Large Ice Cream Makers
We churned vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet in five different large ice cream makers to find out which was best for large batches.
How We Tested
Large ice cream makers can produce a gallon or more in a single batch, handy for large gatherings. We purchased five models ($33.99 to $269.50) that make 4- or 6-quart batches and tested them by churning vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet.
The results were mixed—and generally less impressive than frozen desserts we’ve made in our favorite smaller-capacity ice cream makers. While the ice creams ranged from appealingly dense and smooth to moderately icy, every batch of raspberry sorbet was unacceptably grainy. The problem boiled down to how quickly the machines could freeze their contents: To achieve smooth, dense texture, an ice cream maker must freeze the base as quickly as possible to minimize the formation of large ice crystals (which we perceive as grainy or icy). But because these large-capacity machines have more base to freeze, it took them longer, and most of the resulting ice creams and sorbets developed relatively large ice crystals and felt grainy. (The dairy fat, egg yolks, and corn syrup in our vanilla ice cream recipe helped prevent the formation of large ice crystals somewhat.)
Also of note was the work required to operate these machines, which might be a fun project or a fussy mess depending on how much time and space you have to accommodate them. Though motorized, large ice cream makers cool the base the old-fashioned way—you pour a mixture of ice and rock salt around the metal canisters that hold the base, which are set in large wooden or plastic buckets. The attached motor spins the canister through the salted ice (rock salt, which can be purchased at most hardware stores, lowers the freezing temperature of the ice to keep it colder), but these machines require babysitting. In addition to refilling the ice and salt one to three times during churning to replace the melted ice, we occasionally needed to unlatch the motor to lift the opaque lids and check the ice creams’ consistencies. The canisters also sometimes became caught on chunks of ice and stalled. Churning frozen desserts in smaller ice cream makers is more hands-off because these appliances are either self-refrigerating or have a double-walled canister that contains coolant and gets chilled in the freezer prior to churning.
What’s more, churned ice cream and sorbet must typically spend a few hours in the freezer to firm up—but unless you have a large freezer, the tall (up to 14 inches) canisters might not fit. (Some manufacturers claimed that the buckets could be repacked with more ice and covered with a towel to freeze, but this technique was ineffective.) They were also considerably louder than most small ice cream makers, and some models leaked salty water—clearly, they are not meant for indoor use.
In fact, the machine that produced the best ice cream was also the loudest, priciest, and bulkiest. But for a hands-on dessert at an outdoor party, we’re willing to accept these inconveniences. If you prefer a small, quiet, indoor machine, you’re better off buying our favorite small model, a self-refrigerating unit that’s not only capable of making continuous 2-quart batches—simply transfer the churned ice cream to a separate container and refill the canister with more base—but produces rich, dense ice cream and smooth sorbet that’s hard enough to eat right away. For more modest budgets, our Best Buy churns a 1.5-quart batch using a canister that you prechill in the freezer; to make multiple batches, extra canisters cost $19.99.