What Are the Different Types of Ice Cream Makers?

milk being poured into a white ice cream maker Some of my favorite early memories are chasing firebugs on hot summer nights while Grandpa cranked the ice cream maker in the kitchen. Tired from a day of climbing trees and playing tag, my brothers and I fought over who added the salt and powered the crank. It took FOREVER, but when Grandma finally decided the ice cream was ready, it was terrific.

Now you can find almost any flavor in the ice cream aisle at your local grocery store, but homemade still tastes better. Homemade ice cream is so much healthier than store-bought. At home, you have complete control over what ingredients you use: organic cream, coconut milk, freshly picked strawberries, perfectly ripe peaches, fragrant mint… the possibilities are endlessly delicious.

There is a fantastic variety of ice cream makers on the market, but machines for home use fall into three broad categories: manual, electric, and specialty.

Manual Ice Cream Makers

If you’re looking for a hands-on approach, a manual ice cream maker may be for you.

Hand-Cranked

Food historians (my new dream job) debate the invention of frozen desserts, but some estimate that Persians were pouring enjoying juice poured over snow 4000 years ago. In the book History of Food, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat writes that the Chinese invented the first device to make ice cream around 200 BC. Skipping ahead quickly, Nancy M. Johnson applied for the first patent for a hand-cranked ice cream freezer in 1843. Johnson’s ice cream maker used pewter cylinders, paddles, and a crank to stir sweetened milk immersed in a bucket of salt and snow. Modern home ice cream makers powered by a crank are a derivative of Johnson’s original design.

How it Works

A hand-cranked ice cream maker uses rock salt and ice to surround a container that holds the future ice cream. The rock salt melts the ice causing the temperature of the mixture in the tank to freeze slowly. The hand crank is connected to a paddle inside the container to rotate the mix and keep the ingredients evenly distributed. For example, the turning paddle keeps chunks of fresh peach mixed evenly throughout the ice cream instead of settling at the bottom.

Pros & Cons

a white hand-crank ice cream maker with a bowl of lime ice cream beside it The memories of hand-cranking ice cream on a summer evening are priceless. Everyone in the family can participate in every step from picking fresh fruit to turning the crank.

Hand-cranked ice cream is neither neat nor efficient. It takes a 15 pounds of crushed ice and 6 cups of rock salt to make a gallon of ice cream with an old-fashioned hand-cranked model. The water from the melted ice has to go somewhere. This is the main reason ice cream was traditionally made on the porch.

For an even consistency, you need to crank at the same speed the entire time. This isn’t going to happen if everyone from 2 to 94 takes a turn. For my family, the memories are worth the cost of some parts of the ice cream being chunkier than others. If you want to use the ice cream for a fancy dinner party, you might want to look at one of the alternative ice cream makers below.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Great memories

Cons

  • Takes a long time
  • Physically exhausting (unless you share the work)
  • Messy water runoff
  • Possibly uneven consistency

Old-Fashioned

Many ice cream makers use “hand-cranked” and “old-fashioned” interchangeably, but for a select few the only true old-fashioned ice cream makers are based on Triple-Motion Dasher System patented by the White Mountain Freezer Company in 1853. The Dasher System simultaneously mixes and beats the ice cream mixture to create exceptionally smooth ice cream. White Mountain used New England pinewood to craft the outer bucket. Artisans hand-crafted the dasher from beechwood to scrape the sides of the ice cream canister. Sunbeam owns the White Mountain Freezer Company today, but you can still find the original models in antique stores and auction sites online.

How It Works

an old fashioned ice cream maker with ice and a metal tin holding the ice cream The Dasher System ice cream maker uses a 5:1 ratio of rock salt to the ice. This ratio lowers the melting temperature of the ice to 27 degrees. The melted ice and salt form a brine solution that transfers heat outward from the canister to the wooden bucket. The milk mixture in the canister freezes quickly while the dasher beats and mixes to create smooth, creamy ice cream.

Important Note: If you find an antique ice maker with a wooden bucket, you will need to prime the bucket before you make ice cream. Priming is a simple process of filling the bucket with tap water and letting it sit for 60 minutes. Priming needs to be repeated any time the bucket is unused for several months. Otherwise, the pail may not absorb the brine solution quickly enough to freeze the ice cream before large ice crystals appear.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Great memories
  • Smooth and creamy consistency
  • Steeped in American history and tradition

Cons

  • May be difficult to find
  • Messy water runoff
  • Buckets require priming before use

Hand-Stirred Methods

Hand-stirred ice cream doesn’t require a machine. There are two well-tested ways to do this: the bag method and the ice-bath method.

The Bag Method

plastic bags filled iwth ice cream mix in various colors You’ll need towels, ice, kosher salt, and multiple sizes of plastic bags (grocery bags and Ziploc work well). The ice cream mix goes in the smallest bag which you surround with another bag filled with the kosher salt and ice. Then put all these bags in a larger bag and shake for 5-10 minutes before letting it rest in the freezer for a few minutes. Repeat until you have the consistency you want. Making ice cream without a machine is messy, but fun.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Supplies are easy to find in the average home
  • Relatively fast way to make ice cream
  • Fun for kids

Cons

  • Continuous shaking is difficult
  • Your hands will get very cold

The Ice Bath Method

Chef David Lebovitz has a simple method that emerges a baking dish in an ice bath and a kitchen freezer. He recommends using a deep baking dish or bowl covered and surrounded by ice. The entire setup goes into the freezer. Every 30-45 minutes, you pull it out and mix it with a spatula. Most recipes take 2-3 hours with this method. As long as you don’t get distracted and forget to stir the mixture, you’ll have smooth and creamy ice cream. Lebovitz says that his method works best with soft or custard-type recipes.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • You don’t need to buy or store another kitchen appliance
  • Indoor method

Cons

  • Ice cream recipes that require a hard freeze are challenging to stir
  • If you forget to stir the mix, then you’ll have a frozen chunk of dairy

Rolled Ice Cream

When you make ice cream rolls, an ice cream roll maker allows you to make hard, flat ice cream that has been swirled into rolls. This style of ice cream is made by placing ice cream mix on a flat, cold surface, then using a spatula to push them up and roll it into a cylinder.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • The ice cream is cute and novelty
  • The cost of entry is low
  • Rolled ice cream is easy to make for beginners

Cons

  • The ice cream cannot be easily made in bulk

Electric Ice Cream Makers

Electric ice cream makers use electricity for power instead of humans. They don’t use rock salt and ice, so they are convenient, designed for indoor use, and easy to clean.

Freezer Bowl

Freezer bowl ice cream makers are the most popular among home cooks. These machines have a double-walled bowl pre-filled with urea and distilled water. It takes up to 24 hours for the container to freeze, but when it does the temperature is far enough below 32 degrees that the ice cream mix freezes on contact with the bowl. An electric motor operates a paddle to continuously scrape the frozen cream from the sides of the bowl and stir the mixture. The result is an even consistency.

Pros & Cons

an ice cream maker filled with licorice ice cream Pros

  • Simple and fast
  • No need for salt and ice
  • Easy cleanup
  • Indoor friendly (no messy water runoff)

Cons

  • Limited to one batch at a time, you have to wait for the bowl to refreeze between batches
  • Ice cream makers can sometimes be expensive

Freezer

A freezer ice cream maker is an ice cream maker that sits inside your freezer. It doesn’t use a double-walled bowl, so you can make multiple batches of ice cream quickly. These units require a good bit of freezer space. They also have to be plugged into an external outlet, so you’ll have to close your freezer door over an electrical cord.

How it Works

The mechanism makes ice cream the same way as the countertop models. An electric engine controls a paddle that scrapes the sides of the bowl and mixes the ingredients.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • No delay between batches
  • Fast and easy cleanup

Cons

  • Takes up freezer space
  • Most freezer doors won’t close tightly over the unit’s electrical cord

Countertop

If you plan to make serious amounts of homemade ice cream, you may want to look at a countertop ice cream maker. This is the largest and most efficient machine available to home consumers. Built-in coolants freeze the ice cream mixture in 20 minutes (some are even faster). Since you don’t have to wait for a bowl to freeze, there’s no delay before you can start a new batch. There is a potential drawback because the countertop models need to sit for 12 hours after use before you they can be moved.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Fast and efficient
  • Make 3 batches an hour
  • Designed for easy cleanup

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Large and heavy
  • Can’t be moved for 12 hours after use

Hybrid Ice-Salt Coolant

A hybrid ice cream maker uses rock salt and ice as the to freeze the ice cream but can be cranked manually or with a motor. They work like the hand-crank or old-fashioned ice cream makers I described earlier, but you can supply the power yourself or with an electrical current. These are perfect if you want to hand-crank ice cream as a family a few times a year, but also want the convenience of an electric motor to make ice cream year-round without a fuss.

Commercial Ice Cream Makers

someone making hazelnut ice cream in a commercial ice cream maker Commercial ice cream makers are built-in ice cream freezers designed for industrial use. They are intended to be used several times a day for years. While that much ice cream may sound like a dream come true, you’re better off sticking with an at-home ice cream maker unless you’re planning on starting your own ice cream business.

Other Types of Ice Cream Makers

While ice cream makers have “ice cream” in the name, they can actually make more than just ice cream. Many ice cream makers will advertise that they can make other frozen treats, as well. Here are just some of the other options:

  • Soft-serve
  • Custard
  • Milkshakes
  • Gelato
  • Sorbet
  • Frozen yogurt

I’ve even seen ice cream makers that have popsicle mold attachments.

You can make all of these with a standard ice cream maker, but a specialty machine may be smaller or more useful for your preferences. If you only make gelato, a traditional ice cream maker may be overkill and even make the process harder.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Ice Cream Maker

Ice cream makers range in price from $30 into the thousands. Use the following factors to guide your thoughts on what type of appliance you want.

  • How often you will be using the machine
  • Size of appliance
  • Capacity/quarts
  • Ice cream texture and consistency
  • Speed
  • Noise
  • Appearance/Color
  • Features and extras
  • Ease of using and cleaning
  • Price

Conclusion

a top-down image of an ice cream maker filled with chocolate ice cream An ice cream maker can be an excellent addition to your kitchen. Having complete control over the type of ice cream you make and the ingredients that go into it is a lot more fun than picking up premade ice cream from the store. There are even ice cream cookbooks dedicated to coming up with brand new flavor combinations and recipes. If you get the chance, I highly recommend choosing one of these methods and making your own ice cream from scratch. Once you do, it’ll be impossible to go back to the premade stuff!