Nugget Ice – Everything You Need to Know

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Last updated on October 7, 2021


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Most people think ice is nothing more than frozen water. However, for ice enthusiasts, that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Nugget ice is a specific type of ice that’s known for its perfect texture and addictive qualities—and it’s captured the hearts of ice lovers everywhere. 

From how it’s made to where you'll find it, we will explain everything you need to know about one of the world’s coolest treats.

Is the Hype Justified?

Nugget ice loyalists are true ice fanatics—and they’ll do almost anything to get their frosty fix. Whether it’s making daily trips to the drive-through or shelling out big bucks for an at-home supply, people will go to great lengths for nugget ice. This phenomenon begs the question...

is the hype justified?

You’ll have to come to your own conclusion, and you can start by understanding why nugget ice is so beloved. Take a look at what sets nugget ice apart:

  • Small size allows for even cooling distribution
  • Greater surface area means the ice can absorb the flavor of beverages
  • Soft texture won’t hurt your teeth
  • It’s a satisfying, zero calorie snack that’s (really) fun to crunch on

Regular ice certainly has its place, but nugget ice offers benefits to which no other ice compares. Cubes are too large to snack on, and crushed ice melts too quickly. If you ask us, nugget ice is definitely worth the hype!

How it Works 

Ice contains just one simple ingredient—water. So how can water be transformed into this frozen delicacy? The answer lies in a complex freezing and compacting process. 

Instead of freezing water into solid cubes, nugget ice makers rely on an auger system that forms tiny flakes of ice. Then, the flakes are collected and compacted into small nuggets.

Since each nugget is composed of minuscule, snow-like flakes, the resulting texture is light, airy, and addictive!

Although this process sounds simple in theory, it’s actually challenging to achieve in practice. This is why most nugget ice makers are expensive, and they’re considered specialty pieces of machinery.

Cubed vs. Bullet vs. Nugget Ice 

‘Nugget ice,’ ‘pellet ice,’ and ‘Sonic ice’ are all terms that find their way into ice-lovers’ vocabularies. The truth is, all of these terms are referring to exactly the same thing, and can be used interchangeably.

The term ‘pellet ice’ is taken from the ice’s shape, and the term ‘Sonic ice’ is often used because the namesake restaurant uses this type of ice in its signature beverages.

Nugget Ice vs. Bullet Ice 

There’s one distinction you should be aware of when you’re thinking about ice—the difference between nugget ice and bullet ice. Though many people use these terms interchangeably, they are NOT the same thing.

Bullet ice is similar in shape, but it’s much harder than nugget ice, which means it's less ideal to chew on. It’s also round and hollow in the middle, which means it’s structurally different (and easy to identify). 

Beware of ice makers that claim to produce nugget ice, but don’t use compacted ice flakes—what they’re actually producing is bullet ice.

Nugget Ice vs. Crushed Ice 

Crushed ice has many great uses, but it’s a far cry from nugget ice. Take a look at the various ways crushed ice differs from nugget ice:

  • Crushed ice begins as regular cubes.
  • Rather than being comprised of compacted flakes, crushed ice is just small pieces of frozen water.
  • Crushed ice doesn’t absorb liquids as well as nugget ice, so it’s not as useful for helping beverages retain flavor.

Where to get Nugget Ice 

If reading about nugget ice has you craving a cold, crunchy treat, the next thing you need to know is where to get nugget ice. Unfortunately, standard ice makers and ice cube trays aren't going to cut it.

Restaurants often invest in commercial ice makers to make their beverages shine, so turning to local eateries can be a good option. Franchises like Sonic are known for their nugget ice, and some people even purchase Sonic’s ice by the bag.

If you don’t want to take a trip to the drive through, you may want to consider purchasing a nugget ice maker of your own. These machines come in a wide range of styles and price points.

Ice Maker Options 

There are plenty of choices available for people who want to make their own nugget ice. Nugget ice makers can be broken down into the following categories:

1) Commercial 


These are heavy-duty machines for when you need to make a lot of nugget ice—fast. Commercial ice makers cost thousands of dollars, and are an investment in space as well as money. If you own a business or need enough ice to satisfy a crowd, this is a great option for you.

2) Countertop

Countertop models are perfect for people who like nugget ice, but who don’t need an endless supply. These models take up about as much space as a microwave, with the trade-off being that they don’t produce an abundance of nugget ice.

3) Undercounter 

Undercounter models are ideal for those who don’t need as much ice as a commercial model produces, but who may want more ice than a countertop model. They range in price and size, so you should do your research to discover which ice maker is right for you.

Driving to Sonic vs. Buying Your Own Ice Maker 

Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to both options. Driving to Sonic to buy ice means you don’t have to invest in a machine, deal with potential maintenance issues, or sacrifice valuable kitchen space. However, it also means you won’t always have ice when you want it, and you’ll constantly be shelling out cash for both the ice itself and transportation.

How to Make Nugget Ice 

With the right machine, making nugget ice is a cinch. All you have to do is add water to your nugget ice machine, wait a specified amount of time, and boom—you’ll have soft, airy nugget ice at your fingertips. Some machines allow you to connect to a water source, so you’ll never have to worry about refilling the reservoir.

If a home nugget ice maker isn't in your budget, there are some creative individuals who've been able to formulate something similar at home. Check it out...


Whether you’ve been a nugget ice fan for years, or you’re eager to start enjoying this icy delicacy, the more information you have, the better. The most important things to consider when deciding if a nugget ice maker is right for you are your lifestyle and personal preferences.

For some, the occasional trip to Sonic is enough to satisfy their cravings. For others, having around-the-clock access to high quality nugget ice will make them truly happy.



Founder 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.