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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.

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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.

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.

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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 Industrial Revolution Play & Freeze (starting at $25 for the one-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 six-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.

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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 one pint of ice cream but as noted above, there's also a one-quart version. Keep in mind that 1/2 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 (eight- or nine-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 8x8x11 compared to the Cuisinart ICE-20, which weighs nine pounds and measures 10x10x15 inches. The Deni 5205 Automatic Ice Cream Maker weighs a bit less (7.2 pounds) but takes up about as much space (10x9x14 inches) as the Cuisinart ice cream machine. The Hamilton Beach 68330R is a bit larger (12x12x13.5 inches) but weighs just six-and-a-half 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.

by Maralyn Edid (Google+ Profile)

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