What I remember about making ice cream as a kid—besides the delicious results—is the puddle of melting ice and rock salt that the machine left on the kitchen floor, and the sore elbows we all had after taking turns at the crank. Today’s ice cream makers have changed all that—no workout, no mess, just the unrivaled creamy-refreshing flavor of homemade ice cream.
The most popular models on the market today all have similar designs. In most cases, a motorized base rotates a canister that you’ve frozen in advance. You pour the ice cream mixture into the canister, and it immediately starts to freeze onto the canister’s sides. A fixed paddle scrapes the sides as the canister turns, and in 20 to 30 minutes, the ice cream is frozen (though still soft). It’s the same principle behind the old-fashioned machines, except that, instead of using salt and ice to keep the canister cold, most modern machines use a double-walled canister with a chemical coolant sealed inside.
We tested eight widely available ice cream makers under $100 and evaluated each for the quality of the finished ice cream and sorbet, how long the canister or disk stayed cold, ease of use, and noise (listed in order of importance).
Winners and also-rans
As we found out after testing eight machines (six electric and two manual), despite design similarities, there were performance differences. For some, the canisters just couldn’t stay cold long enough, resulting in a softer, sometimes sloppy ice cream. For others, the machine incorporated too much air into the mixture, in some cases creating ice cream with the consistency of frozen whipped cream. After making batch upon batch of plain vanilla ice cream, vanilla with crushed Oreos, and lemon sorbet, the four machines featured below stood out as our favorite choices.
The other ice cream makers in the review included (in alphabetical order): Deni Ice Cream Maker (5152), Rival Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker (GC8151- WN), Villaware Ice Cream Maker (5100), and Wilton’s Incredible Ice Cream Machine.