Best Ice Cream Makers - Consumer Reports (2024)

It’s definitely ice cream season!

And if you happen to be a regular consumer of delicious frozen treats, you’ve probably noticed that ice cream, gelato, and sorbet are all increasingly expensive.

Do the math and, depending on your ingredients and where you shop, you might find that making your own ice cream is less expensive than buying it, especially if you have a whole brood to feed.

Another reason my wife, Karla, and I have made our own ice cream and sorbet for years is that we can control what goes into it. Having an ice cream maker gives you the freedom to mix and match and create your favorite flavor variety. And even if we splurge on the finest ingredients (organic eggs and/or fruit, fancy chocolate, etc.) and don’t save money, the least expensive ice cream maker still delivers something far tastier than anything we’ve ever bought at the supermarket.

As avid consumers of homemade ice cream, we set out to evaluate four ice cream makers to find the best ones.

Types of Ice Cream Makers

Most ice cream makers operate in essentially the same fashion: You pour in a liquid base (cow’s milk, nut or oat milk, yogurt, water, or juice and other flavorings), which is churned by a wand that also scrapes the ice that accumulates on the sides of the basin. Eventually, all of the liquid turns into a solidified confection.

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In general, there are two main types of home machines. One requires you to prefreeze the container in which the ice cream is made for at least 24 hours (or, in the case of one of the products we evaluated, you prefreeze the actual mix). These models require freezer space and don’t allow for much spontaneity, but they’re relatively small and inexpensive, and can make top-notch frozen treats.

The second type is outfitted with a compressor that cools the liquid, eliminating the need for freezer space and time. With these, there’s no need to plan far ahead. You could decide in the afternoon that you want to serve ice cream after dinner and pull it off without a hitch.

We found that the units equipped with compressors produced the smoothest product. But convenience and performance come at a price. These machines are much more expensive than those that require prefreezing, and they take up more counter and storage space. They also take plenty of muscle to move, but I suppose you could count that as a workout to earn your frozen reward.

Best Ice Cream Makers

Price: From $319
Type: Compressor style (no prefreezing required).
Dimensions and weight: 10.75x12.5x14.25 inches; 24.25 lb.
Capacity: 2.1 quarts
Cleanup: Fairly easy, with a removable basin and a simple-to-scrape wand.
Time: 33 minutes for sorbet; 37 minutes for ice cream.
Where to buy: Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart

The Whynter is simple to operate and made the smoothest sorbet and ice cream of all the units we evaluated. The ice cream, especially, was well aerated and, unlike the product made by some other machines, stayed that way even after being stored in the freezer overnight.

The Whynter also comes with a few very handy modes. One cools the unit and your mix before production so that it’s the right temperature to yield the proper consistency. Another lets you keep ice cream cold in the machine after making it. And it will keep the paddle churning to maintain the same smooth consistency and ultra-creamy texture you get right when the machine has finished producing a batch, even when you scoop later.

Lastly, the wide basin shape makes it easy to scoop out your ice cream after the Whynter has finished.

While it’s easy to operate, the unit is very tall. When it’s placed on a countertop, you may be adding ingredients blind (unless you happen to be very tall yourself), and after the ice cream is done, extracting the paddle is relatively awkward because of that height. It’s also heavy and large, so you’ll need ample room to store it.

Able and Affordable: Cuisinart ICE-21P1 Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker

Compact and relatively quiet, the Cuisinart model produced our second-favorite batch of ice cream.

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Photo: Cuisinart Photo: Cuisinart

Price: From $56
Type: No compressor (requires prefreezing).
Dimensions and weight: 9.5x9x11.25 inches; 11 lb.
Capacity: 1.5 quarts
Cleanup: Very easy, though a little mix got into fiddly joints and crevices.
Time: 14 minutes for sorbet; 17 minutes for ice cream (not including cylinder freezing time).
Where to buy: Amazon, Home Depot, Target, Walmart

We really liked the consistent, creamy texture of the sorbet and ice cream that came out of the Cuisinart. This was true both immediately after production and after we froze them overnight.

The sorbet was a bit icier and less perfectly consistent than that made by the Whynter and Breville (both compressor-style machines). But that was easily remedied by dragging a spatula around the sorbet to smooth out some of the ice mid-churn.

A thin layer of the ice cream and the sorbet remained frozen on the sides of the cylinder, which was a waste. Still, the difference in the quality of frozen confections the Cuisinart turned out compared with our top pick was small, while the price difference wasn’t.

If you don’t mind having to prefreeze the cylinder, we have no doubt you’ll be happy with this machine. And the smaller footprint and lighter weight make the Cuisinart much easier to store.

Other Ice Cream Makers Evaluated

Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop

This user-friendly model made excellent sorbet and ice cream that lost some luster after freezing overnight.

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Photo: Breville Photo: Breville

Price: $485
Type: Compressor style (no prefreezing required).
Dimensions and weight: 15.75x11x11 inches; 30 lb.
Capacity: 1.5 quarts
Cleanup: A little tricky. Some liquid seeped beneath the spindle that holds the main basin in place, and it was tough to reach inside the narrow cavity and clean that afterward.
Time: 43 minutes for sorbet; 47 minutes for ice cream.
Where to buy: Amazon

The Breville can be programmed to different hardness settings, from relatively soft, for sorbet, to harder for ice cream. It has a handy keep-cool setting and one to prechill your mixture, allowing you to skip the fridge time to get the mix cold (and know it’s at just the right temperature) before processing.

It’s simple to operate, and the sorbet and the ice cream came out delightfully smooth. But the sorbet became a bit grainy and the ice cream a lot more so after spending the night in the freezer. Letting both concoctions melt a bit relieved some of that grittiness.

The Breville takes longer than the other machines and is exceedingly heavy. It was the biggest machine of the bunch, and it throws off a great deal of heat from its compressor, too. That may not be a problem if you’re making ice cream for Thanksgiving dessert, but it’s not so great if you’re cranking the Breville up for some relief from the summer heat.

Ninja NC301 Creami

Compact and quick, the Creami pulverizes a frozen mixture into something that resembles ice cream but did not leave us convinced.

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Photo: Ninja Photo: Ninja

Price: $189.99
Type: No compressor (requires freezing).
Dimensions and weight: 6.52x12.07x15.95 inches; 13 lb.
Capacity: 1 pint
Cleanup: The easiest of any machine we evaluated due to the Creami’s unique design.
Time: 3 minutes for sorbet; 90 seconds for ice cream.
Where to buy: Amazon, Best Buy, Target

Roughly the size of a drip coffeemaker, the Creami doesn’t take up much counter space and is very easy to clean. It’s very quick but also very loud.Just make whatever ice cream or sorbet mix you desire and freeze the contents in the Creami’s pints overnight. (The instructions suggest 24 hours.) Load the frozen pint into the Creami, hit one of the presets that include ice cream, sorbet, gelato, and milkshake, and it goes into action.

My wife ran out of the room in terror because the machine gets as loud as using a leafblower in a closet, but the duration is ultra-short and in the end, you get contents that are close enough to ice cream or sorbet that, if you’re not a perfectionist, could be absolutely satisfying.

Directly out of the machine, the sorbet and the ice cream were similar in texture to what the best machines in our evaluation produced. The Creami doesn’t mix in as much air, and the texture for both was slightly more like soft-serve, but the flavors were perfectly delicious!

The texture erodes, however, after freezing overnight, hardening up so that scoops straight out of the freezer are icier and flakier than you might want. Re-churning your pint in the Creami returns it to the original texture, but having to do this multiple times as you eat through it might feel like a chore.

How We Evaluated These Ice Cream Makers

To evaluate the machines, Karla and I chose a very rich chocolate sorbet recipe that isn’t difficult to follow and will have guests falling over with glee at the resulting decadence. (Remember that dairy-free formulas freeze harder and melt a lot more quickly than traditional ice cream, so you need to monitor your serving timing more closely.)

The vanilla ice cream recipe, a custard-based crème anglaise classic from the food writer Melissa Clark, was a bit more challenging, but we chose it because most ice cream aficionados will use a crème anglaise-based custard to achieve a truly gourmet dessert.

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Photo: Michael Frank Photo: Michael Frank

Most recipes provided by the manufacturers produce one or two pints depending on the machine’s capacity. To produce our two bases for a yield of five times as much ice cream/sorbet for our evaluations, Karla made a quadrupled batch of the chocolate sorbet mix.

Making enough of the ice cream base was more complicated because it’s very difficult to get that much liquid to exactly the right temperature to thicken nicely and then cool it down rapidly before it overcooks and curdles.

Making separate batches for each machine would not be fair because any slight variable in base texture might influence our judgment of how each machine performed. So Karla made four separate batches of the original 1.5-pint-yield recipe, rapidly cooled each down individually in ice baths, combined them into one large batch to ensure consistency in flavor and thickness, cooled that overnight, then divided it into five portions to evaluate each machine. Karla is now owed a vacation and possibly precious gemstones.

As per the instructions for the machines (and the recipes), we made sure to chill each batch properly in the refrigerator overnight, which is especially important for the models that use frozen cylinders. (Adding liquid that isn’t sufficiently chilled in those machines will result in incompletely frozen final products.) For the Ninja, we froze the two manufacturer-provided pint containers with the liquid inside.

The next day we cleared every surface in our kitchen and began the ice cream factory, getting the machines whirring, churning, and in the case of the Ninja, violently attacking the mix. We ran the evaluation with the sorbet first.

Then, because the cylinders for the Cuisinart had to be chilled again before we could fairly make another batch, we refroze them and then broke down the kitchen again the next day and ran through the vanilla. We timed each machine, too, for how long it took to make the sorbet and the ice cream.

We sampled the results right out of the machines, focusing on texture. The better machines delivered a smooth, dense structure that we associated with “richness.” We tasted them again 24 hours later, after freezing all batches overnight, on the theory that you’re likely to want to make ice cream in advance and slowly eat the product of your labor in subsequent days.

We gave higher marks to machines that made ice cream that remained smooth after spending a night in the freezer, without becoming grainy or forming ice crystals. We also factored ease of use and ease of cleaning into our evaluation.

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Photo: Michael Frank Photo: Michael Frank

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Michael Frank

Michael Frank is a freelance writer who contributes to Consumer Reports on the intersection of cars and tech. His bias: lightweight cars with great steering over lumbering, loud muscle cars any day. You canfollow him on Twitter(@mfwords) andInstagram(mfwords).

Best Ice Cream Makers - Consumer Reports (2024)


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