Nothing says “summertime” quite like a delicious frozen treat. I love vegan ice cream made with almond or coconut milk, but the commercial stuff can be so expensive! When the weather gets hot, I want to be able to eat dairy-free vegan ice cream without having to spend an arm and a leg.
My whole world changed when I got an ice cream maker. At first, I wasn’t sure how well my homemade dairy-free ice cream would come out. However, armed with a few tried-and-true recipes from my favorite food blogs, I was soon churning out homemade vegan ice cream at a fraction of the cost of the store-bought stuff. And with less sugar and preservatives, to boot!
Because you’re making ice cream without traditional animal ingredients like milk and egg yolks, the quality of your ice cream maker can make or break the outcome. Opting for a good machine that meets you and your family’s needs is key for perfect, scoopable, dairy-free ice cream.
It’s easy to narrow down your choice! With a few key decisions, you’ll be on your way to your ideal ice cream machine in no time.
Our Top 3 Picks
Our Top 3 PicksChoosing the Best Ice Cream Maker1. Warranty2. Capacity3. Churning Time4. Automatic vs. Manual5. Freezer Type6. CapabilityOur Favorite Ice Cream Maker BrandsCuisinart Automatic Ice Cream MakerWhynter Ice Cream MakerAicok Ice Cream Maker MachineGourmia Automatic Ice Cream MakerCuisinart Compressor Ice Cream MakerVegan Ice Cream Recipes to Get you StartedWe All Scream for Vegan Ice Cream!
Choosing the Best Ice Cream Maker
I find the main benefit of a warranty is the peace of mind it provides. When I invest my hard-earned cash into a kitchen appliance, I like to know that my investment is protected.
Ice cream makers vary significantly regarding price, so if you’re going to drop a lot of money on the machine, a warranty can help you feel more comfortable. For a more affordable device, it may not be as worth it, as it costs considerably less money to replace the machine.
Be sure to read your warranty carefully to make sure it’s exactly what you’re expecting. Some warranties will cover a complete replacement of the product, no questions asked. However, others may only cover certain repairs, or will only fix problems that come from certain circumstances. Make sure you read all the way to the fine print to ensure you don’t get any nasty surprises later on.
You may also want to consider adding a protection plan to your purchase. This will usually protect your purchase for an additional 3-5 years and cost an additional 10% on top of the cost of the unit you choose. Personally, I only buy a protection plan if the manufacturer’s warranty is less than two years.
The capacity of your perfect home ice cream maker will come down to two things: the number of people eating ice cream in your house, and how much ice cream those people can eat.
Most home ice cream makers come in 1.5-2 quart sizes, which is usually enough for a family of four (or a couple that eats a lot of ice cream). However, you can find machines in sizes all the way up to a whopping six quarts! That is a capacity for a serious ice cream lover – or someone with a gigantic freezer.
If you’re unsure, I suggest erring on the side of too big rather than too small. Unlike other dishes, you can easily store extra ice cream in the freezer. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have too much ice cream in the freezer than not enough!
3. Churning Time
When the craving for homemade ice cream hits, sometimes you just can’t wait! Rather than having to go to the grocery store to pick up a frozen treat that contains who knows what kind of ingredients, it’s nice to be able to whip something up at home.
The model you choose will dictate how long you need to wait for your ice cream. In addition to prep time, such as freezing the bowl, your ice cream machine also goes through a churn cycle, where your ingredients go from sloshy liquid to thick, creamy ice cream.
Generally speaking, compressor-style ice cream makers have faster churn times, meaning you can make mint chocolate chip, banana, and cookie dough swirl ice cream all one after the other! If you opt for a freezer bowl ice cream maker, you’ll spend a little longer waiting for your ice cream to churn.
However, the compressor style will set you back a decent amount of money, so if you’re willing to spend a few more minutes waiting for your ice cream, you can save some green on your appliance purchase.
4. Automatic vs. Manual
While you can save a few dollars with a manual, hand-crank ice cream maker, I can’t recommend automatic ice cream makers enough.
Automatic ice cream makers use 1-2 paddles connected to a motor to completely churn your ice cream without any effort on your part. You can flip a switch on the unit, walk away, and return later to ice cream that’s been churned perfectly smooth. No stirring, no shaking, just perfect ice cream every time!
If you’re really strapped for cash, you can go with a model that uses a hand crank, or requires some other form of elbow grease to transform your ingredients into ice cream. For everyday use, I find automatic ice cream makers to be reasonably priced considering how much work they [literally] take out of your hands.
5. Freezer Type
Home ice cream makers generally come as one of two freezer types: a bowl that has to be pre-frozen, or a self-contained freezer unit.
Most ice cream makers for the home cook will use a bowl that needs to be frozen ahead of time – not only are they easy to use, but they’re also an excellent value. However, what you save in cash, you pay for in time – most of the bowls need to be frozen for at least 24 hours before you can use them, which means you won’t have the opportunity for impromptu frozen treats.
On the other hand, compressor ice cream makers take almost all the time and effort out of making ice cream at home. You can use these appliances to make ice cream at home in no time, with little more effort or forethought than pouring your ingredients into the bowl. However, compressor models also come with some tradeoffs – in addition to higher costs, you’ll also need to dedicate a substantial amount of counter space to your ice cream maker.
Ultimately, the best choice for you will come down to how much your time and effort is worth – if you’re a beginner home ice cream maker, or are looking to save some cash, look for a model that uses a freezer bowl. If your budget is a little more flexible, and you want to be able to make multiple flavors of frozen treats on the fly, consider investing in a compressor model.
The only thing I love more than a new kitchen gadget is a new kitchen gadget that multi-tasks! In addition to just being an all-around better value, multi-tasking appliances save you counter top and cabinet space.
Despite the name, some ice cream makers can be used to make more than just plain ice cream. Depending on the model, you can create low-fat frozen yogurt, silky gelato, sorbets with fresh fruits, and even frozen drinks like margaritas and pina colada.
If you’d make and eat these other dishes, purchasing one appliance with multiple functions could save you money in the long run, since you wouldn’t have to buy a separate machine for each. If you’re just interested in the ice cream, you could get a mono-tasking unit – but what’s the harm in a few extra functions?
Our Favorite Ice Cream Maker Brands
Best Overall Pick
The Automatic Ice Cream Maker from Cuisinart can make delicious dairy-free ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbet in as little as 25 minutes of churn time. Plus, it’s a gorgeous machine – the brushed stainless steel unit will look great on the counter top or shelf.
The Cuisinart ice cream maker includes plenty of details for an easy, efficient process. The Double-insulated 2-quart freezer bowl keeps the mix frosty, and a large ingredient spout makes it easy to add your favorite ice cream mix-ins.
The Cuisinart machine is a great balance between quality and affordability. It does a great job making consistent, smooth, scoopable results, without having to shell out a lot of money.
It’s important to note that, while this unit is easy to clean, the freezer bowl cannot go in the dishwasher. If it does run through a wash cycle, it won’t freeze completely, and you’ll have to replace the bowl before you make another batch. Just use a soapy sponge to get the bowl clean.
The machine comes with an instruction book and collection of recipes.
Quick Unboxing and Overview…
What We Liked
- Makes ice cream in as little as 25 minutes!
- Doesn’t make a mess
- Consistent results
- thumbs-o-upBowl is easy to clean
- thumbs-o-upBowl stays cold long enough for 2-3 batches
What We Disliked
- The machine is a little noisy
- Paddle doesn’t scrape up against sides of the bowl – leaves a layer unchurned
- Takes up a lot of counter space
- thumbs-o-downIce cream can’t be stored in the vessel it’s made in
- thumbs-o-downBowl is made from aluminum, not stainless steel
Best High-End Brand (Money Ain’t a Thang)
If you’re an ice cream aficionado, or you’re ready to take your homemade ice cream-making to the next level, the Whynter 2.1-quart ice cream maker should be your next purchase. It’s our pick for the best luxury model.
With the Whynter, you really get what you pay for. While the price is steep, you get maximum convenience and speed. With this model, there’s no need to pre-freeze your bowl – make ice cream on the fly, as the unit is a self-contained dessert maker. No need to pre-plan your next batch of ice cream or make room in your freezer!
The unit is also equipped with several built-in and automatic functions. If the mixture freezes solid, the motor protection function will automatically shut the unit off to prevent damage. An extended cooling function keeps your mixture cold, so it won’t melt if you can’t get back to the unit right as it finishes. This leaves you free to go about your day – this ice cream maker works around your schedule.
The stainless steel unit is sleek and modern and uses a soft touch LCD control panel. It looks beautiful on any counter.
The Whynter ice cream maker includes an electronic timer, ice cream scoop, BPA-free mixing paddles, and an easy-to-follow recipe guide.
What We Liked
- Don’t have to wait for the bowl to freeze to make ice cream!
- thumbs-o-upEasy-to-use LCD
- thumbs-o-upAbility to make many batches of ice cream in a row
- thumbs-o-upSimple to clean
- thumbs-o-upWorks like a heavy-duty unit
What We Disliked
- Price tag might be cost-prohibitive to some buyers
- thumbs-o-downIce cream freezes to side of the bowl
- thumbs-o-downHard to get replacement parts
- thumbs-o-downMachine is a little loud
- thumbs-o-downIce cream sometimes comes out icy
Best Budget-Friendly Option
Every bargain hunter knows a good deal isn’t just about the price – it’s about getting the best quality for the amount you’re willing to spend. For those looking to save some cash, the Aicok Ice Cream Maker is our top pick.
The freezer-bowl-style unit whips up homemade frozen treats in as little as 20-30 minutes of churning time. As it is a fully automatic machine, you don’t have to worry about stirring or shaking your ice cream. Simply pour ingredients into a pre-frozen bowl, turn the switch to the ON position, and set the time. It’s that simple!
This unit is also a great choice for renters and people in small living quarters. The unit is small and compact, so you won’t have to dedicate too much valuable real estate on your counter to the machine.
What We Liked
- Sleek, compact design
- thumbs-o-upDesign allows for easily adding extra mix-ins
- thumbs-o-upEasy to clean
- thumbs-o-upGreat customer service
- thumbs-o-upGood for kids to use
What We Disliked
- Machine is loud
- thumbs-o-downBare-bones model – gets the job done, but nothing advanced or unique
- thumbs-o-downDurability – some reviewers experienced technical issues after 2-3 uses
- thumbs-o-downMaximum capacity is 700g
- thumbs-o-downManual measurements are in grams – not ideal for U.S. buyers
The automatic ice cream maker from Gourmia is a sleek, easy-to-use appliance that is perfect for beginner and intermediate ice cream chefs.
The black-and-chrome Gourmia uses a high-tech approach with a built-in timer and automated LCD screen. You can choose from a variety of pre-programmed settings to make homemade frozen treats easy and foolproof.
The unit also features an easy pour spout, which allows you to add sprinkles, chocolate chips, nuts, fresh fruits, or any other add-in you like. You can fully customize your recipe and get exactly the flavor you want. This also allows you to recreate your favorite store-bought flavors.
This ice cream maker is compact and features a sleek, round design. It’s a great buy for small spaces where you just don’t have that much room for the ice cream maker. It’s also small enough to be stored easily in cabinets.
The unit comes with an instruction manual and recipe booklet.
What We Liked
- The machine runs quieter than most units
- thumbs-o-upCompact enough for small spaces
- thumbs-o-upGreat customer service – no warranty, but do offer 1-year “satisfaction guarantee.”
- thumbs-o-upEasy to use and clean
- thumbs-o-upGood recipes included with machine
What We Disliked
- You need to read the instruction manual thoroughly – this isn’t an intuitive product
- thumbs-o-downBowl lining easily scraped/damaged by spoons
- thumbs-o-downInconsistent results – sometimes comes out soupy
- thumbs-o-downDiscrepancies between unit and instruction manual
- thumbs-o-downNot particularly durable
This ice cream and gelato maker from Cuisinart features a commercial-style compressor and two unique mixing paddles. You get a lot of customizability with this model and can make light, whipped ice creams all the way to dense, creamy gelato. The gelato paddle makes a super smooth, silky treat that’s just a little extra decadent than your traditional ice cream.
This unit features a 60-minute countdown timer to ensure your homemade treats have a perfect consistency. When it’s done churning, the 10-minute keep cool cycle will keep your treat chilled so it won’t melt if you can’t get back to it immediately. No need to hover over the maker – just let it do its thing, and it’ll be ready when you are.
The model features a transparent lid, so you can watch the product being made and watch your add-ins get mixed into the ice cream base. The mixing bowl also has a handy lift-out handle, so you don’t have to wrestle to get it out of the machine.
The entire unit is self-contained, so there’s no need to clear room in your freezer or to pre-plan and freeze the bowl ahead of time. This machine is an investment, but it takes all the guesswork and effort out of making homemade ice cream.
What We Liked
- Self-contained freezer unit – no need to pre-freeze the bowl!
- thumbs-o-upQuieter than other ice cream makers
- thumbs-o-upSuper easy to clean
- thumbs-o-upIncluded recipes make the perfect amount for the unit
- thumbs-o-upGelato paddles make a silky and luxurious dessert
What We Disliked
- Ice creams freeze to side of bowl and need to be scraped downMachine is heavy and bulky
- thumbs-o-downCapacity is small – says 1.5 quarts, but machine won’t actually make that much
- thumbs-o-downCan be hard to remove ice cream from bowl
- thumbs-o-downInconsistent results – sometimes soft, sometimes frozen solid
Vegan Ice Cream Recipes to Get you Started
Now that you have your perfect ice cream machine, you can get started making delicious vegan ice cream at home!
Looking for inspiration?
Start with any one of my three favorite recipes…
1. Dreamy Dairy-Free Ice Cream from The Kitchn
I love coconut-milk-based vegan ice creams, and this recipe from The Kitchn is perfect. Emma uses cornstarch to give the ice cream a creamy, sturdy texture. This recipe makes a creamy, scoopable vanilla ice cream.
View recipe here.
2. Vegan Brownie Chocolate Ice Cream from Minimalist Baker
Aside from the insane chocolate flavor, the best thing about this recipe is how easy it is. It’s only got seven, easy-to-find ingredients! Try mixing in chunks of vegan brownies or chocolate chips for an interesting textural boost (not to mention extra chocolate).
View recipe here.
3. Mango Coconut Ice Cream
The addition of fresh mango in this recipe makes it the perfect summertime treat. The combination of mango and creamy coconut milk makes a tropical treat with the perfect amount of decadence. A scoop of this ice cream is great after dinner, and makes a great milkshake.
View recipe here.
We All Scream for Vegan Ice Cream!
Just because you choose to abstain from dairy products doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a sweet summertime treat! By investing in an ice cream maker, you can make vegan-friendly ice cream from the comfort of your home.
In addition to long-term cost savings, an ice cream maker allows you to control exactly what does – and doesn’t – go into your family’s ice cream. When you make a batch from scratch, you don’t have to include the extra sugar, thickeners, and stabilizers included in most store-bought dairy-free ice creams. By using healthy, organic ingredients, you’re giving your family a treat that’s as nutritious as it is delicious.
Whichever model you choose, an ice cream maker is an easy-to-use addition to your vegan kitchen. It’s one of those tools that helps you enjoy the familiar treats of your childhood, updated for the values you have as an adult.
Whip up a batch of homemade non-dairy ice cream for your next barbecue, dinner party, or family meal, and you might find it hard to go back to the grocery store brands.