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Whether you want to make sure you always have frozen treats on hand to cool off on a hot day or want to experiment with flavors and take your homemade desserts to the next level, an ice cream maker is an easy-to-use appliance that definitely deserves a spot in your kitchen.

We went hands-on for weeks with nine different ice cream makers, and after churning over 20 pints of ice cream, only two proved to be the best of the best.

Best overall ice cream maker

The Cuisinart ICE-21 had the best balance of price and performance of any ice cream maker we tested. It churned some of the best, creamiest ice cream of the entire group while also being one of the cheapest. You have to freeze the bowl overnight before making ice cream and it’s quite loud, but we still think there isn’t a better machine out there for the price.

Best compressor ice cream maker

A compressor-style ice cream maker has a built-in refrigeration unit, so no overnight prep is required. The Whynter ICM-201SB is pricey, but it’s an extraordinarily convenient, surprisingly quiet ice cream maker that churned the creamiest ice cream out of our whole group.

Best overall ice cream maker: Cuisinart 1.5-Quart Frozen Yogurt ICE-21P1 ($69.95; amazon.com)

Cuisinart 1.5 Quart Frozen Yogurt ICE-21P1
Kai Burkhardt/CNN
Cuisinart 1.5 Quart Frozen Yogurt ICE-21P1

During our taste tests, the Cuisinart ICE-21 made one of the smoothest ice creams, with only a little iciness, beating out machines that cost hundreds of dollars more.

The Cuisinart ICE-21 is incredibly easy to use, although you do have to pre-freeze the mixing bowl overnight. It requires a little bit of planning before you can start churning, but once your base is made and the bowl is frozen, making ice cream is a breeze. Simply assemble the bowl, paddle and lid, pour in your base and turn the machine’s single switch into the “on” position.

While the ICE-21 is running, it’s loud enough that if your kitchen is adjacent to your living room you won’t be able to turn it on while you’re watching a movie without really cranking up the TV. But while it was one of the loudest machines we tested, it also churned ice cream faster than many of its competitors (it only took about 15 minutes for both of the recipes we tested), so you won’t have to suffer through the noise for too long.

When mixing, we also noticed the ICE-21 created some of the least ice cream buildup out of the machines we tested, especially among the non-compressor options. Many makers left a layer of ice cream stuck to the side of the bowl, and while this was still scoopable, it was a lot icier than the creamy concoction that consistently passed through the paddle.

Once your ice cream is done, you won’t be able to reuse the frozen bowl immediately, since it’ll have warmed up quite a bit, so if you want to make back-to-back batches, you’ll need to purchase an additional bowl and freeze them both the night before.

Cleaning the ICE-21 was not as difficult as the other makers. None of the bowls we tested were dishwasher-safe, so we washed each one by hand to see how hard or annoying it was to clean all the nooks and crannies. Most bowls have a vertical tube right in the middle where you attach a paddle, which makes scrubbing the bottom of the bowl a little difficult. You can clean the bowl pretty well with a sponge despite this, but you’ll still have to use a bottle brush to adequately clean the inside of the tube, which is an additional pain. The Cuisinart bowls that you have to pre-freeze don’t have this obstacle, which makes scrubbing them squeaky clean a much less troublesome task.

If you want a reliable, easy-to-use and inexpensive ice cream machine, there’s no other option that can beat out the Cuisinart ICE-21. For just $70 and little planning, you can make deliciously creamy and rich desserts time and time again just as well as higher-end models.

Best compressor ice cream maker: Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker ($324.55; amazon.com)

Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker
Kai Burkhardt/CNN
Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker

Compressor ice cream machines are more expensive than non-compressor models since they have a built-in refrigeration unit, but if you’re making ice cream on a regular basis, they can be worth the splurge. Constantly freezing bowls can take a lot of foresight and — more importantly — freezer space. So if you want to make ice cream frequently or experiment with flavors all the time, compressor models can save you a lot of time and effort.

Out of all the compressor machines we tested, the Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker was by far the best. This ice cream maker was not only amazingly simple to use, but it also churned the smoothest ice cream out of all the machines we tested, with barely any icy buildup on the sides of the bowl. Plus, the Whynter’s upright configuration means that it takes up a lot less space on your counter than other compressor models. In fact, it only took up a bit more room than most of the non-compressor models, which is quite amazing since the Whynter has a full freezing system inside of it.

The machine’s design was a lot different than other compressor models we tested. Upright, with a shallow and wide bowl where the others are tall and narrow, it was both easier to clean and a dream to scoop out of. The Whynter’s bowl still has the annoying tube in the middle (unlike the Cuisinart ICE-21), but with more room around it, cleaning the protrusion was much less of a pain.

The Whynter ICM-201SB Upright machine was heavy, like all compressor models we tested, so you should probably keep it stored in a lower cabinet to avoid any overhead lifting. However, when we turned the machine on we were amazed by how quiet it ran. All the other ice cream makers made a decent amount of noise (some, like the Cuisinart, made much more than others), so when the Whynter let out a low and quiet hum — somewhat similar to an efficient dishwasher — we were thoroughly impressed. You could easily have this machine going in the background while you work, talk or even watch TV in the same room without it being a huge distraction, which was a big win in our book. It was relatively speedy too, taking 25 minutes to churn out a batch of dairy ice cream, and 35 minutes for a vegan recipe.

While the Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Automatic Ice Cream Maker is definitely a bigger investment than the Cuisinart, the convenience factor of this machine beats out everything else we tried. It saves you the hassle of freezing a bowl and, unlike other compressor models, isn’t enormous, and is easy to scoop out of and super quiet. If you want the convenience of a compressor ice cream maker, the Whynter ICM-201SB is absolutely the one to get.

Everything you need to know about ice cream makers

There are lots of ways to make ice cream at home, whether it’s in a plastic bag, in a Mason jar or with a machine like those we tested. Using an ice cream machine isn’t a very difficult process, but there just are a few things you should know before you dive in. First off, most ice cream makers fall into two groups: ones with compressors and ones without. Machines with compressors have a built-in refrigeration system that chills the bowl down to freezing temperatures at the beginning of the process, while makers without this feature require you to freeze a bowl beforehand, typically at least overnight.

Freezing the bowl in advance requires some planning but isn’t too much of a chore if you have the freezer space. However, you won’t be able to make multiple batches of ice cream in a row unless you buy an extra bowl (which means you need even more freezer space). But the results are very similar to those you’ll get from a compressor model, and you’ll save a lot of money upfront.

While compressor machines are generally more expensive and heavier and take up a lot more room, you won’t have to do as much planning ahead of time (just allow time for your base to chill completely if you’re cooking it over the stove) and you can make pint after pint of ice cream without having to refreeze anything. These machines are undoubtedly an investment, but they churn out high-quality ice cream consistently and save you from worrying about freezing bowls all the time, which can be a huge plus if you make ice cream regularly.

How we tested

We tested nine ice cream makers over several weeks to find the best ones on the market. To do that, we assembled, made ice cream in and cleaned each machine at least twice and took notes on ease of use, mixing time, noise, weight and more.

We made a couple batches of ice cream to settle on standard recipes to use throughout testing and decided on Bon Appetit’s True Vanilla Ice Cream and The Kitchn’s Vegan Ice Cream. These recipes both provided a rich, creamy ice cream so we could more easily tell when machines churned an icier end product.

Here’s a breakdown of all the tests we ran over the weeks of testing:

Performance

  • Texture of dairy ice cream: After making each batch of ice cream, we conducted several taste tests comparing the consistency and texture of each ice cream to one another. We judged how icy or creamy each ice cream was in relation to the rest of the pool.
  • Texture of vegan ice cream: After making each batch of vegan ice cream, we conducted the same taste tests, paying attention to iciness and texture.
  • Mixing time: For both dairy and vegan recipes, we timed how long each machine took to turn the liquid base into ice cream.

Usability

  • Ease of preparation: We noted all the steps it took to get the machine ready for making ice cream, whether that was assembling the different parts, pre-freezing the bowl or running the machine through a pre-chill function.
  • Ease of use: Once everything was ready to make ice cream, we noted all the steps necessary to churn the base into ice cream.
  • Ease of cleaning: We cleaned each ice cream maker and all its components twice, taking note of how hard the different elements were to wash.
  • Size: We put each machine on a counter and measured how much room it took up, comparing each machine to the others.
  • Noise: We judged how loud each machine was while it was running.
  • Weight: We weighed each machine and paid attention to how easy or hard it was to move it around the counter or put it in a cabinet.

Quality and design

  • General quality: We felt each part of the machine and judged its quality, whether we thought it was flimsy and would break or would last for years.
  • General design: We set up all the machines next to one another and ordered them by looks and design.

Everything else we tested

Kai Burkhardt/CNN

Whynter ICM-15LS Automatic Ice Cream Maker ($219.43; amazon.com)

This Whynter ice cream maker was also a standout in our texture tests, producing a rich and creamy ice cream that was better than most other ice creams we tried. However, it’s a lot larger and louder than the Whynter ICM-201SB. The bowl is also more awkward to scoop from and clean, but if those things don’t bother you and you want to save $100, this compressor model is an outstanding option.

Cuisinart ICE-70 Electronic Ice Cream Maker ($139.99, originally $250; amazon.com)

Like the ICE-21, you have to pre-freeze this machine’s bowl and, like the ICE-21, it’s extremely loud. It did churn out a decent ice cream, but not as good as the Cuisinart, so given the price we think the ICE-21 is the better purchase.

Dash My Pint ($19.99; amazon.com)

We were pleasantly surprised by the Dash My Pint’s performance. You do have to freeze the tiny bowl beforehand and it makes quite an icy ice cream, but if you want to gift someone an ice cream maker or you live in a small apartment, this is a great introduction to making ice cream, especially given its price tag.

Cuisinart ICE-30 Pure Indulgence ($99.95; amazon.com)

This machine was the quietest out of the non-compressor options we tested; however, we got a lot of buildup on the sides of the bowl and the final product was consistently icier than the ICE-21.

Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker ($499.95; breville.com)

This machine looks extremely nice on the counter and has a nifty and useful interface that helps you track the consistency of your ice cream, but it took much longer to churn both the dairy and vegan ice creams we made than the other compressor models we tried. And being the most expensive option on our list, we definitely think the Whynter ICM-201SB can make a better ice cream faster, and for nearly $200 cheaper.

Cuisinart ICE-100 ($249.99, originally $545; amazon.com)

The Cuisinart ICE-100 really didn’t impress us much, as it was just as big, heavy and loud as the other compressor models and didn’t make an especially creamy ice cream.

Ninja Creami ($199.99; ninja.com)

This new ice cream maker from Ninja was very intriguing (it vaguely resembles a cross between a blender and a coffee machine), but the results don’t live up to its competition. Using the Ninja machine requires more prep than even the other non-compressor ice cream makers, since you have to freeze not just a bowl but the ice cream mix itself in the included pint containers. You also have to ensure that the pint is level as it freezes or else you’ll have to melt and refreeze it (the blender won’t work otherwise).

Once your pint is frozen, you lock it into the Ninja machine and select your setting. The ice cream maker then uses a blender blade to mix up the frozen ice cream. After a loud and aggressive two and a half minutes, the machine stops and you can unlock your pint. The dairy ice cream we got was extremely icy and powdery and tasted more like Dippin’ Dots than ice cream. The vegan ice cream we made was decently creamy, but we still don’t think the prep was worth the end result. For the $200 price tag, we’d recommend a more traditional compressor model that requires zero prep. Otherwise you can save some money and get a cheaper, non-compressor model that will still give you better results, and spend the remainder on ingredients.

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