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Everything You Need to Make Delicious Ice Cream at Home, According to Experts

We got the scoop from a handful of pros on the equipment, ingredients, tips, and tricks you'll need to easily make some custom pints yourself.

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Making ice cream at home is easier than you think. Sure, most flavors these days have swirls of sauce or multiple mix-ins and seem super complicated to make in your own kitchen, but as long as you have a little time to master a basic recipe (which, let’s face it, we all do), you can make ice cream at home that will rival your local scoop shop.

You will need to have some specialty equipment on hand, though, so I tapped six pro ice cream makers from across the country to get their take on the ice cream machines, tools, and ingredients you need to make top-notch ice cream at home.

ice cream makers
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Choose the right machine for you

There are essentially three types of ice cream machine. First, there are novelty options like ice cream balls that you roll around the house to churn and hand-crank machines that make you feel like you’re at an old-timey fair. On the other end of the spectrum, there are top-notch machines like this Breville Smart Scoop Compressor that has multiple temperature settings and will run you about $500.

Then right in the middle, there’s the machine that pretty much all of the experts I talked to recommend: Cuisinart’s entry-level machine, which comes with a bowl that you pop in the freezer before use. Tyler Malek, the co-founder of Salt and Straw, started his business making ice cream with a similar machine that he found at Goodwill, and other ice cream makers I spoke with said they still use this one when they develop flavors in small batches at home. It costs less than $100 and can make high quality ice cream that some said is just as delicious as what they make with all the bells and whistles in their test kitchen. The only downside is that you can only make one batch at a time, so if you’re serious about making ice cream in bulk, buy an extra freezer bowl or opt for Cusinart’s duo version that churns two bowls at once for just a few dollars more.

Make sure you have scoops, storage, and other tools

Once you have a good ice cream machine, you’re pretty much good to go. But there are a few things that will make your setup more legit. Sam Mason, the co-founder of Oddfellows ice cream shop with locations around New York City, recommends investing in a good immersion blender like this Braun version. “It’s great to have in your kitchen, period,” he said, but it’s especially helpful for seamlessly mixing in ingredients like chocolate to flavor your base. A good fine mesh strainer is also helpful to have on hand, he said, because you can use it to strain the base and make a really clean, more professional tasting ice cream.

Any scoop or spoon will do the trick when it’s time to eat. But Jeni Britton Bauer, the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, said there’s a super cheap tool that makes scraping ice cream out of the machine much easier. After more than 20 years of ice cream making, she found that a simple wooden crepe turner, like this $4 version from Sur La Table, will ensure you can get your ice cream out without scraping up your machine and ruining it in the process.

And finally, you’ll need to store your ice cream, so stock up on airtight containers. Most of the experts I spoke to use standard deli containers (you can get a full set for just $18) or you can make your ice cream operation a little more official by using paper pints, which are about the same price.

waffle cone makers
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Don’t forget about the cone

The scoops at Jeni’s are incredible, but getting a tiny triangle piece of their homemade waffle cones with every order makes it so much tastier. Luckily, Jeni herself said it’s pretty easy to recreate her famous cones at home with this recipe, and cooking up cones will make your house smell amazing, trust me. You’ll need a waffle iron and mold, but there are plenty of options out there for about $40. This one from Brentwood Appliances is currently on sale for $30 and comes with molds to make both classic cones and waffle bowls.

Track down high-quality ingredients

As with most other cooking methods, high-quality ingredients make a huge difference when you’re making ice cream. Luke Christianson, the co-founder of a new worldly ice cream delivery company called Marco Sweets & Spices, said dairy is a “key pillar” of ice cream so you should upgrade your milk and cream. “Cream is king. Try to buy whatever local small(er) batch cream you can because chances are it is higher in fat,” he said. Don’t overlook the other ingredients you use for flavor. You should upgrade those, too. Cristianson said using premium chocolate and vanilla is also important, and he likes Guittard for luscious chocolate and Nielsen Massey extract for rich vanilla.

ice cream cookbooks
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Use a pro recipe or play around

Once you have the right equipment and study up on the basics, you can make just about any flavor at home. And the best part is, you can’t go wrong. As Malek of Salt and Straw said, “the only rule is that it freezes into a scoop,” so be bold and stray away from plain old vanilla. This is where ice cream cookbooks come in handy. You can buy Malek’s Salt and Straw Ice Cream Cookbook and follow his recipe for sea salt with caramel ribbons or go crazy and try salted caramel Thanksgiving turkey (yes, it has real turkey skin brittle). Or use recipes from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home or The Perfect Scoop as a jumping off point to dream up your own creations by swapping out ingredients or mixing techniques.

Don’t shy away from savory toppings

If you do want wacky flavors but don’t want to spend the day making sauces or baking brownies to layer in, make a plain base and focus on toppings instead. Sam Mason said he’d prefer making a kick-ass vanilla or simple sorbet and then go crazy with toppings to elevate the at-home experience. “You gotta be a kid again when you’re deciding what to put on or in ice cream because nothing is outlandish,”he said. So think sorbet topped with basil, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with flaky sea salt (like Maldon). His shop is currently working on bodega-inspired flavors, so don’t be afraid to take inspiration from savory snacks you’d find at the store either.

Use what you have on hand

Natasha Case, the co-founder of Coolhaus, mixes up wild flavors like street cart churro dough and milkshake and fries for her brand. But when making ice cream at home, she said she turns to whatever is lining her fridge and pantry. “Making ice cream is actually a great way to utilize old groceries like fruit and herbs that are on their way out,” she said. Because older fruit has more sugar and less water, it’s the perfect way to achieve a sweeter strawberry base or intense raspberry swirls. So if you invested in a produce subscription box like Misfit Market, Hungry Harvest, or a local CSA to avoid grocery store trips over the past few months, pull out your ice cream machine when you’ve got more than you can handle.

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Liz Provencher is an editorial assistant at Thrillist. You can talk to her at lprovencher@thrillist.com, follow her on Twitter, or see the ice cream she makes on Instagram.