Best Cheap Ice Cream Makers

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Price Range
Cheapism $24 - $45
Mid-Range $45 - $100
High End $100 and up
Recent updates

Cotton candy gummy bear, blue cheese, Salted Crack Caramel -- there are some insane ice cream flavors out there to be had. Check out our roundup of the best spots for interesting scoops here: 50 Ice Cream Shops With Unique Treats Across the Country

Make your own batch of ice cream right at home. Get some inspiration from our 13 Cheap and Easy Ice Cream Recipes.

Our Picks

lg hamilton beach 68330r 4 quart automatic ice cream maker lg
lg hamilton beach 68330r 4 quart automatic ice cream maker lg
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062416 VonShef Ice Cream Maker_250.jpg
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062416 Oster Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker_250.jpg
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YayLabs Ice Cream Ball_250
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Hamilton Beach 68330R Review

From $30 Best

Favorable reviews for ice cream quality and quantity (four quarts, which is more than any other model on our list) for the Hamilton Beach 68330R, which features an easy-lock lid that lets you watch the process. Some users report it's noisy and some say the motor jams.

The Hamilton Beach 68330R (starting at $30, Amazon) 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.

Hamilton Beach 68330R Review

From $30 Best

Favorable reviews for ice cream quality and quantity (four quarts, which is more than any other model on our list) for the Hamilton Beach 68330R, which features an easy-lock lid that lets you watch the process. Some users report it's noisy and some say the motor jams.

The Hamilton Beach 68330R (starting at $30, Amazon) 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

From $40 Best

This 1.5-quart freezer-bowl ice cream maker wins plaudits from users for its quiet operation and ability to quickly churn out delicious frozen treats.

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, Amazon) 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.

VonShef Ice Cream Maker Review

From $40 Best

This 1.5-quart freezer-bowl ice cream maker wins plaudits from users for its quiet operation and ability to quickly churn out delicious frozen treats.

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, Amazon) 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

From $30 Good

Old-time looks coupled with strong performance keep users of this 4-quart rock salt/ice model hooked on the brand as well as the end product.

Consumers with a yen for simpler -- but still automated -- times will find the Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection ice cream makers (starting at $30, Amazon) 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.

Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection Review

From $30 Good

Old-time looks coupled with strong performance keep users of this 4-quart rock salt/ice model hooked on the brand as well as the end product.

Consumers with a yen for simpler -- but still automated -- times will find the Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection ice cream makers (starting at $30, Amazon) 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

From $35 Good

Newbie ice cream makers appreciate this 1.5-quart freezer-bowl model's ease of use and the array of delectable frozen treats it dispenses.

The Hamilton Beach 68320 (starting at $35, Amazon) 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.

Hamilton Beach 68320 Review

From $35 Good

Newbie ice cream makers appreciate this 1.5-quart freezer-bowl model's ease of use and the array of delectable frozen treats it dispenses.

The Hamilton Beach 68320 (starting at $35, Amazon) 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

From $35 Think Twice

Several performance factors mar the appeal of this model, but users are particularly miffed about the absence of a manual in the packaging.

A freezer-bowl model, the Oster 1.5-quart ice cream maker (starting at $35, Amazon) 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.

Oster 1.5-Quart Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker Review

From $35 Think Twice

Several performance factors mar the appeal of this model, but users are particularly miffed about the absence of a manual in the packaging.

A freezer-bowl model, the Oster 1.5-quart ice cream maker (starting at $35, Amazon) 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.

Buying Guide

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.

Cheap Ice Cream Makers Buying Guide

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.

Ice cream machines range in price from less than $25 to the high triple digits. Even cheap ice cream makers can whip up sorbet, frozen yogurt, and often gelato in addition to ice cream. Generally, though, the best cheap ice cream makers stick to the basics. They’re straightforward machines without any fancy or distinguishing features. They use time-honored rock salt and ice or an insulated freezer bowl to chill the ice cream base and an electric motor to churn the final product.

Floating at the top of our list are the Hamilton Beach 68330R (starting at $29), a 4-quart rock salt and ice model, and the VonShef Ice Cream Maker (starting at $40), a 1.5-quart machine with an insulated canister that keeps the churning contents cold. Although each attracts a dollop of criticism for disappointing results and limited durability, legions of ice cream lovers swoon over the end product.

Treading just below the top are the Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection (starting at $30), another 4-quart rock salt and ice model, and the Hamilton Beach 68320 (starting at $40), another 1.5-quart ice cream maker that relies on a frozen gel canister. Like the two top picks, these budget-friendly models yield delectable results but are subject to relatively more sniping by users about the same performance issues.

One inexpensive machine that generates little enthusiasm is the Oster 1.5-Quart Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker (starting at $35). Online reviews complain about early product failure, unacceptable results, excessive noise, and the absence of a user’s manual in the packaging.

Ice Cream Maker Brands.

Cuisinart dominates the field with an assortment of models arrayed across the price spectrum. Although none fall squarely in the Cheapism price range, the Cuisinart ICE-21 is a very popular and well-reviewed machine starting at $54.The major players at the budget end of the market include household names such as Hamilton Beach and Oster and lesser known labels such as VonShef, Chef Buddy, and Magic Bullet. At the upper reaches are producers such as Whynter and Breville. VonShef also makes a so-called “professional” model that retails for $200.

Many expensive models are quiet, user-friendly compressor freezer ice cream makers. With compressor freezer models, there’s no need to buy rock salt and ice or pre-freeze a gel canister; a built-in freezer keeps the contents icy cold while the base mix churns. These machines typically are graced with electronic controls and features such as LCD read-outs, internal thermostats, timers, and stainless steel housing. More powerful motors churn the ice cream faster, creating fewer ice crystals in the finished product. They’re bulkier and heavier than the best cheap ice cream makers, however, and far beyond the entry-level price range.

DIY-ice-cream devotees have a couple of other options. Consumers with a KitchenAid stand mixer can turn that countertop appliance into an ice cream maker courtesy of a proprietary chill canister (pre-freezing required) that costs about $60. Whip up a batch using the mixer’s lowest speed, which The Sweethome says is faster than the churn rate of designated ice cream makers.

For novelty, check out YayLabs Ice Cream Ball (starting at $40), available in pint and quart sizes and various cheery colors. This non-electric version also calls for rock salt and ice, but instead of the traditional cranking motion, kicking or tossing the ball around churns the contents. (Think family picnics or playtime with the dog.)

Committed ice cream eaters will find that investing in a cheap ice cream maker can save a ton of money over the long run -- or maybe the short run, depending how often they plan to indulge. The Kitchn reports that a quart of homemade vanilla costs $3.36 while a pint of Ben & Jerry’s goes for $4. That comes out to 42 cents versus $1 per half-cup serving, respectively. The savings are sweeter yet, consumer reviewers add, when comparing the cost of homemade non-dairy ice cream to the store-bought variety.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

What We Looked For

Rock Salt and Ice Machines.

This type of machine tends to be cheaper than other designs and can produce significantly larger quantities. The ingredients are placed in a canister that nests inside a larger vessel. The space between them is filled with rock salt and ice and the canister is filled with the ice cream base. A paddle (a.k.a., dasher) inserted into the base mix may be powered manually or electrically. The manual variety requires cranking by hand -- a labor-intensive process that demands plenty of brawn. Our top picks for this style of ice cream maker, the Hamilton Beach 68830R and Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection, draw their churning power from an electric motor -- a modern twist on a delightfully old-fashioned design. Still, the process can be messy and requires a bit of attention. The salt and ice usually need replenishing as the minutes tick by, and buying those supplies in bulk is an ongoing cost.

Freezer Bowl Ice Cream Makers.

Freezer bowl machines are comparatively mess-free and a bit less noisy than rock salt/ice models. They dispense with the ice and salt in favor of a bowl with two double-insulated walls filled with gel. This core requires pre-freezing for at least eight hours and as long as 24 hours in a very cold freezer. Manufacturers recommend a setting of zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius), a level recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for all home freezers.

This method requires advance planning (time for the bowl and gel to freeze) and valuable freezer space for the bowl. Many consumers fast forward the process by permanently storing the canister in the freezer. The two freezer-bowl models on our list of best cheap ice cream makers are the VonShef and the Hamilton Beach 68320.

Lid Design.

We looked for ice cream makers with clear plastic lids -- all the better to keep eager eaters salivating as the contents churn and thwart the temptation to open the lid to check on the contents. Stopping the machine before the base has been churned to the ideal consistency can cause a hard build-up on the sides of the canister/bowl and freeze the paddle in its tracks.

Many freezer bowl models, such as the VonShef, Hamilton Beach 68320, and Cuisinart ICE-21, sport an opening in the lid that allows for add-ins such as chopped nuts, berries, chocolate, or herbs. Add these chunky extras only during the last several minutes before the churning process is complete. With rock salt/ice machines, there’s typically no opening in the lid. Mix-ins are added and stirred into the ice cream after the motor stops and has been removed from the top of the bucket.

Capacity.

How much ice cream can an entry-level machine make? As little as 1 pint and as much as 6 quarts. But there really isn’t much choice at this price. The machines with freezer bowls or gel canisters have the smallest capacities -- usually 1.5 quarts -- because the bowl and gel defrost quickly and cannot chill much more base mix. Most recipes figure one-half cup of churned ice cream is the equivalent of one serving, which means consumers can get 12 servings out of the ice cream makers we recommend. Rock salt/ice machines tend to be larger -- 4 quarts in the case of our picks, which is a big point in their favor and may compensate for the fuss of the salt and ice.

Churning Time.

All the cheap ice cream makers we researched, including those that didn’t make our list, specify a churn time that ranges between 15 and 40 minutes. The duration depends less on the machine than the particular recipe and the temperature of the base mixture and the canister/bowl. Budget ice cream makers signal that churning is complete in one of several ways: The paddle changes direction, the motor repeatedly stalls and reverses, or the motor stops entirely, or nearly so.

Warranty.

All the ice cream makers on our list come with a one-year limited warranty. The Cuisinart ICE-21, which is priced above our cutoff point, is backed by a three-year limited warranty.

Ice Cream Maker Reviews

To assemble our list of best cheap ice cream makers, we read scores of user reviews posted on Amazon; the websites of large retailers including Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, and Target; and manufacturer sites. We consulted sites such as Chowhound, Good Housekeeping, and The Sweethome, which have conducted comparative testing, as well as others that offer advice about the science of ice cream making.

Overall Performance.

Not surprisingly, there was mild disagreement between consumers and expert testers. Satisfied users of these small kitchen appliances rave about the freshness and natural (non-artificial) taste of homemade ice cream, with many vowing never to buy a commercial product again. Many reviewers also value the control over what goes into the frozen treat and the ability to tweak recipes to their liking and health needs. They mention using fresh-from-the-farm fruits, adding more or less flavoring, cutting the sugar, or substituting almond or coconut milk for whole milk and cream. Ice cream maker reviews also tell of the pleasure of preparing this cool delight from scratch and involving children in the process.

Expert reviewers are somewhat less sanguine about entry-level machines in general. Their beef concerns the inevitable presence of ice crystals and the resulting drag on texture and mouth feel. Consumer critics, a small but opinionated minority, likewise express disappointment with the outcome. Some dismiss the churned product as soupy or slushy, more like a milkshake than ice cream. (Did they overlook the advised post-churn freeze that makes the product scoopable? Or, did the machine actually fail to whip in air as the base mix churned and chilled?) Others lament that a motor konked out after a handful of uses or can’t seem to manage more viscous mixes. Complaints about noise are fairly common -- except in reviews of the VonShef Ice Cream Maker -- but for most users this is more irritant than deal breaker.

Ease of Use.

As expected for a small appliance that's all about sweet treats, inexpensive electric ice cream makers are user-friendly. Still, it’s very important to read -- and follow -- the directions before charging ahead. Preparing the base requires nothing more complicated than following a recipe, chilling the mixture, turning on the motor, and pouring the ingredients into the core (or vice versa, depending on the model). Cleaning is equally straightforward but does require hand washing of the dasher/paddle and canister/freezer bowl. The motor housing should be wiped down.

Ice Cream Making Tips.

During our research we picked up several tips that can help ensure creamy, tasty, and refreshing results from a cheap ice cream maker.

  • Before churning, chill the base (the ice cream mix) thoroughly, sometimes overnight. This is particularly critical for any base that is cooked and includes egg yolks.
  • Freshly churned ice cream has a soft-serve consistency. Some consumers dig in right away, but others prefer to “cure” or “ripen” the ice cream in a covered container in the freezer for about two hours. (A few consumers say adding 1 tablespoon of vodka to a nearly finished batch minimizes ice crystals and keeps the ice cream from turning rock solid in the freezer.)
  • Flavor and texture degrade quickly, so consume homemade ice cream as soon as possible, ideally within a week -- two at most.

Additional Products We Considered

YayLabs Ice Cream Ball Review

From $40

The only cheap ice cream maker we found that requires neither brawn nor an electric outlet, the YayLabs Ice Cream Ball (starting at $40, Amazon) is a hit with reviewers. On average, it earns more than 4 out of 5 stars from scores of consumers on Amazon and Walmart.com. The polycarbonate plastic shell, filled with rock salt and ice in one compartment and the ice cream or frozen treat mixture in another, appeals to campers, boaters, picnickers, and travelers -- young and old alike. Making ice cream with the YayLabs Ice Cream Ball is easy as pie, reviewers claim.

But patience and perseverance are required. The process calls for some energetic throwing or rolling of the ball -- no kicking, please. The manufacturer figures 20 minutes for the smaller version and 40 minutes for the larger size to churn up a batch, but some reviewers tell of spending up to an hour before the ice cream base becomes a soft, edible treat -- if it ever does. Whether turned into a game or just idle entertainment, young kids initially get a charge out of the activity but quickly grow bored, according to reviews. And as the contents harden, the loaded ball gets cold and heavy. Cue the adults, who must step in to finish the job. One YayLabs Ice Cream Ball review tells of incorporating the churning process into a group exercise involving squats and passing the ball from one person to the next.

Simplicity, portability, and novelty may be this ice cream maker’s strong suits, but flaws are apparent. Some reviews assert the concept just doesn’t work regardless how much the ball is shaken, rattled, and rolled. Some report that ice cream hardens around the cap, making it difficult to open. (Tip: Periodically stop, carefully twist open the cap, and scrape the ice cream away from the opening). Others grouse about the challenge of removing the finished frozen mass because the opening is too small, and metal spoons -- the only utensil strong enough -- scratch the interior. A few posts say normal size ice cubes don't fit into the "freezer" compartment (use crushed ice, suggests one reviewer), and some complain about saltwater leaks.

The YayLabs Ice Cream Ball comes in pint and quart sizes. The former weighs 2 pounds when empty and 7 pounds when full, and the latter weighs 3 pounds when empty and 9 pounds when full. The balls are available in a rainbow of colors, including blue, red, purple, pink, orange, and green, although the quart size seems limited to pink and blue and costs about $10 more. The product is backed by a one-year warranty.

A handful of YayLabs Ice Cream Ball reviews dismiss this product outright and scoff at excess hype about the fun of it all. The vast majority of users, however, seem happy to have bought into the idea.

Cuisinart ICE-21 Review

From $54

Cuisinart ICE-21 reviews by consumers are solidly enthusiastic about ease of use and the high quality results. This automatic ice cream maker with an insulated freezer bowl sits above the Cheapism price ceiling (starting at $54, Amazon) but is conceivably within reach of budget-wise shoppers. It enjoys a 4.5-star average from more than 2,350 reviewers on Amazon, where users indicate it keeps dairy-free and low-carb ice cream lovers well supplied. Some even mention gaining weight because the process is so quick and the ice cream so hard to resist.

At Bed Bath & Beyond, the consensus is equally upbeat, with ruminations about wholesome ingredient options, money saved by giving up on store-bought, and refreshing results such as lemon sorbet and coconut milk ice cream flavored with fresh fruit and honey. Some Cuisinart ICE-21 reviews say higher-fat recipes yield the most satisfying taste and texture, a stance shared by Chowhound, which tested this popular kitchen gadget and declared custard-style ice cream made with egg yolks and cream the favorite. These testers spurned sorbet and declared regular ice cream just so-so. The main critique: grainy texture and too many ice crystals -- more so in the former than in the latter.

User complaints about this model differ little from those leveled at budget-priced ice cream makers: The motor gives out after a few uses, the finished consistency is too slushy, or a hard layer forms against the sides while the rest is like a milkshake. There's a report about the paddle scraping bits of aluminum from the bowl into the ice cream mix. And one user is miffed that the marketing information neglects to mention that the freezer must be at zero degrees for the bowl to freeze properly, and her old appliance only gets to 25 degrees. A few reviewers gripe that the machine is noisy but concede that the disturbance is tolerable for the 20 minutes or so that it runs.

Like most lower-cost ice cream makers with a chill canister or freezer bowl, the Cuisinart ICE-21 has a capacity of 1.5 quarts. The bowl needs a pre-freeze of at least 16 hours (one review says it gets so cold that wearing gloves is advised), and the churning process takes 15 to 20 minutes. The ICE-21 also makes frozen yogurt and sorbet and comes with a plastic paddle and see-through lid with a 3-inch opening for pouring in the base and later adding mix-ins. All parts are BPA-free and must be hand washed. The machine weighs 9 pounds and rubber feet prevent skidding.

The Cuisinart ICE-21 is available in red, white, or pink, and an extra bowl costs $30. For the money, the Cuisinart ICE-20 is a sweet deal even if a bit of a stretch.