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How Sonic-Style Ice Nuggets Are Made

The Scotsman commercial ice maker was the start of people’s obsession with Sonic Drive-ins.

Customers streamed into Sonic drive-ins for that soft and crunchy ice that Sonic is so famous for.

Sonic Ice logo

America's love for Sonic-style ice has not diminished a bit over the years.

But today, you no longer have to buy a burger from Sonic, to get their delicious ice.

See the best Sonic nugget-style ice machines now.

Scotsman, the company that supplies Sonic with the ice machines responsible for their chewable ice, has sold a residential Sonic ice maker that you can set up in your own kitchen, for several years.  

Scotsman ice machines are very popular in the Southern US, where summers can be brutally hot. 

Following Scotsman's retail success, more ice maker brands today offer Sonic ice machines that produce nugget-style ice in the comfort of your home.

But have you ever wondered how these delicious ice pebbles are made?

And why are they so different from harder, traditional ice cubes?

The Right Machine For The Job

Ice-O-Matic Sonic ice maker

The first thing to understand: you cannot make Sonic nugget ice with just any ice maker.

Most home ice makers make bullet-shaped ice cubes, instead.

To make Sonic pellet ice in your house, you'll need a specialized Sonic ice maker.

Scotsman is one of the best known brands making Sonic ice makers. They offer a series of residential ice makers designed for making nugget-style ice at home.

Another popular brand is Ice-O-Matic, who makes an excellent under-counter nugget ice machine. 

Avalon Bay sonic ice maker easy to use

A portable Sonic ice maker

For more Sonic-style ice machine brands, see our comprehensive guide to Sonic nugget ice makers.

As you will see in our guide, we review both small portable sonic ice makers and larger under-counter and standalone ice machines.

However, if you want the exact same nugget ice they sell at Sonic, I highly recommend getting an under-counter or freestanding ice maker. You can't do nugget ice in your freezer, so ice maker will be perfect variant for you. There are a few types of ice makers. It can be compact(for small family party) and for commercial use.

A dedicated undercounter or built-in Sonic ice maker will cost you more, but the quality of the ice is better than a portable unit can produce.

Scottsman Brilliance Sonic ice maker

A standalone Sonic ice maker

Go for a portable model if you want softer ice that you can chew, but not necessarily Sonic-style ice.

Portable ice makers are also ideal if you want a machine you can use in your RV, boat or when camping.

Another important point: don’t try to make nugget ice in your freezer.  It won't work.

With traditional ice cubes, you can eschew an ice maker and make your own cubes in the freezer using a mold. It may be tedious and take longer but it’s possible.

With Sonic ice however, stick to the machines if you want the best quality ice. As you will soon see, nugget ice takes more than just freezing water to make.

See the best Sonic nugget-style ice makers selling today.

Now, let's talk about how Sonic ice is actually made.​

From Water to Nuggets: How Sonic Ice is Made

1. The water

Like any other type of ice, nugget ice begins with clean water. The kind of water you use can make a significant difference in the quality of the ice produced.

For instance, filtered water makes the ice look less cloudy and produces slightly softer nuggets. Pre-boiled water can also produce clearer nuggets because there is less trapped air in the water.

Unlike in gourmet ice, the aesthetics of nugget ice do not matter very much. The taste and texture are the most important aspects. So as long as the water is potable, you are good to go.

How the water is delivered to the ice maker depends on what type of machine you have. If it is portable, you'll add water to a reservoir. If it is an under-counter or standalone unit, then most likely it requires an active water line.

If your unit uses a water line, make sure there is a filter in the line. If not, then add one. Consistency of water quality is really important.

Filtering the water removes also most of the minerals that can mar the ice texture and clog up your ice maker.

2. The freezing process

When the water gets into a Sonic ice maker, the really cold bit of the journey begins. Here is where a traditional cube ice maker and a nugget ice maker part ways.

When making traditional ice cubes, water is passed over a tray with several cubic molds on it.  A refrigeration system freezes the water in the molds to form ice.

Once the cubes are set, the tray is then heated to unstick the ice cubes and get them to fall into the ice bin, ready for scooping by the owner.

Here is a "How Its Made" showing how a traditional ice maker functions.

Unlike a traditional ice cube maker, a sonic ice machine does not use an ice tray.

Instead, it uses a cylindrical tube with a rotating auger in it.

Like the traditional ice maker, it also uses a liquid refrigerant to freeze the water.

The refrigerant passing through tubes takes away heat from the water, causing it to chill down into ice flakes.

The flakes naturally attach themselves to the cold wall of the cylinder.

Then, a slowly rotating auger scrapes the ice flakes off the wall and moves them to the top of the cylinder, where there is an exit into an ice bin.

Note that Sonic ice makers do not use a heater. So, they use less power compared to traditional ice cube makers.

3. The Nuggets

The final part of the journey, from auger to ice bin, varies from machine to machine.

In most Sonic ice makers, the flakes are gathered and forced through a compression tube where they come out as nuggets.  They break apart naturally, due to gravity.

In other units, a blade cuts the nuggets as they are extruded from the tube. This produces more uniformly shaped pellets.

In more expensive models, a little more finesses is done, before the ice is released.

First, they may compress the nuggets extra had, to get rid of excess water.

Compressed ice nuggets are firmer and slightly harder than Sonic nuggets. They are not as crunchy though they are not as hard as traditional ice cubes.

Compressed nuggets are ideal if you want Sonic ice that lasts longer in your drink. They are especially good for outdoor bars, restaurants and cafes.

In the video below, a compressed sonic ice maker is illustrated to show how nugget ice is  made. The rotating object is the auger, which scrapes ice flakes from the wall and pushes them upwards. 

You Have Been Served!

Scottsman Nugget Ice


What was once only deliveted to your car door window, now has become a delight you can enjoy at home, thanks to the availability of new residential Sonic ice makers.

Supplied with fresh, clean water, the right Sonic ice maker can deliver a bin full of crunchy, soft Sonic nugget ice to make you whole family happy and keep them cool.

See the best Sonic nugget-style ice machines and ice makers selling today.

Avalon Bay Sonic ice maker

Ice Maker Not Working? Try These Easy Fixes Before Calling a Pro

It’s easy to take your ice maker for granted until it suddenly stops working or produces smelly or misshaped ice cubes. The convenience of having unlimited fresh ice cubes on demand becomes more apparent than ever.

Luckily, ice makers, and especially portable ice makers, are not overly complicated machines. With a little investigative work, you can often get it working right again without having to spend money on repair or replacement.

What's In This Guide

As with any machine, understanding the various parts and inner workings of an ice maker is important in being able to maintain it. So before we get to some easy fixes you can try, here is a brief primer on how ice makers work and their various components.

How Ice Makers Work

ice makers not working ice 2400

Like the ice mold in your freezer, ice makers work by simply turning liquid water into ice. But the process between the two is quite different. While the water in a tray takes hours to freeze, an ice maker can spit out perfect ice cubes in less than 15 minutes.

A good way to visualize ice makers is as mini ice making factories. The entire process is fast and automated. You just have to provide the water, either through a water line or by filling a reservoir, and clear the basket when it’s full.

In most ice makers, the water is passed into a set of molds where a refrigeration system freezes the water into ice cubes. A heating system is used to unstick the frozen cubes which are then pushed into the basket, ready for scooping. Sonic and clear ice makers have a slightly different process.

Large commercial ice makers may also work a bit differently. To fully understand your particular ice maker, check the manufacturer’s manual. If you don’t have a physical copy with you, it should be pretty easy to find one online in PDF format.

The manual will list all the parts in that specific model and will usually contain handy troubleshooting advice.The following tips are therefore meant to be basic fixes for common problems.

Depending on your type of ice maker, you may need professional help. When fixing your ice maker, always make sure you work within the warranty terms and conditions. That is if the warranty period is still active.

Additionally, double check that the power is turned off and power cord unplugged before you take apart the ice maker. Check out these common ice maker problems and possible fixes you can try. If none of these solve your problem, consider calling a pro.

Ice Maker Not Working


Ice maker not making ice is one of the most common problems people encounter. It can happen suddenly, but it is often preceded by certain issues you may have ignored. That’s why it is important to check your ice maker even at the smallest problem. It could save you money and time down the road.

Possible causes

  • The ice maker is turned off.
  • The ice maker is not receiving any electrical power.
  • The ice maker is not receiving any water.
  • The water is not getting delivered to the ice tray (or whatever ice-making component your ice maker uses).
  • Clogged water supply line.
  • Full ice bin.
ice makers not working

Try these fixes

If the ice maker had stopped suddenly when it was working perfectly well the first thing to check is the power connection. The plug could have come off by accident or maybe your power source is faulty.It may seem obvious but make sure you also check that the ice maker is turned on.

Most ice makers will indicate when they are on. Depending on your ice maker model, you may also have hit the pause button without realizing it. Also, check whether the ice bin is full which could be preventing the ice maker from making more ice. If none of that is the issue, make sure there is water coming into the ice maker.

This applies to larger ice makers that require a water line. The inlet tube could be clogged, or there could be a problem with your home water supply. For clogged tubes, find out what is causing the blockage and remove it.

If it is frozen water, a hair dryer should do the trick.If you have a portable ice maker, check the water level in the reservoir. If it is too low or there is no water, the ice maker will not make ice even if it is on.

If you are shopping for an ice maker, I recommend buying one that alerts you when there is no water in the reservoir. The other common issue is water not reaching the ice-making area of the machine. This could affect any ice maker, whether it uses a water line or a reservoir.

For this problem, open the ice maker and check the tube that provides water to the ice tray for clogging. Depending on your model, there could also be a pump problem that causes water not to circulate properly within the ice maker. The pump may need a professional checkup or full repair.

Ice not Ejecting


At first, you suspect that the ice maker is not making any ice at all since you can’t find any in the ice bin. But when you open up the ice maker, you find that there is some ice in the tray. So the issue is not that the ice maker is not making ice but that the ice cubes are not ejecting into the collection bin.

Possible causes

  • Faulty ejector mechanism
  • Faulty heating mechanism

Try these fixes

To remove ice cubes, an ice maker uses a heating system to heat the bottom of the ice tray. This unsticks the ice from the tray. An ejector mechanism then sweeps the ice cubes out into the basket where you can scoop them.

If either of these two components fails, that’s when the above problem occurs. To fix it, you need to inspect individual parts within these systems. Check for any loose wires, corroded parts or broken components. You may have to replace a few things.If the damage looks severe, get a pro to look at it.

Ice is Smelly


This is another common problem that you’ll likely encounter at some point. Good quality ice should be like water – tasteless, odorless and fresh. Then one day you make a batch that tastes and smells funny.

Most people describe it as a stale taste as if the ice has been cooped up in an airless space for days.The stale taste transfers to beverages that you put the ice in.

The stale taste and smell are even more apparent if you prefer eating ice from a nugget ice machine

Possible Causes

  • Dirty ice maker.
  • Low-quality water.
  • Leaving ice in the bin for too long.

Try these fixes

Cleaning the ice maker usually sets everything right again. Refer to your manual for specific instructions on how to disassemble and thoroughly clean every component. Pay close attention to the tray, making sure you wipe it down properly.

Experts recommend running two cycles using water mixed with vinegar and discarding the ice. By the third cycle (with water only), your ice should taste and smell fresh. Note that new ice makers can cause ice to have a particular ‘plastic’ taste.

Use the same cleaning process to get rid of it. Sometimes the problem may not be the ice maker; it could be the water you are using. Low-quality water results in low-quality ice. Some ice makers come with a built-in filter that helps purify incoming water.

If you have an ice maker with a water line, consider adding a filter to the line. For portable ice makers, only add clean and filtered water to the reservoir. Sometimes there is no problem with the ice maker at all. Staleness is caused by leaving the ice cubes in the basket for too long.

After a few hours in there, they lose their freshness. The problem is especially common with ice makers that re-use melted ice water. When you don’t empty the bin, the ice melts, and the water is pumped back to the reservoir where it is used to make more ice.

If the ice maker keeps reusing the same water, your ice might taste stale. Even for basic ice makers that don’t recycle water, experts recommend changing the water in the reservoir every 24 hours.

Plastic Bits in Ice

ice makers not working 2500


This is one of the most worrying ice maker problems. It can occur whether you have been using your ice maker for three years or you just used it for the first time. Most people report seeing foreign objects, usual bits of plastic, embedded in the ice cubes.

Possible causes

  • Broken component inside the ice maker.

Try these fixes                   

 The plastic bits have apparently come from inside the unit. Most ice makers use a lot of plastic parts inside that could end up in the ice, though it’s not very common.

Because of a manufacturing error, aging or damage during transport, a component could get loose and mix in with the water being frozen. If it often happens with an old ice maker (5-7 years old), I’d recommend replacing the entire unit.

There are a lot of affordable ice makers nowadays. If it’s a new or relatively new ice maker, you need to check inside for anything that might be broken.

Sometimes it could just be a few plastic bits left over from the factory, in which case a thorough cleaning process should solve the problem. It could also be a broken part that needs replacing.

The Ice Cubes are Misshapen


If you are using an ice maker in a commercial establishment, then the shape of the ice cubes matters a lot. Though it may not be a big deal at home, it will still bother you if your ice maker begins to produce ice cubes in weird shapes.

Maybe the ice cubes are too big, too small or just a shape that is not in the ice maker’s settings.

Possible Causes

  • Defective water valve.​
  • Faulty ice cutting mechanism.
  • Type of water used.

Try These Fixes

Before you declare it a problem, check the number and type of shapes of ice cubes the ice maker can produce. Most ice makers can make two different ice cube sizes while others can produce several different shapes.

You may have changed the settings by mistake.If that’s not the issue, then it could be a mechanical problem. The common culprit is the water valve that controls the amount of water dispensed to the ice-making area (usually a molded tray).

It could be producing too much water or too little, thus affecting the normal size and shape of the ice. A faulty valve is often caused by clogging, where mineral deposits prevent the valve from opening and closing regularly.

It could also be that the valve has reached the end of its life. First, try to clean the valve and the water inlet area and if that doesn’t correct the shape problem, get a new valve.

If your ice comes out as one big chunk, or the ice cubes are not fully separated from each other, the problem could be the ice cutting grid.

This is a mechanism that uses heated wires to cut an ice block into individual cubes. The source of the problem could be electrical or mechanical. Check whether there are loose wires or anything blocking the mechanism.

You may have to replace some parts. Finally, if the above two issues are not to blame, the water could be the problem. Hard water contains a lot of dissolved solids.

When the water is frozen in the ice maker, these solids could cause an unusual shape.Always use filtered water to get the best quality ice and to prolong the life of your ice maker.​

Water is Leaking


No one wants to see their machine leaking, whether it is a car or an ice maker. It indicates a serious internal problem. In the case of an ice maker, you’ll notice a pool of water on the floor near the bottom of the ice maker. This may be accompanied by other issues such as unusually small ice cubes or the ice maker not working.

Possible causes

  • Broken hose.​

Try these fixes

Open up the ice maker and check for any defective component. Most likely, you will find a broken hose or tube. If the leak is serious, you should be able to spot the broken part easily.

If it is a small leak that takes hours to turn into a pool of water, it may take more time to discover where it is coming from. Make sure you also check the valves, the pump, water outlet (for units with drainage), reservoir and ice bin for any issues.

Once you find the faulty part, call the manufacturer to find out if they sell replacements. If your ice maker is old, a better solution would be replacing it.

The leak is most likely a sign of aging and an indication of more problems to come. If you find a leak but the leaked substance doesn’t appear to be water, you may have a coolant problem on your hands. That is much more serious.

Leaking Coolant


Although quite uncommon, problems with you ice maker could be originating from the cooling system. Specifically, the liquid used to freeze the ice may be leaking. This causes the ice maker to start producing less ice and in some cases stop working completely.

If you find an oily substance on the floor near the ice maker or inside on various components, it could be the coolant liquid. This is a bigger problem than leaking water.

Possible causes

  • Aging.​
  • Rough handling when carrying the ice maker.

Try these fixes

Only professional can fix this problem. Call them, so he can give you some advices. He can change the coolant in your ice maker or it will be necessary to replace the entire cooling system if it's broken.

If that’s the case, contact your manufacturer for more advice. If your ice maker is still covered by a warranty, they might even replace the entire unit for free.

Ice Bin Overflowing/Ice Maker Doesn’t Stop Making Ice


The ice maker keeps making more ice even when the ice bin has filled to the brim. The only way to stop it is by switching it off.​

Possible causes​

  • ​Faulty sensor.

Try these fixes

Most ice makers, whether potable, countertop or built-in, have a sensor that detects when the ice bin is full. It triggers the ice maker to stop making more ice until the basket has been emptied.

If the sensor is faulty, the above problem will occur. The best solution is to replace the sensor. Call your manufacturer to find out if they sell replacements.

If it’s not possible to replace it, ask a repair technician to check if the sensor can be repaired.If all fails, you have to manually control the ice making process. Keep an eye on the ice bin. Once it fills up, shut off the ice maker until you need more ice.

Need to Replace Your Ice Machine? 

Check out our reviews of the best ice makers sold online, below.

how to make ice cubes

How to Make Ice Cubes Without Using a Tray

While ice cube trays are the most common implements for making ice at home, they are not the only option. You may find that your freezer is too small to accommodate an ice tray and even if you have a large freezer, your tray may go missing just when you need it most.

It’s a great idea to have some alternative options in mind when you cannot or don’t want to use an ice cube tray. Below, we have some tips (or life hacks) on how to make ice cubes without using a tray.

This list consists of a mixture of short term solutions (before you find your lost tray or buy a new one), emergency solutions and long term alternatives to completely replace your tray. If we have left out any ‘tray-less’ ice making method, feel free to mention it in the comments.

Ziploc Bags

A simple and quick solution when you don’t have an ice tray is using Ziploc bags. They are very common, and you most likely have some at home.

To use a Ziploc bag, you just need to fill it with cold water and leave it to freeze for several hours. The amount of water you put in will determine how much ice you get. If you fill the bag to the brim, you’ll get a large ice rock that you may need to crush into smaller bits.

how to make ice cubes

One trick is to fill it up quarter way, zip it up tightly and then lay it flat in the freezer. This will create a medium-thick layer of ice that you can easily break into smaller pieces.

The downside with Ziploc bags is that you will not get perfectly shaped ice. But if aesthetics are not an issue for you, go for it.

You can use ordinary plastic bags, but in this case there is a risk of water leakage, besides, getting ice from this bags is not so easy. 

If you want actual ice cubes, there are some ice cube bags sold on Amazon. You fill them up with water, close them tightly, and you’ll get several dozen ice cubes perfect for picnics, parties, and your everyday cocktails.

Silicon Molds

Silicon molds are used to make a wide variety of things including candy, baked cakes and bread and even soap. Thanks to their versatility, you can also use them to make ice cubes.

As you would do with a normal ice cube tray, fill the molds with water and leave them for several hours in the freezer. Leaving them overnight results in harder, well-frozen ice that doesn’t melt as fast.

how to make ice cubes

Because these molds come in a wide array of shapes, you can create ice in all sorts of fun and unique shapes from large crystal balls to heart-shaped ice for the kids.

Egg Carton

This is a bit of an unusual solution but if it works, why not? To be clear, this is just an emergency alternative, and you should not turn it into an everyday thing.

If you have guests coming over and you have no ice tray and no silicon molds, an egg carton will come in handy. You will need some aluminum foil.

Take the aluminum foil and spread it on the bottom half of the carton, the half where the eggs rest. The foil should smoothly fit into the rounded egg dimples.

how to make ice cubes

With the foil protecting the carton, you can now add water to each of the compartments and then place the carton in the freezer. Leave it for several hours to harden into ice. You may have to crush the ice into smaller pieces.

Built-in Freezer Ice Makers

From here we get into long term ice making solutions that you should consider. With either of these alternatives, you never have to bother with ice cube trays again. Let’s start with a built-in freezer ice maker.

Some large fridge models come with an extra-roomy freezer that is fitted with an ice making kit. It then dispenses ice whenever you need some.

The upside with this option is that you can get ice any time you need it. There is not necessary to wait for hours for water to freeze into ice cubes. Additionally, after setup, you don’t have to do anything to get ice. The ice maker works automatically.

The downside is that such a fridge will be pricey. Another major downside is space. The ice making kit will take up a lot of space inside the freezer. The fridge itself may also be quite big, hence requiring more real estate in your kitchen.

Portable/Countertop Ice Makers

If you don’t need to spend a lot of money on an alternative solution to an ice tray, I highly recommend a portable ice maker.

Portable or countertop ice makers are compact, lightweight and take up very little space in your kitchen. You can even carry one to the picnic, in your RV or on a boat as long as there is a power source.

Depending on your needs you will find ice makers with different ice production capacities. If you just need your ice, get an ultra-portable ice maker that produces around 20-26lbs of ice every day. If you want an ice maker for your whole family or home parties, get one with a minimum of 26lbs production capacity.

There are other larger portable ice makers (28lbs-40lbs) that are ideal for bars, large events, and offices. See our complete guide to the best portable units

Freestanding and Under-counter Ice Maker

If you have a bit more money, you can go for a much bigger dedicated ice maker. There are two varieties: freestanding and under-counter.

A freestanding ice maker looks very much like a fridge. An under-counter ice maker is a bit more compact and is fitted underneath the cabinet. Both have much higher production capacities than portable ice makers with some producing as much as 85lbs of ice per day.

I recommend a freestanding or under-counter ice maker if you have a huge family or you frequently hold large events at home. If you love nugget ice, you may also have to go for a full unit since there aren’t any good portable nugget ice makers. 

Do you have your tip on how to make ice cubes without a tray? Add it in the comments.

Types of ice cube styles

The Definitive Guide to Drink Ice Styles And How To Make Them

No so long ago, the only place to get good really good drink ice was at a restaurant, drive-through or store. 

Making your own ice at home involved the tedious process of filling dainty ice trays and waiting overnight - or buying ice in bags or blocks, then breaking it up with a mallet or your fist.

Thankfully, commercial ice machine manufactures long ago turned their marketing sights on residential customers, and today there are a wide variety of ice makers designed for your home, office, kitchen, RV and boat..

Even gourmet drink ice, once the preserve of only the finest bars, can now be made relatively cheaply, in your home.

Many people swear by Nugget ice machines that make the famous chewable Sonic ice.

If you are thinking of adding an ice maker to your kitchen, then you are in the right place.

This page is a comprehensive guide to all of the different ice styles you can make at home, and what kinds of ice machine to buy for each.

So let's get started!

Crushed ice

Crushed ice

This is the kind of ice most of us grew up with. You’ll find crushed ice in many homes as well as most restaurants, cafes and bars.

You don’t need an ice maker to make crushed ice.

As long as you have a freezer that can produce solid ice, you can crush our own ice at home. There are several ways to do it.

The easiest is to put chunks of solid ice in a plastic bag or a Lewis bag (recommended), and then use a wooden mallet to crush it. Y

ou can also use a clean baseball bat if you don’t have a mallet around.

Another popular method is to crush ice using a heavy duty food processor or blender. This produces finer crushed ice, ideal for cocktails or munching.

Crushed ice tends to chill drinks quickly, but also melts faster than many other types of ice.

If you don’t want to dilute your drinks, then you may want to use a different kind of ice.

Best For:

  • Cocktails.
  • Blending with smoothies, cocktails and other drinks.
  • Adding to snow cones and ice creams.
  • Adding to drinking water bottles. In this case, the ice melting is not a problem..It is actually welcome.
  • Adding to desert delicacies such as yogurt pops, shakes and slushes. 

Cubed Ice

Cubed ice

This is another traditional type of ice preferred for alcoholic drinks, on-the-rocks cocktails and carbonated beverages.

There are two major types of cubed ice: full cubes and half cubes. The main difference between the two is just size. Half cubes are ideal when you need more ice cubes in your drinks.

Cubed ice is hard and usually clear. It melts slowly making it great for a wide variety of drinks where dilution would ruin the taste of the beverage.

You will find cubed ice in most commercial places such as restaurants, bars and malls.

Interesting point: Most lower-cost home ice makers don’t make ice cubes - they produce bullet ice, instead.

You'll have to invest in a specialized ice cube maker, usually an under-counter or freestanding one, to produce real cubed ice at any sort of volume.

Of course, you can also use your freezer to make cubed ice.

All you need is the right mold or tray and clean water.

On the downside, it will take much longer to make ice cubes using your freezer and it may not be as hard and clear as cubed ice from an ice maker.

You may also come across another close cousin of cube ice referred to as 'dice'.

'Dice' is just as hard and clear as an ice cube, though with a slightly slanted (rhomboid) shape. There are full dice cubes and half dice cubes.

Best For:

  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Certain alcoholic drinks such as whiskey and spirits.
  • Adding to drinking water in a glass.
  • Mixed drinks.
  • Restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues.
  • Offices.

Bullet Ice

Bullet ice

This is the kind of ice produced by most residential ice makers, especially portable ice machines.

Bullet ice has an elongated, bullet-like shape with a hollow center.

Unlike clear ice cubes, bullet ice has a cloudy appearance. This is caused by air and minerals in the water.

Most portable ice makers can make two or three different sizes of bullet ice. The smallest ice sizes are ideal for cocktails and chewing, while the larger ones are better for drinking water, carbonated drinks and alcoholic beverages.

Bullet ice falls somewhere in the middle of cubed ice and Sonic nugget ice in terms of hardness.

It is not as hard as cubed ice, and thus will melt faster.

On the other hand, bullet ice is not as soft and chewable as nugget ice. 

If you don’t have an ice maker, you can make bullet-style ice using a special tray. You just add the water and then put the tray in the freezer until the water freezes.

That said, the freezer tray method is slow and will not produce as much ice as an ice maker.

A bullet ice tray / mold will take over an hour to freeze just a few ice bullets, while a portable ice maker requires only 6 to 10 minutes to make a new batch.

Best For:

  • Mixed drinks.
  • Carbonated drinks.
  • Drinking water.
  • Cocktails.
  • Homes, RVs and camping.

Gourmet Ice

Gourmet ice cubes

High end restaurants and upscale bars take special care when making their ice.

Gourmet ice not only has to chill a drink very slowly, it also has to look elegant in the glass and not impart a flavor of its own.

Gourmet ice is very clear to the point of being transparent.

It is also extra hard. This ensures It can stay in a drink for a long time without melting and diluting the taste. 

Thankfully, today you don’t have to go to the bar to get gourmet ice.

There are several residential ice makers you can buy that can make gourmet ice cubes.

A good example is the Scotsman CU50GA-1A Undercounter Gourmet Ice Maker

If you prefer something smaller and more compact, go for the Luma Comfort Portable Clear Ice Maker.

You can also make gourmet ice in your freezer using a mold and super-filtered clean water - though it probably will never be as hard nor as clear as gourmet ice from the right ice machine.

If you or your friends and family love fine scotch, whiskey or on-the-rocks cocktails, then a gourmet ice machine is probably worth the investment. 

Best For:

  • Bars, restaurants, offices and homes.
  • Events.
  • Cocktails.
  • Whiskeys and scotch. 
  • Carbonated drinks..

Nugget (chewable) Ice

Scottsman Nugget Ice

Nugget ice is the cotton candy of the ice world: super-soft, easy to chew and addictive.

Sonic Drive-Ins introduced the nugget ice craze with their soft and crunchy ice.

In fact, this type of ice has become so synonymous with the drive-in that its unofficial name is Sonic ice.

Sonic, or nugget, ice is perfect type of ice for cocktails, smoothies, juices and a variety of other beverages.

It is by far the best ice for crunching in your mouth.

As with gourmet ice, back a few years ago, Sonic ice could only be purchased at commercial outlets... until several manufacturers started making residential nugget ice machines. 

With home nugget ice makers, today you can make your own Sonic style ice cheaply and quickly.

The two most popular brands of Sonic ice makers are Ice-O-Matic and Scotsman. You can see the best Nugget ice machines in our full Sonic ice makers guide.

There are a few tricks you can use to make nugget ice without a specialized ice maker. But they are tedious, inefficient and you most likely will not get quality Sonic ice.

So, if soft and crunchy ice is your desire, then we strongly recommend buying a good quality nugget ice maker and enjoy endless amounts of chewable ice at home.

Best For:

  • Cocktails.
  • Mixed drinks.
  • Blending.
  • Homes, offices, restaurants and bars.

Flake (shaved) ice

Flaked or shaved ice

Shaved ice is often confused with crushed ice, but they are not the same thing.

While crushed ice requires just a mallet or hammer, making flaked ice takes a bit more work.

The best shaved ice is made using specialized ice shaving machines. They take full ice cubes and cut them down to thin flakes.

An alternative method is to use a blender or food processor. You simply place full ice cubes in the appliance and then break them down into smaller bits.

The downside with this method is that the ice shavings will not be nearly as flat, so the ice will still be a bit lumpy, with many hard bits. 

Shaved ice is very popular in the Deep South of the US and in Hawaii, where it is often mixed with cream, approximating ice cream. By using various colors and flavors, you can also make your own shaved ice cream at home.

Flaked ice is also commonly used in grocery stores where they use it to display fish and other produce. Restaurants also use it in salad bars, and bakeries use flaked ice to keep dough cold.

Commercial flaked ice is harder than shaved ice for drinks, so the flakes don’t melt quickly, ensuring they keep products chilled for long.

Best For:

  • Making ice cream cones.
  • Restaurants and grocery stores.
  • Making cold deserts.

Crescent Ice

Crescent ice is a subcategory of gourmet ice.

It is clear and extra hard. The only difference from traditional gourmet ice cubes is the shape and size.

Crescent ice resembles…well, a crescent. Unlike the hard angles of an ice cube, crescent ice has curved edges and is usually smaller.

Crescent ice is not that popular in homes. You will mostly find it in restaurants and bars.

One of its advantages of a curved ice surface is that it does not splash when you pour a drink into it. The curved shape allows beverages to flow smoothly over it. Reduced splashing means less wastage for bars.

Due to the smaller size of crescent ice, you can also fit more of the cubes in a single glass. Only one or two of traditional gourmet ice cubes can fit in a single glass.

If you want crescent ice in your bar, restaurant or at home, invest in a specialized crescent ice maker.

A good example is the U-Line Undercounter Crescent Ice Maker, which can produce 25lbs of crescent ice per day.

Best For:

  • Bars, cafes and restaurants.
  • Mixed drinks.
  • Whiskeys and scotch. 
  • Soft drinks.
  • Cocktails. 

Ice balls

Ice balls

The ice ball is where you’ll find all the artistic creativity of ice lovers.

From alien-like ice balls to clear globes, there are plenty of unique ball styles to choose from.

Ice balls are also a form of gourmet ice. They are round, clear, hard and big.

You can only add one or maybe two ice balls to a glass. Like gourmet ice, this ice is super-hard, which ensures it takes a long time to melt.

There are no specialized ice ball machines that I know of, that you can buy for your home.

The easiest way to make an ice ball is using a tray mold. There are many different types of trays, some with only a single mold and others with as many as six or more.

Some companies even sell custom trays which come in handy if you want a unique ice ball style for your bar.

Ice balls tray

Most homemade ice balls have a cloudy white appearance.

If you want a gourmet-style clear ice ball, use filtered water. You can also boil it beforehand to get rid of trapped air bubbles inside the water and which cause the cloudy look of most ice cubes.

But even then, getting perfectly clear ice balls is not easy. You’ll just have to be satisfied with something close to the professionally made ice ball you would get at a bar.

Best For:

  • Whiskeys and bourbons.
  • Iced teas and coffees.
  • Homemade beverages such as cocktails and fruit juices.
  • Kids popsicles (using flavored ice balls).
  • Carbonated soft drinks.
  • Bars and restaurants.

Factors that Determine Quality of Ice

There are two main factors that determine the quality of ice you make. The first and most important is the quality of the water you are using.

Remember that ice is just water frozen solid. So the type and quality of water used will greatly determine the ice you get.

The most important thing is to use clean, filtered water. Make sure it is water you can drink yourself.

You can then use methods like carbon filtering or boiling to change the ice quality.

For instance, using filtered or boiled water tends to make the ice clearer and harder.

The second factor is the ice making equipment.

Different ice maker units produce different qualities of ice. Some machines make clear ice while others only produce cloudy nugget ice.

So make sure you buy the right ice maker to get the kind of ice you desire.

Additionally, keep your machine clean and well maintained. Otherwise, your ice will taste and smell stale.


Ultimately, the best ice maker and ice style depends on your specific situation and needs. Do you need the ice for a bar or homemade cocktails? Do want to make ice cream cones or popsicles?

See the best portable ice makers selling today in our Buying Guide.