12 best ice cream makers to whip up frozen treats at home

Make cooling off this summer extra easy by scooping up one of these handy gadgets

Siobhan Grogan
Monday 22 March 2021 16:14
There are two types of machines: fully automatic, which come with an inbuilt freezer, and manual which require you to pre-frezeze the bowl first
There are two types of machines: fully automatic, which come with an inbuilt freezer, and manual which require you to pre-frezeze the bowl first

Nothing beats a bowl of ice cream – whether it’s a hot day, movie night on the sofa or just a well-deserved midweek treat.

But homemade ice cream is far tastier than anything you can buy in the shops. So why not indulge a little and invest in an ice cream maker?

It could be a worthwhile buy for anyone who loves to experiment with flavours. Or, for those looking for vegan, sugar or dairy free options who can’t find something they fancy it could solve all your problems.

Of course, before purchasing you’ll have to do your research. How much do you want to spend? This will certainly impact what type of ice cream maker you should and could buy.

Cheaper versions require you to pre-freeze the bowl first, so you’ll need to be a little more organised and have enough freezer room. Though we still think they’re the best choice for occasional use or anyone lacking space to store the machine when not in use.

Read more:

Machines featuring an in-built freezer are much bigger and cost hundreds of pounds but deliver smooth, professional-quality results for real ice cream devotees. They’re also a better option for anyone hoping to make more than one batch of frozen dessert a day.

We tested both types of machine, considering value for money, ease of use, size, capacity and how easy each ice cream maker was to clean afterwards.

For each model, we looked at the different types of dessert it could make and tried a range of flavours in all, including classic vanilla, strawberry and Malteser with chocolates added towards the end of churning.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Cuisinart ice cream and gelato professional

For true ice cream addicts, a machine with a built-in freezer more than justifies the high price tag. This Cuisinart maker is super-simple to use: just throw the ingredients in and you’ll be gorging on ice cream in around 40 minutes. There’s a digital timer and an audible beep to alert you when it’s time to tuck in and the machine will keep your creation cold for a further ten minutes.

The removable bowl makes a decent 1.5l of ice cream and means this machine is super-easy to clean – handy if you want to get a second batch started straight away. It’s relatively quiet to operate and easy to flip open the lid during churning to add extras like nuts or crushed biscuits for added bite.

Unusually, this comes with two mixing paddles, one for silky gelato and sorbet and a second which incorporates more air into the mixture for feather-light ice cream. All were outstanding, but the fluffy ice cream was some of the best we’ve ever tasted, making this model worth the splurge.

Sensio 1.4l ice cream maker

If you’re looking to dabble in desserts but are worried it could be a passing fad, keep costs down with this bargain buy. The stirrer and lid slot together easily and it takes around 20 minutes to whip up a batch of ice cream – although the double-insulated bowl does need pre-freezing for around 12 hours and is quite bulky so it’s worth checking you have room in your freezer before buying. The lid is clear to check progress and there’s a spout to pour in the mixture, though we found it better to add straight to the bowl before securing the lid.

As with all these machines, it’s important not to overfill as the ice cream grows with churning and can spill out of the top. The ice cream we made was very tasty and quite soft so would need additional time in the freezer if a harder consistency is preferred.

Sage smart scoop

It couldn’t be easier to use the smart scoop, even if you’ve never attempted to make your own ice cream before. Pour the ingredients in, choose whether you fancy sorbet, gelato, frozen yoghurt or ice cream and press start. The machine does all the rest with a clear display screen to update progress, a sensor to detect the right consistency and even an alert to let you know when to add any extra ingredients.

There are an impressive 12 hardness levels so you can make ice cream exactly as you like it but ours was perfectly creamy without any adjustment. The in-built freezer means there’s no need to plan ahead for those ice cream cravings and the clever keep cool function kept our gelato ready to eat for three hours. We were completely charmed by the cute ice cream van sound to signal it was time for eating too. The only downside? The smart scoop is very large yet only has a one litre capacity so larger families might prefer something bigger.

KitchenAid ice cream maker

If you don’t already own a KitchenAid stand mixer then you can go ahead and keep scrolling as this ice cream maker only works as an attachment to one of their appliances. However if you’re the lucky owner of one of their mixer’s you’ll find this to be a nifty way of adapting a machine you already have.

The large bowl holds a generous 1.9l of ice cream and must be frozen for up to 15 hours first so you’ll need plenty of freezer space to squeeze it in. It was a little fiddly to attach the drive assembly and dasher to the mixer to start with, but easy once we got the knack and the results were impressive. Light-as-air ice cream took around half an hour but we also made delicious sorbet, frozen yoghurt and even a strawberry slushie. The attachments needed hand washing afterwards but cleaned easily in seconds.

Lakeland personal ice cream maker

Kids will love this dinky individual sized ice cream maker for experimenting with wacky flavours. It makes just the right amount of ice cream or sorbet for one person so is quick and easy to operate and our dessert was ready in just over ten minutes. The inner pot needs freezing for up to 12 hours first but is so small, it’s no problem to store in the freezer ready to go.

The ice cream was on the soft side but our young testers weren’t complaining and loved thinking up new ideas to try. Best of all, there’s a handle on the detachable outer pot so there’s no need to scoop into a bowl before eating with the provided spoon.

Magimix gelato expert

You’ll need to be a serious ice cream enthusiast to splash out on this sturdy looking appliance, as it’s by far the most expensive of all the ones we tested. It certainly looks the business and takes up surprisingly little worktop space, slotting together easily straight from the box. The built-in freezer unit means there’s no need to pre-freeze the bowl either so we were making our first batch of chocolate gelato within minutes.

We loved the fact it came with two bowls and paddles so it’s possible to make a second two litre batch immediately after the first if you need a large amount or want two different flavours. Just don’t forget to add brine, as directed, to the bowl underneath first to stop the top removable bowl sticking during churning.

There are three programmes to make ice cream, gelato and granita and all produced great results in as little as 20 minutes for a standard vanilla. The gelato was very soft and airy so needed eating quickly after serving, but was still our favourite for its creamy smoothness. There is a manual mode to control the consistency and a pause button to check progress or add extra ingredients like fruit or chocolate chips towards the end. It will even hold the ice cream at the right temperature for two hours until you’re ready to tuck in. If you can wait that long…

VonHaus vonshef stainless steel ice cream maker

This ice cream maker’s sleek good looks make it look a lot more expensive than it is and we’d be happy to keep it out on a worktop. It was a little awkward to set up out of the box but we soon got the hang of it and found the simple one-touch operation a doddle once we had pre-frozen the bowl.

Its large 2l capacity is great for a bigger family – though our ice cream was almost too good to share. The double-walled inner bowl creates a smooth, even freeze while the reversible motor moves the paddle in alternate directions to prevent the ice cream becoming too thick. The result was a moreish, soft scoop that was best served straight from the machine. The large chute made it easy to add extra ingredients during the churning process but we would have liked a clear window to check on the mixture’s progress without having to open the lid.

Judge ice cream maker

If you want to have a go at making your own ice cream without breaking the bank, this is a great first model to whip up occasional treats. There are no fancy functions but it has a decent 1.5l capacity, a simple one touch operation and a clear lid to check consistency. The bowl needs freezing for around eight hours before use but is not too big to fit in the freezer so could easily be kept in there ready to use. We found freezing it even longer produced better results too.

The machine itself works quickly and quietly, making a bowl of good quality ice cream in around half an hour. Our one gripe? We found it a little messy to add ingredients using the funnel in the lid and would have preferred a wider chute.

Cuisinart ICE31U dessert maker

Call us shallow but we were charmed by this ice cream maker’s curvy pistachio exterior and retro feel. We’d happily keep it out on display in the kitchen and found it enjoyable to use too. The 1.4l capacity bowl needs pre-freezing overnight but it couldn’t be simpler to assemble when it’s ready to use.

There’s a handy viewing window and a locking lid and our soft-scoop ice cream was ready in just 20 minutes. The included fresh fruit paddle was a real bonus too. This blends soft fruits like mango and banana while churning so there’s no need to whizz them in a food processor first. We loved the tasty and healthy alternative to ice cream and thought it was a great way to use up leftover fruit and convince kids to get their five-a-day.

Smeg SMICO1 ice cream maker

This is a great space-saving alternative to an ice cream maker for anyone who already owns a Smeg stand mixer. The machine has a double-wall cooling system and needs pre-freezing for at least 18 hours – so, less organised types will be better keeping it in the freezer permanently. Once cold, it sits inside the main mixer bowl and everything clicks into place in moments. We thought it felt pleasingly sturdy and was one of the quietest models we tested once it started churning.

However, do be careful not to overfill as we found our first attempt splattered out of the top a little. Yet we thought this attachment was straightforward to use and made 1.1l of pillowy-soft ice cream which tasted considerably better than anything available in the shops. It’s a no-brainer if you already have the stand mixer.

Lakeland compressor ice cream maker

No need to pre-freeze the bowl with this neat-looking machine that includes a built-in compressor for a really reasonable price. It’s simple to use straight from the box too. Just add chilled ingredients through the opening (we found pouring through a funnel helped), set the timer on the LCD display and the machine will beep when your ice cream is ready.

There’s a little bit of guess work involved to get the right consistency at first but it’s easy to add more time if a denser texture is preferred. The machine will even keep the ice cream cold for up to an hour once it’s ready so there’s no need to eat immediately. We did find it took a little longer to churn than most models, making a litre of ice cream in around an hour, but it’s still an excellent machine for the price.

Progress ice cream and sorbet maker with metallics digital kitchen tab scale

Pre-freeze the bowl on this machine for at least eight hours to whip up 1.4l of ice cream in around 20 minutes. There’s a chute to pour in the mixture but we found this a little hard to clean so preferred to add the ingredients directly into the bowl before churning. However, the chute was handy to add extra nuts, sauce or chocolate chips towards the end. We also found we had better results if we chilled the ingredients beforehand for at least an hour.

The transparent viewing window made it easy to watch the ice cream’s progress although we preferred the sorbet from this model, which was light and refreshing. The included digital scales are an added bonus for any budding baker, with easy touch controls and an LCD display.

The verdict: Ice cream makers

The Cuisinart ice cream and gelato professional is our winner on taste and any real ice cream obsessive will love the fact there’s no need to pre-freeze a bowl.

For an occasional cone, the VonShef stainless steel ice cream maker is hard to beat for the price and makes a generous amount of top-notch soft-scoop. While the Lakeland personal ice cream maker is ideal for children, those living alone and anyone short on storage space.

If you’re more of a savoury snacker than a sweet tooth, why not read our guide to the best indoor pizza ovens so you can create a slice of Italy at home

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.