Most of us have ice makers in our freezers, or at least a few trays that suffice for most occasions, but for those of us who don't or spend a lot of time on boats or RVs, constantly buying and storing ice isn't only a nuisance. With a 7-pound bag of ice running about $3, it can get expensive.
With small countertop ice machines running in the $100 range, a cost-benefit analysis isn't a half-bad idea. My freezer, for one, is far too small (and full) to dedicate space to a few ice trays that don't even add up to enough ice when it comes time to need it anyhow. But there are several different types of ice makers:
It's worth pointing out that countertop ice makers are all about the same, and often come from the same manufacturer, regardless of the brand. They've all got the same guts, the same design, and they all make the same ice, more or less. They're rudimentary machines, and you probably can't go wrong.
Standalone, commonly referred to as "commercial" ice makers, are the biggest and best ones you can get. They're pricey, but they last with a bit of servicing, and they're what hotels, restaurants, and bars rely on for a reason.
Full-size standalone ice makers are a bit much for most private uses. For the home, an "under-counter" version like this from GE will offer the same quality at about half the size, tucking under your countertop. It's still spendy, but it's worth the initial investment with an ice machine, where cheaping out can often be a lot more costly in the end (think poor drainage, mold, and having to replace your kitchen floor). If your budget is limited, either buy a simpler countertop machine or stick with ice trays or buying ice for the time being.
We don't have the time or space to test many ice machines at Business Insider, but below you'll find the results of hours of online research, and some degree of testing.
For most people, a countertop ice machine like Frigidaire's EFIC108 will do the trick without taking up too much counter space. And for whatever reason, almost all countertop ice makers are made by the exact same manufacturer (the Frigidaire and our stowable pick, the Vremi, included).
The only differences are the interface, the shape, and the fact that Frigidaire's model has the ability to make two different sizes of cubes. It is also, on average, a few minutes faster than the Vremi (probably only when making smaller ice), but all in all, it's the same deal, and it makes the same 26 pounds of ice in 24 hours. If you look into the machine, the parts are also identical.
All over the web, the Frigidaire is a top choice, or at least praised: Wirecutter and The Spruce Eats both love it. We reached out to the brand to try to test it ourselves, but a representative reported that they did not have any available for review. Without getting our hands on it, the best we can do is acknowledge that it's the very same machine as the Vremi (which we did test), and that it's beloved by several other reputable recommendation sites.
The one thing we don't like about it is its shape. When it comes time to store and hide the Frigidaire EFIC108 Compact Ice Maker, it doesn't stack, or fit into a closet full of square and rectangular boxes and bins all that well. That may or may not be a problem for you, but in our small cottage, it is a major consideration. If it is for you, too, consider the Vremi below.
If you've ever spent extended time on a boat, in a camper van, or in a small off-the-grid cabin, chances are that you quickly came to realize that ice becomes a hot commodity.
It's a pretty simple little thing. Plug it in, load it with water (tap or bottled), and keep an ear out for when it beeps, which means the ice tray is full (every nine minutes) or it's time to add more water. This isn't an around-the-clock machine; you'll have to tend to it, but it produces very solid thimble-shaped ice cubes, which, I might add, have a very nice feel about them, especially in a drink.
Measuring 12 inches long, 9.5 inches wide, and 13.5 inches high, and weighing 23.6 pounds, the Vremi Ice Maker is relatively compact. You might not fit it in a tiny camper or smaller sailboat, but otherwise, it's not unreasonable to have in most places or situations, and making 26 pounds of ice within a 24-hour period certainly makes it worth its weight. Granted, it only holds 2.2 liters (.58 gallons) of water at a time, and you probably don't want to stand there and keep feeding it water every 30 to 45 minutes.
Every nine minutes, the machine will beep, and you'll hear some ice tumbling into the tray. That might get annoying, but it's not like you'll be running this thing day and night. Stick it in a closet if you must.
The 120 watts of power with a cooling fan keeps the Vremi Ice Maker pretty quiet, though, and there's plenty to be said for that. While the brand suggests not leaving ice in the 1.5-pound-capacity tray for too long, I've found it holds up relatively well if you happen to forget about it. And again, what does melt just gets recycled back into fresh ice, which is pretty cool (though admittedly, most of the small countertop ice makers on the market do this). Read our full review of the Vremi Countertop Ice Maker.
Cons: You have to refill the water reservoir pretty regularly, so it's not something you can set overnight (but that's not exactly the point of it, anyway)
Most of us don't need a huge freestanding ice machine. They're big, noisy, and probably make more ice than any of us really need in the first place. Something small and stowable that can either augment what we have going in our freezers or make up for not having one at all without going overboard is all we need.
The NewAir Portable Ice Maker produces three different sizes of ice, generating 12 bullet-shaped cubes every 13 minutes (and a little less for smaller sizes), and has a maximum output of 50 pounds of ice per day. Chances are that you won't find yourself having to dash out to the store for backup ice, even when you're hosting guests.
There's also a self-cleaning mechanism, which probably pays off some, and an 18-hour timer, which you may or may not use, but it's nice to know it's there.
We weren't able to test this machine, but it's the editors' top pick over at the Spruce Eats, and if it runs as well as the Vremi Ice Machine we tested, we're confident it's worth the buy due to the size, production, self-cleaning function, and three cube sizes it offers.
One thing we'll say of all of these countertop machines is that it's a good idea to remove ice and stick it in a bag in your freezer as soon as possible, which helps keep it from melting while it's sitting in the tray as many of these machines (this one included) are not refrigerated.
At 16.88 inches wide, 14.25 inches deep, and 16.75 inches high, this a much larger machine than the Vremi, and it weighs 37.6 pounds, which is 14 pounds heavier than the Vremi — certainly a consideration. Make sure you've got the space for this thing, first and foremost, lest it end up being one more large appliance clogging up your garage or pantry.
Amazon reviewers are satisfied by and large, though there's a good number (200-plus) of them that aren't. It's hard to gauge what's user error, and it sounds like customer service hasn't been all that great (again, judging by those reviews), but if anything goes wrong, at least Amazon has your back.
Pros: Produces a lot of ice for its size, produces three sizes of ice, has a self-cleaning mechanism
You can spend thousands on bigger, ostensibly better machines, but how many margaritas are you really making, Jimmy Buffett? Don't worry, we have a pick for you.
But for those of us waiting until it's 5 o'clock right where they are, FirstBuild's Opal Countertop Nugget Ice Maker will more than make do.
Putting out a pound of chewable little clumps of ice per hour and housing around three until it's full, you'll be able to take care of you and yours any given night (or day) you see fit.
Nugget ice, by the way, isn't just for boozy frozen concoctions: It'll make smoothies without diluting them with too much water (such as regular crescent ice would). Of course, it's really, really great for cocktails for the very same reason.
This higher-priced ice maker comes with other perks: a corresponding app (which you can download on your smartphone) that lets you set a schedule so that there's always plenty of ice whenever you want it, a refrigerated storage bin, and a sensor that automatically makes more ice as it gets low, or drains (refrigerated or not, the ice is bound to melt some no matter what).
The FirstBuild Opal isn't exactly small (10.5 inches wide, 15.5 inches deep, 17.2 inches high), but it is squarely shaped (like the Vremi, our top pick for most people), which pays off in dividends if you don't want this thing living on your kitchen counter 24/7.
Manitowac 26-inch Air-Cooled Undercounter Dice Cube Ice Machine is the big kahuna of home ice machines, bordering on commercial ones. Yes, it's almost $2,000, but if what you want is high output and little risk (ice machines can be notoriously troublesome), that's probably about what you have to spend.
Bigger ice machines like these require water hookups, which gets you into a whole other set of complications. The best thing to do with a machine like this (which is also much louder, mind you) is to put it outside, or in your garage, or somewhere that it can freely drain so that you don't have to worry about it doing so on your beautiful hardwood floors (don't dare keep something like this on a carpet unless you're looking for an excuse to tear it up).
The Manitowac 26-inch ice machine comes in three sizes based on their output: 135 pounds ($1,873), 198 pounds ($1,988), and 290 pounds ($2,674). If you spend a lot of time outdoors, or on road trips with coolers and are regularly dependent upon ice, this isn't the wildly unnecessary investment you might think it is.
I, for one, dream of the day I can own one: I'm not sure how much money I spend on ice each year, but I'm aware that I generally buy about four to six large bags each weekend to make sure my catch is cold, and that adds up to something like $12 to $18 a weekend. That's at least $144 over the course of four months of summer here in the northeastern United States, and that's not counting incidentals, or when I take time to head out into the field. You could probably safely double that cost. Provided a machine lasts about 10 years and accounting for the convenience of having it right at home, it'd pay for itself.
Of course, this machine isn't for everyone, but if you're anything like me, you probably wouldn't regret getting one unless you were forced to keep it in your bedroom, or outside your bedroom window. Some Amazon reviews suggest that these are loud machines, and they're probably not wrong. If you've ever stayed in a Holiday Inn, you've probably experienced their likes.
The Hull Truth, which is among, if not the definitive boat owner's forum, largely lavishes it with praise.
As a side note, if all you want is ice for drinks (lots and lots and lots of drinks), check out the GE 15-inch Built-In Freestanding Stainless Steel Ice Maker. It can either be installed or used as a freestanding piece, and if you really need a lot of ice specifically for drinks, this is probably your pick.
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