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Cheap Ice Cream Makers Buying Guide

Ice cream machines range in price from less than $25 to $200 and more. A few just make ice cream, but most models can whip up sorbets, frozen yogurt, and other chilled delights.

The ice cream makers on our list stick mostly to the basics, providing no-fuss, no-mess ways to produce homemade ice cream. The major players in the inexpensive ice cream makers market include Cuisinart, Deni, and Hamilton Beach. Cuisinart leads the pack with a range of models, beginning with its Cuisinart ICE-20 1.5 Quart Ice Cream Maker (starting at $42) and topping out with the Cuisinart ICE-50BC Supreme Ice Cream Maker. Deni sells a variety of related products, including a $30 yogurt maker and a $70 soft-serve maker. Hamilton Beach models typically hover around the $25-$30 price point and include half-pint, 1.5-quart, and 4-quart ice cream makers.

Ice Cream Maker Reviews

Most cheap ice cream makers require advance planning. That is, you have to freeze the canister in which the ice cream is made for at least eight hours -- the Rival GC9155 (starting at $40) canister requires at least 24 hours of freeze time -- and make sure the ingredients are well chilled; many consumers fast forward the process by storing the canister in the freezer when not in use. Also note that the finished product is more like a firm soft-serve ice cream than the hard store-bought variety. Many ice cream lovers say the homemade version is best enjoyed immediately. But if you prefer a firmer consistency, just freeze the product for several hours before eating -- and remember to transfer it from the canister (preferably with a plastic utensil) to another container before placing in the freezer.

Committed ice cream eaters will find that investing in a cheap ice cream maker can save a ton of money over the long run. According to SoundMoneyMatters.com, if you exclude the price of the actual machine and staples you have on hand (like sugar and vanilla), the total cost of making 1.5 quarts of homemade ice cream is less than $3. This compares to $5 or so for 1.75 quarts of Breyers ice cream and at least $3 for a pint of Ben & Jerry's. So let's start churning.

Freezing Process.

The first decision you'll need to make is which type of cheap ice cream maker to buy: rock salt/ice, freezer bowl, or compressor freezer.

Rock salt/ice machines are powered manually or electrically. The manual variety involves placing the ingredients bowl inside a larger bowl, filling the space between with a mixture of rock salt and ice, and cranking by hand. The electric variety follows the same procedure except that the machine paddles the mixture on its own. One rock salt/ice manual ice cream maker on our list is the electric Hamilton Beach 68330R 4-Qt. Automatic Ice Cream Maker (starting at $30); another is the Play & Freeze Ice Cream Ball (starting at $25 for the pint size, and $35 for the quart size), but instead of the traditional cranking motion, you (and family and friends) kick or toss the ball-shaped maker to churn up the frozen treat. You can also have it both ways with the 6-quart Classic Electric/Crank Ice Cream Maker (starting at $80), which, as its name implies, can be powered by your arm muscles or the nearest electric outlet.

Cheap freezer bowl ice cream makers use a bowl with two walls, in between which is a gel that does the job of ice and salt. After leaving the bowl in the freezer for a minimum of eight hours, just place the bowl on top of the ice cream maker, turn on the motor, and add the ingredients. The Cuisinart ICE-20, Deni 5205 Automatic Ice Cream Maker (starting at $43), and Rival GC9155 are all inexpensive freezer-bowl ice cream makers.

Compressor freezer ice cream makers are no-fuss electric machines. Just add the ingredients right inside the ice cream maker, flip the switch and the paddle gets to work -- no rock salt or ice, no pre-freezing the bowl. Compressor freezer ice cream makers are way beyond the Cheapism range, but in case you're in the mood to splurge, you might investigate the Cuisinart ICE-50BC Supreme Ice Cream Maker or Lello 4070 Gelato Junior (starting at $173).

Quantity.

Many cheap ice cream makers produce 1.5 quarts of ice cream. The exceptions on our list include the Cuisinart ICE-20, which makes two quarts and the Hamilton Beach 68330R, which makes four quarts; the Play & Freeze gives you 1 pint of ice cream but as noted above, there's also a quart version. Keep in mind that a half-cup of ice cream is considered one serving, so figure on eight servings in a quart.

Size and Weight.

Although cheap ice cream makers produce about the same amount of ice cream, they vary in size and weight. The Play & Freeze is the lightest and smallest ice cream maker on our list; available in two sizes (8- or 9-inch diameter, weighing 26 ounces and 40 ounces respectively), it is designed for child's play. The Rival GC9155 Gel Canisteris a hefty 10.8 pounds, but measures 8 x 8 x 11 inches compared to the Cuisinart ICE-20, which weighs 9 pounds and measures 10 x 10 x 15 inches. The Deni 5205 Automatic Ice Cream Maker weighs a bit less (7.2 pounds) but takes up about as much space (10 x 9 x 14 inches) as the Cuisinart ice cream machine. The Hamilton Beach 68330R is a bit larger (12 x 12 x 13.5 inches) but weighs just 6.5 pounds.

Extra Features.

On the off chance that one night you'll crave some kind of frozen treat other than a sundae, you're in luck with any one of several cheap ice cream makers. Most budget models also churn out one or more cold delights, such as frozen yogurt, sorbet, gelato, slushies, and grown-up drinks. But if you're seeking a few frills in the budget ice cream maker range, about the only "extra" you'll find is the candy crusher atop the Deni 5205. The Hamilton Beach 68220 1.5-Quart Ice Cream Maker (starting at $25), features an extra-large opening that makes it easy to add bits and chunks of candy, fruit, or cookies near the end of the mixing process; this model also has a carrying handle.

Ice Cream Maker Reviews

Based on the ice cream maker reviews we read, we found some good inexpensive ice cream makers, that earned enthusiastic praise by users about the soft-serve results and the old-time, natural (i.e., non-artificial) taste. Still, even the most highly-rated models had some detractors and we noted a few reports about inconsistent texture and/or stalled motors for several of the models we researched.

Ease of Use.

As you would expect for a small appliance that's all about sweet pleasure, cheap ice cream makers tend to be user-friendly. Both the Play & Freeze and Hamilton Beach 68330R require adding the proper blend of rock salt and ice, but other than that, the end product requires nothing more complicated than measuring the ingredients and turning on the motor (or rolling the canister around, as with the Play & Freeze). Cleaning is also straightforward; the models we researched all recommend hand washing the freezer bowl and paddle and wiping down the other parts. Once you've done all the prep work, making the ice cream itself takes 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the model, the recipe, and the desired consistency.

The Cuisinart ICE-20 wins plaudits for ease of use in ice cream maker reviews on Epinions. Compliments range from mess-free and quiet to appreciation for a process that requires no ice, just freezing the bowl for at least eight hours. After adding the ingredients, you'll have ice cream in 20 minutes or less, and you can watch the progress through a clear lid. There's no timer or auto shut off on this model, which is a plus; one user notes in a review on Amazon that this design feature lets you keep the machine working until the preferred consistency is achieved.

Another cheap ice cream maker that earns stars for dispensing with the salt and ice routine is the Deni 5205 and its gel canister. This convenience is a big draw for consumers, according to ice cream maker reviews on Walmart.com; commenting on the Deni 5201 (the same as the 5205 but lacking the candy crusher), one user praises the simplicity of the process and says she makes a batch almost daily. Several consumers posting reviews on Sears, however, complain that the 5200 model (the same as the 5201 but available only in "clear"; the 5201 offers a choice of colors) shut down when the mixture thickened by before the ingredients froze into ice cream.

The Play & Freeze earns acclaim in ice cream maker reviews on the Target website for being a cinch to use and making sport of making ice cream. Throwing, kicking, or rolling the container around for 20 minutes or so is fun for kids and adults, according to reviews on Amazon, although a few say the filled canisters are too heavy for kids to throw and some get bored after a few minutes. Still, the Play & Freeze is a concept and a process that appeals for its novelty and portability; with no batteries or any need for an electrical outlet, the Play & Freeze can travel anywhere. One scoutmaster reports in a review on the Walmart site that the Play & Freeze was a big hit during a campout; other consumers similarly note its value on road trips and boat rides. Some consumers, however, report that regular-size ice cubes don't fit into the outer shell (you'll need to crush them) and a few gripe about the mess when you try opening the lid to stir the contents midway through the process.

The largest capacity cheap ice cream maker on our list, the Hamilton Beach 68330R, is another user-friendly model. An ice cream maker review on HowStuffWorks gives it a thumbs up because you don't need to pre-freeze the canister (but you might choose to if you prefer harder ice cream). Consumers like the quick clean up, the price, and the four-quart size, and reviews on Amazon say the Hamilton Beach 68330R is a good value. This cheap ice cream maker requires ice and salt, which may account for grumbles about the noise level; one user recommends wrapping a towel around the top to muffle the sound. We did come across some reports of units that stopped working after just a few uses.

The Rival GC9155 boasts a gel canister that eliminates the need for ice or rock salt, but that seems to be the only thing in its favor. The canister requires at least a 24-hour deep freeze (longer than the other cheap ice cream makers on our list) and well-chilled ingredients, a combination that can delay your gratification. An ice cream machines review on About.com says the advertised 30-minute operating time is insufficient for some ice cream recipes, and consumers posting reviews on Amazon complain that the canister and mixture need far longer freezing and chilling time than the instructions indicate. Another review on Epinions cautions against putting in too many solid bits (like chips or crushed cookies) and notes that you may need to stop the machine every few minutes to scrape down the sides. Other reviews on Viewpoints grumble that the spout for adding solid bits (like candy or fruit) is too small and the seal holding the bowls together broke on one unit.

Review continues below

Ice Cream Quality.

Homemade ice cream is best eaten as soon as it's made, but you can freeze the finished product for several hours for a firmer consistency. Most cheap ice cream makers shut off when the mixture firms up, but the Cuisinart ICE-20 runs until you decide the mixture is at the consistency you like. Ice cream maker reviews by users on Epinions and Amazon rave about the tasty, smooth, creamy results with the Cuisinart ICE-20, and note success with a variety of flavors like coffee, mocha, and strawberry. For the best results, one user recommends adding chunky bits near the end of the process, pre-freezing the bowl at least 24 hours, chilling all the ingredients, and always using pure vanilla.

The finished product from the Play & Freeze has its share of fans and critics. An ice cream maker review in the About.com camping guide says the "hot cocoa" ice cream (requiring four packets of cocoa mix) is excellent, and consumers posting reviews on Amazon and Walmart likewise praise the consistency and taste of the ice cream. On the other hand, some users deride the Play & Freeze in reviews for failing to deliver an edible product.

Although the Deni 5205 produces decent ice cream, according to most ice cream maker reviews on Amazon and Walmart, some consumers gripe in reviews about inconsistent results (runny center and hard ice cream on the sides and bottom of the canister). But the major complaint concerns the candy crusher; reviews on Pricegrabber and Amazon say this plastic component is too flimsy to handle the tough job of crushing hard pieces of candy or even chocolate morsels. Recommended solution: use a knife or food processor instead.

Consumers like what the Hamilton Beach 68330R delivers even though they grumble about noise and occasional durability problems. Ice cream maker reviews on Amazon talk up the soft creamy consistency and several suggest freezing the finished product overnight for results that are more like store-bought ice cream.

Results are inconsistent and reviews uneven for the Rival GC9155. An ice cream makers review on Amazon says only a week of pre-freezing the canister and a full 24 hours of chill time for the ingredients produced something resembling ice cream. Other reviews report a soupy mess loaded with ice crystals or milkshake-like results.

Warranty.

All the ice cream makers on our list offer some kind of warranty. The Cuisinart ICE-20 comes with a three-year limited warranty, which is the longest we found. The Play & Freeze has a one-year warranty on manufacturing defects, and the Deni 5205, Hamilton Beach 68330R, and Rival GC9155 offer one-year limited warranties.



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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Ice Cream Makers
  2. Discount Ice Cream Makers Features Comparison Table
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