The Inside Scoop
Which machines whip up the best ice cream?
The Rival Treat Shoppe Electric Ice Cream Maker
$29.34 on Amazon.com
The Rival is small, inexpensive, and basic—the gel canister acts as the base of the machine, and the motor and paddle rest on top of it. Though Rival has tried to tart things up by making the box très bilingual—pour l'usage domestique seulement!—this is about as basic as an electric maker gets. But, if the plan is to make a quick and dirty Philly-style—a coupla eggs, cream, sugar, Double Stuffs, and away we go!—this is an operable machine that generates an edible product. Gel canister machines don't vary much in any meaningful way, but I throw in this caveat: Several Amazon customers complained that the motor burns out quickly, and nothing about my Rival appeared particularly durable. This one's for the beach house and the kids. Despite the silly presence of the word Sorbetière on the box, don't even think about doing it French-style with this device.
Ease of Use: 7
Time to Completion: 6
Final Product: Philly, a Yum-less 3.5
Total Philly: 16.5 (out of 40)
Total French: N/A
Cuisinart ICE 20
$49.95 on Amazon.com
Cuisinart has been setting the standard for well-made, unfancy, durable gel-canister ice-cream makers for years, and this update on the classic continues in that tradition. The concept is almost entirely the same, only now a ye olde bucketlike exterior graces the machine, lending it a hokey New England-y, nostalgic quality. If you want to go gel canister and plan only to perfect Philly-style ice cream, this one's for you. However, the difference between this and a compressor model is very noticeable on French-style recipes. I started with a Cuisinart, and liked it a lot, but I also understood its limits in servicing my growing obsession. (At one point, to keep the canister freezing, I mixed a batch of chocolate truffle out on the fire escape in the snow. My wife took this as evidence of sheer idiocy but had no complaints about the resulting Mid-Winter Chocolate Truffle.) I like this well-made machine, but if you plan to join the fellowship of the ice-cream nerds, this is merely an inexpensive starter.
Ease of Use: 7
Time to Completion: 7
Final Product: Philly, 8; French, 5
Total Philly: 26
Total French: 23
White Mountain 4-Quart Electric Ice-Cream Maker
$177.95 on Amazon.com
Remember when I said there were two kinds of ice-cream machines? I lied. Until the 1970s, the most common way to make homemade ice cream was to nestle a batter-filled canister inside a bucket containing ice and rock salt, which you would then hand crank. (The rock salt helps push the temperature of the liquid well below 32 degrees.) White Mountain has been making these bucket-style ice-cream makers for 150 years. If you want family fun and some Little House nostalgia, the White Mountain machines are terrific. You don't need to freeze a gel canister ahead of time, and you can make massive quantities. And if you are willing to continue stuffing the bucket with fresh ice and salt, you can keep the temperature freezing enough to churn out quite a smooth ice cream. However, even though the machine I tested featured an electric motor (requiring no hand-cranking), the White Mountain demands labor intensiveness of a completely different order; and the ambient heat of, say, a brutally hot day in a small Brooklyn kitchen makes the White Mountain a tough beast to feed. I enjoyed it, but this is a family ritual, not a gourmet's delight. That said, the White Mountain, used properly, makes up a creamier ice cream than the average gel-canister machine.
Ease of Use: 2
Time to Completion: 5
Final Product: Philly, 9; French, 8
Total Philly: 25
Total French: 24
Gelato Jr. by Lello
$199.99 on Amazon.com
A series of Italian companies—Lussino, Musso, Simac, Lello, and DeLonghi—make top-notch built-in compressor gelato makers. Right now the Lello and the Musso (see below) are the most easily procured, and the Lello is a good machine for the money. The one-quart bowl is removable, for easy cleaning; the digital timer is precise; and the Lello chirps if the mix begins to over-freeze. For under $200, this isn't a bad deal, but I found some serious design flaws. First, the lid and paddle are attached to the motor by a Phillips-head screw, making cleanup difficult—as you wash the paddle and lid, you have to somehow keep water off of the motor. Also, drips seemed to catch nearly everywhere in hard-to-clean places. Nonetheless, this is a huge step up from the canister models.
Stephen Metcalf is Slate's critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.