What features make a great ice cream maker?
An ice cream maker is a pretty simple machine that only has to do one thing well. Stir a frozen dessert mixture at a consistently cold temperature and a constant speed until it has thickened and frozen to the consistency you want. You would think you could buy a machine that can do this for $20. Well you can’t. Here are the major things to look for:
A Consistent Freezing Temperature
If your ice cream machine doesn’t get and stay cold enough your mixture will never thicken and freeze into ice cream. If the unit gets to cold you risk snapping the paddle or overheating the motor.
A Strong Motor
As ice cream thickens it get harder to stir. A strong motor is needed to keep the paddle turning without straining itself and overheating.
A Strong Paddle
A sadly not uncommon feature in cheap ice cream makers is a a flimsy plastic paddle that can break easily if the ice cream mixture freezes to hard before the machine is turned off. With better machines you normally don’t have to worry about this.
Heavy motors can mean loud motors or gearing. No ice cream maker is going to be dead silent but neither should you have to live with an airplane engine in your kitchen. If you are really sensitive to loud noises, home ice cream making may not be for you. On the bright side a good ice cream maker usually only takes 20 – 30 minutes to do its job.
Easy to Clean Up
This isn’t normally an issue. With most current models all the parts (bowl, paddle) can be removed from the main unit and washed separately. With some vintage machines the bowls couldn’t be removed and they are a bit of a pain to clean. My personal Simac il Gelataio The Ice Cream Man is like this but I love the thing and gladly put up it.
Easy to Store
If you are like me you have to many kitchen gadgets and minor appliances as it is. In all honesty I couldn’t care less how difficult something like this is to store but I know I’m unusual in this regard.
This may or may not matter to you. I am a big fan of industrial design, especially vintage design and derive a lot of pleasure from how well a machine is designed and made. That’s why I own a vintage ice cream maker and why I will be reviewing them. Don’t worry there are plenty of current made units that are beautifully designed and constructed.
Auto Shut Off
This feature prevents a unit from self-destructing if the dessert mixture you are making freezes to a consistency that’s to hard. I can’t think of a unit that doesn’t come with this. However a not uncommon problem with ice cream makers is auto shut off devices that are either defective or to sensitive and end up turning off the unit before the mixture is finished freezing. By the way it’s my personal opinion that you shouldn’t rely on this or a timer to turn off your machine. After 20 minutes or so you should taste and choose the consistency you are looking for.
Types of Ice Cream Makers
There are three primary types of ice cream makers.
Hand Crank Ice Cream Maker
- This was your grandmother’s (great-grandmother’s, Thomas Jefferson’s ?!) ice cream maker. Unless one of the following describes you:
- Enjoy messy, repetitive, heavy labor.
- Have a very, very strong commitment to energy conservation.
- Really want to make ice cream at home but can’t afford an electric ice cream maker
- Collect antique ice cream makers for their own sake.
You can forget about these. At least I will be on this website. If you beg to differ please post a comment or drop me an email and I will happily post your dissent.
This is currently the most commonly sold type of electric ice cream maker. It’s not hard to understand why. They are the most inexpensive, and sell new for between $20 and $100. With a freezer canister ice cream machine, the bowl (canister) that the ice cream mixture is processed in, contains a liquid inside its walls that freezes after it is stored in your freezer for at least 24 hours. This frozen bowl is what your ice cream is actually made in.
I will keep at least one current review for this type of machine on the site in order to give people an entry point into ice cream making. Honestly my personal experience with them has been mostly bad. But unless you luck into an incredible deal for a used unit with built in freezer, they are the only game in town for under a hundred dollars. NEVER buy one of these used unless you know the person selling it very well and it has been used in the last month or two. Click here for a review of our current favorite freezer canister ice cream maker.
Real Ice Cream Machines
Ta-da! These are ice cream makers that have their own built in freezer for chilling your ice cream mix while churning it. Let me be subtle here, YOU WANT ONE OF THESE! They work, (Some better than others of course, hence the reviews) plain and simple. There are two problems with them. They are expensive, almost always over $200. They are heavy, 30 lbs. and up. Ideally you will be able to store yours close to where you plan to work with it.
There are variations of these makers I plan to look at for fun on the site: vintage, commercial, laboratory grade mixers and freezers but mostly the reviews will be about readily available high end consumer models.