Food & Drink

The DOs and DON'Ts of Making Clear Ice at Home

Michael Lazar knows how important good ice is—and how difficult it can be to make at home. Lazar is a bartender at San Francisco bar Hard Water, where ice is second only to whiskey.

Professional bartenders like Lazar have an advantage over home bartenders when it comes to ice. For example, they have the resources and tools to source and carve their own enormous blocks of crystal-clear ice. It might seem extreme, but it really comes down to practicality: “Clear ice is great because it’s dense, and that means that it melts slowly,” Lazar says.

Since most home bartenders don’t have the budget or the space for a 300-pound block of ice, they are forced to find ways of manufacturing clear ice themselves—and it’s not easy. Writer and ice aficionado Camper English has performed dozens of experiments to try to get perfectly clear cubes at home. His famous directional freezing technique (aka the cooler ice hack) is a great method if you have plenty of space in a deep freeze to spare, but it’s just not practical for most home drinkers.

To make the process more user-friendly, Lazar let us in on a few dos and don’ts of how to get the best possible ice from your Frigidaire.

DON’T Bother With Distilled Water

“The thing I try to impress upon people the most is about gas,” says Lazar. “That’s what causes the ice to be cloudy. There’s no reason to buy distilled water and there’s no reason to boil it. None that stuff is going to matter. As soon as the water starts to cool, it starts to absorb gas again.”

Of course, if you don’t like the taste of the tap water in your home, go ahead and use bottled water—but there’s no scientific reason to snub your faucet.

DO Study Your Freezer Geometry

Where you place your ice cube trays will help determine how evenly and how quickly they freeze. “The best solution at home would be to dedicate your freezer to making ice and not have any frozen food in it,” says Lazar, who puts his ice try on a shelf in the middle of an empty freezer.

But even if you do have frozen foods impeding your ice-making, Lazar says you can still get good, clear ice by placing the tray where it gets a consistent stream of cold air on all sides. In other words, don’t put it on top of frozen food, which will make it freeze faster on one side.

DON’T Rush Your Ice

The quest for clear ice at home is often stymied by one big factor: It freezes too fast.

“In your home freezer you have these little ice cubes which are really small in volume, and your freezer is very, very cold,” says Lazar. “Some people think they’re waiting an eternity to get an ice cube, but actually it’s relatively quick. What happens is the air gets trapped inside the ice and makes it cloudy.”

For the perfect cocktail ice conditions, he recommends setting the temperature of your freezer warmer than normal so it’s just past freezing. That will slow the freezing process down and allow gas to escape before becoming trapped in the cube.

DO Buy the Right Ice Cube Tray

At home, Lazar eschews the moon-shaped ice cube trays, as well as the usual plastic ice cube trays. Instead, he uses silicone trays from Tovolo ($15 for two) in the size “perfect.”

“You get more cubes and they’re almost perfectly clear when they come out,” he says. “My suspicion is that the silicone rubber actually slows the freezing process down a fair bit, and that works in your favor.”

Of course, Lazar notes, if all else fails, you can always get in touch with your local ice house. The standard 300-pound block goes for less than $100; better start clearing out your freezer.