Ice is a crucial component for entertaining, whether it’s for a dinner party or for tailgating a sports game. If you don’t have a built-in ice-maker in your refrigerator and ice-cube trays just aren’t cutting it, consider investing in a countertop ice machine. They’re also particularly useful for boats, RVs, trailers, and in situations where you need to preserve fridge and freezer space. As a recipe developer, food writer, and an ice enthusiast — my 64-ounce water bottle full of ice water is never more than a couple of feet away from me at all times — I spoke to experts about what to look for in a countertop ice-maker and tested several models myself.
Best overall | Best less expensive | Best even less expensive | Best self-cleaning | Best clear ice maker | Best large capacity
What we’re looking for
Production: Most ice machines on the market produce at least 24 pounds of ice in 24 hours, so that was the baseline we looked for. It’s also crucial to note that ice-makers typically produce ice but don’t keep the cubes cold, so you’ll need to use it or move it to the freezer. This also means that unless you’re definitely going to go through a lot of ice in a short time, something with a massive capacity isn’t necessary.
Ease of setup: We looked for ice-makers that are as close to plug and play as you can get. No one wants to spend time grappling with frustrating machinery in the lead-up to a party, and when you want ice, you usually want it fast — otherwise, why use a machine over a tray? Below, our “easy” marking means that it’s possible to take the machine out of the box and make ice within 15 minutes or less. Anything else — models that require a cleaning cycle first or that have an assembly that could be confusing or irritating — was marked “needs some assembly.”
Noise: A gentle hum in the background might not be a big deal, but an ice machine that makes a racket probably isn’t welcome in most people’s kitchens. Jada Wong, shopping director at Kitchn, advises looking for a model that won’t get on your nerves — because standard bullet-ice machines have a regularly timed pour, you’ll hear ice falling into the bucket below at about ten-minute intervals. Below, we’ve noted if the ice machines make more noise than a refrigerator — anything louder was marked as “noisy.”
Best overall ice machine
24 pounds of ice per day | Some assembly required | Quiet
The Opal Nugget ice-maker has a following among food writers and mixologists, and after trying it, I can see why. Unlike most countertop ice machines, the Opal produces nugget (a.k.a. pellet) ice, the kind of crunchy nuggets typically used for mint juleps. The machine requires some setup — you have to connect several tubes and fill a water tank on the side — but once that initial work is done, it requires very little upkeep. I found it a pleasure to use, and it’s far and away the ice-maker I’d want to keep on my kitchen counter. Wong is another fan, and after testing six other ice-makers, the Opal also earned a permanent spot in her home. “The small shape allows for a better ice-to-drink ratio than large bullet ice, so my coffee doesn’t get watered down,” Wong says. “It’s an expensive machine, but if you have the budget, it’s the quietest and sleekest I’ve come across.”
It’s also a favorite of Barlow Gilmore, a mixologist and spokesperson for Peroni Beer. It’s “a great way to have the ‘good ice’ at home available for any drinks you’re making,” Gilmore says. “The ice is beautiful, keeps your drinks super-cold, and dilutes nicely when you’re serving some cocktails tall and want them to last a bit longer.” Opal even has a version of the machine with a built-in dispenser so no scoop is necessary.
Best less expensive ice machine
26 pounds of ice per day | Easy setup | Quiet
If nugget ice isn’t your thing or you’re looking for an ice-maker in a lower price range, the Frigidaire portable countertop ice-maker was the best bullet-ice-maker I tried. It couldn’t be easier to set up: I pulled it out of the box, plugged the machine in, and filled the water tank. In less than ten minutes, the Frigidaire was producing ice. The model produces nine cubes every 7 to 15 minutes, per the manufacturer, which means you’ll have a steady supply as long as you remember to refill the tank. It also has a pretty small footprint at 14.5 by 9 by 14.88 inches, so it would be good for those with big ice needs but limited square footage. The sound of the ice falling into the bucket was the only noise this model made. Wong also praises the clear window at the top — not always a standard feature in bullet-ice-makers — which allows you to see the contents. It also comes in black, blue, stainless steel, and red to match whatever space you’d like to put it in.
Best even less expensive ice machine
26 pounds of ice per day | Easy setup | Mostly quiet
If you’re looking for an ice machine under $100, the Crownful Countertop Machine is a good bet. It takes about a minute longer to produce ice compared to the Frigidaire, but it has the same capacity for churning out bullet ice and a window in the lid so you can check on progress. It’s also slightly more compact at only 11 inches by 9.8 inches by 13.7 inches, so it’s a solid choice if you have a smaller space. In a previous version of this story, Amazon reviewers praised the Crownful’s speed, with one saying they filled a gallon Ziploc bag in about an hour, and another calling it “much faster than whatever you have in your standard refrigerator.”
Best self-cleaning ice machine
26 pounds of ice per day | Easy setup | Mostly quiet
If you’re using your ice machine very frequently, you should also be cleaning your ice machine frequently. That can be a pain unless it has a self-cleaning cycle, like the Igloo Countertop ice-maker, which has a spout at the bottom to easily drain water. The Igloo also has a handle at the top, making it a good choice if you intend to bring it camping or on a boat or RV rather than have it live on your kitchen counter. I found it to be pretty quiet except for when the cubes of ice clinked into the receptacle below every seven to ten minutes. It’s also an aesthetically pleasing machine, like an ice bucket that just so happens to self-replenish. Mine came in an aqua color, but you can also choose from pink and white.
Best clear-ice machine
40 pounds of ice per day | Easy setup | Some noise
Most ice-makers produce cubes that are a bit cloudy rather than crystal clear. The latter makes for pretty-looking cocktails, but it can also help fizzy drinks stay fizzy — trapped air creates cloudiness, and as the ice dissolves, it releases oxygen that ultimately leaves the beverage less carbonated. Clear ice, on the other hand, doesn’t have any additional oxygen, which means that the bubbles in seltzer, soda, and other carbonated drinks last longer. For clear ice, the Newair is the way to go. Rather than freezing water in bullets or nuggets, the Newair creates layers, resulting in clear cubes that are roughly three-quarters of an inch square. It also churns out quite a bit more ice than other models at 40 pounds in 24 hours. (There’s an even larger option that produces 45 pounds per day.) The Newair does take 15 minutes to start producing ice, longer than some other models, and it’s also a bit louder than the bullet models with a distinct buzz that’s slightly louder than my refrigerator.
Best large-capacity ice machine
48 pounds of ice per day | Easy setup | Slightly loud
If you want an ice-maker that produces a lot of ice, then the Frigidaire Extra Large might be the one for you. It produces roughly two pounds of ice per hour, and unlike the rest of our picks, it also allows you to adjust the size of the cubes. (Like the Newair, it produces cubes rather than bullet ice.) It’s also well reviewed on Amazon, with one buyer noting that “it spits out small cubes of ice in much less time than either of our refrigerators can.” You will need to empty the basket reservoir to continue making ice, but if you don’t need it all right away, the excess simply melts and gets recycled back into the machine. And while this Frigidaire doesn’t offer cooling, another reviewer was amazed when they began making ice for a party at 3 p.m. and found that there was still “plenty in the machine” at 9 a.m. the following morning. Note that it only comes in stainless steel, and at 17.5 by 15.5 by 16 inches, it’s not small.
Some Strategist-approved ice trays to try too
• Jada Wong, shopping director of Kitchn
• Barlow Gilmore, mixologist
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