In this guide we will review the different types of commercial gelato or ice cream makers to use in the freezing-churning step; in this phase the mixture is quickly cooled down to about -7°C (19°F) while it is kept in motion, so that small air bubbles are incorporated in gelato, essential for the right consistency.

Gelato vs ice cream

Let's start the review with the differences between Italian gelato and ice cream:

  • gelato is a fresh and artisanal product, produced in small quantities, while ice cream is an industrial product; the latter is produced with continuous production machines, and stored at very low temperatures for long periods;
  • in gelato there is a lower quantity of fats and sugars; also the quality of the ingredients used is usually better in gelato;
  • the increase in volume obtained by incorporating air in the freezing-churning phase (overrun) is around 25-35% for gelato, while for ice cream it can even reach 100%.

The good new is that if you use a balanced recipe, with a correct quantity of fats and sugars (you can read my article on how to balance your own gelato recipe for details) and if you choose best ingredients, you can prepare just gelato at home.
So for home production using ice cream maker or gelato maker, is the same.
But the gelato machine are not all the same.

For a good gelato, the right amount of incorporated air is needed (this factor is also dependent on the type of mix prepared).
The time required for preparation is also important: the faster this phase, the smaller the ice crystals that are formed; smaller crystals are less cold on the tongue and therefore the flavors are more enhanced.

There are mainly two types of gelato maker: the former uses bowls which must be refrigerated for at least 24 hours before using; the latter produces by itself the cold that is used to make the gelato.
Let's see both of them in details.

de longhi gelato maker
De Longhi gelato maker


Gelato makers with freezed bowl

The first type of gelato machine consists of an engine that moves the scraping blades inside the bowl that has been refrigerated.
It is a very simple machine, which can easily be found at a fairly low price.
A commercial example of this kind of gelato maker is Cuisinart ICE-30BC or De Longhi IC8500.
These are machines with very simple technology, so they are less likely to have major breakdowns.
Usually in my classes I use this kind of gelato maker and if used correctly a good gelato can be prepared.
For proper functioning, the bowl must be able to provide the right amount of cold: if it has not been frozen at the right temperature for enough time or if you put too much or too little mixture, the gelato will not have the right consistency. Or you will not have gelato at all.
Also remember to pour the mixture when the blades are already moving, otherwise it could freeze immediately on the walls of the bowl.
When the gelato is ready, if you want to prepare more, you cannot reuse the same bowl, this must be washed and refrozen.
But you could equip yourself with an additional bowl (usually found on sale); so your gelato maker starts using some space in the freezer.

Gelato makers with built-in freezing system

These are more professional gelato machine that are able to produce by itself the right quantity of cold that is required.
In fact, in addition to the motor that drives the scraping blades, a built-in compressor freezer is present.
Of course these kind of gelato makers are more expensive and also the power consumption is higher; a commercial example of these gelato machine is Lello 4080 Musso Lussino or Whynter ICM-15LS.
Because a pre-frozen bowl is not required, when the gelato is ready you can start immediately with another batch.

lello 4080 musso Lussino and Whynter gelato maker
Lello 4080 Musso Lussino and Whynter gelato maker

Other kind of gelato makers

In addition to the two types of gelato maker mentioned above, you can find old fashion machines like White Mountain or Nostalgia that work using eutectic mixtures.
In these gelato makers the cold is provided by an eutectic mix with ice and rock salt: using the right quantity of salt (23% on the total amount of ice an salt) the temperature go down to -20°C (-4°F).
So there is just the motor to keep the mixture moving and in some models not even this one is needed if you use your arms.
A singular variant of these gelato makers is the ice cream ball; in this one is not present any kind of motor: just pour your gelato mixture, then the eutectic mix and play with the ball! Nice for kids.


ice cream ball and white mountain gelato maker
Ice cream ball and White Mountain gelato maker

Can I make gelato without a machine?

On internet you can find tutorials on how to make gelato without any machine.
The procedure is simple: prepare your mix stirring vigorously with the blender, then pour in a bowl and store in freezer; after 1 hour, stir again and put back in the freezer. Repeat 3-4 times and your dessert will be ready.
Don't do it!
If you carefully read my article you should remember that for a good gelato the mix has to be frozen quickly under stirring; in this way small ice crystal are obtained. So this procedure is not the right way to prepare your gelato.
But there is another way to prepare gelato without any machine: using something very cold like liquid nitrogen or dry ice, you can prepare gelato in 1 minute.
Both are really cold: -196°C (-321°F) for liquid nitrogen, - 78°C (-108°F) for dry ice. So you can quickly freeze your mix using them.
Probably to use liquid nitrogen you need a special licence, but dry ice can be easily found.
Anyway you have to manage carefully because also dry ice could be very dangerous.
In a following article I will explain how to prepare gelato with nitrogen or dry ice.

After reading this review you are ready to choose how to prepare gelato.
But remember that whatever the way you want to use, a good recipe and best ingredients are needed!

gelato made with liquid nitrogen
photo courtesy of Jill Lebbin