Which Ice Cream Maker Is Right for You?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Last week gave us a taste for just how hot summer can get. And when it’s that hot outside, there’s only one thing you can do: Eat ice cream.

Everyone knows the best stuff is the stuff you make yourself and if you scream for ice cream on a regular basis, a machine bought for your kitchen will pay for itself in no time flat. (Faster than you can say waffle cone, in fact.)

How to shop for one, though? Start by reading the rest of this story.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

There are three main styles of ice cream makers — not counting the old plastic bag trick.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

These are the inexpensive, old-fashioned makers, which either require you to turn a crank by hand or come with a motor that can attach to the top. They can be a little messy and don’t always make the creamiest ice cream, but they’re fun to watch and can help you give the kids a good science lesson.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Most ice cream machines on the market are this style. They’ll have a liquid-filled insert bowl that has to sit in the freezer for around eight to 12 hours (sometimes longer). When it’s time, the bowl goes into the machine, which will churn the mixture. The cons: You have to remember to freeze the bowl in advance, and have room in your freezer. And you usually can’t make back-to-back batches for, say, a party.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

This is going to cost you the most money because it’s a self-chilling system that basically does all the work for you. These machines usually have manual or automatic settings — or both. If you really love ice cream and want to make a lot of it, this is your best bet, short of getting a soft-serve machine wheeled into your kitchen.

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

If you don’t wan’t yet another gadget …

Get: KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment, $60 at Target
The KitchenAid is one of the only stand mixers to offer an ice cream attachment. So if you have a KitchenAid stand mixer already and don’t want to keep adding more and more small appliances into your kitchen cabinets, this might be the ice cream maker for you. It’s just one bowl, which you put in the freezer and then slip onto your stand mixer when it’s time to make ice cream.

In addition to its space-saving abilities, it also allows for adjustable speeds (although low is the best speed for most ice creams). Its biggest drawback? Most freeze-the-bowl models call for freezing the bowl for eight to 12 hours, while KitchenAid requires a minimum of 15 hours. If you go this route, just make sure you plan ahead!

If you enjoy a good show …

Get: Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker, $50
Whether you’re a kid at heart or you actually have a bunch of kids in your house, this simple plate-like device will go over extremely well. Just keep it stashed in the freezer, then when you want to make a cool treat, mix up your batter and pour it onto the plate. Use the included paddles to turn and scoop the mixture until ice cream forms. It will literally happen right in front of your eyes.

If you want a reliable machine but don’t want to spend a lot …

Get: Cuisinart Classic Ice Cream Maker, $60 at Sur la Table
We can’t say enough good things about Cuisinart’s ice cream makers. Our Food Team

uses them pretty much exclusively

Get the scoop:

Why Does Everyone Have a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker

If you’re the nostalgic type …

Get: Nostalgia Electric Ice Cream Maker, $30
Don’t worry — you don’t actually have to hand-crank this option (there’s an electric motor to take care of the churning), but you do have to add ice and salt to help the mixture freeze. The ice cream scooped from this machine is a little icy (especially compared to the others on this list), which is actually part of its charm.

If you’re super serious about your ice cream …

Get: Breville Smart Scoop, $400 at Crate & Barrel
The only way to justify $400 on an ice cream maker is if you’re seriously obsessed with ice cream. That said, if you’re willing to spend that kind of cash on an ice cream maker, this machine is worth it — if for no other reason than the fact that it makes the creamiest ice cream.

It’s a compressor ice cream machine, which means the machine has a larger footprint than the others on this list, but again, you won’t have to worry about freezing the bowl ahead of time. Pour in your mixture and pick from one of the 12 settings (or create a custom setting of your choosing). It takes about 50 minutes for the ice cream to be ready, at which point, you can have it set off a little jingle. There’s one more bonus: It has a keep-cool setting, which will continue chilling and churning your ice cream for up to three hours.

Our Favorite Ice Cream Recipes

Which one will you buy?