Need to know
- Ice cream machines let you create a range of frosty treats, including ice cream, gelato, frozen yoghurt and slushies, at home
- There are different types of ice cream machines available, which use varying methods to create ice cream (CHOICE experts have tested eight models ranging in price from around $200 up to $1399)
- Each ice cream machine has been given a CHOICE Expert Rating based on factors like how well it performs and how easy it is to use (including how comprehensive the instructions are, how good the controls are and how easy they are to clean) – the full reviews are available exclusively to CHOICE members
Summer is officially here, and there's never been a better time to eat copious quantities of ice cream (although it's pretty much always a good time for ice cream).
If you're planning on going hard on the iced treats this season, you might be wondering if it's worth investing in your own ice cream maker.
Luckily for you, our kitchen appliance experts have the answers. After churning, freezing and tasting their way through several batches of ice cream (tough job, right?), they've got the scoop on which ice cream makers deliver the best results, and whether this is an appliance you should be spending your money on.
We share the pros and cons to consider before you buy.
CHOICE verdict: Should you buy an ice cream maker?
Whether an ice cream maker is the next game-changing appliance of your dreams really depends.
If you consume ice cream regularly by the tubful (no judgement here), you're willing to put the time and effort into making your own, and you have the space, it could be worth it – particularly if you also love experimenting with flavours, creating special desserts for entertaining, or you want to create ice cream to meet a specific dietary need.
But, if you have a half eaten tub of peanut-butter-sundae-smash that's been languishing at the back of your freezer for a while, if you think you'll soon tire of the novelty factor, or you're just time-poor, this could be another appliance that sits unused gathering dust.
We explain more in our pros and cons below.
What is an ice cream machine?
There are different styles of ice cream machine: we tested both compressor-style machines and freezer-bowl ice cream makers (including stand-mixer attachments), and one 'instant' ice cream machine.
You can find out more about each style in our ice cream machine buying guide, but essentially the first is a standalone ice cream maker that freezes and churns your mixture into ice cream in an all-in-one unit.
The second requires you to freeze a special bowl that has walls lined with a coolant, that you then transfer to an appliance or stand mixer to churn the mixture.
The 'instant' ice cream machine we tested also requires you to freeze your mixture for 24 hours before churning.
Pros and cons of ice cream machines: Are they worth it?
Each type of ice cream machine differs according to factors such as price, performance, how they're used and how long they take to use.
But before you delve into the detail of which type of ice cream maker you might like to buy, let's talk about some overall pros and cons.
1. You can go wild with flavours
Sure you may be wed to your pint of Ben & Jerry's, but imagine being able to conjure up any flavour of ice cream you like at any given moment. Once you nail your base recipe and learn to use your ice cream machine, the opportunities to get creative with flavours are endless.
Fancy a coffee-choc-banana situation? Go ahead and whip it up. Got a bunch of leftover strawberries or mangos about to turn? Use them to create some sensational scoops.
Experiment with herbs (a watermelon and basil sorbet, perhaps?), fudge or caramel sauces, peanut butter, dates, crushed cookies, coconut or try a savoury touch with ingredients such as avocado or even sweet potato… go nuts.
Fancy homemade ice cream creations over pricey store-bought tubs?
2. You can make natural ice cream with no additives or preservatives
No matter which flavour you choose, one of the biggest advantages to making your own ice cream is that you're in complete control of what ingredients are added.
There won't be any artificial flavours, colours or preservatives, and you can limit the amount of sugar or sweeteners if you so choose (or opt for sugar alternatives such as maple syrup or honey).
This does mean, though, that homemade ice cream needs to be eaten fairly soon after making it.
"The lack of preservatives in homemade ice cream means it likely won't last as long in your freezer as a store-bought option," says CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair.
"To enjoy it at its best, you should ideally consume it within a week."
3. They're perfect if you have special dietary requirements
Vegan and nut-free friends, listen up. Having your own ice cream machine also means you can tailor recipes to suit any dietary requirements or food intolerances.
There are millions of recipes online for dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sugar-free ice creams and sorbets, which mean you won't have to scrutinise the back of a tub before digging in.
4. You can make so much more than just ice cream
Speaking of sorbets, we forgot to mention that these ice cream makers are multipurpose magicians!
If you get sick of ice cream (seems unlikely, but ok), you can also make gelato, fruit sorbets, frozen yoghurt or even slushie drinks.
5. A good ice cream machine doesn't have to cost a fortune
It depends what type of ice cream maker you buy, but the good news is that if you want to dip your cone into the world of ice cream maker, you don't have to outlay massive amounts of cash.
Freezer bowl (freeze-first) ice cream makers are generally cheaper, and we found a few that performed very well – the models we tested ranged in price from $130 to $209.
The compressor type (self-freezing) ice cream makers are significantly pricier though – those we tested cost between $299 and $1399.
You can have fun making your own ice cream and experimenting with flavours, or creating ice creams that cater for specific dietary needs.
Cons of ice cream machines
1. You need a lot of space
If you have a tiny jam-packed freezer and a small kitchen, an ice cream maker is probably not the appliance for you.
The compressor-style machines are large and although they don't require freezer space (as they're mini freezers themselves), they take up a considerable amount of valuable bench space.
They also don't like to be moved around, and they need to sit on a flat surface and be upright at all times – which means they pretty much need a permanent home on your bench or in a cupboard.
So, if it's a stand-off between your air fryer and your ice cream machine, which is going to win?
Freeze-first models require you to freeze a bowl before you start churning ice cream, which means you need space in your freezer. The bowls can be quite large so if you have a smaller freezer or one that's always stuffed with leftovers, frozen peas and, erm, ice cream, you may need to reconsider.
2. Making ice cream takes time
OK, so we promised you heavenly scoops of ice cream, sure, but making your own takes time, a bit of skill and some planning. You can't wake up with an ice cream craving and have a cone ready at the snap of a finger.
For starters, if you're using a freeze-first machine, the bowl needs to spend at least 24 hours in the freezer before you can make the ice cream, which will take about 30 minutes to churn.
If you have a compressor machine, the churning and processing times can take about 40 minutes.
Making your own ice cream takes time, a bit of skill and some planning
You also need to make your ice cream base. You could keep it simple with just a cream and milk mixture, but if you want to guarantee an ultra-creamy texture, you'll probably want to make an egg custard base, a process that CHOICE kitchen experts say can take a bit of practice to get right.
Your custard mixture also has to be fully chilled before churning, preferably overnight. All this will ensure you get the perfect smooth and creamy consistency, rather than gritty, icy scoops.
3. It's not cheaper than store-bought
Will an ice cream maker save you money? It's unlikely. It does depend on how serious your ice cream habit is (and therefore how many tubs you're buying), but most people won't make enough savings for this to be the sole reason for buying your own machine.
"There are so many great-tasting premium brands of ice cream available to buy in the supermarket costing anywhere from $9 per litre up to $14.50," says Fiona. (Check out our ice cream reviews to find out which ones CHOICE experts rate.)
We calculated that our homemade vanilla ice cream costs $11.74 per litre – not including the cost of the machine itself
We calculated that our homemade vanilla ice cream costs $11.74 per litre – not including the cost of the machine itself.
"The basic ingredients to make vanilla ice cream are relatively cheap," explains Fiona. "It's when you start adding flavours such as chocolate, nuts and fruit that the cost of your homemade ice cream increases."
4. You don't need one to make ice cream!
There's a secret ice cream machine that manufacturers don't want you to know about. If you have a thing called a food processor (or a blender, or a Thermomix), you can still make your own ice cream!
"You can definitely make your own ice cream without an ice cream machine, using a food processor or a blender," says Fiona. "Although it can be a bit more laborious, as you'll have to semi-freeze and beat a few times to get a smooth consistency."
Fiona says that getting the custard base right is important, as it can essentially make or break your ice cream.
"We had good results when making ice cream in the Thermomix. We were less successful using a food processor, however we only did one churn, so you may get better results if you freeze and churn a couple of times."
Ready to buy?
If you've decided to buy an ice cream maker, make sure you read our detailed ice cream machine buying guide, and find out which appliance CHOICE experts rate as the best ice cream maker to help you choose one that suits your needs.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.