Nugget Ice vs Pellet Ice vs Pebble Ice vs Sonic Ice?

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Last updated on March 2, 2022

chiseling ice

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Maybe you got this juicy, chewable ice in your drink at a local fast food joint. Maybe you heard about it from a friend. Maybe you just stumbled on it while Googling for ice makers. But now you want to know more about nugget ice.

Or is it called pellet ice? Or Sonic ice? Or pebble ice? Now that you’ve started searching, you’re more confused than when you started. It seems like there are twenty different kinds of crunchy ice nuggets out there. Which is the one you’re looking for? 

We’re here to help you cut through the confusion. This article will explain what this ice is, what it’s called, and how you can get some for yourself.

Nugget Ice, Pebble Ice, and Pellet Ice

nugget ice vs pellet ice vs pebble ice

If you went looking for a pellet ice maker but could only find one that makes nugget ice, we have some good news for you: they’re the same thing. Different manufacturers have different trade names for it, but they’re talking about the same frozen treat.

Here are some of the more popular terms for this delightful ice:

  • Pebble Ice
  • Nugget Ice
  • Pellet Ice
  • The "Good Ice"
  • Sonic Ice
  • Chick-fil-a Ice
  • Hospital Ice
  • Pearl Ice
  • Soft Ice
  • Chewable Ice

Some of these names come from the places that often serve this type of ice. Sonic and Chick-fil-A were some of the first fast-food chains to get a reputation for their ice quality. And many hospitals give nugget ice to patients who are having a hard time swallowing fluids.

What’s So Great About It?

snow flakes

You may be wondering why so many people on the internet rave about pebble ice. What exactly is this magical stuff?

The short version:

it’s lighter, fluffier, and easier to chew than ordinary ice cubes.

Nugget ice is full of tiny air bubbles that give it a bumpy surface. (That texture is where the name "pebble ice" comes from.) Those little gaps make the surface thinner, so it takes a lot less chomping strength to get through.

For those who love to chew ice, it’s basically frosty popcorn.

Those air pockets can also soak up some of whatever they’re floating in. Pair them with a sweet drink, and you’ll get a little pop of flavor when you crunch on one of these ice pellets. Their small size and cylindrical shape also seem to help them pack more efficiently into a cup.

Trust us - if you like to munch on ice cubes, you will love these ice pellets.

What Pebble Ice Is Not

ice cubes

Nugget ice goes by more aliases than Jason Bourne. But some names that sound similar refer to completely different types of ice. 

Crushed ice, for instance, is the ground-up ice you'd get from a fridge's ice dispenser. It’s more chewable than cubed ice, but it doesn’t have the same shape or texture as nugget ice.  Bullet ice is also different. It comes in the same shape as pellet ice - a cylinder - but it’s as hard and solid as the stuff in your freezer trays.

Watch out for companies using creative language to make it seem like their products make nugget ice. For example, the “nugget-style ice bites” from the Samsung Smart 4-Door Flex refrigerator. These are actually just smaller-than-normal cubes.

If you see references to the “clear ice” that a machine makes, you can be pretty sure that it’s not nugget ice. Real Sonic-style pellets are cloudy. They’re made from dozens of paper-thin ice flakes that a machine has smashed together.

Where Can I Get Nugget Ice?


08_05_2020 Tulsa USA _ Chick-fil-A store with American flag

Lots of eateries have figured out that customers love pearl ice. We mentioned Sonic and Chick-fil-A earlier - Sonic will even bring a big bag of the stuff out to your car. You can also find excellent crunchable nuggets at places like:

  • Jack in the Box
  • Dairy Queen
  • Hardee's
  • Zaxby's

Keep in mind that franchise restaurants can vary between locations. You’ll have to scope out the places near you to confirm they have the good ice. 

Don’t neglect locally-owned restaurants, bars, and convenience stores, either! You may stumble onto a hometown gem that has the ice you crave. Plus, the internet is full of pebble ice lovers. A quick google search may reveal that some helpful soul in your area has done the research for you.

Hospitals usually have nugget ice too, but we at Robust Kitchen do not recommend injuring yourself to get access to ice. It’s good, but it’s not that good. Maybe it's finally time to visit your buddy who’s recovering from surgery.

Making Pellet Ice at Home

Looking for a pebble ice maker that can fit next to your toaster? The GE Opal (shown below) gets excellent reviews for performance and ice quality. Some of its rivals are faster, but not by much, and this one is more reliable than most of the competition.

The Opal’s chrome design is minimalist and modern, and you can get it without the extra side tank if you want to save counter space. Its automatic refill function helps ensure that you have a full bin of pellet ice all day.


There are surprisingly few machines that dispense pearl ice right into your glass. Those interested in getting rid of the scoop should consider the KBIce Self Dispensing model. Users report great quality nugget ice and an easy-to-use self-cleaning function.

The company also has a reputation for great customer service. That’s important, because pebble ice makers are more finicky than ordinary ice machines. They contain a lot of moving parts and are prone to breaking down. Many of KBIce’s competitors are notorious for being stingy about honoring warranties.

-Best Under Counter:


GE Under Counter Nugget Ice Maker

Larger pellet ice machines like this one offer more durability than countertop designs. They also produce a whole lot more ice per day. Some superfans of nugget ice find that the more portable units can’t quench their craving.

There are some downsides, though. Installing a machine under your counter is a bigger commitment than setting one on top. It’s also a bigger expense. And many of these devices are intended only for use in commercial kitchens. Your warranty won’t always cover a home installation.

Customers interested in a larger nugget ice machine should check out the Ice-O-Matic. It’s more affordable than many of its competitors, makes less noise, and still produces more than 80 pounds of chewable pellets per day. It takes a fair amount of work to install, but it does a great job once it’s up and running.


pouring water

We hope we’ve cleared up some of the confusion about what nugget ice is and isn’t. Now you have all the information you need to start hunting down this frosty snack. For more pointers, check out the many pebble ice machine reviews right here at Robust Kitchen!



Found of Robust Kitchen

About the author, Michael

Michael spends his days eating, drinking and studying the fascinating world of food. He received his Bachelors Degree in Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis and spent much of his time at the school brewery. While school proved to be an invaluable experience, his true passion lies in exposing the hidden crannies of food for the cooking laymen.