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Everybody loves ice. You use it for a million different things: making mixed drinks, cooling down on a hot day, filling a bag to ice a sore spot or swollen joint, or even just to munch on if you have pica.
For many people, the ice produced by trays or built in ice makers is enough, but for others their ice consumption more than dwarfs what those small machines or methods can create. That’s where under counter ice makers come in, putting all their energy into producing huge amounts of ice so it’s always on demand when you need it and you don’t need to head out and buy a 10 lb bag from the convenience store when you want to entertain.
Many machines are quite good, but others are simply not worth what you’re paying, and it can be hard to tell the difference up front; appliances like to obfuscate their specs to make it harder to pin down what’s wrong with them. That’s where I come in, with this buying guide. We’ll take a quick look at what makes one good, and then some of the best units I could find.
While not cheap, this is a great versatile model. It makes nugget ice (often known as ‘Sonic ice’) which is excellent for mixed drinks and slushes, or even just soft drinks. It comes with a very slim profile (just 15.5 x 10.5 x 17.2 inches) that lets it fit under pretty much any counter, or even on counter tops. It looks nice enough (no more unsightly on the counter than your coffee maker or blender), and is easy to use, with a single button functionality and an easy to open slanted door.
While the capacity leaves much to be desired (it only holds 3 lbs of ice at any given time) it can produce 24 lbs of ice per day, freezing water into ice in only 20 minutes.
This is great for entertaining small groups, or just using it for your own family’s purposes. It’s even portable so long as you have electricity; it requires no water hookup, and just makes ice from a refillable reservoir (melted ice is recycled, so no worries about waste).
This is an excellent efficient ice maker. It’s perfectly sized to fit under pretty much any counter (17 x 13.9 x 25.1 inches) and has an easy to open and close freezer door.
This one is quite nice as it not only makes ice (and efficiently; 23 lbs of ice per day made from only 3 gallons of water) it keeps it frozen for long periods, unlike most ice makers which will only freeze the ice, and then store it in an icebox with no refrigeration capability of its own.
The unit requires a hookup but only takes a ¼” water line connection, easily found at any hardware store.
Overall this is a good, durable, efficient, and easy to use ice maker with excellent performance. The only rub is the price…it’s an exorbitant cost for an ice maker, about twice what most of the models here cost.
This is pretty much the gold standard or the ice makers in this performance range. It hits the perfect price point for a 23 lbs daily capacity under counter ice maker, being reasonably priced without being a super low range model that needs to cut features.
It only makes standard curved ice, unfortunately, but does so efficiently and with a great capacity, with an easy to open door and the absolute perfect sizing for fitting under a counter, at 16 x 14 x 24.5 inches (length, width, height).
Many of these under counter models approach the 30 inch height range, which is difficult when in my experience most countertops rest at about 28 inches.
The construction is solid and will last a while, and installation is easy so long as you have a good spot picked out for it already.
If you’re looking for a plain no frills under counter ice make this is the perfect candidate for adding to your home.
This is less “under counter” and more “in counter”, designed to be built into a bar or other countertop (it’s great for islands!), but has quite good production. While expensive (about twice the average for a 20 to 25 lb daily machine) it makes up for it with the capacity to hold 20 lbs at a time, of crescent shaped ice. While it’s sad that it doesn’t do cubes or nuggets, the crescent shaped ice does have one major advantage in this large of a container: it’s harder and longer lasting, leaving you with much more usable ice over the long term.
It’s front venting, so you can also use it as a free standing unit and doesn’t require a drain, making it much easier to install than some other models.
Of the 25 lb daily capacity units in this price range, this is definitely one of the better deals for the capacity alone; most can produce that amount of ice, but can’t hold more than a fraction of it at once.
As long as you’re fine with it not being truly under the counter, it’s pretty perfect, and a great addition to a home bar.
If you want a cheaper model, this is a great option. It’s low capacity (12 lbs daily, and can hold up to 6 lbs at a time) but keeps your ice frozen and shuts off automatically when full, so it provides more functionality than some of the other models with this capacity, which don’t have any refrigeration capacity at all.
The construction is solid, and it’s ventilated to fit anywhere (including as a freestanding unit if you like) and it’s small enough to fit under any average cabinet.
The main strange thing about this one is it touts itself as a ‘portable’ ice maker. The things weighs 55 lbs, is unwieldy and hard to move, and requires a water hookup and a plug-in, so what’s portable about it?
Still, that aside, this is a good and cheap, if very simple, under counter ice maker.
This ice maker boasts enormous capacity as its main selling point. You’ve got a 25 lb capacity, and it produces a max of 50 lbs per day. The unit kind of pushes the definition of “under the counter” unit. It is quite large (23.6 x 14.6 x 32.8 inches) and will only fit under the hugest counters. It is front ventilated however and works as a free standing unit, in which case it’s fairly compact for what it is. It’s quite trim and easily slides anywhere you could fit a filing cabinet or something similar.
That all sounds good, but this unit comes with some serious problems. The first is the price; not necessarily because it’s overly expensive on its own (it’s about the same price as some of the models with half the capacity) but because it requires professional installation which can be extremely pricey just on its own.
It also has a few flaws beyond that, mostly that the ice does not get broken apart within the machine, it needs to be done manually.
This ice maker is a very high quality, extreme high capacity model that’s hard to rate compared to everything else on the list. Let’s talk about performance first.
Per day, this ice maker produces an immense 100 lbs of ice from 34 gallons of water. This is obviously a very high capacity machine and should really only be purchased by someone who needs that much ice, as it will suck up a lot of energy per day.
The ice itself is top notch gourmet ice. It is tasteless and perfectly clear, made from pure water (which will often mean you need to provide purified water to the tank and ensure it is immaculately clean). Gourmet ice is excellent for mixed drinks like the old fashioned or similar mixes that have the alcohol itself as the centerpiece, being the highest quality ingredient.
I have not referred to this unit as an “under counter” ice maker at all so far, and for good reason. It is simply too large to be an under counter model, standing at 35 inches high. It fits better in a bar or island (mine stand at about 37 inches), but for the average counter you’re looking at somewhere between 26 and 30 inches.
This unit is exorbitantly expensive as well, and due to the nature of its height, will not fit into an existing counter setup, so will massively increase the cost in terms of remodeling and installation. You’re looking at about twice the average cost for units I’ve called “expensive” so far. The price makes sense when you factor in this is a commercial model, but that means it’s really overkill for the average person. Basically, the price, size, and volume is only justifiable if you run a bar, lunge, or restaurant.
This unit suffers from just being a worse version of the Scotsman above, for about the same price.
It’s not bad, exactly. It has a 44 lb daily capacity and holds 25 lbs at any given time, with automatic overflow protection and built in refrigeration. It makes nothing but perfectly clear gourmet ice, which is great for alcoholic drinks as it melts slowly and has no flavor of its own, ensuring that even when melted your alcohol doesn’t change flavors to a watered down version. Especially good for expensive scotches or brandy.
Unfortunately as mentioned it is about the same price as the Scotsman, and suffers much the same problems with installation. It’s about the same size to fit in or under a counter (it’s an inch and a half shorter) and produces less than half the ice per day.
It also seems to have some quality control issues with the motor as other users report, and all ice must be broken up manually (it comes out in sheets, not individual cubes), making it annoying to use.
A product of this price should be convenient, first and foremost; that’s kind of what you’re paying for. The final nail in the coffin is its availability. You can only get it from 3rd party sellers, so the price may vary based on who you can nab it from.
This is another high quality but incredibly niche model. Do you run a hotel, motel, community center, country club or some other location where you need or want to provide high volumes of ice to large numbers of people per day? Then this is a great model for that rare circumstance.
It has a ridiculous daily ice production, making a whopping 290 lbs of ice per day and stores up to 100 lbs of that at any given time. It can go pretty much anywhere you want it, unless where you want it is under a counter. This unit is clearly free standing and I’m at a loss as to how you’d fit this under any counter top that wasn’t specifically made to hold something of this size and shape.
The ice it makes are half dice cubes (commonly found at fast food restaurants; they melt fast but fit in a cup very well).
This one is difficult to evaluate as a purchase because it’s so niche, just like the Scotsman model. No single person can use this much ice in a day, or would be willing to spend so much on it (this is about $1000 more than the Scotsman, for posterity), so I can’t recommend it as a general rule.
This undercounter ice maker produces standard crescent shaped ice. It can make and store up to 12 lbs of ice per day. This makes it a nice compact unit that can fit under many standard counters (it stands at 18 x 15 x 25 inches). If you still can’t find a counter to fit it under, it works as both a freestanding unit and an undercounter model so you can nestle it in the corner of a kitchen or something similar out of the way.
This is, honestly, not a particularly good model, especially for the price. It’s small, slow, and surprisingly expensive, but gives a good baseline for what you can expect from a smaller model; typically size is not the biggest driving factor behind price.
Choosing the best here was a rough call, and I’ll call it a three way tie between the Opal Countertop model, U-Line’s offering, and the Whynter model. All three are great for what they are, with Opal being a small nugget maker, and U-line and Whynter’s models being mid sized crescent makers. The U-line is expensive but has a few great features (refrigeration, primarily) while the Wynter is a bit cheaper but without those extras.
The Scotsman and Manitowoc models are excellent high performance machines, but hard to recommend for anyone who doesn’t own a bar or hotel respectively.
How To Pick the Best Under Counter Ice Makers
Ice makers are pretty simple machines overall. There’s not a whole ton to look into besides their raw performance. This can be broken down into a few distinct categories: ice type, capacity, size, and price.
There are four or five distinct types of ice that ice makers will typically produce.
The first is standard curved ice, the kind you can get from most ice ‘cube’ trays or the ice maker in your freezer. This ice isn’t bad, and is pretty solid for making drinks with little splashback. It’s a good, versatile ice, but honestly not one I typically want to see in an ice maker; it’s inferior to most other types for the purposes of entertaining.
Cubes are fairly self-explanatory: they’re cubes. A lot of restaurants serve drinks with actual cubes, which stack well and melt quickly, leaving drinks often watered down. A lot of people like cubes for entertaining or restaurant settings as they can be a sneaky way of watering down drinks to save them without seeming to. Half-cubes are much the same, but half the size, though work better for alcoholic drinks (they melt very quickly and smoothly).
Nugget ice is also commonly known as “Sonic ice” after the fast food drive in chain. The ice is small, soft, easily chewable, cools drinks quickly, and melts surprisingly slowly. Perfect for soft drinks, and great for the more therapeutic uses of ice (cooling a bruise, ice baths, etc.) as the nuggets are smaller and shift around much easier than other types without melting quickly.
Gourmet ice is typically found in cube form as well, though tend to be rougher, and often end up styled almost as rough cut gemstones. This is what you’ll find at a nice bar (or see in the movies or in advertisements). It is utterly clear, made from filtered and purified water, with absolutely no taste or odor to it whatsoever. It also melts very slowly, making if perfect for alcoholic drinks with high quality whiskeys or similar alcohols to be drunk straight on the rocks or in a simple mix like an Old Fashioned. Even when it melts, it doesn’t water down the flavor.
Capacity is fairly simple. Any ice maker will be able to hold a certain amount of ice in its receptacle at any one time (its capacity) and will be able to produce a certain amount of ice daily (its production).
Usually it can produce about twice as much ice per day as it can hold at any one time, so an ice maker that makes, say 25 lbs of ice per day will typically be able to hold 12 lbs of ice at once.
25 lbs is a good benchmark number, and is about the average of what I expect, so most ice makers end up in the ballpark of this (some being 20 or 23 lbs per day, but that’s a fairly small difference).
Commercial ice makers can produce far more, and we’ll talk about a couple of those in the list below.
Size her is the exterior dimensions of the ice maker. These are typically meant to go under your counter or be installed in a bar or island, so should be fairly short. How short, wide, and long is going to depend on your cabinets, but a good estimate for the average counter in a house is about 28 inches tall, 14 to 15 inches wide, and length can be a real crapshoot.
Make sure you very carefully measure your workable space before purchasing.
You’re looking at anywhere between $500 and $3000 here, and that’s not even counting installation fees. Under counter ice makers are a real investment, and buying the best under counter ice maker around is going to cost you a pretty penny. Be sure it’s worth it and carefully budget out how much you can spend on both the machine itself and the necessary remodeling (if any) before pulling the trigger.
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