The Best Ice Cream Maker for You: 5 Steps to Help You Choose

The best ice cream maker for you: is it a manual, automatic or electric ice cream maker?

Here's how to decide.

There are so many different kinds of machines, that choosing the best ice cream maker for you is a very individual decision. Here are the factors you need to take into account before deciding what kind and which model is the right one.

There are basically three kinds of machines: gel-canister electric ice cream makers, automatic ones and bucket-style, with the last coming in electric or manual versions.

Electric ice cream maker

The most popular kind, these have a removal gel-filled canister that you must freeze before using. The canister sits on a motor base. You insert a paddle in the canister, place the cover on the machine and turn it on. The motor rotates either the canister or the paddle to churn the ingredients into cream as they freeze.

electric ice cream maker

Click here for our electric ice cream maker reviews.

Self-cooling automatic ice cream maker

These models freeze and churn at the same time. They are heavier than gel-canister models, and they all look more or less like this one:

automatic ice cream maker

Click here for our compressor ice cream maker reviews.

Bucket-style manual ice cream maker

These freeze the ingredients through the chemical reaction produced by mixing ice and salt. Traditional models require hand churning, while modern versions have electric motors to do it.

Here's what a manual ice cream maker looks like:

manual ice cream maker

Click here for our electric ice cream freezer bucket and hand crank ice cream maker reviews.

5 Steps to the Best Ice Cream Maker for You

Now, let's choose the one that's right for you. To do this, you need to take these five factors into account:


  • Ice cream makers range from $13.00 for novelty items like the Play and Freeze Ice cream ball, to over $1000 for some home models. Professional models can top $10,000.

  • When it come to home-use counter-top models, electric ice cream makers with removable gel canisters tend to cost much less than self-cooling automatic machines.

  • Quality bucket-style units cost more than gel-canister ones, but considerably less than self-cooling units.

Ice cream quality
  • You'll get the best quality ice cream from self-cooling units. If you're a gourmet and an ice cream perfectionist, then you'll probably be happier with a self-cooling unit.

  • Gel-canister units do produce perfectly adequate ice cream, however. If you're looking to make an occasional treat for your family and friends, the best ice cream maker for you is probably an electric gel-canister machine.

  • Bucket-style ice cream makers tend to make smoother ice cream than most gel-canister ones, but they are also very labor intensive and quality models cost more.

Need to Plan Ahead
  • Are you the type of person who can plan ahead? To use a gel-canister unit, you have to pre-freeze the canister before making ice cream. Some people get around this by storing the canister in the freezer, but if you're tight for freezer space, this may not be an option.

  • Do you want to serve several ice cream flavors at once? With a gel-canister unit, you'll have to start several days in advance, letting the canister freeze a minimum of 24 hours in between batches.

  • Self-cooling units, on the other hand, don't require pre-freezing and can easily whip up many batches of ice cream one after another. Not only can you make ice cream whenever the fancy strikes, this is also handy if you need large quantities of it.

  • Bucket-style units don't require pre-freezing. You do have to have plenty of ice and salt on hand - pounds of them. So a little planning is in order.

Ease of Use
  • Here gel-canister units and self-cooling ones are tied. Throw in the ingredients, push a button and voila!

  • Bucket-style machines, on the other hand, are seriously labor intensive. The old-fashioned models are hand cranked, so you have to stand there and churn. Modern units have electric motors to crank for you, but you still need to keep the bucket filled with ice and salt. If you live in a hot climate, this isn't so easy to do.

    If you're looking for an old-fashioned family “pioneer experience”, then a bucket-style machine may be the best ice cream maker for you.

    But if you're like most of us who are pressed for time and like to do things fast, then choose one of the other two types.

Ease of Clean Up
  • Clean up is where gel-canister units outstrip the competition. Lift the removable canister from the unit and wash. Because you can lift the canister out to remove the ice cream when it's done, there's also a lot less dripping onto the unit itself.

  • The canister in self-cooling units isn't removable. This means you have wash the machine with a damp sponge and not get the motor wet. It also means you have to scoop the ice cream out of the machine, which isn't as easy as pouring it out of a canister.

Now that you've prioritized the points that are most important to you, you should have a better idea of what kind of machine will be the best choice for you.

To see our top three best ice cream makers, click here.

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