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Ice cream makers

How to buy the best ice cream maker

By Jane Darling

Article 2 of 3

Basic ice cream makers start at £25, but premium models can cost hundreds of pounds. Find out how to choose the best for you.

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A good ice cream maker can churn up delicious and refreshing ice creams, sorbets and gelatos - allowing you to enjoy freshly-made iced treats at home, and experiment with different flavour combinations. But the price difference between to the two main types is huge, and they each have their pros and cons. Our handy guide explains the differences to help you choose.

The ice cream makers we've reviewed vary from less than £30 to well over £200. There are an array of different options and types on offer, so in order to buy the best for you, you'll need to think about how often you'll use it, how organised you are and how much space you have in your kitchen.

Here, we talk you through your ice cream maker options to ensure you're getting the model that suits your needs best.  You can also check out our reviews of ice cream makers on our ice cream makers review page. Although we haven't tested ice cream makers recently, we have results for ice cream makers from Andrew James, Cuisinart and Magimix, that are still available to buy, as well as first look reviews of recent launches by Sage and Yonanas.

How much do I need to spend?

The simple answer is you don't necessarily get a better machine by spending more - and we've found Best Buys that cost a fraction of some pricier models. 

However, it also depends what sort of ice cream maker you want. The kind you can use immediately, with no need to pre-freeze the bowl, are significantly more expensive than their simpler cousins and can be upwards of £200. If you want greater convenience, you need to spend more.

Which type of ice cream maker should I go for?

There are two basic types of ice cream maker - freezer bowl and those with a built-in freezer. 

Freezable bowl 

This type of ice cream maker is the cheapest type to buy, usually costing less than £50. The bowl unit has a metal inner layer and plastic outer layer, between which is a liquid or gel which freezes when you put the bowl in your freezer.

When you're ready to make ice cream, you attach the paddle and motor unit to the ice cream maker bowl and add your ingredients.

You need to be fairly organised to use this type of ice cream maker, as you usually need to pre-freeze the bowl for between 12 and 24 hours before you can use it to make ice cream. You'll also need a space in your freezer of roughly 20cm in diameter and 14cm high in order to accommodate most freezer bowls, which can be a bit of a squeeze.

This type of ice cream maker doesn't require much electricity because there is just a low-powered motor to turn the paddle. All of the energy-guzzling freezing is done by your freezer, which is on anyway. 

All in all, as long as you're happy to plan your ice cream-making ahead and stick to one batch at a time, these can be a great, cost-effective option. 

Pros: Cheap, tend to be smaller than built-in freezer models

Cons: You need to pre-freeze the bowl for at least 12 hours, the bowl needs to fit in your freezer

Built-in freezer 

Built-in freezer ice cream machines do exactly what they say on the tin - a built-in freezer unit freezes the mixture as you go, so you don't need to pre-freeze the bowl, meaning there's no need to plan ahead. But the catch is that these models are quite expensive, usually costing between £200 and £300. 

Some come with removable bowls which you can wash as soon as the ice cream is removed, so you also have the advantage of being able to make multiple batches of ice cream consecutively. If you're using one with a fixed bowl, you usually need to wait for it to return to room temperature before you can clean it. 

As these models do their own freezing they use more electricity than the versions that simply have a rotating paddle. And although much faster overall than freezer bowl types, we've found that the in-bowl freezing time is actually slightly longer for built-in freezer models. 

Pros: No pre-freezing required, can make multiple batches at once

Cons: Expensive, take up a lot of worktop space

To see reviews of both freezer bowl and built-in freezer ice cream makers, check out our ice cream maker reviews.

How much space will an ice cream maker take up? 

If you already have a platoon of appliances jostling for cupboard or worktop space, it’s worth noting there’s a considerable difference in size between models. 

The smallest has a footprint similar to a kettle's, but the biggest can be as large as a food processor. 

Most freezer bowl machines have a diameter about the same size as a dinner plate. Before you buy, check that these machines’ bowls will fit in your freezer.

At the other extreme, built-in freezer models are generally large, boxy, heavy and awkward to move.

Does the capacity of the machine matter?

The ice cream makers we've tested over the years have a capacity of between 720ml and 2 litres, with the majority making around 1 to 1.5 litres.

Most also have a minimum amount of mixture that you should make in them, so you should think about how much you're likely to want at any one time.

The recipe books that come with them should give you the appropriate quantities to use - it's worth sticking to these as, if you fill the bowl to the brim, when the ice cream begins to freeze and expand you'll end up with ice cream mix all over your worktop. If you use recipes from another source, scale the quantities up or down accordingly for optimum results and to avoid overflow.

Unhelpfully, some ice cream makers don't tell you how much ice cream they are able to make. This means you'll simply need to follow their recipes, work out approximately how much ice cream they create, then scale up or down other recipes to suit the capacity.

For other tips on how to use your ice cream maker check out our guide how to get the best from your ice cream maker

What you need to know before you buy

Most ice cream recipes begin with a chilled custard base, which is a mixture of egg yolk, milk or cream, and sugar, and you need to make this by hand first. It's not like a breadmaker where you can simply put all the ingredients in and switch the machine on.

Ice cream made in ice cream makers is also quite soft and you often need to freeze it for a few hours after churning to get it to the perfect consistency. If you're not sure whether your freezer is up to the task, check out our reviews of freezers and fridge freezers.

If you own a stand mixer, you may want to check if it has an ice cream maker attachment available, as this could save space in your kitchen. This is usually a freezable bowl which you attach in place of the normal mixing bowl. 

In a nutshell, even though a machine makes it simpler to create ice cream, you still need to be prepared to dedicate some time and effort to get tempting homemade ice cream.