Best Cheap Ice Cream Makers
Ice cream is a simple treat: cream, sugar, and some flavoring. And in an era when consumers increasingly are concerned about what goes into their food, this universally loved dessert virtually screams for a do-it-yourself approach. But how to choose a cheap ice cream maker that produces satisfying results? To keep the process easy and fun for users, we combed retail and review sites for electric ice cream makers that reliably churn out cold, rich, creamy treats in 40 minutes or less and cost less than $45.
Our Top Pick
Hamilton Beach 68330R Review
The Hamilton Beach 68330R (starting at $30) earns finds favor with many consumers because it makes four quarts of ice cream (or sherbet, gelato, frozen yogurt or custard) at a go -- an impressive feat given its surprisingly low price. The ice cream that results with this electric, rock salt-and-ice model is creamy, "yummy," and better than store-bought, say Hamilton Beach 68330R reviews on Amazon. Similar opinions are echoed in reviews on Epinions, where one consumer notes the ice cream passed the test for firm and dense; one user wonders, though, why five batches turned out like milkshakes even after the machine ran for 40 minutes.
Hamilton Beach 68330R reviews indicate that u sers like being able to serve a larger crowd than is possible with the 1.5-quart models that are common in the cheap ice cream maker segment; one review on Rateitall.com notes that if only a couple of people are digging in, leftovers have a shelf life of about two weeks. On the other hand, some users aren't thrilled with the noise or build quality of the Hamilton Beach 68330R. In reviews on several websites, consumers complain about malfunctioning motors, gears that lose teeth, and cracks in the lid after only a few uses; the noise level is more of an irritant than a deal-breaker.
Despite its large capacity, the Hamilton Beach 68330R is relatively small: it measures approximately 12x12x13.5 and weighs 6.5 pounds. It comes with a one-year limited warranty, and should be hand washed. All in all, a decent deal if the unit holds up.
VonShef Ice Cream Maker Review
Bearing a brand name better known in England, where the VonShef Ice Cream Maker has been named one of the top 10 in its class by expert reviewers, this model (starting at $40) garners only slightly less enthusiasm on this side of the pond. Nearly three-quarters of the 130-plus reviews on Amazon award it 4 or 5 stars, for an overall average of just under 4 stars. Consumers say the 1.5-quart capacity is spot on and applaud the ease of use -- no rock salt and ice required here, and the machine is simple enough for older children to manage on their own. And unlike other ice cream makers that draw barbs for the noise level, this issue rarely surfaces in Von Shef Ice Cream Maker reviews. The company boasts that the rated noise level is 65 dBA, a specification that rarely shows up in the budget ice cream makers firmament.
One user writes that initial skepticism due to the budget price was swiftly overcome, but it’s important to follow the directions carefully. Doing so -- even tweaking ingredients here and there -- produces excellent results, satisfied users crow. One enjoys transforming protein shakes into healthy and delicious frozen treats and another produces several batches of frozen yogurt a week. Reviews say the bowl that holds the base mix must be completely frozen before starting the process, and the motor must be running and the paddle turning before pouring in the mix, which itself should be well chilled.
Dissatisfied users tell a different tale in reviews. They report winding up with soupy messes even after 30 minutes of churning and motors that overheat or die after only a handful of uses. The instructions say the bowl should be pre-frozen at -18 degrees Celsius (the equivalent of zero degrees Fahrenheit) for eight to 12 hours, but one reviewer complains that home refrigerators struggle to reach that low point. (Note: The recommended temperature for a home freezer is zero degrees.) A few users grumble that the lid is hard to line up.
The VonShef Ice Cream Maker features a clear top that lets users watch the action, a good-size funnel to accommodate add-ins near the end of the process, and rubber on the bottom of the machine to prevent skidding. Extra insulated bowls are available for $15 apiece (all the better for keeping one on hold in the freezer).
Users’ experience with this machine indicates that blips happen, but all in all the VonShef Ice Cream Maker is an above-average model that shouldn’t disappoint.
Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection Review
Consumers with a yen for simpler -- but still automated -- times will find the Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection ice cream makers (starting at $30) to their liking. Reviews on Amazon and Walmart.com cluster around the 4.5-star range and cheerily note there’s no hand cranking involved, just some rock salt and ice and motorized churning. The wood bucket version (ICMP400WD) looks decidedly old-fashioned and even the plastic model (ICMP400BLUE) could pass for something not quite 21st century. Kids get a charge out of this small kitchen appliance, according to Nostalgia ICMP400 reviews, and can pretty much take over, in part because the instructions are simple and direct.
Perhaps more important, the end product is rich, creamy, and delicious, consumers declare, with a texture that hits the sweet spot. Reviewers write about all manner of fruit-flavored treats, from pineapple and mango to strawberry and cherry, and irresistible non-dairy alternatives. Unlike some low-cost ice cream makers that stir up gallons of disappointment with yields that are unevenly or insufficiently frozen, only a small handful of such complaints are lodged against the Nostalgia ICMP400. A number of reviews also contend that this model is quieter than other ice cream makers, and several users tell of adding more than one to their arsenal of appliances or buying one to replace a machine from a different manufacturer.
Low ratings in online reviews primarily relate to packaging and shipping rather than the ice cream maker itself. Quite a few reviewers report receiving damaged units, opened cartons, and missing components.
The 4-quart Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection ice cream maker produces frozen yogurt and gelato in addition to ice cream. It’s available with a wood outer bucket (with a plastic liner to prevent melting ice from leaking) or a plastic outer bucket that costs several dollars less. The Nostalgia Vintage Collection also includes a 2-quart version (wood or plastic) and a 6-quart version (wood only). The canister holding the ice cream is aluminum, the paddle is plastic, and the lid is see-through. Recipes accompany the machine. The wood model weighs 10 pounds and the plastic model weighs 6.3 pounds.
This model is a bucket load of fun, according to users, that churns out a spoonable and rich frozen treat without draining their wallets.
Hamilton Beach 68320 Review
The Hamilton Beach 68320 (starting at $35) is a user-friendly machine that suits the needs of first-timers, partygoers, and frequent ice cream eaters, reviews assert. Just pre-freeze the bowl, mix up and chill the ingredients, turn on the power, pour in the mix, close the top, and stand by for half an hour or so. Hamilton Beach 68320 reviews at Best Buy say this is a good starter machine that churns out delicious, creamy treats and cleans up in a snap. One consumer who is lactose intolerant notes that the investment pays off quickly given the $6 price for a pint of coconut ice cream at the supermarket compared with the $1.50 cost of preparing a batch at home. Another reports that the bowl fits just fine in a regular freezer. (Depending on freezer temperature, the minimum freeze time is eight hours at -22 degrees Fahrenheit but at least 24 hours at 5 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Reviews on Amazon, which number more than 200, largely follow along the same lines but also throw a few darts. Some users complain that motors fail outright after just a few uses or struggle with thick mixes. Others report the consistency remains more like a milkshake than ice cream or doesn’t freeze uniformly. A few grumble about the noise and some simply say the canister doesn’t get cold enough to help the process along. Still, some are thrilled about not having to deal with ice and rock salt.
Aside from ice cream, the Hamilton Beach 68320 can whip up frozen yogurt, sherbet, and gelato. The user’s manual includes six recipes. The gel canister holds 1.5 quarts and the clear lid features a large opening for mix-ins during the last few minutes. The freezer bowl, lid, and paddle should be hand washed. Specs say a batch takes 25 to 40 minutes to reach the desired thickness. This model weighs 6 pounds.
A fair price and above-average performance appeal to scores of consumers -- and propel the Hamilton Beach 68320 to a second-tier ranking on our list.
Oster 1.5-Quart Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker Review
A freezer-bowl model, the Oster 1.5-quart ice cream maker (starting at $35) causes a stir among reviewers, but a not particularly ardent one. It garners a paltry 2 stars on the company’s site, where consumers gripe about problems that limit its usefulness. For example, they say the ice cream thickens and freezes unevenly while churning, or layers of base mix harden on the bottom and sides of the canister and are difficult to dislodge. Some reviews tell of motors that die just after or in the midst of the first or second outing and others say the canister fails to freeze in the hours leading up to its deployment. Perhaps the most ire is directed at Oster for not including a user’s manual along with the unit. In response to reviews posted on its site, the company says manuals are printed and sent on request.
Not all users share these concerns, however. On Amazon, the Oster 1.5-Quart Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker garners an average 3.6 stars from just over a dozen reviewers. Supporters appreciate the entry-level price and say the machine works as expected; that is, the finished product is tasty and satisfying. Several commenters even offer tips that they say will ensure a good outcome, such as taking the time to thoroughly chill the base mix in the refrigerator before churning, using cream and half-and-half instead of milk, and adding 1 tablespoon of vodka to prevent the churned mixture from freezing solid when curing in the freezer.
This entry-level ice cream maker also produces frozen yogurt and sorbet. The length of time the gel canister must be pre-frozen depends on the temperature inside the freezer: 8 hours at -22 degrees Fahrenheit, 20 to 22 hours at zero degrees Fahrenheit, and 24 hours or more at 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Some users store the canister in the freezer so they can prepare a batch at a moment’s notice, but an immediate second act is impossible: Oster says additional canisters currently are not available. The lid features an opening for add-ins during the last few minutes, and the paddle reverses direction when the base is “set.” An automatic shut-off prevents overheating.
With better options in the budget ice cream maker lineup, shoppers might want to bypass this entry.