For me, nothing says warm weather better than a heaping cup of ice cream. Or an ice cream sundae. Or a waffle cone of ice cream. Or a milkshake, for that matter, but you get my point.
And, friends, I tell you that no store-bought stuff can hold a candle to some homemade frozen goodness. So, in the event that you don’t happen to own an ice cream maker already, this article is here to help you make this much-needed investment.
How to Choose
Methods of Freezing
There are a couple of different things to keep in mind before you head out to make your purchase, though. Back in the day, of course, the only option out there was the big hand-crank operated wooden bucket.
Foodal’s Best Rated Ice Creamer Maker
With a solid build quality, warranty support & enough power to chug through anything, the Breville is Foodal’s #1 pick.
If you’re a fan of nostalgia, though, you can still find the big manual machines. However, they require a lot of grunt work or a lot of energetic young hands, and this may be something that you don’t want to contend with.
Another thing to decide ahead of purchasing is whether you want to stick with the old-fashioned rock salt and ice method for freezing, go the freezer bowl route, or up the ante and go with a full compressor unit that provides the chilling power directly in the machine.
With two different paddles – one for Gelato and one for ice cream – Cuisinart’s ICE-100 is a versatile option.
Also, for most of the machines that require a pre-frozen bowl to work, you have to freeze that bowl for several hours, or even overnight, before it’s ready to use.
You could always keep the bowl in the freezer at all times, but for those of us with limited freezer space, that’s not really a good solution – especially if you need a larger capacity machine, meaning there’s a larger bowl to make room for.
The third way (and best for convenience), and the way that we like best, is to choose a device that has a built-in compressor that performs the chilling for you – right in the machine. These are often found only in the best ice cream makers, which are often the priciest.
Price is probably the biggest factor for most consumers, which will narrow the field somewhat for most of us. You can get a decent ice cream maker for as little as $20 or $30 that will give you a pretty good result, but be aware that the motors on the lower-end models are not made to withstand extended use.
Best Quality, But Pricey
With solid stainless construction, a direct drive mechanism (no belts), and more power than you need, the Lello will last for many years of consistent use.
Spending a little more up front will normally result in a product that will last a little longer. At Foodal, we often (but not always) recommend some of the more expensive items that we review for the quality that they offer.
We’ve found the price does often (again, not always) reflect the quality of manufacturing and the ease of use of the appliance or tool. We’ve found that this is definitely true with ice cream and gelato makers, and this holds true with our number one recommended model – the Lello 4080 Musso Lussino.
However, there are a few exceptions to this “price reflects quality” rule, such as the relatively expensive Delonghi Gelato Maker that we DON’T recommend.
Gelato vs. Ice Cream
Okay, so some folks seem to think that gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream, and while that may indeed be technically true, Italian ice cream is NOT the same thing as American ice cream.
Here are the main differences:
1. First, gelato is made with less fat.
2. Second, it’s frozen at a lower temperature, meaning that you get the full flavor impact faster than you do with ice cream.
3. Third, the way we make ice cream incorporates a lot of air into the final product. With gelato, no air is added to the mixture, which results in a richer, creamier taste.
Why is this important to you?
Some frozen treat machines can only make ice cream, others can also make gelato and sorbet, while still other models only make gelato.
With all that being said, if you are a fan of true Italian gelato (and I certainly am!) then you may want to consider spending the extra money for an actual gelato machine. Like I said, the key to making gelato is keeping as much air out as possible.
Rock Salt and Ice Method
For nostalgic reasons, I will probably always prefer using rock salt to make my ice cream. My earliest memories all involve summertime family gatherings that included hand-churned vanilla ice cream with a hint of a salty bite.
That and Grapico ice cream floats. If you’re not from the South, you probably don’t even know what Grapico is, but trust me on this. If you ever get to enjoy an ice cream float with slightly salty homemade vanilla ice cream and Grapico, you will think you have died and gone to heaven.
But, I digress. Let’s talk about some options in this category.
MaxiMatic EIM-506 Elite Gourmet 6-Quart
For big family gatherings or summertime parties, for me, nothing will ever beat the big pine buckets for making ice cream for a crowd.
For that reason, I would recommend you purchase something like the MaxiMatic Elite Gourmet, which will make enough for everyone, and has the added benefit of using either the electric paddle or a hand crank.
The manufacturer recommends using the electric paddle for the first 15-20 minutes, and then switching to the hand crank to get the creamier and thicker texture that only a manual machine can give.
One thing to keep in mind with larger capacity units, however, is that it will take longer to get to a frozen consistency. This is simply because the machine has to freeze a larger quantity of liquid.
In this case, according to the manufacturer, using the electric component it will take about 40 minutes to make the full 6 quarts.
Compared to the 15-20 minutes that is common with smaller models, that may seem like a long time. But remember that this is an electric machine, so you can just set it up and forget about it while the hard work is done for you.
An added bonus with this model is its over-heating protection system, which will shut off the machine automatically in the event that it starts to overheat.
Nostalgia Electrics ICMW400 4-Quart
If you like the idea of the big wooden bucket for your ice cream-making needs but 6 quarts is a little too big for you, then you may want to consider this next model.
It still makes a good amount, just not quite as much as the Elite Gourmet. You get the same old-fashioned look in a more compact size, and for a little less money.
The other main difference between these two models is that there is no manual option with the Nostalgia Electrics. For me, this is actually a drawback, but for most people that would probably be no issue at all.
Hamilton Beach 68330R 4-Quart
If you are not as tied to the aesthetics of the wooden bucket machines but still prefer the flavor that the salt gives the finished product, this Hamilton Beach option would be perfect for you.
You get a gallon of ice cream, which is more than enough for my whole family to have dessert tonight, and have plenty left for another night.
You can get the full amount finished in just 20 minutes, which is pretty quick. And it’s equipped with an auto shut-off, so it will turn off by itself when the ice cream reaches the right consistency.
A nice bonus with the Hamilton Beach model is that it includes a recipe book, with 20 delicious ideas to get you started. If you have never made your own ice cream before, this is nice to have as a starting point.
Also, there’s a 1-year warranty. As I stated earlier, one of the drawbacks of purchasing a less expensive model is that the motors usually don’t last that long.
However, if you wear this machine out after just a few months of ice cream making, the company will send you a new one at no cost to you, so there’s that problem solved. All in all, this would make a great little investment. Read Foodal’s detailed review or see it now on Amazon.
Freezer Bowl Route
As I have already explained, I would much rather use salt and ice for my ice cream making, but if you have plenty of room to store the bowl in the freezer, I guess nothing beats the convenience of the machines that use a pre-frozen bowl to bring the ingredients down to the correct temperature.
The freezer bowl works because of a specially formulated liquid that is stored in between the insulated inside and outside layers of the mixing bowl. Once that liquid is fully frozen, it works as well as rock salt and ice at freezing the ice cream mixture.
KitchenAid Ice Cream Stand Mixer Attachment
I wanted to include this stand mixer attachment first in this category. Honestly, I have never been a fan of one-trick ponies in the kitchen.
Who has the space for tons of small appliances that you use for just a single purpose? (This is the only reason why I don’t own a waffle maker, though I may be close to breaking down on that one. I do love waffles).
Because of that, if you don’t really plan to use it all the time, it may not suit your needs to purchase a separate machine if you already own a KitchenAid mixer.
While you can always store the freezer bowl in the freezer itself, you still have to find a place to store the base of the unit if you buy a standalone ice cream maker.
On the other hand, if you already have a spot for your stand mixer, just buy the extra attachment, and you won’t have to worry about that. Just make sure that you purchase the correct device for your machine – these can vary based on the size of the mixer.
This attachment works great for making your frozen indulgence in less than 30 minutes, and it also comes with a recipe booklet. A bonus is that you’ll benefit from KitchenAid’s surprisingly good customer service, as well as the one-year warranty on the attachment.
A downside is that unlike most other units that utilize this freezing method, the attachment does not come with a lid.
Check out Foodal’s Guide to KitchenAid Stand Mixer Attachments for more information on expanding the capabilities of your machine, or have a look at the ice cream maker attachment on Amazon. Click here to read our full review of this piece of equipment.
Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream, and Sorbet Maker
The Cuisinart ICE-21 is one of the most well-regarded models sold today. It has a heavy-duty motor, which makes for a long-lasting product, and the powerful motor makes dessert in 20 minutes or less.
It does take at least 16 hours to get the freezer bowl ready for use, so you need to either plan to use it the day before and freeze it overnight, or just always store it in the freezer when ice cream season rolls around.
As with most of their products, Cuisinart includes a recipe booklet with this machine, which is something I always look for when I buy a new small kitchen appliance.
The only aspect of this model that is a slight con for me is the size, as it only makes 1 ½ quarts of ice cream at a time.
For a family of five, this means we would only get one use out of the finished product with no leftovers. And if I’m going to make homemade ice cream, I’d like to have some left over to enjoy the next day.
Cuisinart ICE-30BC Pure Indulgence 2-Quart Automatic
For more of a polished look and a slightly larger capacity, you could invest a little more to purchase this brushed chrome 2-quart option from Cuisinart.
It has the same heavy-duty motor as the smaller model, but fits in a little better with a contemporary kitchen design, with its shiny silver appearance. The vast majority of other automatic ice cream makers on the market are white, so this is a nice option.
The easy-lock lid attaches easily to the base and is transparent, so it’s easy to check the progress of the ice cream. It also has a large spout for adding additional ingredients towards the end of the process, like chocolate chips or caramel bits. It does take a few more minutes to get to the right temperature, but only because you are freezing a larger amount of liquid.
Again, these two Cuisinart models are basically the same, but the 30BC gives you a more upscale look on the counter, half a quart more ice cream per batch, and the prices are comparable. You can read our in depth review or read a few of the 1300 reviews on Amazon.
Compressor models are the crème de la crème of the available ice cream maker selections. These models immediately bring ingredients below the freezing mark, thanks to their built-in chilling compressors.
In other words, they are freezers unto themselves, and don’t require you to pre-freeze anything before you get to work (though pre-chilling the ingredients can save on wear and tear).
Also, because of this, you could make multiple batches one after another if you needed to, like if you were having a big party and had to serve a lot of guests.
Lello 4080 Musso Lussino
We have examined numerous machines, continually seeking the best of the best in a quest to locate the Shangri-La, the Holy Grail, and the golden fleece of the homemade ice cream world. Ladies and gentlemen, if you love frozen nirvana, this is it. The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino is the model to choose.
The Lello 4080 Musso Lussino Ice Cream Maker is truly an exquisite machine. But it is pricey.
Nonetheless, we feel this may be money well spent. Multiple users on Amazon report using this model for as long as 10 years before it required any maintenance, typically a shot of R234 refrigerant.
Most other machines would just get chucked into a landfill.
The Lello 4080 is completely constructed of stainless steel. This includes the outside frame, the freezing dish, and the dasher.
There are no major components that made of plastic anywhere on this machine, including the dasher or blade. Sure, there is plastic where you’d expect it – on the knobs and cord. But the working parts are plastic-free.
This fantastic model features a built-in compressor, which freezes as it churns your frozen concoctions.
You won’t have to freeze bowls 24 hours prior, worry about messing with ice and salt, or even finding a willing youngster to serve as a power source (probably not happening in this day and age, with distractions such as the XBox and PlayStation).
You can also create multiple batches of frozen treats one right after the other, thanks the powerful 100-watt motor that attaches directly to the bucket. No belts to worry about slipping, and the built-in clutch system protects the appliance from burning out, should the ice cream become brick hard.
The motor is at the base rather than on the top. On models with a top-mounted motor, you cannot remove the cover without the motor and the dasher as well.
To offset this hassle, a number of competing machines use a small chute for adding additional ingredients, such as candies and chocolate chips.
Because the dasher on this particular model is powered from a motor within the bottom, the plastic cover is the full size of the actual bowl and can be taken off whenever you want, to incorporate ingredients or even to simply observe the freezing process.
It really doesn’t get any better than this for a home ice cream maker, unless you significantly up the price range and purchase a small commercial model. Check out our full review of the Lello 4080 or Read actual customer reviews of the Lello 4080 Musso Lussino now.
Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop
The Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop is really easy to operate, and is Foodal’s number 1 pick. You merely prepare the ingredients, place into the tub, choose the firmness level, and press the button.
The appliance emits a tone when it’s ready to receive any additional ingredients, and again gives an audio alert once the frozen goodies are ready to be consumed.
It is extremely quiet during operation, and a batch normally takes about 45 minutes to complete, from start to finish.
The Breville is one of the few examples (along with Lello) that we’ve seen which whips ice cream the same as store bought, to ensure that it doesn’t turn into a solid brick as soon as you place it in the deep freeze.
The primary reason that commercially produced frozen products are so fluffy and scoopable is primarily due to this added air (and a little to the added gum ingredients – yuck). This feature is very difficult to find in home models, but this machine does this well.
Since we seem to love the Lello 4080 so much, then why is the Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop our top rated pick? First, the cost. This machine is significantly cheaper while producing similar results (albeit at a slightly slower pace).
Second, the warranty. Although the chances of needing warranty or service support on the Lello are slim, some users have complained that communication and willingness to work on their machines (particularly after a warranty has run out) have been less than stellar.
Speaking of warranties… a small appliance that has the price tag of the Lello should have more than a one-year parts and labor warranty! These support issues are NOT the case with Breville, a large (but somewhat upscale) international manufacturer with support systems firmly in place.
Third, the Breville has removable tubs (with extras available for purchase) while the Lello’s churn canister is firmly attached, and non-removable. Also, the Breville, like the Lello, has a bottom mount motor and full size removable plastic cover, so you don’t have to fumble around with feeding extra ingredients through a channel.
Delonghi GM6000 Gelato Maker
This is a model that we’d love to love, so to speak. But it is not without some glaring issues.
However, we’ll cover the good points first. The hermetically-sealed lid maintains the ideal temperature inside the chamber, and keeps any air from getting into the mixture. This gives you the ideal gelato consistency and texture.
Also, the durable stainless steel bowl, paddle, and lid will last forever. and all are dishwasher safe, making for easy cleanup. Lastly, Delonghi gives you 50 recipes for gelato and sorbetto, so you might never need to look elsewhere for a recipe, which is great.
That being said, the Delonghi is not without some serious flaws.As reported by MANY reviewers on Amazon, its thin plastic parts such as the dasher, control knobs, and linkages aren’t very strong, and these break often.
Although this level of quality may be expected in lower priced machines, this is really unacceptable in a machine that hovers around this price point. Delonghi quality has gone downhill somewhat since being bought out by Kenwood, and most everything is now manufactured by the lowest bidder overseas.
Although Delonghi does not play the “warranty game” and is normally good about covering anything that breaks, it’s a crapshoot as to whether repair parts are available. You can read our full review of this Delonghi offering, but we suggest saving yourself the aggravation and purchasing a different model.
Cuisinart ICE-100 Compressor
With the same price and same appearance as the Delonghi, the Cuisinart gelato maker has much better customer reviews. It comes with two separate paddles, one specifically for making ice cream, and a separate one just for the gelato. Like the Delonghi, it is its own freezer unit – so there’s no need for freezing the bowl, and you can make multiple batches with no downtime.
An added feature with this Cuisinart is the “keep cool” feature, which maintains the same freezing temperature after the machine is finished, for at least 10 minutes. Read Foodal’s full review of this awesome machine or check out all of the customer comments on Amazon.
One thing to keep in mind with both of these gelato models: their size.
Because both contain a compressor, they are somewhat larger than other ice cream makers. This is an important consideration if you have limited counter or cabinet space in your kitchen.
While you won’t need to dedicate freezer space for a bowl as with other types, you will need to devote a good amount of space to the unit itself.
So, there you have it. These are all great choices for an ice cream (or gelato) maker, it just depends on what you are looking for in the machine, and how much you are able to spend.
Keep in mind that with any of these options, you are going to end up with something more soft-serve than a traditional store-bought ice cream. To get it harder, if that is your goal, you’ll need to let it firm up further in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.
First published March 14th, 2015. Lat updated January 5th, 2016.
About Ashley Martell
Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.