Best Cheap Ice Cream Makers

Price Range

$24 - $45


$45 - $100


$100 and up

High End

Published on    By 

Ice cream is a simple treat: cream, sugar, and some flavoring. And in an era when consumers increasingly are concerned about what goes into their food, this universally loved dessert virtually screams for a do-it-yourself approach. But how to choose a cheap ice cream maker that produces satisfying results? To keep the process easy and fun for users, we combed retail and review sites for electric ice cream makers that reliably churn out cold, rich, creamy treats in 40 minutes or less and cost less than $45.

Cheap Ice Cream Makers Buying Guide

Ice cream is a simple treat: cream, sugar, and some flavoring. And in an era when consumers increasingly are concerned about what goes into their food, this universally loved dessert virtually screams for a do-it-yourself approach. But how to choose a cheap ice cream maker that produces satisfying results? To keep the process easy and fun for users, we combed retail and review sites for electric ice cream makers that reliably churn out cold, rich, creamy treats in 40 minutes or less and cost less than $45.

Ice cream machines range in price from less than $25 to the high triple digits. Even cheap ice cream makers can whip up sorbet, frozen yogurt, and often gelato in addition to ice cream. Generally, though, the best cheap ice cream makers stick to the basics. They’re straightforward machines without any fancy or distinguishing features. They use time-honored rock salt and ice or an insulated freezer bowl to chill the ice cream base and an electric motor to churn the final product.

Floating at the top of our list are the Hamilton Beach 68330R (starting at $29), a 4-quart rock salt and ice model, and the VonShef Ice Cream Maker (starting at $40), a 1.5-quart machine with an insulated canister that keeps the churning contents cold. Although each attracts a dollop of criticism for disappointing results and limited durability, legions of ice cream lovers swoon over the end product.

Treading just below the top are the Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection (starting at $30), another 4-quart rock salt and ice model, and the Hamilton Beach 68320 (starting at $40), another 1.5-quart ice cream maker that relies on a frozen gel canister. Like the two top picks, these budget-friendly models yield delectable results but are subject to relatively more sniping by users about the same performance issues.

One inexpensive machine that generates little enthusiasm is the Oster 1.5-Quart Gel Canister Ice Cream Maker (starting at $35). Online reviews complain about early product failure, unacceptable results, excessive noise, and the absence of a user’s manual in the packaging.

Ice Cream Maker Brands.

Cuisinart dominates the field with an assortment of models arrayed across the price spectrum. Although none fall squarely in the Cheapism price range, the Cuisinart ICE-21 is a very popular and well-reviewed machine starting at $54.The major players at the budget end of the market include household names such as Hamilton Beach and Oster and lesser known labels such as VonShef, Chef Buddy, and Magic Bullet. At the upper reaches are producers such as Whynter and Breville. VonShef also makes a so-called “professional” model that retails for $200.

Many expensive models are quiet, user-friendly compressor freezer ice cream makers. With compressor freezer models, there’s no need to buy rock salt and ice or pre-freeze a gel canister; a built-in freezer keeps the contents icy cold while the base mix churns. These machines typically are graced with electronic controls and features such as LCD read-outs, internal thermostats, timers, and stainless steel housing. More powerful motors churn the ice cream faster, creating fewer ice crystals in the finished product. They’re bulkier and heavier than the best cheap ice cream makers, however, and far beyond the entry-level price range.

DIY-ice-cream devotees have a couple of other options. Consumers with a KitchenAid stand mixer can turn that countertop appliance into an ice cream maker courtesy of a proprietary chill canister (pre-freezing required) that costs about $60. Whip up a batch using the mixer’s lowest speed, which The Sweethome says is faster than the churn rate of designated ice cream makers.

For novelty, check out YayLabs Ice Cream Ball (starting at $40), available in pint and quart sizes and various cheery colors. This non-electric version also calls for rock salt and ice, but instead of the traditional cranking motion, kicking or tossing the ball around churns the contents. (Think family picnics or playtime with the dog.)

Committed ice cream eaters will find that investing in a cheap ice cream maker can save a ton of money over the long run -- or maybe the short run, depending how often they plan to indulge. The Kitchn reports that a quart of homemade vanilla costs $3.36 while a pint of Ben & Jerry’s goes for $4. That comes out to 42 cents versus $1 per half-cup serving, respectively. The savings are sweeter yet, consumer reviewers add, when comparing the cost of homemade non-dairy ice cream to the store-bought variety.

What We Looked For

Rock Salt and Ice Machines.

This type of machine tends to be cheaper than other designs and can produce significantly larger quantities. The ingredients are placed in a canister that nests inside a larger vessel. The space between them is filled with rock salt and ice and the canister is filled with the ice cream base. A paddle (a.k.a., dasher) inserted into the base mix may be powered manually or electrically. The manual variety requires cranking by hand -- a labor-intensive process that demands plenty of brawn. Our top picks for this style of ice cream maker, the Hamilton Beach 68830R and Nostalgia ICMP400 Vintage Collection, draw their churning power from an electric motor -- a modern twist on a delightfully old-fashioned design. Still, the process can be messy and requires a bit of attention. The salt and ice usually need replenishing as the minutes tick by, and buying those supplies in bulk is an ongoing cost.

Freezer Bowl Ice Cream Makers.

Freezer bowl machines are comparatively mess-free and a bit less noisy than rock salt/ice models. They dispense with the ice and salt in favor of a bowl with two double-insulated walls filled with gel. This core requires pre-freezing for at least eight hours and as long as 24 hours in a very cold freezer. Manufacturers recommend a setting of zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius), a level recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for all home freezers.

This method requires advance planning (time for the bowl and gel to freeze) and valuable freezer space for the bowl. Many consumers fast forward the process by permanently storing the canister in the freezer. The two freezer-bowl models on our list of best cheap ice cream makers are the VonShef and the Hamilton Beach 68320.

Lid Design.

We looked for ice cream makers with clear plastic lids -- all the better to keep eager eaters salivating as the contents churn and thwart the temptation to open the lid to check on the contents. Stopping the machine before the base has been churned to the ideal consistency can cause a hard build-up on the sides of the canister/bowl and freeze the paddle in its tracks.

Many freezer bowl models, such as the VonShef, Hamilton Beach 68320, and Cuisinart ICE-21, sport an opening in the lid that allows for add-ins such as chopped nuts, berries, chocolate, or herbs. Add these chunky extras only during the last several minutes before the churning process is complete. With rock salt/ice machines, there’s typically no opening in the lid. Mix-ins are added and stirred into the ice cream after the motor stops and has been removed from the top of the bucket.


How much ice cream can an entry-level machine make? As little as 1 pint and as much as 6 quarts. But there really isn’t much choice at this price. The machines with freezer bowls or gel canisters have the smallest capacities -- usually 1.5 quarts -- because the bowl and gel defrost quickly and cannot chill much more base mix. Most recipes figure one-half cup of churned ice cream is the equivalent of one serving, which means consumers can get 12 servings out of the ice cream makers we recommend. Rock salt/ice machines tend to be larger -- 4 quarts in the case of our picks, which is a big point in their favor and may compensate for the fuss of the salt and ice.

Churning Time.

All the cheap ice cream makers we researched, including those that didn’t make our list, specify a churn time that ranges between 15 and 40 minutes. The duration depends less on the machine than the particular recipe and the temperature of the base mixture and the canister/bowl. Budget ice cream makers signal that churning is complete in one of several ways: The paddle changes direction, the motor repeatedly stalls and reverses, or the motor stops entirely, or nearly so.


All the ice cream makers on our list come with a one-year limited warranty. The Cuisinart ICE-21, which is priced above our cutoff point, is backed by a three-year limited warranty.

Ice Cream Maker Reviews

To assemble our list of best cheap ice cream makers, we read scores of user reviews posted on Amazon; the websites of large retailers including Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, and Target; and manufacturer sites. We consulted sites such as Chowhound, Good Housekeeping, and The Sweethome, which have conducted comparative testing, as well as others that offer advice about the science of ice cream making.

Overall Performance.

Not surprisingly, there was mild disagreement between consumers and expert testers. Satisfied users of these small kitchen appliances rave about the freshness and natural (non-artificial) taste of homemade ice cream, with many vowing never to buy a commercial product again. Many reviewers also value the control over what goes into the frozen treat and the ability to tweak recipes to their liking and health needs. They mention using fresh-from-the-farm fruits, adding more or less flavoring, cutting the sugar, or substituting almond or coconut milk for whole milk and cream. Ice cream maker reviews also tell of the pleasure of preparing this cool delight from scratch and involving children in the process.

Expert reviewers are somewhat less sanguine about entry-level machines in general. Their beef concerns the inevitable presence of ice crystals and the resulting drag on texture and mouth feel. Consumer critics, a small but opinionated minority, likewise express disappointment with the outcome. Some dismiss the churned product as soupy or slushy, more like a milkshake than ice cream. (Did they overlook the advised post-churn freeze that makes the product scoopable? Or, did the machine actually fail to whip in air as the base mix churned and chilled?) Others lament that a motor konked out after a handful of uses or can’t seem to manage more viscous mixes. Complaints about noise are fairly common -- except in reviews of the VonShef Ice Cream Maker -- but for most users this is more irritant than deal breaker.

Ease of Use.

As expected for a small appliance that's all about sweet treats, inexpensive electric ice cream makers are user-friendly. Still, it’s very important to read -- and follow -- the directions before charging ahead. Preparing the base requires nothing more complicated than following a recipe, chilling the mixture, turning on the motor, and pouring the ingredients into the core (or vice versa, depending on the model). Cleaning is equally straightforward but does require hand washing of the dasher/paddle and canister/freezer bowl. The motor housing should be wiped down.

Ice Cream Making Tips.

During our research we picked up several tips that can help ensure creamy, tasty, and refreshing results from a cheap ice cream maker.

  • Before churning, chill the base (the ice cream mix) thoroughly, sometimes overnight. This is particularly critical for any base that is cooked and includes egg yolks.
  • Freshly churned ice cream has a soft-serve consistency. Some consumers dig in right away, but others prefer to “cure” or “ripen” the ice cream in a covered container in the freezer for about two hours. (A few consumers say adding 1 tablespoon of vodka to a nearly finished batch minimizes ice crystals and keeps the ice cream from turning rock solid in the freezer.)
  • Flavor and texture degrade quickly, so consume homemade ice cream as soon as possible, ideally within a week -- two at most.

Maralyn Edid

Maralyn is a veteran reporter, writer, researcher, and editor. From her early years at Crain's Chicago Business and the Detroit bureau of Business Week, then on to a long-term stint at Cornell University's ILR School and now at, Maralyn has been -- and remains -- committed to getting the story straight. That means a devotion to balance, to thorough investigation, and to making sense of diverse ideas and facts. Maralyn earned a Master's in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell, a Master's in Journalism at University of California-Berkeley, and a B.A. at Tufts. Maralyn resides in New York City.

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