Ice cream makers streamline the process of making homemade sweets and treats in your kitchen. Whether you choose a manual model that requires some elbow grease or an electric appliance that automates the mixing and freezing process, ice cream makers turn any liquid into a scoopable frozen treat. Beyond just ice cream, you can make sorbets and frozen yogurt whenever you’re craving it.
Ice cream makers also give home cooks a creative outlet, says Anthony Sobotik, co-founder of Lick Honest Ice Creams, an ice cream shop in Austin, Texas, where he helps develop flavors. Once you master a few basic recipes and feel comfortable using the appliance, you can think beyond conventional flavors you’d find at a grocery store or your local soft serve parlor. While using an ice cream maker, you’re in control of every ingredient that goes into your dessert, giving you the freedom to experiment with taste profiles and customize frozen treats to your liking.
SKIP AHEAD The best ice cream makers to shop | The best ice cream accessories | Benefits of at-home ice cream makers | How to make ice cream at home | What you’ll need to make ice cream | Mistakes to avoid | Homemade versus store-bought ice cream
Ice cream makers come in many sizes and with a handful of different presets — they also range in price point from less than $50 to more than $500. We spoke with experts about how to choose the best ice cream maker for your needs and rounded up a handful of models based on their guidance.
Our top picks
- Top overall ice cream maker: Cuisinart ICE-21P1 Ice Cream, Sorbet and Frozen Yogurt Maker
- Top pick for soft serve: Cuisinart Ice-48 Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker
- Editor’s pick: Ninja Creami Deluxe (Out-of-stock)
How we picked top-rated ice cream makers
When shopping for ice cream makers, experts recommend considering the following factors:
- Type: Electric ice creammakers are fully automatic after you add ingredients and press a few buttons. Manual ice cream makers, on the other hand, involve you in the freezing and stirring processes. For example, you may have to move the machine’s paddle or hand crank when mixing ingredients.
- Compressor versus freeze-bowl: Electric ice cream makers fall into two categories: freeze-bowl or compressor. With freeze-bowl ice cream makers, you’ll have to freeze the appliance’s bowl overnight before actually making your treat, which adds an extra step and time to the process. Compressor ice cream makers, on the other hand, have a built-in internal freezing system so you don’t need to separately freeze your bowl before starting. Compressor models are often priced higher than freeze-bowl models.
- Capacity: An ice cream maker’s maximum capacity tells you how much of the frozen treat it can make per run. Think about how many people you typically feed when deciding which model will best fit your needs. Ice cream makers usually list their capacities in quarts.
- Size and weight: Ice cream makers, by nature, are generally not small. Before purchasing, think about how much counter or storage space you can dedicate. You’ll also want to consider how much the appliance weighs — if you plan to store it in a cabinet or pantry, you might need to do some heavy lifting to take it down/out and put it away.
- Programs: Some ice cream makers offer multiple settings, including ice cream, gelato, sorbet and frozen yogurt. Generally, less is more when it comes to programs, according to Sobotik. In his experience, making great ice cream depends on the quality of your base and how quickly it freezes, not the setting you process it on. A simple on/off switch is really all you need, says Sobotik.
- Cleaning: Consider whether your appliance comes with dishwasher-safe parts or whether you’ll need to hand-wash everything and how that will fit in with your lifestyle.
Highly rated ice cream makers to shop
To recommend ice cream makers, we asked experts about their favorite models and chose other highly rated options that align with their shopping guidance. Every appliance on our list is electric — they’re more convenient to use compared to manual models, and you have better control over creating a smooth, creamy frozen treat, says Megan Sinyal, pastry assistant at The Gallery, a restaurant in New York City,where she helps make the soft serve that’s on the dessert menu. Like any device, appliances can break, so we included the warranty that’s included with each machine should anything go wrong.
Sobotik uses this machine to develop flavors at his ice cream shop — it consistently delivers well-mixed results and does not require multiple parts for use, he says. You flip a switch on or off to control the appliance, which makes ice cream, sorbet or frozen yogurt in about 20 minutes, according to the brand. Its transparent lid has a spout so you can add mix-ins without stopping the churning process, plus it’s built with nonslip feet so it doesn't move around as the paddle mixes the base, according to Cuisinart. In addition to the freezer bowl this ice cream maker comes with, Sobotik recommends buying a few extra canisters and keeping them in your freezer so one is always ready to use when you’re craving a treat.
Type: Freeze-bowl | Capacity: 1.5 qt. | Size: 9.5 x 9 x 11.25 in. | Weight: 10.12 lbs. | Programs: 1 | Cleaning: Hand wash | Warranty: 3 years
This Cuisinart ice cream maker, which has a 4.7-star average from 2,855 reviews on Amazon, is more advanced than Sobotik’s Cuisinart pick above — it has a compressor, a programmable timer and an LCD screen that displays a countdown clock so you know how much longer your treat needs to churn for. The machine comes with two paddles that are shaped differently: the standard paddle is meant for making frozen desserts like ice cream and sorbet, while the other paddle is specifically meant for making gelato. There’s also a keep cool function that helps your treat stay cold for 10 minutes after it's done churning. Like the model above, it has a transparent lid so you can watch as your base goes from a liquid to a scoopable treat. There’s also an opening on the lid that you can pour mix-ins through while the machine is churning.
Type: Compressor | Capacity: 1.5 qt. | Size: 16.73 x 12 x 9.33 in. | Weight: 27.2 lbs. | Programs: 1 | Cleaning: Hand wash | Warranty: 3 years
Those who favor soft serve, consider this option from Cuisinart — it has a 4.2-star average rating from 7,047 reviews on Amazon and processes frozen treats to have the right consistency for soft-serve swirling. The appliance has three built-in, 6-ounce containers that store toppings like sprinkles, and to add them to your ice cream, you turn a knob on each container. There’s also a cone holder on the side of the machine, and a hot plate and warming cup to keep sauces and syrups warm so you can drizzle them over frozen treats.
Type: Freeze-bowl | Capacity: 1.5 qt. | Size: 11 x 9.5 x 17.75 in. | Weight: 13 lbs. | Programs: 1 | Cleaning: Dishwasher-safe topping containers, mix-in chute and drip tray, hand wash freezer bowl | Warranty: 3 years
Alec Jaffe, founder and CEO of Alec’s Ice Cream, an ice cream brand that sells pints online and in grocery stores like Whole Foods nationwide, recommends Lello’s ice cream maker since it’s powerful enough to make multiple batches of ice cream in a row. (While it’s on the more expensive side, it’s worth the investment since it lasts for years, he says.) If your ice cream gets too hard while the appliance is mixing it, the machine will automatically shut off. You can also take off the appliance’s clear lid while it's churning, making it easy to add mix-ins or drizzle in chocolate, Jaffe says.
Type: Compressor | Capacity: 1.5 qt. | Size: 17.72 x 11.81 x 11.81 in. | Weight: 39.68 lbs. | Programs: 1 | Cleaning: Hand wash | Warranty: 1 year
KitchenAid stand mixers double as ice cream makers with this freeze-bowl attachment, which is compatible with most of the brand’s tilt-head and bowl-lift models. Once the bowl, which has a 4.3-star average rating from 219 reviews at Target, is frozen, you connect it directly to the mixer just like you would a typical mixing bowl and add your base. You then attach the included churning paddle where you’d normally add the mixer’s whisk and choose a medium speed level. After about 20 to 30 minutes, your ice cream, gelato, sorbet or other frozen treats will be ready, according to the brand.
Type: Freeze-bowl | Capacity: 2 qt. | Size: 7 x 11 x 8.5 in. | Weight: 6 lbs. | Programs: 1 | Cleaning: Dishwasher-safe | Warranty: 1 year
Breville’s Smart Scoop ice cream maker offers 12 hardness levels from soft to extra firm — the machine automatically sets its timer according to the consistency you select, and turns off when the program is over. If you prefer to manually adjust the appliance’s settings, you can do so via the timer buttons. There’s also a hold feature that keeps frozen treats at your preferred consistency for up to three hours, and a pre-cool setting that cools your base if you don’t have time to do so before adding it to the appliance. The ice cream maker, which has a 4.4-star average rating from 111 reviews at Williams Sonoma, beeps when it’s time to add mix-ins, which you can do by opening a hatch on the lid.
Type: Compressor | Capacity: 1.5 qt. | Size: 16 x 11 x 9.5 in. | Weight: 30.9 lbs. | Programs: 12 | Cleaning: Hand wash | Warranty: 1 year
Ninja Creami Deluxe (Out of stock)
The Ninja Creami (the brand sent NBC Select editor Lindsay Schneider a model to try) — takes a backward approach to making ice cream compared to typical ice cream makers. It’s not a compressor-style or frozen bowl model — instead, you pre-freeze ingredients in pint containers. You’ll then screw on the appliance’s processing lid and select a preset, from there, the Creami drives its spinning paddle through your frozen mixture to shave the ice and whip up a creamy, frozen treat. There is a respin program to reprocess your mixture if it comes out chalky (or not to your desired texture) the first time around, plus a mix-in program that evenly disperses ingredients like nuts, chocolate chips and sprinkles throughout the base.
The Creami is a great option for those who want to make single-servings — you can fill pints with just enough for yourself, or fill them all the way to make two or three servings. In addition to the Creami Deluxe, Ninja offers the Creami Breeze, which the brand sent me to try. It comes with eight programs compared to the Deluxe’s 12 and has a smaller footprint compared to the Creami Deluxe, making it suitable for small kitchens.
Type: Pre-frozen pints | Capacity: 24 oz. | Size: 12.01 x 8.42 x 16.69 in. | Weight: 14.44 lbs. | Programs: 12 | Cleaning: Dishwasher-safe | Warranty: 1 year
Highly rated ice cream accessories
In addition to an ice cream maker, experts recommend keeping the following accessories at home. Some help you make the base for your frozen treat, while others are useful for storing and serving. We chose the following highly rated products based on experts’ shopping guidance.
All the experts we spoke to recommend having a dedicated container to store ice cream in once you’ve churned and processed it. Sobotik prefers rectangular containers compared to circular ones — he finds them easier to scoop ice cream out of. You’ll also want to look for containers with airtight lids to keep air out and prevent freezer burn, according to Hiroki Odo, an executive chef and the owner of o.d.o by Odo and Hall by Odo, restaurants in New York City. (Odo has developed numerous ice cream recipes and flavors throughout his career to serve at his restaurants.)
Tovolo’s rectangular insulated plastic container, which comes with an airtight lid, helps prevent ice crystals from forming on your ice cream, keeping it fresh in the freezer, according to the brand. The container, which has a 4.6-star average rating from 5,416 reviews on Amazon, can hold up to 1.5-quarts of ice cream and is designed with a nonslip base to prevent it from moving when you scoop ice cream out of it. If you buy multiple tubs, you can stack them on top of each other to maximize freezer space.
Your ice cream scoop should be sturdy and designed with heat-conductive properties to help get your frozen treat out of your pint and into your bowl, Odo says. This model has heat conducting liquid in the handle — as you grip it, the liquid absorbs warmth from your hand to help soften ice cream, making it easier to scoop, according to the brand. The aluminum scooper, which has a 4.6-star average rating from 4,992 reviews on Amazon, is designed for use in either your right or left hand. Each scoop is about 2 ounces.
Some ice cream recipes require cooking the base over low heat in a saucepan before adding it to your machine — this helps sugar dissolve into the milk and blends flavors together. To do so, Sobotik recommends using Made In’s saucier. It’s shallow, which Sobotik says allows your mixture to cook faster, and it has a rounded bottom that makes stirring liquid easier in his experience. The saucier, which is oven-safe up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit,is made from five layers of metal to evenly distribute heat across its cooking surface, according to the brand. The saucier’s available in 2-, 3- and 5-quart sizes and also has a handle that stays cool while you use it over the stovetop.
A saucier is also helpful to have on hand when melting chocolate via a double boiling method, according to Jaffe. You can drizzle your finished chocolate mixture into the base of your ice cream to create a stracciatella flavor, he says.
If your ice cream maker doesn't have a mix-ins program, Sobotik recommends using a sheet pan to evenly distribute sprinkles, syrups and other sweets throughout your frozen treat. Once your ice cream is done churning, spread it across the bottom of the sheet pan and sprinkle on any additional ingredients. Then, move a scooper or spoon from front to back along the ice cream, swirling mix-ins throughout.
Nordic Ware’s high-sided sheet pan is made from aluminum to prevent rusting and is reinforced with steel to keep it from warping, according to the brand. It has a 4.8-star average rating from 803 reviews on Amazon and its high edges can help prevent ice cream from spilling over the sides as you spread mix-ins or scoop it.
Turn homemade ice cream into ice cream sandwiches with this silicone mold, which has a 4.4-star average rating from 345 reviews on Amazon. Two pieces of the mold are oven-safe trays that let you bake the outer layers of the sandwich directly inside them. You fill the center piece of the mold with ice cream, and stack the outer layers of the sandwich on the top and bottom once they’re baked and cooled. Each mold can make up to four ice cream sandwiches at a time and comes with a tool for scooping and spreading ice cream.
Benefits of at-home ice cream machines
The biggest benefit of having an ice cream maker at home is the ability to customize frozen treats to your exact preference, say our experts. You choose the ingredients that go into your ice cream and how much of each is added, giving you total control over factors like sugar and how pronounced certain flavors are.
This is especially helpful if you have dietary restrictions or allergies, says Sinyal. Instead of spending hours reading ingredient labels or buying store-bought options you don’t end up enjoying, you can make exactly what you want at home, like low-fat, low-sugar, lactose-free, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan ice cream — plus you can customize the consistency. If you prefer softer ice cream, you can stop the machine before its program is over. If you prefer a firmer mixture, you can churn it for an extra few minutes or let it rest in the freezer for a few hours before digging in.
How to make ice cream at home
The ice cream making process varies depending on the recipe you follow. Sobotik recommends reading through a few recipes or watching videos online to get the gist of what’s involved before getting started.
Generally speaking, it begins with putting your mixture together. Your recipe may instruct you to cook the base over a stove top or warm it in a microwave — the heat helps the sugar dissolve and blend all the flavors together. Regardless of whether you cook the base, you then need to chill it in the refrigerator before adding it to an ice cream maker (this is true for both manual and electric models). A cold base is crucial to successfully making ice cream — cold bases freeze faster in the machine, giving the final product a smooth texture, Sinyal says.
Once the base is chilled, it’s time to add it to the ice cream maker. Be sure you don’t overfill your machine — if you do, the appliance might not properly freeze and process the base, according to Odo. There is usually a maximum fill line inside the bowl to help guide you.
The ice cream maker freezes and blends the base together as it churns. Your ice cream may be ready to serve directly from the appliance after it’s done, but if it’s too soft for your liking or your recipe calls for it, you can put it in the freezer so it gets firmer.
Remember, you may also need to freeze the machine’s bowl overnight if your ice cream maker is not built with a compressor. Don’t rush this step — if you don’t freeze the bowl long enough, you can end up with thin, liquidy ice cream, says Sinyal.
What ingredients do you need to make ice cream?
The basic ingredients required to make ice cream include milk, heavy cream (or a dairy-free substitute), sugar and vanilla, says Sobotik. He also recommends keeping tapioca flour on hand to thicken ice cream and absorb excess moisture if the mixture looks watery. For custard-based ice cream or gelato, you’ll also need eggs.
From there, the rest of the ingredients are dictated by the flavor you choose to make. Once you get the hang of making ice cream by following recipes, you can develop your own flavors and experiment with new ingredients. For example, Sobotik adds brown rice syrup to his base instead of liquid sweeteners like corn syrup to give the ice cream a nutty flavor. Odo also suggests using raw milk in ice cream bases, which gives treats a deeper flavor than traditional milk you’d drink from the carton.
Common mistakes to avoid while making ice cream
Mistakes happen — whether you’re new to making ice cream or have years of experience. We asked experts to share some of the most common errors at-home chefs make and how to avoid them.
- Using the wrong ingredient ratios: Making ice cream at home gives you freedom to experiment, but it’s important to do so while keeping ingredient ratios in tact. If you add too much liquid to recipes, for example, it can make a mixture that’s too soft, according to Sinyal.
- Incorporating too much water in base mixtures: “Water is your biggest enemy when making ice cream, especially at home,” says Sobotik. “The moisture will form ice crystals and result in an icy texture.” Thankfully, this issue is easy to avoid. If you’re cooking a base over the stove, he recommends letting it simmer for five to 10 minutes longer than a recipe calls for — doing so helps moisture evaporate out of the base. Additionally, avoid using juices to flavor bases since they’re mostly water, says Sobotik. Instead, opt for zests or oils. If you’re making ice cream with vegetable-based or nut milks — which have a higher water content compared to dairy milks — Odo suggests adding olive oil to the mixture to make them less watery.
- Adding mix-ins too early: Don’t add mix-ins like chocolate chips, cookie pieces, sprinkles and nuts before your ice cream is almost done processing and looks whipped, says Jaffe. Adding mix-ins too early will cause them to sink to the bottom of the bowl and get crushed up by the paddle.
- Not freezing your mixture fast enough: If you’re not eating homemade ice cream immediately after it’s done churning, put it in the freezer quickly and don’t let it sit out at room temperature, says Jaffe. As ice cream warms up, the ice crystals inside it begin to get bigger, which affects the flavor and makes it taste less fresh, according to Jaffe. Putting your ice cream in the freezer as soon as possible ensures that the ice crystals stay small.
Does homemade ice cream taste the same as store-bought?
Companies that make store-bought ice cream can take advantage of larger scale production processes, so their flavors are usually more consistent over time compared to homemade ice cream, says Jaffe. Ice cream brands use the same ingredients from the same distributors every time they make a batch, and measure ingredients exactly so flavors match customers’ expectations. If you change the brand of milk you buy each time you make the same ice cream flavor at home, you’ll likely notice a difference in how the final product tastes.
Additionally, some store-bought ice cream contains stabilizers or emulsifiers to prolong its shelf life and prevent ice buildup, which can affect its texture, says Sinyal. Commercial ice cream makers are also more powerful compared to at-home options, so they’re usually able to whip more air into frozen treats. This makes store-bought ice cream lighter and fluffier compared to homemade varieties, says Odo.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Anthony Sobotik is the co-founder of Lick Honest Ice Creams in Austin, Texas, an ice cream shop, where he helps develop all the flavors.
- Hiroki Odo is an executive chef and the owner of o.d.o by Odo and Hall by Odo, restaurants in New York City. He has developed numerous ice cream recipes and flavors throughout his career to serve at his restaurants.
- Megan Sinyal is a pastry assistant at The Gallery, a restaurant in New York City, where she helps make the soft serve ice cream that’s on the dessert menu.
- Alec Jaffe is the founder and CEO of Alec’s Ice Cream, an ice cream brand that sells pints online and in grocery stores like Whole Foods nationwide.
Why trust Select?
Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor who writes about kitchen appliances and tools for Select, including single-serve coffee makers, silicone baking mats, cookware sets and more. For this piece, Malin interviewed four experts to learn how to shop for ice cream makers and asked about their favorite models.