Why do you need to know how to buy an ice cream maker? Because knowing that means you can create ice creams, sorbets, sherbets and frozen yogurts and drinks good enough to...
... all in about 30 minutes.
All ice cream makers work by churning and freezing a mixture of ice cream ingredients, or base, that you prepare and pour into the bowl or bucket of the unit.
Any base recipe can be used in any machine, so a Cuisinart ice cream maker recipe is a White Mountain ice cream maker recipe, etc.; "by recipe" is not how to buy an ice cream maker.
"Freezing" mechanisms are at the heart of the question. Review the types and decide just what you can and can't live without:
There are 3 basic kinds of ice cream makers, that is, 3 means of freezing your ice cream mixture.
Ice and rock salt: Packed around the bowl or bucket of the ice cream maker, it keeps the temperature below freezing.
Freezer bowl(s): Most popular, these space age wonders are metal bowls, or canisters, that house a special liquid freezing solution between insulated walls. You place the bowl in your freezer several hours before making your homemade ice cream, and it maintains the freezing temperature while the mixture is churning. Most sport a 1 1/2 quart capacity, some more, some less.
Self-contained compressor freezer: Just like it sounds, these professional type units contain their own freezer system; just pour your ice cream base into the bowl and turn it on.
Look for these "convenience" features when shopping for an ice cream maker:
The serious ice cream maker could spend thousands on a serious ice cream maker. The most popular names in ice cream makers, though, carry the more reasonably priced models, and they are Cuisinart, Rival/White Mountain, KitchenAid, Lello and Krups.
Rival/White Mountain: There are many reports of older White Mountain machines lasting 30 years or more. The rave ice cream maker reviews of newer Rival/White Mountain models, however, are liberally seasoned with tales of breakage, leaks, metal filings in the ice cream, bursting freezer bowls, and poor customer support, especially their hand-crank models. They offer 1-year warranties.
Most of their machines are ice-and-rock-salt-type models, both
electric and hand-crank, with few freezer-bowl models. Prices range
widely from about $30-270 for electric models. At $130-180, their
hand-crank ice cream makers are pricey. That price and the stainless
steel parts are earmarks of a much better machine than owner reviews
indicate; maybe they just had a bad batch, no pun intended. Well, maybe
just a little pun.
Cuisinart gets consistently creamy ice cream maker reviews by their customers and they offer one of the longest warranties in the industry, 3 years. They are very reasonably priced machines, t' boot.
Their freezer bowl type machines range from $30-$80, and their "Supreme" self-freezing model costs about $240. All are multi-speed machines, a good indicator.
KitchenAid makes a freezer-bowl type attachment for their stand mixers, making them naturally powerful and multi-speed ice cream makers, for about $80. Customers love not having to purchase yet another appliance to make homemade ice cream.
Krups is disappearing.
Everywhere I look online Krups ice cream makers are either "not
available" or "discontinued by the manufacturer." With a few so-so owner
reviews anyway, I'll hold off my own review until we know if they're
revamping, getting out of the game, or so good that stores can't keep
enough in stock.
Lello The Italian-made Lello ice cream makers are the only ones described as "quiet." All others are noisy. Their "Gelato" models, compressor freezer units, are priced from $160-$200 for the 1-quart capacity model, and twice that for their 2-quart capacity model.
These are multi-speed units boasting step-up features like a
timer, auto safety shut-off, and removable bowl for easy cleaning. The
only murmurs against Lello are for a poorly written instruction booklet
and a smallish ingredient spout. They come with only a 1-year warranty,
too, but no one seems to mind. Owners love their Lellos; they get
consistently good reviews, not just for the machines, but for the
outstanding quality of the ice cream they produce.
Every ice cream maker is capable of producing excellent ice cream. But you'll give yourself an "ice cream headache" unnecessarily if you expect more from your ice cream maker than it was designed to do or if you don't follow instructions. For instance, most machines produce only soft-serve ice cream; if you want harder ice cream, put it in the freezer for a few hours. Also, if your freezer bowl isn't thoroughly frozen (no liquid sound when you shake it) it won't even make soft-serve. Check your freezer temperature.
No one ice cream maker has it all. The one with the long warranty is noisy. The quiet one comes with a sub-instruction book. The one with the large capacity has an iffy reputation, etc.
The bottom line of how to buy an ice cream maker is this: Buy an ice cream maker based on the manufacturer's reputation first, then factor in freezer type, features, capacity, etc., like this:
Everyone should experience that remember-it-forever first taste of homemade ice cream, without the headaches.