We Tested 30+ Ice Cream Makers — These Turned Out Superior Scoops, Soft Serve, and Sorbet (2024)

Adding a pint of ice cream to your grocery cart is easy. Making ice cream at home takes more effort and a specialized appliance, but in our opinion, the results are worth it. The best ice cream makers simplify the process, and some fancier models can even customize the frozen yogurt, sorbet, gelato, and frozen desserts you can make at home to satisfy any sweet tooth.

"You can stay simple and make vanilla or chocolate, but you can be creative and make a flavor you can’t find in the store," says Ryan O'Hara, co-owner of Alabama's Big Spoon Creamery.

To find the best ice cream makers, we tested more than 30 models including freezer canisters, compressors, and manual churns. Here are the best ice cream makers we found. Now, you'll need the perfect ice cream scoop.

Pros

  • This machine gets you the convenience and versatility of a built-in compressor, at a more reasonable price than similar models.

Cons

  • A lot of ice cream and sorbet stuck to the paddle in testing, and it's still expensive compared to non-compressor ice cream makers.

A compressor-based ice cream maker costs more than a canister-style, but it's also a lot more versatile. This Whynter is a tiny freezer, able to turn room-temperature ingredients into frozen treats with the push of a button. It features an automatic timer for freezing ice cream and sorbet, but it also doubles as a yogurt maker, with a gentle heating mode to maintain the optimal fermentation temperature.

In testing, the textures of our sorbet and ice cream were both wonderful. The Whynter worked somewhat faster than other compressor models, albeit slower than the pre-frozen-canister-style. Our biggest complaints are fairly minor: A lot of the ice cream and sorbet stuck to the paddle as we pulled it out of the machine, and we had to do a lot of careful scraping to get everything into a food storage container.

Whynter is a big name in compressor ice cream makers. We've tested six of the brand's models, and we say the 2-quart option offers the best balance of function and price. This ice cream maker can do a lot, though it's probably best for someone who will use it frequently. The compressor is large, heavy, and will take up significant room on the countertop or in a cabinet.

Dimensions: 16.75 x 11.25 x 10.25 inches | Weight: 24.2 pounds | Power: 180 watts | Capacity: 64 ounces | Dishwasher-Safe: No

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Pros

  • This small but mighty machine makes quality ice cream, and lots of it.

Cons

  • Its features and functions are very limited.

An ice cream maker doesn't have to be large or complicated to be effective: We found the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence efficient and easy to use during our tests. It's compact but can freeze up to two quarts per batch. The lightweight machine is ideal for small kitchens; the entire setup with motor, paddle, and cover isn't much bigger than the freezer bowl. It works with ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet recipes, with simply a twist of a dial to turn it on. If you want to add mix-ins, dump them through the chute on top toward the end of the churning process.

With that said, the Cuisinart's ease also makes it less customizable. There aren't any speed controls, alternate paddles, or other options with the canister-style unit. Our test sorbet came out less smooth than with some pricier machines with sorbet-specific settings, especially after a few hours of hardening in the freezer. You'll also need to stay below the 1.5-quart capacity line with the base mixture and mix-ins; we had to cut back on the cookie pieces in our test to avoid an overflow disaster. The other downside is that you have to pre-freeze the canister and plan well in advance to make ice cream; a compressor machine lets you do so on a whim. All in all, though, this machine is an excellent value and a great beginner option.

Dimensions: 8.25 x 8.25 x 11.5 inches | Weight: 13.4 pounds | Capacity: 64 ounces | Dishwasher-Safe: No

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Pros

  • This gadget makes soft serve, puts it in a cone, and dispenses toppings and sauces, all in one fun machine.

Cons

  • It's pretty messy to use, and the texture isn't quite the same as commercial soft serve.

Soft serve is a different beast than standard ice cream, requiring different recipes and freezing procedures to achieve that ideal not-quite-scoopable, not-quite-pourable texture. Cuisinart's Mix It In machine not only creates and dispenses soft serve (directly into a cone thanks to the included holder), but it also holds three toppings of your choice and keeps a cup of fudge, caramel, or other sauce warm for drizzling. It's a fun treat for kids, or the kid in all of us.

However, there's a good reason that home soft serve makers are fairly uncommon: Making soft serve can be challenging. During our tests, there was only a short window when the texture was right for dispensing. It was too liquid before that, and then too solid afterward to push cleanly through the spout. And even in optimal form, the ice cream came out too airy and whipped cream–like. The accessories also didn't work as well as advertised. Toppings were as likely to spill on the counter as they were to make it onto the cone, and the sauce heater took 40 minutes to bring caramel from cold to barely room temperature. But with this machine, as much of the fun is in making the soft serve as is in eating it.

Dimensions: 11.0 x 9.4 x 17.7 inches | Weight: 14.7 pounds | Capacity: 48 ounces | Dishwasher-Safe: Yes (some parts)

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Pros

  • This convenient machine makes delicious, fully customizable ice creams and sorbets, no pre-freezing needed.

Cons

  • It takes longer and costs a lot more than most other machines we tested.

With its built-in compressor and 12 hardness settings customized for different types of frozen treats, the Breville Smart Scoop is fully automatic. You don't have to pre-freeze the bowl or ingredients; it chills and churns. We got great test results and were especially impressed with how gently and evenly it incorporated mix-ins. The ice cream and sorbet also stayed scoopable after a few hours of freezer storage, while other test batches got denser and harder.

Another useful setting is the Smart Scoop's "keep cool" mode. After churning, the machine keeps the finished product frozen and ready to serve for up to three hours on the countertop. If you're throwing an ice cream sundae party, you won't have to worry about temperature maintenance.

The downside in performance with this machine is that it was slower than others. Even using the pre-cool setting that's supposed to accelerate things, it took nearly an hour to freeze a batch. (On the other hand, the compressor means you don't have to worry about storing anything in the freezer or chilling the bowl a day ahead of time.) It's also quite pricy, especially for its pretty average 1.5-quart capacity.

Dimensions: 7.2 x 16.2 x 10.7 inches | Weight: 30 pounds | Power: 165 watts | Capacity: 48 ounces | Dishwasher-Safe: No

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Our Favorite Ice Cream Maker

Thanks to a built-in compressor, the Whynter Automatic 2-Quart Ice Cream Maker chills all by itself, giving you freedom to make all sorts of frozen treats at the drop of a hat. For a less expensive canister-style machine, we're big fans of the classic Cuisinart Pure Indulgence 2-Quart Ice Cream Maker.

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How We Tested Ice Cream Makers

This story incorporates results from two sets of testing that included 32 different ice cream makers. We tested 12 canister-style machines, 11 compressor machines, and nine assorted other models, evaluating overall design and ease of use via head-to-head tests.

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  • Ice cream test: We followed each machine's directions to make one batch of basic vanilla ice cream, in the maximum possible size. Toward the end of the process, we added pieces of Oreo cookies to see how well the machines incorporated mix-ins without crushing them. We measured the time required for freezing (including overnight pre-chilling) and compared the initial amount of ingredients to the volume of finished ice cream. Of course, we ran group taste tests on the finished product — straight out of the machine and after hardening in the freezer for a few hours.
  • Sorbet test: We made a batch of non-dairy strawberry sorbet in each machine, using the sorbet-specific setting and instructions if available. We paid special attention to the texture of the sorbet when it got close to done, as over-churning can create unpleasant icy bits. As with the ice creams, we tasted the sorbets immediately and again after a night in the freezer.
  • Specialty tests: For ice cream makers with additional functions or unique methods of operation, we tested each one by following the included directions and using the most basic recipe provided. This included everything from traditional manual churners to soft serve makers to a device that extrudes whole frozen fruit into sorbet. We tasted everything and rated flavor, too.
  • Cleaning test: Between each round of testing, we disassembled and cleaned each machine following the included directions. We ran all dishwasher-safe parts through the dishwasher at least once to check for damage but subsequently hand-washed them if it seemed easier. We rated ease of cleaning as well as ease of disassembly and reassembly.

After completing all the other tests, we revealed the retail prices of the ice cream makers to consider value. At the time of testing, the machines varied widely in price, from $22 to $1,200, with an average of $229.

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Canister vs. Compressor Ice Cream Makers

To make ice cream, you need cold. For ice cream makers there are two main cold sources. The canister variety uses a pre-chilled insulated bowl to freeze the base mixture, while a compressor model has built-in machinery to cool itself, like a miniature refrigerator.

Canister machines are cheaper, lighter, and more space-efficient than compressor ones. The downside of the style is that you need to plan well ahead and start the bowl freezing 24 hours or more in advance. Making multiple batches in a row is difficult, as the bowl will heat up and need hours of re-chilling between churning sessions.

With a compressor machine, you can pour in the ice cream base and get started at the drop of a hat. "Compressors require less freezer space and less planning," says Jacqueline Dole, founder of The Parlor Ice Cream Co. in Biddeford, Maine. "In my experience, the product is generally much better, as the mixture freezes faster." Compressor models also tend to give you more control over texture, with different speed and even temperature settings that affect overrun, or the amount of air whipped into the ice cream as it churns.

The popular Ninja Creami is a bit of an exception. It's similar to the canister style in that you have to chill things in advance, but you freeze the ingredients rather than just the bowl. After that, fast-spinning blades whip the frozen mix into its final texture. Other designs include old-school models that use a bucket full of ice cubes and salt to chill ingredients, machines that shave frozen fruit into sorbet, churning attachments for stand mixers, and more.

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Factors to Consider

Capacity

When it comes to size, you should try to match the maximum capacity of your ice cream maker with the amount of ice cream you want to make at once. Most machines don't work well if they're less than full because the churn doesn't mix them as efficiently. You don't have to finish a batch of homemade ice cream in one sitting, however; it should last up to a month in the freezer if well-sealed.

Ice cream makers measure their capacity in finished ice cream. You'll use less than that amount of the base mixture, which expands when it freezes. Follow your user manual's measurements or you'll risk a messy blowout.

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Prep Time

A compressor ice cream maker can start freezing as soon as you pour in your base, but most other models require a lot of planning ahead. The bowl for a canister ice cream maker has to sit in the freezer at least overnight before it's ready to go. You could keep the bowl in the freezer all the time, but that's a lot of precious space to dedicate to an appliance you're not likely to use all that often.

Cleaning

When it's time to enjoy your first batch of homemade ice cream, you'll probably be too excited to consider the final (and, arguably, most important) step: cleanup. Ice cream makers vary wildly on this front, from having a couple pieces that go in the dishwasher to needing lots of fiddly hand-wash-only bits. Ice cream and sorbet are messy, sticky foods, and an easier-to-clean machine can have serious extra value.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do ice cream makers work?

    To make ice cream (or sorbet, frozen yogurt, and other similar creamy desserts), you chill and freeze a liquid base while keeping it in constant motion. Powered by a hand crank or electric motor, the churning paddle of an ice cream maker keeps large ice crystals from forming while also incorporating air. Just like with whipped cream or egg whites, adding air increases the volume and lightens the texture.

    To cool down the base mixture, many ice cream makers use an insulated bowl that has to be pre-frozen for hours or overnight. This is less expensive but takes more pre-planning than a compressor machine, which has an electric cooling mechanism like a refrigerator or freezer.

  • How long does it take to make ice cream at home?

    "Hand-crank machines take roughly 20 minutes to use. Models that utilize a pre-frozen canister take roughly 20 to 30 minutes. Models with a compressor can take anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes, depending on the amount of overrun desired," says Dole. "In all of these models, it’s best to remove the ice cream from the canister and scrape it into a container to firm up in the freezer for several hours before serving."

  • What tips do you have for someone making ice cream for the first time?

    "Be sure to plan! Making ice cream at home can be a multi-day process, from freezing the canister overnight (if applicable) to making and cooling the base before spinning," says Dole.

  • What makes quality ice cream?

    "I find that using local ingredients whenever possible always makes things taste better. There’s nothing like stopping by the farmers market in the summer and seeing what’s in season and going from there. Making small batches at home allows you the freedom to take chances on flavor combinations that you don’t see anywhere else,” says Dole. To create something new, she suggests starting with a favorite flavor and adding or swapping one ingredient. “Love mint chip ice cream but want something a little more savory? Try making an infusion using basil!"

Other Ice Cream Makers We Tested

Strong Contenders

Ninja Creami Deluxe Ice Cream and Frozen Treat Maker ($250 at Ninja)

Our initial choice for best overall after testing, the Ninja Creami has gone viral for its unusual and super-easy ice cream-making method: You pre-freeze the bowl and base ingredients, then the blender-like blade breaks up ice crystals and whips everything into an adjustable texture. We got great results in testing, but we've seen reports online of machines smoking and even catching fire when the blade is knocked out of position. We did not encounter this issue and can't independently confirm any of these claims, but we've taken the machine off our list of winners out of an abundance of caution.

Cuisinart ICE-21P1 Ice Cream Maker ($70 at Amazon)

Our best value pick in a previous version of this story, the Cuisinart ICE-21P1 is a very standard canister-style ice cream maker, at a good price. We were most impressed by how well its ice cream and sorbet held their scoopable texture after a night in the freezer. It's a great choice, but we think the extra capacity and better performance of the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence above are well worth the increased cost.

Yonanas 902WH Classic Soft Serve Maker ($50 at Amazon)

This isn't exactly an ice cream maker; it's more of an extruder that shaves frozen fruit (we sampled bananas and strawberries) into a soft-serve consistency. The Yonanas is perfect for vegans and anyone else who avoids dairy, and it's quite inexpensive. But you can't use ingredients besides frozen fruit; it's not very versatile.

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KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment ($100 at Amazon)

This attachment is an easy add-on if you already own a KitchenAid stand mixer. Its insulated freezer bowl fits the same way as the standard bowl, and the special churner attachment ensures thorough mixing. We got good test results, though we needed 5 to 10 more minutes than the instructions recommended for the ideal texture. Also, we'd wait a bit longer to add mix-ins next time: We followed the instructions to add cookies 13 minutes into the mixing process, and they broke down, turning the ice cream gray.

Lella Musso Pola 5030 Dessert Maker ($1,197 at Amazon)

A commercial-style powerhouse, this is the kind of machine you might buy if you wanted to open a small gelato shop. It made 2-quart batches of beautifully smooth ice cream and gelato in about half an hour in testing, and you can keep reloading it over and over to freeze as much as you want. It's almost too much for home use, though, as it weighs nearly 70 pounds and costs over $1,000.

Chef’n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker ($55 at Amazon)

This manual maker is a fun toy as much as an ice cream machine. You spread and scoop the liquid base across the chilled pan, mixing in toppings as it freezes, to make a custom treat. It makes very tasty ice cream, but does so really slowly, in very small batches. It's a better once-in-a-while activity for kids than it is an everyday kitchen tool.

Nostalgia Vintage Electric Ice Cream Maker, 4 Quarts ($48 at Amazon)

This old-timey machine features an aluminum canister that attaches to a churning motor and then sits in a bucket full of ice and rock salt to freeze. It was able to churn a full gallon of ice cream in about 30 minutes, but it made too much of a mess in doing so for us to recommend it.

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Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor Ice Cream and Gelato Maker ($300 at Amazon)

Cuisinart's compressor machine offered high-quality final products, yielding smooth ice cream with a soft-serve consistency and smooth frozen yogurt. Instead of presets, it has separate paddles for gelato and ice cream. Its simplicity could make it a greatentry-level choice, butit didn't do quite as well as the Breville and Whynter that are among our top picks.

Whynter Upright Compressor Ice Cream Maker ($600 at Williams Sonoma)

Our second-favorite of the several Whynter models we tested, this heavy-duty machine makes a massive 2.5 quarts per batch, with a tall orientation that takes up less space on the countertop. It has essentially the same set of functions and delivers the same great results as the 2-quart Whynter above, but it costs more than twice as much.

Vevor Automatic Ice Cream Maker ($200 at Vevor)

One of the least expensive compressor units out there, the Vevor made ice cream and sorbet with an extra-rich "double-churned" kind of texture. Our issue is that the ice cream mode is supposed to run for an hour but shuts off automatically when it senses that it's fully frozen — which happened between 35 and 45 minutes in for our tests. There's no indication of the right time to add mix-ins, and you'll need to keep a careful eye on the machine.

Lello Musso Lussino 1.5-Quart Ice Cream Maker ($700 at Amazon)

The smaller sibling of the Lello Musso Pola, this is also a high-quality gelato maker imported from Italy that delivers incredible products. It's unfortunately way too expensive to make it worthwhile for even a dedicated homemade ice cream fanatic.

What Didn't Make the List

Making good ice cream is tricky. The base has to freeze at the right rate as the paddle whips in just the right amount of air to make a smooth, dense treat with no ice crystals or too-light fluffiness. Hand-cranked machines in general were not great at this; you want an electric one. Most of the other models toward the bottom of our list are small. We found it's not worth the trouble of busting out a whole ice cream maker to make just a cup or two of the good stuff.

Our Expertise

  • Julia Skinner, Ph.D., is a food writer, historian, and culinary educator based in Atlanta. She is the author of Our Fermented Lives and founder of Root Kitchen, which offers classes and workshops on fermentation, preservation, and food history.
  • Jason Horn is the senior commerce writer for Food & Wine and updated this story with additional testing data. He's been writing about food for nearly 20 years and enjoying ice cream for nearly 40. His go-to flavor is cookies and cream.
We Tested 30+ Ice Cream Makers — These Turned Out Superior Scoops, Soft Serve, and Sorbet (2024)
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