We Tested 20 Ice Cream Makers—and These 7 Are the Best for Frozen Treats At Home (2024)

When you’re craving tasty ice cream that melts in your mouth, why not save yourself a trip to the frozen aisle and make it at home? It might seem like a chore to make your own ice cream, but it’s actually not that hard as long as you have the right ice cream maker.

“An ice cream maker is a great addition to your kitchen—not only is it super fun, but it allows you to make delicious and refreshing treats to cool off on hot summer days,” says Alec Jaffe, the founder and CEO of Alec’s Ice Cream. “You can experiment with making flavors you always wish your favorite ice cream shop had and impress friends with a homemade dessert when they come over for dinner… the ideas are endless!”

To find the best ice cream makers, we tested 20 models in our Lab. We made two frozen recipes with each appliance—a traditional ice cream and a sorbet—and assessed them on design, ease of use, performance, taste, ease of cleaning, and more.

We also tapped plenty of industry experts for tips on choosing an at-home ice cream maker. Before our in-depth tests, we spoke with Ryan O’Hara, co-owner of Big Spoon Creamery, to make sure we knew what to look for; and while writing this article, we consulted Jaffe as well as two appliance experts from Hamilton Beach Brands: Sarah Clary and Laurie Klein.

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Our Ratings

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Performance

    5/5

What Stands Out

  • This machine consistently produces rich and creamy ice cream with every batch.

What Could Be Improved

  • It has a small capacity so it may not be a good choice for large families.

When you want rich and creamy ice cream made fresh from your kitchen counter, the Ninja Creami Deluxe gets it right. This machine features 11 different settings to concoct homemade ice cream and frozen desserts like gelatos, frozen yogurt, sorbets, and milkshakes. During our testing, this machine exceeded our expectations on all fronts. We were pleasantly surprised at the consistency of the ice cream it produces—every batch we made was on point. Our sorbet turned out incredible, too—firm without any ice or chunks. Even after sitting in the freezer for two hours, there was minimal crystallization on our sorbet.

Plus, the Ninja Creami is very beginner-friendly as the buttons are very self-explanatory. We would happily recommend this ice cream maker to anyone who doesn’t want to go through a lot of trial and error. We like that it has a built-in timer so you don’t have to keep a close eye on it—unless you want to. It also has helpful buttons to fix texture issues that other ice cream makers we tested didn't have.

In terms of size, we found that this ice cream maker wasn’t too obtrusive. It’s around the size of a countertop coffee maker and has a sleek appearance, so it won’t be an eyesore in your kitchen. One thing to note is that it’s quite noisy. We found that it was about as loud as a coffee grinder, but we only needed to run the machine for 5 minutes in our testing, so it's pretty manageable. Also keep in mind that it can’t make more than 1.5 pints (or 3 cups) of ice cream at a time, so it’s not practical for a large family or when you have a group of guests coming over.

Maximum Yield: 1.5 pints | Dimensions: 12.01 x 8.4 x 16.6 inches | Weight: 14.44 pounds

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What Stands Out

  • Its rustic look makes it a great fit for outdoor parties, BBQs, and camping.

What Could Be Improved

  • It’s messy to use.

Though its wood-like appearance may seem quaint, the Nostalgia 4-Quart Wood Bucket Ice Cream Maker is not old-fashioned in the least bit. That’s because it’s equipped with an electric motor and sturdy plastic paddle that can make ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbets in under an hour.

This pick stands out because it has a 4-quart capacity (the biggest of all the ice cream makers we tested), making it ideal for large families, BBQs, and children’s parties. You can also make your own ice cream flavors by mixing in the chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavor packets that come with it. Even though it’s big, it should be able to fit comfortably on most kitchen countertops. That being said, we think the best space for it would be an island space with no cabinets above it.

It took us 38 minutes of churning to turn 2.6 quarts of the base mixture into 4 quarts of ice cream (plus a few extra minutes of adding the mix-ins). At first, we weren’t that impressed with the texture of the ice cream in our tests: It seemed too soft and was not at all scoopable (we poured it into our pint containers). However, the texture seriously improved after two hours in the freezer. By the next day, the ice cream was ready to scoop, although there were some bits of ice here and there.

Our only major issue with this machine was that it’s quite messy, so you may want to use it outside or near the sink. Even though the care instructions are relatively easy (all of the parts can be washed by hand, and the motor can be wiped with a damp cloth), we found that the cleanup process was messy, too.

Maximum Yield: 4 quarts | Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 16 inches | Weight: 7.5 pounds

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Best Manual Ice Cream Maker

Chef'n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker

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Our Ratings

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Performance

    5/5

What Stands Out

  • This freezer bowl produces creamy ice cream without any electricity and takes up little storage space.

What Could Be Improved

  • The parts are not dishwasher-safe.

Instead of an electric motor, the Chef'nSweet Spot Ice Cream Maker only requires a flat pan and two plastic spatulas to make ice cream, gelato, slushies, and rolled ice cream—similar to what you would find in a Cold Stone ice cream parlor. Since this is a manual ice cream maker, you would think it would be slower than electric machines—but our tests surprisingly found that to be untrue. We made fluffy ice cream in just under 2 minutes, which is much faster than it took the electric models on our list. (But you have to freeze the bowl for 24 hours in advance.)

Our only issue was that the ice cream was pretty stiff to handle at first. However, it did soften after a while and ended up being one of the creamiest ice creams we taste-tested. This set can also create delicious sorbets, which remain creamy even without the use of milk or coconut milk in the ingredients.

Although we really liked how fun and easy it was to use this ice cream maker, we were a little disappointed that we can only make small quantities at a time. In our testing, a 1/2 cup of dairy base (which is what the manufacturer recommends using) produced just a 3/4 cup of ice cream. Overall, we think it’s a good option if you’re looking for a fun way to make ice cream and have a lot of time on your hands. Just remember to wash the freezer bowl by hand, as it is not dishwasher-safe.

Maximum Yield: 3/4 cup | Dimensions: 11 x 11 x 2 inches | Weight: 4.88 pounds

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Best Compressor Ice Cream Maker

Breville The Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker

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Our Ratings

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

  • Design

    4.8/5

  • Taste

    5/5

  • Performance

    4.5/5

  • Ease of Cleaning

    4.5/5

What Stands Out

  • It has four presets and 12 hardness options so you can fully customize your ice cream.

What Could Be Improved

  • It’s very expensive and does not have a special setting for plant-based ice cream.

Breville’s The Smart Scoop is a compressor ice cream maker, which means you don’t need to freeze the bowl ahead of time. In our testing, this model impressed us with its intuitive design and multiple settings that do everything for you—it can even cool down your base before it starts churning for faster results. The Breville machine can make 1.5 quarts of ice cream at a time, all without you having to keep an eye on it. (It’ll make a sound when it’s time to add mix-ins and again once the ice cream is ready.)

After two hours in the freezer, our ice cream was creamy and easy to scoop with just some ice crystals. But this compressor ice cream maker really shined in our second taste test. After the ice cream sat in the freezer overnight, its flavor outperformed the ice cream from most of the other machines we tested.

This pick has four pre-set modes for making gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and ice cream, and you can even choose from 12 levels of firmness. There’s also a manual mode for those who’d rather have even more flexibility. Plus, this ice cream maker has a cooling mode that lets you store your frozen treats inside the machine for up to three hours. We appreciate that it comes with a recipe book, but we wish it had non-dairy ice cream recipes. (There weren’t any specific non-dairy ice cream settings on the machine, either.)

Overall, we like this compressor machine because it’s easy to use and has an LED screen that takes the guesswork out of making ice cream.

Maximum Yield: 1.5 quarts | Dimensions: 7.2 x 16.2 x 10.7 inches | Weight: 30 pounds

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Best Ice Cream Maker for Beginners

Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream, & Sorbet Maker

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Our Ratings

  • Ease of Use

    4.9/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Performance

    5/5

What Stands Out

  • This easy-to-use ice cream maker has a simple design with no complicated features.

What Could Be Improved

  • The freezer bowl is big, so it’s not ideal for people with small freezers.

The best part about Cuisinart’s ice cream maker is its simplicity. All you have to do is turn it on to start making frozen yogurt, ice cream, and more—there are no extra settings to deal with. You do have to take the extra step of pre-freezing the bowl the day before, but we think the simple design makes it a fantastic choice for beginners who’ve never made homemade ice cream before. In our tests, we were able to make delicious ice cream and sorbet in around 20 minutes each from start to finish. For both recipes, the frozen desserts held their shape well for scooping and yielded denser textures compared to other ice cream makers we tested.

The powerful motor and mixing paddle churn the ice cream evenly and can make up to six cups (or 1.5 quarts) at a time. Plus, you can add ingredients through the spout while the ice cream is churning without having to stop the process and open the lid. The base is large yet weighted to provide extra stability and prevent shifting while it’s in use.

Hands down, this Cuisinart ice cream maker was one of the easiest-to-use models we tested, and the results were just as impressive. Our only advice is to make sure you have enough storage space in your freezer because the freezer bowl is quite big.

Maximum Yield: 1.5 quarts | Dimensions: 9.5 x 9 x 11.25 inches | Weight: 10 pounds

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Best Ice Cream Maker for Soft Serve

Yonanas Classic Soft-Serve Dessert Maker

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Our Ratings

  • Ease of Use

    4.5/5

  • Design

    4.5/5

  • Performance

    5/5

What Stands Out

  • This machine makes creamy desserts with just frozen fruit.

What Could Be Improved

  • It doesn’t make traditional dairy ice cream.

If you’re looking for an ice cream alternative that’s made 100 percent from frozen fruit, then the Yonanas Classic Soft-Serve Dessert Maker is a great option we tested. We were able to turn two bananas and two cups of frozen strawberries into a non-dairy dessert in less than five minutes. The consistency was surprisingly thick and creamy. It held its shape extremely well and was very easy to scoop, although it’s worth noting that there were some chunks of frozen fruit throughout. You need to use some effort and arm strength to push the fruit down, but other than that, this machine is very easy to use.

With it, you choose exactly how much fruit and what types to use to customize your soft-serve ice cream. (If you need flavor inspiration, it comes with a recipe book that has lots of ideas for fruit combinations.)

Our only issue is that it takes a while to clean up, as many of its components have slender grooves that could be tedious to wash. However, all parts can be tossed in the dishwasher, which is a major plus. Based on our testing, we think the Yonanas machine is a fun way to turn leftover fruit (especially overripe bananas) into a tasty soft-serve sorbet. But if you want real dairy ice cream, you’ll be better off with another machine from our list.

Maximum Yield: N/A | Dimensions: 6.15 x 7.52 x 13.78 inches | Weight: 3 pounds

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Best Ice Cream Maker Attachment

KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment

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Our Ratings

  • Ease of Use

    4.8/5

  • Design

    5/5

  • Taste

    4/5

  • Performance

    4.3/5

  • Ease of Cleaning

    4.9/5

What Stands Out

  • If you own a KitchenAid stand mixer, you can use this attachment to make ice cream without buying another kitchen appliance.

What Could Be Improved

  • It took us a lot longer to get the right consistency than the recommended 20–30 minutes.

If you already own a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, this attachment is appealing because you can easily whip up your ice cream without purchasing another appliance. And although the stand mixer itself will take up a lot of room on your countertop, this attachment—which consists of a metal bowl and paddle mixer—is compact and can easily be stored in a cabinet. In our testing, we noticed how high quality the pieces were; they felt durable and were not at all flimsy.

While the instructions state that you should be able to make ice cream in about 20 to 30 minutes, we found this inaccurate. In our tests, our ice cream was far from ready at the 20-minute mark and still had a milkshake-like texture. Instead of scooping it, we had to pour it inside our storage containers. Even leaving it to freeze overnight didn’t do much to improve the texture as it just ended up being rock solid and hard to scoop. We also added our mix-ins too early, so the color of the ice cream changed to a dull gray.

Our sorbet results were much better, though. It had a smooth, consistent texture that held its shape pretty well right out of the bowl—although it started to liquefy when we transferred the mixture to a pint-size container. The sorbet was equally as delicious after two hours in the freezer, although it was pretty dense and slightly more grainy.

Even with these mixed results, we still recommend this KitchenAid attachment to anyone who already owns the brand’s stand mixer and doesn’t want to purchase another appliance to make ice cream. Just keep in mind that it may require a bit of a learning curve to get the texture just right.

Maximum Yield: 2 quarts | Dimensions: 9 x 11 x 7 inches | Weight: 6 pounds

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Final Verdict

Our top pick is the Ninja Creami Deluxe 11-in-1 XL Ice Cream Maker because it has 10 different settings and yields consistent results. If you want something with more capacity, the Nostalgia Wood Bucket Ice Cream Maker makes up to 4 quarts at a time, and it comes at a relatively cheap price tag.

Our Testing Process

Before we got started testing ice cream makers, we interviewed Ryan O’Hara, co-owner of Big Spoon Creamery in Birmingham, Alabama. O’Hara gave us expert tips on what to look for in an at-home ice cream maker, as well as advice on how to produce high-quality desserts with these machines.

From there, we gathered enough ingredients and materials to test 20 ice cream makers with two different recipes: a dairy ice cream and a sorbet. We used 2.5 gallons of whole milk, 15 quarts of heavy cream, 192 egg yolks, 87.5 pounds of strawberries, four packages of Oreos, and more—and we ended up making over 100 (!) pints of ice cream and sorbet while testing these machines.

Because each ice cream maker has different instructions, we made sure to read the manual before testing to ensure that we could properly prepare the machine for use. For example, the Ninja Creami (our best overall pick) required that the ice cream bases be frozen overnight before use in the machine. Others had bowls or plates that needed to go in the freezer the day before.

While the mixtures were churning and freezing, we took detailed notes and evaluated each ice cream maker based on design, ease of use, performance, taste, ease of cleaning, and more. We spent three days evaluating these ice cream machines, and we taste-tested all of the resulting ice cream and sorbet. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.) We paid close attention to the consistency of the ice cream/sorbet and how easy it was to scoop. We also took note of the flavor, texture, and incorporation of mix-in toppings.

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How to Shop for Ice Cream Makers Like a Pro

Type

There are many types of ice cream makers on the market, including old-fashioned machines, simple freezer bowls, canister models with electric motors, and compressor ice cream makers. Here’s what you need to know about each type:

Canister ice cream makers are probably the most common type, and they are a good choice whether you’re making ice cream for one or many people. They’re easy to operate and typically have options for you to make sorbet, gelato, and frozen yogurt. When making ice cream with these models, you still have to chill the freezer bowl beforehand in the freezer. But after that, you can whip your favorite ice cream in minutes.

While you don’t have to churn ice cream by hand with an old-fashioned ice cream maker, it typically requires you to pour salt and ice into its container to make a bucket of ice cream. But, like regular ice cream makers, these models still use electric motors and paddles. The biggest reason to go for old-fashioned ice cream makers is price—they are cheap and can make ice cream in large quantities.

Compressor ice cream makers stand out for their efficiency. “If you desire to make impromptu ice cream, consider investing in a machine with a built-in compressor,” says Clary, product manager for Hamilton Beach Brands. These high-end machines cost hundreds of dollars but allow you to make ice cream at any time without needing to freeze any of its parts first. They can also be used to make other tasty treats like gelatos and sorbets. Keep in mind that they are large and bulky, so they may be hard to move hard around and require plenty of counter space.

With a freezer bowl, you can make ice cream in minutes, but you’ll have to do all the manual work yourself. It typically consists of a large platter or bowl (which you’ll have to freeze the day before) and plastic paddles to mix the ice cream. And while it takes the same amount of time to make a batch of ice cream as electric models do, a freezer bowl requires much less storage space.

Batch Size

Ice cream makers come in different sizes and can typically make batches ranging from 1–1.5 quarts (or about two pints) to 4 quarts, depending on the type. Old-fashioned ice cream makers can produce especially large batches, however, the most common sizes you’ll find are 1 and 2 quarts. In our testing, we found that the Nostalgia Wood Bucket Ice Cream Maker was able to produce the most ice cream at once—4 quarts. Others, like the manual Chef'n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker, can make just a single serving of ice cream at a time.

Features & Settings

In our three days of testing ice cream makers, we tried out all kinds of machines, ranging from simple, no-frills machines to high-tech appliances with multiple settings. “When picking out an ice cream maker, consider your desired capacity, your budget, and the type of frozen treats the machine can make, for example, traditional ice cream, soft serve, or gelato,” says Clary.

If you prefer lots of features, we recommend Breville’s The Smart Scoop. This pick has pre-set modes for gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and ice cream, and there are 12 hardness options for ice cream. However, we found that simple machines can make tasty ice cream, too. The Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream, & Sorbet Maker is our recommendation for beginners who don’t want to mess with tons of settings, as it only has an on/off switch.

Jaffe suggests looking for an ice cream maker with a self-cooling bowl. “This will allow you to quickly whip up a batch,” he says. “Some older machines will require you to pre-freeze the bowl, which can take up to 12 hours!”

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More Ice Cream Makers to Consider


Cuisinart ICE-30BCP1 Pure Indulgence Ice Cream Maker: When you need a basic machine to make creamy ice cream and sorbets, this is an excellent pick that performed well in our tests. However, the freezer canister is big, so you have to make sure you have a large freezer with enough space for it to fit in.

Donvier Manual Ice Cream Maker: If you want to churn ice cream by hand without the aid of an electric motor, this is a great option. While we found it fairly easy to use in our testing, it does require your close attention to get the right texture and consistency.

Cuisinart ICE-100 Ice Cream and Gelato Maker: This model looks sleek and is super easy to use. It doesn’t have a whole lot of features, so if you’re looking for bells and whistles, we recommend checking out other options.

Questions You Might Ask

Are ice cream machines worth it?

If you’ve got a sweet tooth and enjoy spending time in the kitchen, then investing in an ice cream maker is definitely worth it. Jaffe agrees, too: “Ice cream machines are the best way to make homemade ice cream.”

With one of these appliances, you’ll be able to make premium ice cream right at home—you can even come up with new flavor combinations that will impress your friends and family.

Can ice cream makers be used to make gelato and frozen yogurt?

Many of the machines we tested can be used to make gelato and frozen yogurt, too, such as the Chef'n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker (a manual option) and Breville’s The Smart Scoop (a compressor model with specific gelato and froyo settings).

Jaffe agrees that all of these frozen desserts can be made with the same equipment and appliances. “The recipes are what differentiate the varying types,” he says. “Ice cream will use more cream whereas gelato will use more milk and sugar.”

How much should you expect to spend on an ice cream maker?

Of all the ice cream makers we tested, prices ranged from $35 to nearly $500, with an average cost of $157. Keep in mind that the priciest ice cream makers are usually compressor models, while the most affordable options are typically manual makers with freezer bowls and paddles.

What is the lifespan of an ice cream maker?

According to Jaffe, this depends on the manufacturer, how long you use it, and how well you maintain it. But, as long as you keep them in great condition, ice cream makers can easily last for years.

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Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Nor’adila Hepburn, a contributing writer for Real Simple. To find the best ice cream makers, we tested 20 models in our Lab and evaluated them based on design, ease of use, performance, taste, ease of cleaning, and more. We also received tips from Alec Jaffe, founder and CEO of Alec's Ice Cream; Ryan O’Hara, co-owner of Big Spoon Creamery; and two appliance experts from Hamilton Beach Brands: Sarah Clary and Laurie Klein.

What Is Real Simple Selects?

Next to each product on this list, you may have noticed a Real Simple Selects seal of approval. Any product appearing alongside that seal has been vetted by our team—put through tests and graded on its performance to earn a spot on our list. Although we buy most of the products we test, sometimes we do get samples from companies if purchasing a product ourselves isn’t an option. All products go through the same rigorous process, whether they are purchased or sent by the company.

Love our recommendations? Check out more products that have earned the Real Simple Selects, from humidifiers to cordless vacuums.

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We Tested 20 Ice Cream Makers—and These 7 Are the Best for Frozen Treats At Home (2024)

FAQs

What is the best homemade ice cream maker? ›

Compare
Ease of Use
Best Overall: Ninja Creami Deluxe 11-in-1 Ice Cream Maker$223 at Amazon5
Best Budget: Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream, & Sorbet MakerSee price at Amazon4.9
Best Splurge: Breville The Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker$484 at Amazon5
Best Old-Fashioned: Nostalgia Wood Bucket Ice Cream Maker$48 at Amazon4.5
4 more rows
Jan 25, 2024

Is there anything better than a Ninja Creami? ›

The advantages of the Cuisinart ICE-21

It's really unusual for one of the lowest price kitchen appliances to produce better results than the most expensive appliances. But that's exactly what you get with the Cuisinart ICE-21: it makes better ice cream than every other machine except the Lello 4080.

Are ice cream makers worth buying? ›

Even though the initial cost of an ice cream machine is high, the cost you save in the long run compared to that of store-bought ice cream is far less for the quality of the finished ice cream and the convenience of purchasing in store or online.

What milk is best for ice cream maker? ›

Nearly any milk will work, and you can substitute half-and-half for the cream. Ideally you want ingredients with a high fat content because these will create a creamy texture when cooled.

Is it cheaper to make your own ice cream? ›

But it's important to remember that you're getting enough ingredients to make several batches of ice cream. If you can get 5 gallons out of these ingredients, then you've spent only $3.00 per gallon. That is less expensive than the average store-bought gallon. It can help you stay on track with your grocery budget.

What type of frozen dessert is smooth and creamy? ›

Frozen Custard

It's pretty similar to soft-serve ice cream, but it has less air whipped into it during freezing, which creates a uniquely rich, creamy texture, as do the added egg yolks that are a part of the recipe.

What is the oldest frozen dessert? ›

Faloodeh is one of the earliest known frozen desserts, dating from around 400 BC in Persia.

What is Italy's most popular frozen dessert? ›

Gelato is undoubtedly the most famous one. According to the Istituto del Gelato Italiano , the association established in 1991 to protect the quality of this Italian excellence, gelato as we know it today was invented in Florence in the 15th century by the architect Bernardo Buontalenti.

What to consider when buying an ice cream machine? ›

Soft Serve Ice Cream Machine: Guide to Buying
  1. Soft serve frozen dessert has long been a beloved dessert across the globe, and for good reason.
  2. Capacity. First and foremost, one must consider the capacity of the machine. ...
  3. Size. ...
  4. Flavor Options. ...
  5. Speed. ...
  6. Ease of Use. ...
  7. Maintenance. ...
  8. Energy Efficiency.
Nov 23, 2023

Who makes McDonald's ice cream machines? ›

The McDonald's fast food chain has used multiple ice cream machines at its various locations, but primarily those made by the Taylor Company.

Which brand of ice cream is best? ›

1. Amul Ice Cream: An undisputed leader in the Indian ice cream industry, Amul has been delighting generations with its delectable range of ice creams.

What is the difference between Ninja Creami and Ninja Creami Deluxe? ›

The Ninja Creami contains a Smoothie Bowl setting and the Ninja Creami Deluxe does not. The Ninja Creami Deluxe has frozen drink settings that the Creami lacks. Overall, the Ninja Creami has fewer settings with only seven, and the Creami Deluxe has 11.

How long does it take to make ice cream in a hand crank ice cream maker? ›

You'll probably have to crank for 15-20 minutes if you're making an ice cream and maybe twice as long if it's a sorbet. As the ice cream firms up, you will need to hold the machine down, probably with your foot or by having a friend stand on it. You'll know when to stop because it gets too hard to keep cranking.

How long does homemade ice cream maker take? ›

Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, typically 20 to 30 minutes. The ice cream will be soft after churning. For firmer ice cream, transfer to an airtight container and freeze for 2 to 4 hours before serving.

How long does it take to make homemade ice cream in Pioneer Woman ice cream maker? ›

Real wood exterior accented with Ree's Sweet Rose pattern. Makes ice cream in 30 minute or less using electric motor-driven paddle.

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