style base. We made note of the churn time and calculated overrun for each batch. Overrun is a measurement of how much air has been added into an ice cream base in the process of freezing and churning. An ice cream with high overrun is typically fluffier, and one with low overrun tends to be denser.

We tasted each batch right out of the machine and then the next day, after each pint had hardened (or “ripened”) in the freezer. We made note of each one’s flavor and texture, looking for any detectable ice crystals or textural inconsistencies. We added Oreos as mix-ins, noting how many Oreos a machine could incorporate before stalling.

In past tests, we’ve made chocolate and vanilla custard, lemon sorbet, and a coconut-cream–based vegan dessert. And we’ve used sprinkles, chocolate chips, and Oreos as mix-ins. We’ve learned that fat content is key when you’re making smooth frozen desserts. If you plan to make primarily vegan ice cream or sorbet, expect at least a little bit of iciness, even from the nicest machines.

Our pick: Cuisinart ICE-21

The Best Ice Cream Maker (1)

Our pick

Cuisinart ICE-21

The best ice cream maker

This frozen-bowl-style ice cream maker churns out dense, creamy ice cream faster than any of our other picks—and at a fraction of the cost.

Buying Options

$50 from Amazon

$68 from Walmart

$70 from Wayfair

The Cuisinart ICE-21 has been one of our favorite ice cream makers for years. Recommended by an impressive list of ice cream professionals, the ICE-21 is simple and fun to use, and it makes great homemade ice cream with very little fuss. It comes in white, red, and pink.

Great texture: The ICE-21 makes dense, creamy, slightly chewy ice cream, and with a bit of practice and recipe testing, you can create a divinely smooth frozen dessert. In our tests, ice cream from the ICE-21 was creamy, pleasantly dense, and nicely chewy, and even our troubled vegan base came out only slightly icy.

Fast churning: This machine’s churn time is half that of the compressor models we recommend—the ICE-21 machine got ice cream to a soft-serve consistency in less than 20 minutes. And that short churn time, aided by the base going into a bowl that’s already freezing cold, typically produces ice cream with a denser texture.

By increasing churn time, you can whip a bit more air into the dessert. But you won’t want to push it too long—at around 22 minutes, we noticed gains in overrun plateau while iciness levels became noticeable and unpalatable.

Easy to use: With just one switch (to turn the machine on and off) and a lightweight base, the ICE-21 is simple to set up: Place the frozen bowl on the base, insert the plastic dasher into the bowl, and place the plastic cover over the whole setup. Flip on the switch, and then pour in your base.

Great value: Usually available for around $70, this ice cream maker punches way above its weight class, so it can be both a great gift for beginners and a useful research tool for ice cream experts. The machine also comes with a three-year limited warranty—longer than that of any of our other picks.

For another $40 (at the time of publication), you can buy an extra freezer bowl, so you could make two batches back-to-back.

Roomy opening for ingredients: The ICE-21 has a wide opening, so you can pause and taste or easily add mix-ins. Most other machines have closed lids, with small slot openings that are barely wide enough to fit a spoon. By contrast, this machine has an open-top design, with a generous, 3½-inch hole that you can reach or pour into.

The wide opening also allows you to watch as the machine is working—a particularly fun aspect. Due to this machine’s fast churn time, the swirling transformation might just hypnotize kids on an “I’m so bored” summer day.

How the Cuisinart ICE-21 has held up

One long-term tester has had the ICE-21 for about six years, and he’s used it about 20 times (as well as moved it across the country multiple times). He said he appreciates the simplicity of the machine, and he’s used the ICE-21 to churn out ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbet. Though he finds the machine a bit bulky to store in a New York City kitchen cabinet—and the batch yield size a bit small for the amount of work that goes into homemade ice cream—he said he plans to continue using the ICE-21 for many more years.

Another long-term tester who has been using the ICE-21 for about two years said she doesn’t mind the batch yield size. She said the machine makes plenty of ice cream for her family to enjoy for a couple of days, without it sitting in the freezer and getting icy. She also said she doesn’t mind the size of the machine, since it’s about as small an ice cream maker as you can buy.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Tight capacity means there’s potential for overflow. If you add mix-ins to a full, 1½-quart recipe, you could get some ice cream oozing up to the top of the bowl and smearing along the plastic cover or potentially overflowing through the wide mouth. (The same goes for the 1½ quart Whynter ICM-15LS.) But we’ve never had a problem with ice cream dripping down the sides of the bowl or causing the machine to stall.

Since this machine is particularly easy to clean—with the separate bowl, lid, and paddle, and the easily wipeable plastic base—we don’t think potential overflowing is a dealbreaker. But if you plan to add mix-ins, you may find it’s better to underfill the bowl a bit. If this sounds limiting, and you’d like a higher-capacity machine, we’d suggest the Whynter 201SB.

Pre-freezing the bowl requires advance planning. The bowl needs 16 to 24 hours to freeze completely. You shouldn’t hear any liquid sloshing around, or you’ll wind up with ice cream that has the consistency of an unevenly frozen milkshake.

If you have the space, we recommend always keeping the freezer bowl in your freezer, at least during ice cream season. And if you find that your appetite for homemade ice cream is outpacing the freeze cycle of the bowl, you may want to buy an extra bowl insert.

Also great: Whynter ICM-15LS and ICM-201SB

Also great

Whynter ICM-201SB

A great compressor model for lighter-texture ice cream

This self-cooling machine churned out ice cream that many of our testers found to be just the right texture—light, creamy, and stretchy.

Buying Options

$333 from Amazon

$343 from Home Depot

$333 from Wayfair

Whynter ICM-15LS

A great compressor model for denser ice cream

This smaller-capacity compressor model makes slightly denser ice cream than the ICM-201SB, and it made some of the best vegan ice cream—dense and creamy, with minimal ice crystals.

Buying Options

$230 from Amazon

$245 from Walmart

$287 from Home Depot

A compressor-cooled model is ready to make ice cream anytime, without someone having to freeze a bowl ahead of time. So you can make batch after batch, with just a brief pause to clean the pail. In our tests, our favorite compressor models usually made the smoothest, most ice-crystal-free ice cream.

Our favorite compressor models are both from Whynter: the ICM-15LS and the ICM-201SB. Both machines churn smooth, delicious ice cream in around 30 to 40 minutes. Both are heavier and larger than our top pick, with the 15LS weighing around 26½ pounds and the 201SB weighing around 28 pounds.

If you’re not looking for maximum capacity and you prefer denser ice cream, we recommend the ICM-15LS. If you prefer a slightly fluffy, creamy ice cream, or you want to be able to make bigger batches at a time, we recommend the ICM-201SB.

The ICM-15LS is shorter and less expensive, and it’s the best option for making vegan ice cream. Our taste-testers enjoyed the vegan ice cream from the ICM-15LS more than the vegan ice cream made in the Cuisinart ICE-21, because the ICM-15LS’s ice cream was dense but with finer ice crystals and a more-cohesive texture and flavor. Dairy ice cream from the ICM-15LS was creamy, dense, and slightly chewy—a similar texture to dairy ice cream made in the Cuisinart ICE-21, but with a more-premium, smooth texture.

The ICE-15LS has a low profile (about 10 inches tall), but it has a big footprint (with a base measuring about 9½ by 15 inches). The machine has a 1.6-quart maximum capacity, similar to that of the Cuisinart ICE-21.

With either the Cuisinart ICE-21 or the ICM-15LS, you may get a little bit of overflow if you overfill the ice cream base and then add mix-ins. But we’ve never had any serious messes or machine-stalling-blowouts with either machine.

The ICM-201SB gave us Goldilocks-texture ice cream, but it struggled with vegan base. Dairy ice cream made in the ICM-201SB was not as dense as ice cream made in the Cuisinart ICE-21 or the Whynter ICM-15LS, and it wasn’t as fluffy as results from the Whynter ICM-128BPS. But it did produce a firm-but-creamy, rich-but-light, happy-medium dairy ice cream. The custard ice cream we made was especially delicious, with an impressive lightness and stretch not achieved by the other machines.

However, vegan ice cream made in the ICM-201SB was icier than vegan ice cream from the ICM-15LS and the Cuisinart ICE-21. We think the ICM-201SB’s higher overrun contributed to larger ice crystals forming in the less-fat-filled vegan base. If you plan to make mainly sorbet or vegan ice cream, one of our other picks might be a better choice.

The ICM-201SB is a taller machine (13½ inches), but it has a smaller footprint (about 10½ by 11½ inches) than the ICM-15LS. In total volume, the ICM-201SB is the second largest of all of our picks, after the massive Lello 4080 Musso Lussino.

Upgrade pick: Lello 4080 Musso Lussino

The Best Ice Cream Maker (5)

Upgrade pick

Lello 4080 Musso Lussino

The best of the best

This premium, stainless steel compressor model churns out flawless, creamy, gelato-like ice cream. But this machine is especially heavy as well as pricey.

Buying Options

$627 from Amazon

May be out of stock

$700 from Sur La Table

The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino is a premium machine that makes flawless ice cream. Since 2015, it has produced the best ice cream in our tests across the board, and it’s often used in professional settings.

But it’s worth the steep investment only if you’re a serious connoisseur with cash to spare, and you want the absolute best of the best.

The Best Ice Cream Maker (7)

Fast freezing, with finesse: This model freezes faster and better than the other compressor models we tested—it churned ice cream to a light, creamy, gelato-like consistency in only 25 minutes. Over our years of testing, this machine has made frozen desserts out of custard, vegan coconut, and Philly-style bases, all with silky, luxurious results.

Quality construction: The Musso Lussino is well built and sturdy, with a primarily stainless steel construction. It’s the only machine we’ve tested that has a metal dasher, rather than a plastic one.

Easy to use: With two lighted switch buttons (one for churning and one for freezing) and a knob timer to set the duration of freezing and/or churning, this machine is as easy to use as our top pick, the Cuisinart ICE-21.

But bulky and heavy: This machine weighs about 40 pounds and measures 12 inches wide, 18 inches long, and 12 inches tall. If you have the counter space to leave it out, it is an eye-catching appliance, like a chrome-clad, mid-century modern ice cream spaceship. But if you don’t plan to leave it on display, it will be a chore to pull it out and then stow it away.

The Best Ice Cream Maker (8)

And harder to clean: Since its bowl is not removable, it takes more work and care to clean this ice cream maker. When you’re done making ice cream, we recommend using something like a rubber spatula to remove as much ice cream as possible from the machine. Then wipe it out with warm, soapy water, and wipe it out again with just water to rinse it completely (this part took us just a couple of minutes).

Occasionally, you may want to sanitize the machine with a commercial-grade sanitizer spray, which you can find at a restaurant-supply store.

Wimpy warranty: Considering the hefty price tag, Lello’s one-year warranty leaves much to be desired. But the machine’s build tells us it should last well beyond that—Malai Ice Cream’s Pooja Bavishi has been using a similar Lello machine, the Musso Pola 5030, for more than six years with no issues. If the machine breaks, the company sells spare parts, but you’d have to fix it yourself or find a repairperson.

Advertisem*nt

SKIP ADVERTIsem*nT

Other good ice cream makers

If you want the fluffiest ice cream, or you want to try a slightly smaller compressor model: Consider the Whynter ICM-128BPS. This compressor ice cream maker has similar dimensions to those of the ICM-201SB, but its narrower top makes it feel a little more compact. In our tests, this model made ice cream that was creamy, smooth, and very fluffy—the fluffiest of any machine we tested. If you like fluffy ice cream, this may be the ice cream maker for you. But we noticed that the fluffiness corresponded to overly icy vegan ice cream.

If you want more capacity but don’t want to spring for a compressor: The Cuisinart ICE-70 is another bowl-style ice cream maker with half a quart more capacity than the ICE-21. It also has some add-on features, our favorites being the timer and the even wider opening for adding mix-ins. It also has three modes, for gelato, ice cream, and sorbet, rather than the ICE-21’s one-size-fits-all on/off switch. As with the Cuisinart ICE-21, with this machine, if you buy an extra freezer bowl insert, you can make multiple batches back-to-back.

The competition

The Ninja Creami is more of a blender than an actual ice cream maker. To make ice cream, you freeze a solid block of dessert mixture in the machine’s plastic pint container (we tried custard base, Philly base, vegan ice cream base, and raspberries mixed with coconut cream). A mechanism like a drill bit pushes a spinning, four-prong blade through the frozen mixture and then pulls it back up. In our tests, the Creami machine made pretty smooth ice cream. It wasn’t totally iceless, though, and it was somewhat texturally inconsistent because there are parts of the pint that the blade can’t reach.

And we’re doubtful about this machine’s build quality, durability, and safety. At times during use, the Creami machine began to smell of burning plastic, and it shook as it worked. We also noticed that the plastic lid and the retractable drill collected ice cream gunk in areas you can’t access to clean. We’ve read reviews in which users claim the machine malfunctioned and introduced shredded plastic into their ice cream. Also, this machine is pricey—it’s almost three times the cost of the Cuisinart ICE-21.

The 2-quart Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Ice Cream Maker (ICE-30BCP1) made icier ice cream than our picks. It’s slightly larger than the ICE-21, but It was louder and slower, too. If you want to make more ice cream at once than you can with the ICE-21, we recommend the Cuisinart ICE-70.

The Cuisinart ICE-100 Ice Cream and Gelato Maker couldn’t compete with the other compressor models we tested; it took a long time to churn, and its ice cream ranked last in taste tests.

The Whynter ICM-220SSY made denser and icier ice cream than our picks. It has a unique yogurt-making function, but in our tests that mode was unreliable: More than once, the machine shut off before finishing the yogurt-making program.

The Whynter ICM-200LS is like a cross between our two Whynter picks, the ICM-201SB and the ICM-15LS. It has the same capacity as the ICM-201SB. But it sports the same low, wide profile as the ICM-15LS, as well as the same motor and compressor (according to a sales rep). This machine’s price is usually closer to that of the ICM-201SB, but we found its performance was closer to that of the less expensive ICM-15LS. So we think it’s a good choice only if you can find it on sale, or if the other options are sold out.

The Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker performed similarly to the Whynter ICM-201SB, but this machine costs a lot more. It does come with some fun bells and whistles. It has a pre-chill setting to cool down your base, it automatically tells you when your ice cream is done, and it chimes when it’s time to add mix-ins. But these features are not essential, and we don’t think they make the machine’s steep price worth it.

In multiple tests, the Sunpentown KI-15 stopped churning before the desserts had fully set, resulting in icy, loose, and inconsistent sorbet and ice cream.

Advertisem*nt

SKIP ADVERTIsem*nT

What to look forward to

When we last tested the KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment, around 2020, we had trouble getting the attachment to work with any of our KitchenAid stand mixers. When we did get it to work, the ice cream came out mealy and chalky. But the attachment has since been redesigned. We will be testing it soon to see if the new version attaches more easily and makes better ice cream than the previous design.

This article was edited by Marilyn Ong and Marguerite Preston.

The Best Ice Cream Maker (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Arline Emard IV

Last Updated:

Views: 5569

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Arline Emard IV

Birthday: 1996-07-10

Address: 8912 Hintz Shore, West Louie, AZ 69363-0747

Phone: +13454700762376

Job: Administration Technician

Hobby: Paintball, Horseback riding, Cycling, Running, Macrame, Playing musical instruments, Soapmaking

Introduction: My name is Arline Emard IV, I am a cheerful, gorgeous, colorful, joyous, excited, super, inquisitive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.