Whether you're deciding to open an ice cream shop or adding ice cream to your menu to boost profits, our selection of commercial ice cream machines ensures there's a perfect fit for your unique business. This guide will go over the types of ice cream machines and how to choose the right one based on size, style, and special features. Be sure to check out our ice cream maker reviews as well!
The difference between soft serve and hard ice cream essentially lies in their milk fat percentage, overrun percentage, holding temperature, and the type of machine used to make them.
Soft serve ice cream machines and batch freezers are the two main types of ice cream makers. Which one you will need for your business will depend on the type of frozen dessert you're looking to serve.
Soft serve ice cream machines freeze liquid ice cream mix under agitation and then dispense directly from the machine into a cone or cup.
Batch freezers allow you to produce a batch of one type of frozen dessert, like hard ice cream, by whipping and freezing the liquid mix into a creamy, smooth texture.
There are two types of feed systems for soft serve machines: gravity-fed and pressure-fed. These functions denote how the liquid mix is fed from the hopper into the freezing cylinder of your machine.
Gravity-fed machines rely on gravity to feed mix into the freezing cylinder with a fixed air ratio. Because there is less ice cream overrun with gravity-fed soft serve machines, the ice cream is more dense and flavorful than ice cream made with a pressure-fed soft serve machine.
Pressure-fed, or pump-fed, machines have a pump in the hopper that feeds the mix into the freezing cylinder, which allows operators to control the amount of air that is added to the mix. Because there is more ice cream overrun with pressure-fed soft serve machines, the ice cream is more soft and creamy than ice cream made with a gravity-fed soft serve machine.
There are three types of batch freezer styles: horizontal, vertical, and multi-functional. Which unit will work best in your kitchen will mostly depend on what type of products you're looking to make.
Horizontal batch freezers: Best for high volume use. Allows the operator to scoop out the batch into a pan to be transferred to a freezer.
Vertical batch freezers: Dispense frozen product vertically and allows the operator to add any mix-ins during production.
Multi-functional batch freezers: Heats, mixes, cools, and freezes in a single versatile unit to make other foods in addition frozen desserts, such as mousses, pastry creams, and jellies.
When purchasing an ice cream maker, there are many factors to consider beyond what type of ice cream you'd like to serve, including machine output and style.
Getting a unit that can handle the volume output that your establishment demands is the most important factor to consider in the buying process. Typically, volume capacities of machines will be measured in either quarts per hour, servings per hour, or servings per minute (for a more precise assessment). For a low volume machine, each hopper can produce up to 50 servings per hour, and for a high volume machine, each hopper can produce over 100 servings per hour.
Ice cream machines come in either countertop or free-standing units, which are also known as floor units. As their names indicate, countertop machines are meant to sit neatly on a countertop, while floor models are larger and designed to stand on floors.
The production style is essentially how your machine freezes and dispenses the ice cream. The production style is a determining factor in the total volume capacity of the machine, so you will need to figure out how much finished product you aim to serve before choosing your unit's production style.
Soft serve machines come with either one hopper, which limits you to make only one flavor at a time, or two hoppers, which allows you to make two flavors at a time. The number of hoppers usually correlates to the number of dispensers a unit has, but some machines include a flavor twist feature that combines the two flavors by twisting them together as they are dispensed.
Ice cream machines have two possible condensing unit types: air-cooled and water-cooled. Your machine will produce plenty of heat under heavy operation, so make sure you understand how your machine keeps itself cool.
Air-cooled units draw in air to cool the condensing unit in order to cool down the ice cream machine so it can produce frozen desserts.
Water-cooled units cool the refrigeration components with water instead of air. They require a water line connection in order to operate.
Many machines come equipped with a variety of additional features to improve the quality of your hard and soft serve ice cream and make the production process even easier.
Available as an option on some high-end models, a hopper agitator slowly stirs the product in the hopper to improve product consistency and prevent product separation. The product must still be mixed prior to pouring into the hopper, but the agitator eliminates the need to manually stir the product over the course of the day.
A pasteurizer within a batch freezer is important to have for making house-made ice cream to ensure the mix reaches a temperature that kills any harmful bacteria and is safe to eat. Many batch freezers feature a 2-in-1, where the mix is heated and pasteurized in one cylinder and then frozen in another.
An air pump injects air into the ice cream during dispensing to increase overrun. In addition to creating a lighter, creamier product, the air pump allows you to use less ice cream mix while serving more cones to save on costs.
Overrun is the percentage of air that is introduced to the ice cream during the freezing process, which will then cause the ice cream to expand. For example, if 1 gallon of ice cream has a 50% overrun, it means that the ice cream expanded 50% and you will yield 1.5 gallons of finished product.
Americans consume 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream each year, with the average American eating approximately 23 gallons per year. Ice cream machines can generate a large profit margin thanks to their relatively low cost of operation. Enter your estimates in each field of our Ice Cream Profit Calculator and see how much money you can make over the course of one year.