If you know, you know. Nugget ice just hits different. Nugget ice is small, compact but airy, and ideal for drinks and cocktails.
And if you don’t know, let me tell you – nugget ice is that hallmark of fast food chains like Sonic, the perfect cube floating in the perfect cup of soda (or iced coffee, or sparkling water).
But did you know that you can make nugget ice at home in your very own countertop nugget ice maker? Countertop nugget ice makers are awesome, though variable. Some produce loads of ice, others are portable, others pride themselves on their relative silence.
Here are the six absolute best nugget and crushed ice makers on the market.
The GE Opal nugget ice maker is a best in class item when it comes to portable ice makers, as the 4.5 star rating out of nearly 13,000 reviews on Amazon can attest. If you read nothing more than the opening lines of this review, let this one testament sink in: the Opal may be pricey, but it’s worth it.
The basic criteria for evaluating any at home ice maker is basically the same. There are three basic questions to consider, which fall into the following categories:
- Efficiency – How much ice can it make and how quickly?
- Cost – How much does it cost?
- Imperfections – What are the downsides? Does it leak?
The GE Opal demolishes the competition in two of these three categories – it makes ice with maximum efficiency and with nearly no downsides. It doesn’t really leak, and the Opal barely even makes noise. Yes, that cost thing is an issue, but again, we think it’s worth it.
The GE Opal makes ice in just about 20 minutes, and can produce up to 24 pounds of ice per day. It comes with an optional side tank for water, and requires no water hookup. That means that “installing” the unit is simply a matter of unboxing the GE Opal, popping it on the counter and plugging it in.
The GE Opal has built-in Bluetooth and if you want to get real fancy, you can use the smartphone app to control ice production from your mobile device. The machine doesn’t require smartphone connectivity though, it’s just a nice option. Operating this machine either manually or through the app is super easy.
On the downside, the machine can get temperamental if you use regular tap water, and this has to do with mineral build up. The best work around for this issue is using distilled water or an appropriate filter on your tap.
If you do find yourself with a temperamental machine, you can simply run the cleaning cycle a few times and presto, good as new.
And lastly, as far as noise goes, the GE Opal is pretty quiet, especially when compared to other, louder ice makers on the market. No nugget ice maker is completely silent, but as far as relative decimals go, the GE Opal is as quiet as they come.
There’s a lot to like about this nugget ice maker from RaySonics. It’s fast and efficient, and at least on paper, it even stacks up quite nicely to the GE Opal. With the added benefit of a reasonable price, this RaySonics nugget ice maker is an excellent runner up.
First of all, if we were to simply compare the numbers, the RaySonics ice maker actually beats out the GE Opal. It makes ice in about 18 minutes as compared to the Opal’s 20, and can make up to 26 pounds of ice per day as compared to the Opal’s 24. This is unprecedented ice making speed.
This machine is also efficient. The RaySonics automatically halts ice production when the bin is full and then recycles melted ice to be re-frozen in the next cycle. The ice maker will continue doing this for as long as the machine is plugged in, guaranteeing a steady supply of ice.
This machine also has the benefit of an optional water hookup, which you can set up for hassle free operation. It’s not particularly difficult to do (you certainly won’t need to call a plumber) and the water hookup means you’ll never have to worry about keeping the tank full.
Unfortunately, the machine does cause a bit of noise, and this may factor into your decision whether or not to keep the ice maker running full time. That said, if you’d rather not go through the trouble of connecting a water line you certainly don’t have to, and can supply water manually.
The self-cleaning cycle is also a great feature, and should be run whenever you begin to see mineral build up on the machine. And a little tip – opt for distilled or filtered water for best results!
On the downside, the RaySonices machine is quite tall, which makes it a tight squeeze under most standard cabinets. It will fit (the machine is 17 inches and a standard cabinet height is about 18 inches above the counter), but without much wiggle room. With the control panel located toward the top of the machine, you’ll need every inch you can get, so I recommend measuring your space before purchase, just to be sure.
If you’re looking for a total beast of a machine that can produce up to 44 pounds of ice per day, yet still fit on your countertop, then the Frigidaire EFIC235 may be the nugget ice maker for you. This machine makes ice in just about 15 minutes, which is quite fast, though comparable with other models.
Speed is one thing, but the factor that truly differentiates this nugget ice maker from the pack is the sheer quantity of ice it can produce in a 24 hour period.
Frigidaire is obviously a trusted brand, known for making large kitchen appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers. Given the company’s experience in the kitchen space, it understood the assignment: identify the top features of a nugget ice maker and produce a comparable, quality item for an affordable price.
Some of those features that make the Frigidaire a great option are smart ice refills (automatically stops making ice when the bin is full, recycling water for the next cycle), and the fact that the machine doesn’t require a water hookup. For best results, my suggestion would be to use filtered or distilled water. This will prevent mineral build up and extend the life of your ice maker.
My biggest problem with this machine is the height. While it’s a nice size otherwise, it’s just slightly too tall (at 19 inches high) to fit comfortably under most regulation height cabinets.
It will fit, don’t get me wrong, since if your contractor did your cabinets correctly they should rise approximately 19.5 to 20 inches above the countertop. But that’s not leaving a whole lot of wiggle room.
Having said that, you can extract ice and operate the machine exclusively from the front, and only need access to the top for refills. So it is more than plausible to fit this machine snuggly under the cabinet, and perhaps even preferable for some.
Lastly, some people have found that the front ice drawer can drip water. While it’s likely that Frigidaire has remedied this problem already, it’s also possible to fix the problem yourself by placing your machine at a slight incline, or, by placing a tray under the machine.
The big advantage to the KBice nugget ice maker is that it self-dispenses ice nuggets directly to your glass, just as you get from refrigerator ice dispensers. That means no opening drawers, no scoops and no ice spills.
The next big advantage is that this ice maker is made with completely BPA-free plastic and stainless steel parts, and uses an environmentally friendly refrigerant. And it’s selling at a discount relative to historical prices, which might not last!
While the KBice takes a little bit longer to start producing ice (25 minutes, compared to 20, 18 or even 15 on other machines) it can still make quite a bit of ice within a 24 hour period, 30 pounds in fact.
To be honest, speed isn’t really isn’t a top factor when I consider nugget ice makers. Instead, I’m more interested in and thinking about efficiency, quality of ice, and design. And on each of those fronts, the KBice is fantastic.
The machine has a self-cleaning feature – which you’ll need to run less if you use filtered, or distilled water – and no water hookup required. This makes the KBice super convenient, no calls to the plumber or handyman necessary.
On the downside, there are a few things to consider, as there are with all small appliances. First, this machine requires distilled or purified water. This isn’t uncommon among small ice makers (or even humidifiers, when you think about it), since unfiltered water usually leaves mineral deposits on internal surfaces, negatively impacting the performance of your machine.
Second, the dispenser may need to be cleaned, or even defrosted upon occasion. Luckily, the self-cleaning feature is great for this, so you don’t have to be worried about taking anything apart. And lastly, the KBice machine is slightly noisy, at least compared to other machines. It’s not going to wake up the neighbors noisy, but it’s not completely silent either.
So given its size, this Manitowoc ice maker is obviously a bit of an outlier on this list. But I decided to include it because I think it’s the perfect nugget ice maker for small businesses and offices. That said, it’s definitely not your average countertop ice maker.
Falling somewhere between a countertop ice maker and those enormous commercial grade, hotel ice makers (though to be fair, coming in closer size wise to the countertop model), the Manitowoc is an absolute monster relative to size.
It comes in at just under three feet high (about 35 inches), two feet deep (24 inches) and just over a foot (16.5 inches) wide. And while the machine is advertised as a countertop model, it’s probably best suited for a small table next to the fridge.
Now onto the cool stuff. In terms of ice making potential, this machine blows all others in this category out of the water, making a dizzying 315 pounds of ice in a single 24 hour period. That’s more than enough for your work crew, even on a hot day.
The bin can store up to 10 pounds of ice at any given time, and the front has a convenient lever activated dispenser for both ice and water. As you might have guessed by now, the Manitowoc connects directly to a water line (like any ice dispensing refrigerator), and requires a separate drain as well.
The whole unit is still relatively compact, and the air-cooled, self-contained condenser is actually pretty quiet. Some have compared it to a quiet dishwasher, which isn’t too bad at all.
This Kooler Things self cleaning ice machine is a great entry level, portable ice maker. It’s relatively inexpensive, it’s compact and simple to operate, and it makes loads of ice.
Going through the stats, this machine is comparable to other countertop ice nugget ice makers on this list, producing ice in just under 10 minutes, and up to 26 pounds per day. Of course, that latter range is if you’re constantly removing ice from the machine, as otherwise it will simply stop producing ice until more space has been freed.
Although I can’t imagine why you’d need to move an ice maker around a lot, it is relatively portable, given the fact that there is no waterline hookup required. Simply fill the container with distilled water, plug in, and you’re golden.
The machine will also fit on most counters pretty easily, coming in at just 12 inches high and 9 inches wide. The Kooler Things ice maker also comes with a scooper and removable ice bucket, which aren’t particularly noteworthy but certainly aren’t bad.
One of my favorite features though, besides the self-clean function (which is at this point an omnipresent feature on most ice makers), is the ice cube size option. You can program the machine to produce small cubes (great for blending into margaritas) and large cubes, which are great on their own.
Overall, this is a fantastic machine. It’s not going to reach the performance level of a $500 ice maker, but for under $100 the Kooler Things ice maker is an absolute steal.
What is a nugget ice maker?
A nugget ice maker is an ice machine that specializes in the production of nugget ice, not to be confused with crushed ice. These machines produce nuggets by first freezing and then breaking larger cubes, resulting in a smaller, more airy and crunchier nugget ice cube.
Nugget ice makers come in all sizes and shapes, from countertop models to larger, stand alone units. Which ice maker is right for you will depend on your space, ice volume needs, and of course, budget.
What is nugget ice?
Nugget ice, also known as sonic ice, is a type of ice cube popularized by fast food brands like – you guessed it, Sonic – and made from larger ice cubes that have been crushed and refrozen into smaller, crunchier nuggets.
Nugget ice is great for sodas, sparkling water and cocktails, and while it produces a great crunch (excellent mouth feel, if I do say so myself) it also melts relatively quickly. This is because nugget ice is made from larger pieces of ice that have been flaked apart and fused back together.
Why is nugget ice so good?
Nugget ice is so good because it’s got a higher air to water ratio than traditional ice, making it easier to consume and gentler on the teeth. Made from larger ice cubes that have been crushed and re-bonded, nugget ice also has an incredibly soft texture.
In addition, the softer, airy texture of nugget ice is great for retaining flavor. Given the fact that the ice is less dense and full of air pockets, nugget ice more easily absorbs whatever liquid in which it might be sitting. That makes for some tasty ice.
Why are nugget ice makers so expensive?
Nugget ice makers are expensive because they are essentially doing two jobs in one – freezing water and crushing ice. While regular ice makers simply freeze water, nugget ice makers must take the additional steps of crushing that ice and then refreezing it to produce that classic, soft nugget ice texture.
Luckily, not all nugget ice makers are expensive. In fact, the Kooler Things ice maker listed above comes in at under $100!