Jul 14, 2023

The Best Countertop Ice Makers of 2023

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By Valerie Walsh

If you have ever had a dinner party, a cocktail or your summer-morning coffee ruined by a lack of ice, you might benefit from a countertop ice maker. They free up valuable freezer space from stacks of trays, and keep up with even the most voracious ice chewers and superhydrators. In a market flooded with nearly identical-looking machines, choosing the best one may come down more to what type of ice will best suit your lifestyle than what machine is the fastest or has the most bells and whistles.

The vast majority of home machines can be separated into three types: bullet ice makers, nugget ice makers and clear cubelet makers. Most bullet and cubelet makers are likely produced by the same manufacturer, with their respective internal mechanics not differing much from machine to machine. Outside of these, there are also craft machines that will make larger cubes or form spheres. We spoke to experts about all these different shapes, how they are made and what effect they can have on drinks.

Our top choice, the Frigidaire 40-lb. Freestanding Ice Maker, was the best at making the cubelet variety, which we found to be the most versatile ice type. Its clear cubes won’t water down your coffee too fast, ruin your next Negroni or make your soft drink lose its sparkle. Igloo’s machine is a good lower-price alternative that makes bullet-style ice. If you have your heart set on those satisfyingly soft and chewable ice nuggets, we recommend the GE Profile Opal 2.0, and if you want a big rock for your whiskey, choose Klaris’s Clear Ice Maker.

$142 at Amazon

$200 Save $58

$179 at Walmart

$200 Save $21

This unit produces lots of good-looking, clear ice, made to your choice of thickness, that won’t water down your drinks too fast or agitate the fizz out of your seltzer.

Frigidaire’s 40-lb. Freestanding Ice Maker is much like the other clear cubelet machines out there, but it has a few helpful extras that set it apart. These machines use a waterfall method to ensure clarity, which is similar to how icicles form. The water streams over a vertical metal tray and is cooled into cubes as it flows. Clear ice, by nature, takes longer to make, so any clear ice machine won’t beat a bullet ice maker in speed—bullet ice makers can produce a batch in nine minutes, where a cubelet maker will take more like 15 minutes—but this one is surprisingly quick, with a daily output of 40 pounds a day, compared with the 28 pounds a day of the closest competition. And, according to our experts, impurity-free ice is worth the extra time anyway.

Compared with bullet and nugget ice, clear cubelets have fewer nucleation points, which are tiny crevices on the surface that can agitate a carbonated drink and cause it to go flatter, faster. “That’s why Champagne glasses have purposeful flaws in the glass, to force bubble streams to arise,” explains Camper English, ice expert and author of “The Ice Book.” “A perfectly smooth surface wouldn’t give you those bubbles, but a really raggedy surface will.” Clear ice also makes for a more attractive drink than white-as-snow bullet ice. We ran this particular model consistently over several days, and it never produced any cloudy batches. Also, along with the Opal 2.0 recommended below, this model performed the best in overnight testing, with fresh-looking ice ready in the morning that didn’t melt into awkward clumps.

Unlike similar units, such as the popular Luma Comfort Countertop Clear Ice Maker, the Frigidaire model features a viewing window. You can peer in and see how much ice is ready, and also enjoy the somewhat soothing view of the water flowing down the tray. It also has a more intuitive control panel. Where the Luma Comfort has a confusing single-button system, this model has selections for adjusting the thickness of the cubes by increasing or decreasing the time per batch, and also has a timer function for setting the end of the ice production cycle. Amy Brady, historian and author of “Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks–a Cool History of a Hot Commodity,” says that “while all appliances will use a good amount of energy,” being able to turn the machine off when it’s not in use can lessen its negative impact on the environment, which makes a timer option a handy feature.

The Frigidaire’s noise level sits in the midrange—just a touch louder than a fridge—but the crash of an ice batch dropping into the basket every 15 minutes or so could give you a start.

The biggest complaint about this style of machine is that the ice sometimes comes out in a block looking a bit like a chocolate bar that can be broken off into squares. It depends on the thickness of the ice and, all in all, isn’t too troublesome. Often, the fall from the tray into the basket is enough to break down the cubes, but as it gets more full, you might find yourself manually smashing the pieces by lifting them and dropping them with a bit of force or using the included scoop to poke them apart.

$599 at Amazon

$649 Save $50

$596 at The Home Depot

It might be huge, but it lives up to the hype. This sleek machine produces perfectly chewy ice nuggets.

If you love the so-called “good ice” or “Sonic ice” after one fast-food joint that features it, the Opal 2.0 Nugget Ice Maker with Side Tank is the most prominent model on the market—and for good reason. The Opal is simple to use and produces perfect pellets of ice that are pleasantly fluffy. Nugget ice is formed using flaked ice that is pressed into small shapes, and has become a bit of a cult favorite for its chewiness. Its porousness isn’t ideal for cocktails or coffee, our experts tell us, as it “drinks your drink,” absorbing the beverage into its puffiness, “and then you’re not going to get that beverage back until the ice melts, which means you’re going to get a watery beverage back,” explains Martin Cate, author and creator of the Smuggler’s Cove bar in San Francisco.

On the other hand, nugget ice will get your drinks cold very quickly, and you will either have a glass of water or a snack left over at the end to enjoy—if you’re into that. Also, according to GN Chan, bartender and co-founder of New York City’s Double Chicken Please, there is a way to slow down the diluting effect of any ice. “If you really want to prolong your drink, just freeze the ice in your freezer, freeze the glassware and keep your ingredients as cold as possible,” he says.

The other nugget ice models we tested produced jagged, shard-like pieces that, while still chewable, weren’t as soft as the cylindrical, uniform pellets that came from the Opal. Also, we found that the ice from the Opal was drier and less likely to clump together while sitting in the basket as the machine ran overnight. There are other models that take up less counter space, cost less and produce more ice faster. And, as some reviews have noted, the Opal can sometimes emit a whirring sound, which may get worse over time. Nevertheless, if you want perfect nugget ice, this is the model to buy.

The Opal comes with a removable side tank, which feels necessary given it was by far the heaviest unit we tested (as well as the tallest). The tank can be carried to the sink and filled up from your tap or filter, which is a rare convenience among ice makers, which usually require multiple trips with a pitcher to fill. Similarly, you can avoid moving the unit during cleaning, as it features a function that flushes out the machine using just a diluted bleach solution. If you are looking for the best smart-home option, this is also the ideal model. It can be controlled by the SmartHQ app and hooked up to Amazon Alexa.

$110 at Amazon

$99 at Walmart

$120 Save $21

As far as bullet machines go, this mini-sized model can match its peers in output and has a comparatively user-friendly control panel.

When it comes to lower-price options for countertop ice makers, bullet machines consistently have the lowest price tags, and among them, Igloo’s is the one we recommend you choose. Bullet ice is formed on metal rods before being dropped into a basket, and is usually very cloudy. According to Pia M. Sörensen, Ph.D., senior preceptor in chemical engineering and applied materials at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, this cloudiness is a result of ice forming so quickly that “it doesn’t have time” to “push out all the gases and impurities that are in the water.”

Every bullet model that we tested had internal parts clearly made by the same manufacturer, and they all performed nearly identically. Realistically, any bullet machine will do the trick. We like this Igloo model because it’s not only low in price, but also one of the smallest units we tested, taking up less than a single square foot of counter space. It comes in a variety of fun colors, and the LED display gives it a more elevated feel than even the pricier bullet models.

While most bullet machines offer two cube sizes (small and large), the difference is usually negligible. With the Igloo, there is more of a range between sizes (in testing, the small cubes were about 0.75 inches in length and the large ones were 1.1 inches), and also, the small cubes are smaller than those from other units (the small cubes from the Magic Chef and Frigidaire bullet models we tested were just over 1 inch long, and the large cubes were maybe a tenth or two of an inch more), which offers a bit more flexibility in drink making. If you run the machine for days on end, especially in a warmer room, the fan can start getting louder. Also, as with all bullet machines, the ice can get stuck together when the cycle runs overnight.

$549 at Klaris

$649 Save $100

This first-of-its-kind machine produces impressively clear large cubes in less than half the time it takes to make them in the freezer, and eliminates the guesswork in creating clear ice.

If you order an old fashioned or a whiskey on the rocks at a high-end bar, you are most likely getting a drink with a large, clear, elegant cube placed in the glass. And, if you like your whiskey, you probably wouldn’t settle for less. But when it comes to enjoying such cubes at home, it requires specialized molds, a very long wait and, in many cases, quite a bit of practice. In our testing, we found that the Klaris Clear Ice Maker can make these restaurant-quality cubes at home with consistency and extreme clarity in less than half the time it takes in the freezer—although this is still by no means speedy, with a production rate of four 2-inch cubes in eight to 10 hours.

The Klaris machine is a patent-pending craft cube maker inspired by Clinebell machines used to create huge, clear blocks of ice big enough for carving into sculptures or cutting down into craft cubes for commercial use. It’s a compact and very attractive machine that’s easy to use, and the ice it produces is astoundingly clear.

This said, it is a first-generation machine, and we noticed a few issues in testing. The ambient temperature in the room greatly affects the timing—stretching some of our batches to 11 or 12 hours if the air conditioning was off on a warmer day. The lack of countdown or notification for the end of a cycle makes it difficult to remove the ice in a timely manner. The cubes sit in a hold setting for six hours after completing the cycle to give you time to pull them out, but during this time, the tops of the cubes become a bit wavy. Still, the end product is beautiful, and it’s easy to store batches away in your freezer to prep for cocktail parties, where they will certainly be the stars of the show.

The Klaris can also freeze objects, such as strawberries or herbs, inside the cubes. In practice, this is a bit tricky, as the item needs to be either flush with the edges of the mold or fastened to the bottom somehow, or else it will disrupt the fan on the inside lid of the machine. Nevertheless, it presents a lot of potential for the experimentally minded home bartender.

$400 at Amazon

The Hicozy Dual-Mode Countertop Nugget Ice Maker is our second-favorite nugget ice machine and, in some cases, it even outperforms the Opal 2.0. It produces just shy of double what the Opal does in an hour, and it’s smaller and lighter. It is sleek-looking, has an eco mode for energy saving and can (optionally) be hooked up to a water line. But the ice isn’t quite as soft, uniform or dry as the Opal nuggets. The multicolored light indicator requires a key to decipher, and the size of the drawer makes refilling and cleaning a bit more annoying, but it might be worth the trouble if you want a lot of nugget ice without the Opal price tag.

$300 at Amazon

$300 at The Home Depot

The NewAir Nugget Ice Maker is an option for those who want nugget ice, but want a lower-price ice maker or don’t have the counter space for the Opal or Hicozy models. The ice it produces is similar to the Hicozy’s, but it’s less than half the size of the Opal and has nearly the same hourly output. However, this was by far the noisiest machine we tested, with a loud fan that runs almost constantly, which it obviously needs because it also gets pretty hot.

The NewAir Clear Ice Maker, we are told by a NewAir representative, is identical to the Luma Comfort Countertop Clear Ice Maker, which has been highly rated online. This machine is also internally identical to our best overall choice, but it has no timer and, while you can adjust the thickness of the cubelets, the one-button control system makes the selection process more confusing and less precise.

As far as bullet ice makers go, the Costway 44 lbs. Portable Ice Maker is a solid machine. In testing, it produced the most bullet-shaped ice per hour, and it has a unique look to it, though it is on the larger side. In overnight testing, this machine was the most likely to experience sensor issues—thinking that the basin was full when it wasn’t—but it also makes the largest, most uniform pieces.

The Magic Chef 27 lbs. Portable Countertop Ice Maker is a perfect middle-of-the-road, widely available ice machine that performs as consistently well as other bullet machines, including the Igloo. It only lags behind slightly in hourly output and takes up slightly more counter space than the Igloo.

The Frigidaire 26 lbs. Freestanding Ice Maker has the fewest redeeming features of any of the models we tested. It is on the louder side and, despite not being the smallest unit, it somehow had the lowest hourly output of any of the non-craft ice machines we tested.

Outside of Klaris, there are a few other companies looking to bring automatic craft ice makers to homes in the future, including Wintersmiths and Iceegg, which are both pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding on crowdfunding sites. The Wintersmiths machine is claimed to be able to create perfectly clear ice in three different shapes: 1.25-inch cubes, 2-inch cubes and 2.5-inch spheres. The Iceegg model is less focused on clarity and more on speed, with an estimated 50 minutes per two 2.15-inch spheres. We can’t vouch for the quality of these products—or even if they’ll ever really ship—but if you’re interested in clear ice, they might be worth keeping an eye on.

I’ve worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years with experience reviewing lifestyle products and services including fitness equipment, skin care, personal tech and more. I am also a longtime mixology hobbyist with a passion for developing unique drink recipes at home and hosting cocktail parties. I’ve played with different methods of making, crushing and blending ice in pursuit of the perfect level of dilution and presentation that brings a cocktail experience to fruition.

For additional insights into the different forms and uses of machine-made ice, I talked with bartenders, scientists and other ice experts during my research. GN Chan, co-founder of the top-rated Double Chicken Please in New York City, and Martin Cate, owner of San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove and author of an acclaimed book by the same name, provided the mixologist’s look at how ice should be used in the making and presentation of great cocktails. Author and ice expert Camper English offered insights on how the formation and clarity of ice can affect water, soda and mixed drinks, while ice historian and author Amy Brady gave a big-picture perspective on ice in the home and its impact on the environment. On the chemistry and biophysics of ice, I consulted Pia M. Sörensen, Ph.D., senior preceptor in chemical engineering and applied materials at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Being a home bartender, an iced coffee lover, a seltzer drinker or a habitual ice chewer will have the greatest sway in deciding the kind of ice you want at home. But day-to-day use, convenience and, of course, volume of ice produced are important factors in deciding which machine is worthy of your precious counter space.

To achieve the fairest results, we kept the testing area at 72 degrees Fahrenheit, placed the machines on a counter at an equal distance from the air conditioner and used water from the same source kept at the same temperature when filling each machine. We ran the machines for an hour before starting to measure and test, as the first batch of ice is rarely the best, then assessed the ice produced over the following hours. For machines with multiple cube sizes, we performed the same tests on different settings, and we ran all the machines for several days on end, following instructions on replacing water. We used a decibel recording app to measure noise levels, and made sure to play with each setting available to evaluate how simple it was to make different selections.