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Large Ice Cream Makers

Published May 2015

How we tested

Large ice cream makers can produce a gallon or more in a single batch, handy for large gatherings. We purchased five models ($33.99 to $269.50) that make 4- or 6-quart batches and tested them by churning vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet.

The results were mixed—and generally less impressive than frozen desserts we’ve made in our favorite smaller-capacity ice cream makers. While the ice creams ranged from appealingly dense and smooth to moderately icy, every batch of raspberry sorbet was unacceptably grainy. The problem boiled down to how quickly the machines could freeze their contents: To achieve smooth, dense texture, an ice cream maker must freeze the base as quickly as possible to minimize the formation of large ice crystals (which we perceive as grainy or icy). But because these large-capacity machines have more base to freeze, it took them longer, and most of the resulting ice creams and sorbets developed relatively large ice crystals and felt grainy. (The dairy fat, egg yolks, and corn syrup in our vanilla ice cream recipe helped prevent the formation of large ice crystals somewhat.)

Also of note was the work required to operate these machines, which might be a fun project or a fussy mess depending on how much time and space you have to accommodate them. Though motorized, large ice cream makers cool the base the old-fashioned way—you pour a mixture of ice and rock salt around the metal canisters that hold the base, which are set in large wooden or plastic buckets. The attached motor spins the canister through the salted ice (rock salt, which can be purchased at most hardware stores, lowers the freezing temperature of the ice to keep it colder), but these machines require babysitting. In addition to refilling the ice and salt one to three times during churning to replace the melted ice, we occasionally needed to unlatch the motor to lift the opaque lids and check the ice creams’ consistencies. The canisters also sometimes became caught on chunks of ice and stalled. Churning frozen desserts in smaller ice cream makers is more hands-off because these appliances are either self-refrigerating or have a double-walled canister that contains coolant and gets chilled in the freezer prior to churning.

What’s more, churned ice cream and sorbet must typically spend a few hours in the freezer to firm up—but unless you have a large freezer, the tall (up to 14 inches) canisters might not fit. (Some manufacturers claimed that the buckets could be repacked with more ice and covered with a towel to freeze, but this technique was ineffective.) They were also considerably louder than most small ice cream makers, and some models leaked salty water—clearly, they are not meant for indoor use.

In fact, the machine that produced the best ice cream was also the loudest, priciest, and bulkiest. But for a hands-on dessert at an outdoor party, we’re willing to accept these inconveniences. If you prefer a small, quiet, indoor machine, you’re better off buying our favorite small model, a self-refrigerating unit that’s not only capable of making continuous 2-quart batches—simply transfer the churned ice cream to a separate container and refill the canister with more base—but produces rich, dense ice cream and smooth sorbet that’s hard enough to eat right away. For more modest budgets, our Best Buy churns a 1.5-quart batch using a canister that you prechill in the freezer; to make multiple batches, extra canisters cost $19.99.

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The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.