If you’re looking to make homemade ice cream that friends and family will love, an ice cream maker is a great investment.
Ice cream makers can whip up a tub of parlour-quality ice cream in a matter of minutes, and many machines, both pre-freeze and built-in freeze, will also let you make sorbets, frozen yoghurt and even gelato.
The best thing about having your own machine is that no flavour concoction is off limits, though depending on the make and model you choose, there might be some pre-freezing required first.
To help make the decision easier for you, we’ve tried and tested some of the market’s most popular machines to see what they have to offer.
There are two kinds of machine on the market. Freeze-ahead models are the most common, with numerous options depending on the type of desserts you’d like to make and how often you’d like to use your machine. Prices range from as little as £31.50 up to £120 plus.
With these models you’ll need to pre-freeze the ice cream churning bowl for a minimum of eight hours. The bowls will fit a standard freezer drawer, and these machines are generally more compact if you have a small kitchen.
Built-in freezer models don’t require freezer space, but they are more expensive and larger in size. This option is worth considering though, if you’d like to make ice cream frequently, quickly, with minimum fuss and without the worry of freezer space and thinking ahead.
What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream?
Here’s some frozen dessert knowledge you didn’t know you needed…
Ice cream usually has a custard base. It requires a high whipping process to produce a light texture and a cold serving temperature to maintain a hard texture.
Gelato includes more milk and less cream than ice cream. A slower churning technique makes it less airy and gives it a thicker texture. It’s also stored and served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, which brings out the flavours more.
Best ice cream recipe for ice cream maker
To test these machines, the YourHomeStyle team used Prue Leith’s classic vanilla ice cream recipe from her book Prue: My All-time favourite Recipes, from £7.35, Amazon.
Best ice cream makers
Vonshef Stainless Steel Ice Cream Maker
- Size: When assembled 23cm H x 24cm W x 20.5cm D Inner pre-freeze bowl 14.5cm H x 19cm D
- Capacity: 2L
- Type: Pre-freeze
- Guarantee: 2 years
- Ideal for: families
This ice cream maker has a large capacity and sleek, no-fuss design which makes it perfect for small kitchens and large families. It makes a whopping two litres of ice cream in one sitting, which is around the same size as your usual supermarket tub. This means you can easily serve a family of four and still have enough left over for the rest of the week.
Like other pre-freeze models, the internal freezing bowl needs to be placed in the freezer for at least eight hours before you use it. However, the large capacity of the bowl means you can pop other frozen items inside it to keep it in the freezer long-term, without wasting space.
The instructions that come with the machine are minimal, with diagrams only to help you to assemble it for the first time. However, as it doesn’t have many pieces, it is reasonably easy to put together.
Operating the machine is super simple as there’s only one button to switch the machine on and off. The motor rotates the paddle smoothly inside the pre-freeze bowl and you pour your ingredients straight through the open chute in the lid, which also allows you to add any extras.
You can also change the direction of the paddle by briefly turning the machine off, then on again, which can help to make a smoother ice cream. In our test, the ice cream took 25 minutes to churn and then needed a couple of hours in the freezer to firm up. The texture was smooth and creamy and the taste was delicious. Even after a night in the freezer it was easily scoopable.
Once the ice cream is made, the motor can be removed entirely, which makes for safe and simple cleaning. The machine’s small scale makes it easy to store, and if the internal bowl is tucked into the freezer, all the other pieces fit neatly inside the casing.
Lakeland Compressor Ice Cream Maker
- Size: 32cm H x 38.5cm W x 28.5cm D
- Capacity: 1L
- Type: Built-in freezer
- Guarantee: 3 years
- Ideal for: spontaneous dinner parties
If you’re looking for reliability, minimum fuss or only have a small freezer, the Compressor Ice Cream Maker from Lakeland is a great option. Its built-in freezer means you don’t have to worry about pre-freezing your mixing bowl. What’s more, its useful extended cooling function, which keeps the ice cream cold for up to an hour once made, makes it ideal for entertaining too.
The in-built freezer means this machine is larger than pre-freeze models, so storage and counter space are considerations. Once set up and plugged in, it’s simple to use; position the removable mixing blade in the centre, then place the transparent lid and motor in line with it on top. The ingredients are poured in through the opening, then you simply set the timer, press start and leave it to do its thing. The opening is on the small side, but we found using the measuring cup, which came included, was the best way of adding ingredients.
The machine’s booklet has easy-to-follow pictured instructions and there are 11 ice cream recipes included to give you plenty of flavour inspiration. The machine will let you make gelato too, by adjusting the churning frequency on the timer.
In our test, it took 50 minutes to churn and freeze one litre of ingredients into a delicious, thick ice cream that was ready to eat – or, if we’d had more resistance, could easily have been dispensed into a tub for eating later.
This model is on the upper end of the price scale, but if you’re a regular ice cream buyer it’s a great long-term investment and we love that you can whip up your favourite flavour without the need to plan in advance.
Cuisinart Iced Dessert Maker
- Size: When assembled 29.5cm H x 20cm W x 20cm D Inner pre-freeze bowl 14.cm H x 18cm D
- Capacity: 1.4L
- Type: Pre-freeze
- Guarantee: 5 years
- Ideal for: healthy eaters
Easy to assemble with a simple on/off switch, the Cuisinart Frozen Dessert Maker is an absolute doddle to use. The pre-freeze bowl fitted comfortably into our tester’s standard- size freezer drawer and needs to be frozen for at least eight hours before use.
The clever, transparent lid design makes it simple to pour in the ingredients, add extras such as chocolate chips or fruit pieces towards the end of the churning, and see when your dessert is ready. This model doesn’t come with a built-in timer, so you will need keep an eye on it.
In our test, it took just 25 minutes to churn 1 litre of smooth and delicious soft-scoop vanilla ice cream. Once churned, you can eat straight from the bowl, but we found transferring to a tub and freezing for a further 60 minutes gave the perfect cone consistency. Even after a night in the freezer, it was still really easy to scoop.
The simple-to-follow instruction booklet includes 11 frozen dessert recipes including ice creams, frozen yoghurt and sorbets. This model also comes with a Fresh Fruit Paddle, which can be used to blend soft fruits such as bananas and berries while freezing for a healthy option – great for kids! The compact, stylish design also means you won’t mind leaving it out on display on your countertop.
Judge Ice Cream Maker
- Size: 24cm H x 20cm W x 20cm D
- Capacity: 1.5L
- Type: Pre-freeze
- Guarantee: 2 years
- Ideal for: bargain conscious buyers
Easy to use, compact and affordable, this entry-level model is a good choice for anyone who wants to make ice cream on a now-and-again basis, without breaking the bank.
The pre-freeze bowl, which fitted comfortably into our standard-size freezer drawer, needs to chill for a minimum of eight hours or be left overnight. Easy-to-follow instructions meant putting the machine together was very straightforward, with everything clicking into place. We found the funnel in the lid a little narrow, but with a bit of care we were able to pour the ingredients safely through.
The instructions suggested a churn time of 20-40 minutes and the vanilla ice cream reached its peak consistency around the 25-minute mark – little difference was made after this point. It was still very soft after churning and needed a couple of hours in the freezer to firm up before it was ready to eat.
The consistency was smooth, light and delicious. After chilling overnight in the freezer, the ice cream needed around 30 minutes to soften before it was scoopable. As well as simple instructions, the machine comes with recipes including frozen yoghurt ideas.
Lakeland Digital Ice Cream Maker
- Size: When assembled 22.5cm H x 20.5cm W x 21cm D Inner pre-freeze bowl 14cm H x 20cm D
- Capacity: 500ml
- Type: Pre-freeze
- Guarantee: 3 years
- Ideal for: limited counter space
With just a timer and a power button, this ice cream maker couldn’t be easier to use. Pre-freeze the inner bowl for 12 hours then, once your chosen dessert mix is ready, simply plug in, select your churning time with the timer’s 5-minute increments and leave your mix to churn.
The machine comes with easy-to-follow instructions and seven ice cream and sorbet recipes to get you started. A transparent lid lets you keep an eye on the churning progress, and a handy opening in the lid means you can add toppings and flavourings to the ice cream as it mixes – perfect if you’re making a raspberry ripple or adding toasted nuts.
Its compact size and smaller bowl capacity make this ice cream maker ideal for those with limited counter space, looking to make a smaller quantity each time.
Our tester’s vanilla ice cream churned in 40 minutes, then needed a further 30 minutes to firm up in the freezer. Once set, it tasted deliciously creamy. Left overnight, the ice cream set hard and needed a few minutes to thaw in the fridge to prevent any bent spoons.
If you enjoyed our round-up, check out our other Buyer’s Guides! We’ve got guides to the best washing machines, best electric ovens, best dishwashers, best vacuum cleaners and many more household appliances!