Lots of consumers have fallen in love with the delightful crunch of nugget ice and started looking for a way to make it at home. If you’re one of those die-hard fans, you may have been dismayed by the steep prices of the machines that make “the good ice."
Why exactly are nugget ice makers so pricey? And is there any way to get the refreshment you love without breaking the bank?
The first reason for the high price of nugget ice machines is the considerable amount of engineering that goes into them.
The process of creating those crispy frozen pellets is more complex than just freezing some water into solid cubes. Nugget ice is made by mashing together dozens of thin layers of ice into a single cylinder.
This causes tiny air pockets to form inside the larger mass. That’s what creates the light, fluffy texture that hardcore ice chewers find so satisfying.
This process involves a large rotating auger that continually scrapes tiny flakes of ice off the walls of the cooling chamber. The machine then funnels those little ice chips into a separate compartment, where they’re compressed into a finished nugget.
This multi-stage process involves a lot more moving parts than an ordinary ice maker - and that added complexity comes at a cost.
Many of these devices also include functions like automated overflow control, self-cleaning cycles, and built-in water filters. All those extra features drive the price even higher.
Size and Capacity
Most of the pellet ice makers on the market are made for commercial settings like restaurants and gas stations. As such, they have to produce enough ice to satisfy hundreds of customers a day.
That kind of capacity calls for a large, heavy, well-insulated machine, which imposes a substantial materials' cost.
Also, commercial-grade models are often multifunctional. If a restaurant owner is going to take up valuable kitchen space with a new machine, they’ll usually want it to be able to produce regular ice as well. As we noted earlier, more functions mean more money.
The good news is that there are smaller nugget ice machines, that are better suited for home use, which are more affordable than the big industrial models.
The high cost is partly due to the same technical considerations we mentioned above. But it’s also because the market for these devices remains pretty small. The average consumer has never even heard of nugget ice, let alone gotten so hooked that they want it on tap at home.
If manufacturers could sell nugget ice machines to a wider market, they could offer lower prices, relying on a higher volume of sales to make them profitable. But for the moment, these appliances are still fairly boutique items, and they’re priced accordingly.
Cheapest Nugget Ice Makers
We’re betting that you aren’t just after an explanation for your problem - you want a solution! So we’ve assembled a list of the most affordable nugget ice makers, ranked from cheapest to the most expensive. Hopefully you can find something here that fits into your budget.
1) Frigidaire EFIC235-AMZ Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
This isn’t just one of the most wallet-friendly options on our list - it’s also one of the fastest, producing enough nugget ice to fill a cup in 15 minutes or less.
This Frigidaire unit also has a narrow profile that should fit more easily onto some countertops, and a UV sterilizing light to cut down on odor and mold.
There is a trade-off when it comes to durability, though. You’ll have to take care not to run this unit for too long at a stretch, or part of the mechanism can burst into the upper compartment, completely wrecking the machine. It’s also prone to leakage unless you prop it up at a slight angle.
2) NorthAir Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
You could be confused for thinking this was a clone of the Frigidaire EFIC235-AMZ.
The two devices are apparently built by the same manufacturer, and likely have the same hardware under the hood. That means the same concerns about durability and leakage will apply.
There are two differences worth noting. One is the price: the NorthAir costs a bit more. The other is customer service: this seller appears to be easier to work with in the event that your machine does malfunction.
3) KBIce Self Dispensing Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
Only slightly more pricy than the NorthAir, this machine has a unique selling point: a touch-free self-dispensing function.
This is both more convenient and more hygienic than scooping your ice out of a bin by hand. This brand also gets high marks for customer service.
The main drawback is that the KBIce requires distilled water and doesn’t include any kind of filter, even as an optional add-on. It’s also got a lower ice storage capacity than most of its competitors.
4) TaoTronics Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
On paper, the TaoTronics countertop unit is a great buy - it’s pretty inexpensive, sports a convenient top-loading reservoir, and offers the option to hook it up to your water line for automatic refills. It’s also compact and operates reasonably quickly, generating a fresh cupful of pellets in around 18 minutes.
You will be taking a bit of a chance on this model, though, because it hasn’t yet been extensively reviewed. It’s hard to say for sure how reliable it will be over the long haul. Availability may also be somewhat scarce.
5) GE Profile Opal Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
This is our top recommendation when it comes to personal-use nugget ice machines.
Its automatic refill function works well, its Bluetooth connectivity allows you to schedule a batch in advance, and most importantly, it makes great ice. There’s also an option to purchase an extra water reservoir for increased capacity.
The GE Profile Opal isn’t without its drawbacks. Like all home nugget ice makers, it’s prone to breakage, and some users have reported issues with the Bluetooth hookup. Still, this is one of the more dependable choices for your money.
Countertop-friendly nugget ice makers are relatively new to the market. Manufacturers are still working through the challenges of putting technology designed for industrial and commercial use into a package the size of a microwave oven.
Hopefully, they’ll find ways to produce these devices with less expense and greater reliability as time goes on. In the meantime, the ones we’ve listed above are your best options for an affordable nugget ice maker to have at home.
Founder of Robust Kitchen