How Sonic-Style Ice Nuggets Are Made

The Scotsman commercial ice maker was the beginning of people’s obsession with Sonic Drive-ins. Customers streamed into Sonic outlets wherever they could find them to get themselves a cup or better yet, a full bag of the soft and crunchy ice that Sonic was famous for.

Sonic Ice logo

The love for Sonic-style ice has not diminished even a bit over the years. But today, you don’t have to go to a Sonic to get their delicious ice.

Scotsman, the company that supplied Sonic with the machine responsible for their chewable ice, now has a residential ice maker that you can set up in your own kitchen.

Various other brands have also come up, offering people the opportunity to enjoy nugget ice at the comfort of their own homes.

But have you ever wondered how these delicious ice pebbles are made? How come they are so different from the much harder traditional ice cubes?

First, You Need the Right Ice Maker

Ice-O-Matic Sonic ice maker

You cannot make Sonic nugget ice with just any other ice maker. Most home ice makers make bullet-shaped ice cubes. For the perfect Sonic pellet ice, you need a specialized Sonic ice maker.

Scotsman is one of the best known brands when it comes to Sonic ice. They have a series of ice makers designed specifically for making nugget ice at home. Another popular brand is Ice-O-Matic, which makes an under-counter nugget ice machine. 

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

There is something you should note when looking for the best Sonic nugget ice maker. As you will see in our full Sonic ice makers guide, we have included small portable and larger under-counter and standalone units.

Avalon Bay sonic ice maker easy to use

A portable Sonic ice maker

However, if you want the exact same nugget ice they sell at Sonic I highly recommend getting an under-counter or freestanding ice maker. It will cost you more but it will be worth it.

Scottsman Brilliance Sonic ice maker

A standalone Sonic ice maker

Go for the portable models if you just want softer ice that you can chew but not necessarily Sonic-style ice. They are also ideal if you want a machine you can use in your RV, boat or when out camping.

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

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.

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 produce slightly softer nuggets. Pre-boiled water can also produce clearer nuggets because there is less trapped air in the water.

But what is most important is that the water be clean and safe for drinking.

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 matters on what type of machine you have. If it is portable, you just 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, consider installing a water filter too but first check whether the ice maker is already fitted with one.

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

2. The freezing

When the water gets into the 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 though the principle behind their functioning is roughly the same.

With the traditional cube ice machines, water is passed over a tray with several cubic molds on it. A refrigeration system, which uses a refrigerant liquid, gets to work freezing the water in the molds to ice.

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.

A sonic ice machine does not have a tray. Instead, it has a cylindrical tube with a rotating auger in it. Like the traditional ice maker, it also uses a liquid refrigerant to turn the water solid.

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

The flakes attach themselves to the wall of the cylinder. The slowly rotating auger scraps them 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 have a heat function. Hence they use less power compared to traditional ice cube makers.

3. The Nuggets

The final part of the journey varies from machine to machine. In some Sonic ice makers, the flakes are simply forced through a tube where they come out as nuggets.

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

In other models, a bit more work is done before the ice is released. They compress the nuggets to get rid of excess water.

The released 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 ideal for bars, restaurants and cafes.

Here an example of a compressed ice maker. The ​video also shows how nugget ice is generally made. The rotating thing is the auger, which scraps ice flakes from the wall and pushes them upwards. 

You Have Been Served

Scottsman Nugget Ice

What was once a signature serving of Sonic outlets has become a delight you can enjoy at home.

With clean water, the right Sonic ice maker and 10 to 15 minutes of your time, you can have a tray full of crunchy and soft Sonic nugget ice to enjoy to your heart's content.

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