Whether you want to make sure you always have frozen treats on hand to cool off on a hot day or want to experiment with flavors and take your homemade desserts to the next level, an ice cream maker is an easy-to-use appliance that definitely deserves a spot in your kitchen.
We went hands-on for weeks with nine different ice cream makers, and after churning over 20 pints of ice cream, only two proved to be the best of the best.
Best overall ice cream maker
The Cuisinart ICE-21 had the best balance of price and performance of any ice cream maker we tested. It churned some of the best, creamiest ice cream of the entire group while also being one of the cheapest. You have to freeze the bowl overnight before making ice cream and it’s quite loud, but we still think there isn’t a better machine out there for the price.
Best compressor ice cream maker
A compressor-style ice cream maker has a built-in refrigeration unit, so no overnight prep is required. The Whynter ICM-201SB is pricey, but it’s an extraordinarily convenient, surprisingly quiet ice cream maker that churned the creamiest ice cream out of our whole group.
Cuisinart 1.5 Quart Frozen Yogurt ICE-21P1
During our taste tests, the Cuisinart ICE-21 made one of the smoothest ice creams, with only a little iciness, beating out machines that cost hundreds of dollars more.
The Cuisinart ICE-21 is incredibly easy to use, although you do have to pre-freeze the mixing bowl overnight. It requires a little bit of planning before you can start churning, but once your base is made and the bowl is frozen, making ice cream is a breeze. Simply assemble the bowl, paddle and lid, pour in your base and turn the machine’s single switch into the “on” position.
While the ICE-21 is running, it’s loud enough that if your kitchen is adjacent to your living room you won’t be able to turn it on while you’re watching a movie without really cranking up the TV. But while it was one of the loudest machines we tested, it also churned ice cream faster than many of its competitors (it only took about 15 minutes for both of the recipes we tested), so you won’t have to suffer through the noise for too long.
When mixing, we also noticed the ICE-21 created some of the least ice cream buildup out of the machines we tested, especially among the non-compressor options. Many makers left a layer of ice cream stuck to the side of the bowl, and while this was still scoopable, it was a lot icier than the creamy concoction that consistently passed through the paddle.
Once your ice cream is done, you won’t be able to reuse the frozen bowl immediately, since it’ll have warmed up quite a bit, so if you want to make back-to-back batches, you’ll need to purchase an additional bowl and freeze them both the night before.
Cleaning the ICE-21 was not as difficult as the other makers. None of the bowls we tested were dishwasher-safe, so we washed each one by hand to see how hard or annoying it was to clean all the nooks and crannies. Most bowls have a vertical tube right in the middle where you attach a paddle, which makes scrubbing the bottom of the bowl a little difficult. You can clean the bowl pretty well with a sponge despite this, but you’ll still have to use a bottle brush to adequately clean the inside of the tube, which is an additional pain. The Cuisinart bowls that you have to pre-freeze don’t have this obstacle, which makes scrubbing them squeaky clean a much less troublesome task.
If you want a reliable, easy-to-use and inexpensive ice cream machine, there’s no other option that can beat out the Cuisinart ICE-21. For just $70 and little planning, you can make deliciously creamy and rich desserts time and time again just as well as higher-end models.
Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker
Compressor ice cream machines are more expensive than non-compressor models since they have a built-in refrigeration unit, but if you’re making ice cream on a regular basis, they can be worth the splurge. Constantly freezing bowls can take a lot of foresight and — more importantly — freezer space. So if you want to make ice cream frequently or experiment with flavors all the time, compressor models can save you a lot of time and effort.
Out of all the compressor machines we tested, the Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker was by far the best. This ice cream maker was not only amazingly simple to use, but it also churned the smoothest ice cream out of all the machines we tested, with barely any icy buildup on the sides of the bowl. Plus, the Whynter’s upright configuration means that it takes up a lot less space on your counter than other compressor models. In fact, it only took up a bit more room than most of the non-compressor models, which is quite amazing since the Whynter has a full freezing system inside of it.
The machine’s design was a lot different than other compressor models we tested. Upright, with a shallow and wide bowl where the others are tall and narrow, it was both easier to clean and a dream to scoop out of. The Whynter’s bowl still has the annoying tube in the middle (unlike the Cuisinart ICE-21), but with more room around it, cleaning the protrusion was much less of a pain.
The Whynter ICM-201SB Upright machine was heavy, like all compressor models we tested, so you should probably keep it stored in a lower cabinet to avoid any overhead lifting. However, when we turned the machine on we were amazed by how quiet it ran. All the other ice cream makers made a decent amount of noise (some, like the Cuisinart, made much more than others), so when the Whynter let out a low and quiet hum — somewhat similar to an efficient dishwasher — we were thoroughly impressed. You could easily have this machine going in the background while you work, talk or even watch TV in the same room without it being a huge distraction, which was a big win in our book. It was relatively speedy too, taking 25 minutes to churn out a batch of dairy ice cream, and 35 minutes for a vegan recipe.
While the Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker is definitely a bigger investment than the Cuisinart, the convenience factor of this machine beats out everything else we tried. It saves you the hassle of freezing a bowl and, unlike other compressor models, isn’t enormous, and is easy to scoop out of and super quiet. If you want the convenience of a compressor ice cream maker, the Whynter ICM-201SB is absolutely the one to get.
There are lots of ways to make ice cream at home, whether it’s in a plastic bag, in a Mason jar or with a machine like those we tested. Using an ice cream machine isn’t a very difficult process, but there just are a few things you should know before you dive in. First off, most ice cream makers fall into two groups: ones with compressors and ones without. Machines with compressors have a built-in refrigeration system that chills the bowl down to freezing temperatures at the beginning of the process, while makers without this feature require you to freeze a bowl beforehand, typically at least overnight.
Freezing the bowl in advance requires some planning but isn’t too much of a chore if you have the freezer space. However, you won’t be able to make multiple batches of ice cream in a row unless you buy an extra bowl (which means you need even more freezer space). But the results are very similar to those you’ll get from a compressor model, and you’ll save a lot of money upfront.
While compressor machines are generally more expensive and heavier and take up a lot more room, you won’t have to do as much planning ahead of time (just allow time for your base to chill completely if you’re cooking it over the stove)
We made 20 pints of ice cream to find the best ice cream maker
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