While there are recipes out there for great no-churn ice creams, if you want to make ice cream at home more than once or twice a year, you will probably want to consider buying an ice cream maker. An ice cream maker will help you make ice cream quickly and will ensure that you turn out a consistently great product that is smooth, creamy and good enough to compete with store-bought ice creams. There are several types of ice cream makers out there, all at different price points, and there is something for everyone.
When it comes to choosing an ice cream maker, there are a few factors to consider and they include how often you make (or want to make) ice cream, how much space you have for storage and how much you want to spend.
The least expensive ice cream makers do a good job of making ice cream if you only need to use them once in a while, as they tend not to be able to churn the ice cream as long or freeze it quite as firmly as other ice cream makers. These include both inexpensive electric machines and hand-churned machines. They get the job done and they often don’t take much space. With the hand-churned machines, you can put the kids to work churning. For this kind of occasional use, I like to choose a machine that is more fun because it’ll encourage you (and especially the kids) to get it out and play with it, like the YayLabs Play and Freeze Ball ($25-$40 depending on size at Amazon).
The mid-range ice cream makers tend to be electric machines that have a frozen canister that you pour your ice cream base into. These machines require a little planning, since the canisters need to be pre-frozen for about 24 hours before using. They make good ice cream, but can only be used for one batch at a time. If you see yourself making ice cream on a regular basis, it is worth investing in a solid machine like this one. I have a Cuisinart Ice-21 Ice Cream Maker (about $56 on Amazon at the time of writing) in this price range and it is terrific. A KitchenAid Ice Cream Attachment can also be a good option if you already have a stand mixer.
The high end ice cream makers have internal compressors and can be quite expensive, but they are great if you really plan to make a lot of ice cream. These machines require no pre-freezing and can churn batch after batch, but they are bulky and you need a lot of space to store them. It is worth it for someone who is very serious about homemade ice cream, however. I have a slightly older Cuisinart compressor machine that works extremely well, and they have a newer Cuisinart Ice-100 model ($299 on Amazon at the time of writing) out for anyone with a big appetite for ice cream.
The mid-range electric canister machines are probably the most versatile for the most people, and that is where I would start shopping. There are other ice cream makers out there in all of these categories, so you can pick one that suits your needs and budget and you’ll be churning up homemade ice cream in no-time.