Soft, chewable, and addictive, nugget ice (also called sonic ice or pellet ice) has become extremely popular over the last years.
It’s so good that now people are interested in getting the best nugget ice maker for home use.
And that is why we’re here.
In this post, you will find everything you need to know about sonic ice and where to find the best nugget ice maker in the market right now. I included a list of 6 excellent options with different prices so you can choose the one that fits your budget.
Spoiler alert: you will never want ice cubes again.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
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What is nugget / sonic ice? (Brief story)
There are many small pleasures in life, and chewing ice after enjoying a refreshing drink is one of them. It’s like having dessert after a good meal. However, the perfect ice has to be small and crunchy but easy to chew so it doesn’t hurt your teeth. That is where nugget ice comes in.
Nugget ice refers to tiny lumps made of a bunch of ice flakes compressed. At first glance, it looks like regular crushed ice, but this one is soft and easy to chew. It was popularized by the American fast-food chain Sonic (which is why it’s also called sonic ice, of course).
Sonic is so well known for its soft and chewable ice that many customers go there just to order cups or bags of ice. It’s a tradition that has been going on for years.
Nevertheless, the franchise did not create nugget ice— although they knew how to get profit from it.
In 1981, a company named Scotsman Ice Systems invented the first nugget ice maker, and so, The Original Chewable Ice was introduced. Today, they offer a wide variety of sonic ice machines on their website, as well as many other options to get all shapes and sizes of ice.
This pellet ice is rare to find in most restaurants or houses, but you have probably seen it at some establishments aside from Sonic. Bartenders and ice chewers love it because of its softness.
Fun fact: besides being a great ingredient in cold drinks, nugget ice is also used in the medical industry to hydrate patients or treat sports injuries and swelling.
Why is nugget ice so good?
It’s no secret that nugget ice has developed a cult following all over the world. I mean, there’s even a Facebook page for Sonic ice lovers. So, what’s so great about it?
Here’s a brief list of the main pros of this kind of ice:
- It’s light and airy, which makes it easy and safe to chew without hurting your teeth.
- It absorbs the flavor of drinks thanks to its porous structure that lets liquids go through it.
- It doesn’t melt as quickly as regular ice cubes, so it will keep all beverages cold and tasty for longer.
- It supposedly chills drinks faster than ice cubes.
- It floats and distributes more evenly in the cup.
- It’s soft and satisfying to chew. Consider it a snack!
How do you make sonic ice?
Okay, so far, sonic ice sounds like heaven. Instead of the classic rock-hard ice cubes, these are soft and airy tiny pellets. How on earth do you do that? Is it even possible to do it without a machine?
Well, you can find some tutorials online to try to get something similar, but it won’t be the same. If you want authentic nugget ice, you’ll have to buy a nugget ice maker.
By the way, remember that at the end of this post, I’ll share a quick review of the six best sonic ice makers right now.
Keep in mind that this kind of ice is very light and porous but still crunchy. To achieve that texture, sonic ice makers use a more complex system than regular ice machines, and there’s no way to recreate that process manually.
According to Easy Ice, nugget ice makers use a particular system that consists of a cold metal cylinder with an auger inside. In short, this machine creates flake ice and then compresses the flakes to form nuggets.
However, if you want to save some money, Food52 has a practical guide to making homemade nugget ice.
Everything you have to do is freeze carbonated water in ice cubes and then crush them into little pieces— they recommend giving each cube just one whack, so don’t go crazy!
The bubbles of carbonated water will make the ice airier and softer, creating a very similar texture to sonic ice.
Tip: the fizzier the water you use, the better.
Why are nugget ice makers so expensive?
Nugget ice makers can be a great addition to your kitchen (especially if you like to make cocktails), but they are usually quite expensive.
To give you an idea, you could spend around $500 on a simple countertop machine for home, and even more than $4000 on a commercial one for restaurants. That sounds insane, right?
It should be no surprise because the process to obtain this type of ice is much more complicated than the system used in any home refrigerator.
On top of that, these machines were originally invented for commercial use, and adapting them to the household environment may take time.
But what exactly makes sonic ice makers so expensive? These are the main reasons:
- Size and weight: most of these machines are pretty bulky, which means they need more parts in their design and more money to be made.
- Technology and features: they have sophisticated technology that increases costs, and many of them include a lot of useful features to make different sizes and types of ice.
- Smart regulatory functions: most sonic ice makers are built to work 24/7, so they must include some regulatory features to operate on their own without overflowing the container.
Besides all of this, you should consider the type of machine you want. Undercounter ice makers are much more expensive than countertop machines, but they’ll also make a lot more ice, and faster. Bear in mind that the more ice you need, the more money you’ll have to spend.
Luckily for you, there are plenty of affordable options in the market so you can find the best sonic ice maker for you and your budget.
Crushed ice vs. Sonic ice
Many people think sonic ice is just crushed ice, but they are completely different.
First of all, remember that nugget ice is made from compressed flake ice, so the texture is soft and airy— it’s basically snow! That is what makes it so satisfying to chew.
Moreover, sonic ice is best for cocktails and smoothies thanks to its porous structure that makes it easy to crush in the blender without the risk of damaging the blades.
On the other hand, crushed ice comes from regular ice cubes smashed into small chunks. The problem is that even though they are tiny pieces, they still maintain the hard consistency of ice.
So, yeah, the difference between these two types of ice is the texture. Sonic ice is softer than crushed ice, not to mention that it melts slower.
What drinks are best with nugget ice?
Nugget ice is the perfect ingredient for a wide variety of cold beverages, especially cocktails, lemonade, iced coffee, tea, and smoothies. It’s useful for making slushies as well.
Here are some cases in which you can use nugget ice:
- When it’s hot: Sonic ice cools liquids fast and melts slow. It’s perfect to have a refreshing drink on hot summer days or pool parties.
- If you want to make frozen drinks: nugget ice blends better and faster than regular ice, so it’s perfect for slushy beverages.
- When you want to keep a beverage cold: as I mentioned a few lines above, sonic ice can maintain your drinks cold for a long time. However, if you pour a hot beverage on nugget ice, it will probably melt fast because it’s not hard, so keep that in mind.
Want some ideas? Try any of these delicious drinks:
– Mint julep
Prepared with bourbon, simple syrup, and mint, this is the most popular cocktail that people associate with nugget ice. The soft texture of the ice goes well with the mix of flavors without diluting the drink.
– Piña colada
When it comes to frozen drinks, there’s no way you don’t think of a sweet piña colada. It has white rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice. When you blend all these ingredients with nugget ice, the result is a refreshing, soft, and slushy cocktail perfect for summer.
– Cherry limeade
There are two basic needs for Sonic fans: sonic ice and cherry limeade. Fortunately, now you can enjoy a full Sonic Drive-In experience at home with a nugget ice machine and copycat recipes for their cherry limeade, like this one.
– Frappé coffee
Because of its softness, nugget ice is appropriate for making frappés. Just make sure the coffee is cold when you blend it with the ice. Otherwise, as the ice is thin, it can melt quickly with the heat.
Those are some popular ideas to use nugget ice, but it goes well with almost anything cold.
How to choose the best sonic ice maker?
Now that we know all we need to know about pellet ice, it’s time to talk about how to spot the best nugget ice maker for you.
Besides the size, price, and warranty, there are some relevant aspects that you should take into account before making a decision.
– Countertop or undercounter?
Countertop machines are the easiest to use. You just need to plug them in and they start making magic. They are the preferred option for households because they are small, reasonably priced, and portable, but they don’t have much storage capacity.
On the other side, an undercounter ice machine is significantly more expensive and usually requires a professional for proper installation. It is a great option if you have to make lots of ice and have enough space under the counter.
Unless you want to make a minibar or need enormous amounts of ice, a countertop machine is the best choice for non-commercial purposes.
This is perhaps the most important thing you should consider because a slow ice machine can be a real problem, especially at parties or family gatherings.
A domestic nugget ice maker can deliver a batch of ice every 6 to 20 minutes. However, some factors will affect the speed, which leads us to the next point.
– Production and storage capacity
Depending on the model, a countertop sonic ice maker can make between 25 to 40 lbs. of ice per day. Sadly, none of this will matter if the storage capacity is low.
Ice machines usually produce ice until the storage basket is full. Therefore, if you don’t have much storage capacity, you’ll have to be constantly taking out ice to keep it going.
You won’t find a model with the same production and storage capacity, but you should look for an option that can store a lot of ice (ideally more than a pound).
– Special features
Many nugget ice makers include a few extras that can be quite useful: Bluetooth, timers, alarms, and additional gear. Some models can produce different sizes of ice as well.
All these little details can make the difference when comparing two models you like.
Of course, before making any decision, you must be sure of your needs so you don’t end up wasting money on a luxurious machine that you will hardly use.
6 best nugget ice makers + quick reviews
Finally, the moment of truth has arrived.
These are the six best nugget ice makers for the home that you can buy on Amazon for a wide variety of prices.
This one is a small, portable, and affordable option that will fit you well if you’re looking for a simple machine for your household.
It weighs 17 pounds and produces up to 26 lbs. of ice per day, which is enough for a regular family but not much for parties.
This Frigidaire nugget ice maker has a very nice-looking design with a transparent lid on top so you can see everything that is going on inside.
- Makes two sizes of ice (large and small)
- Average speed (6 to 9 minutes).
- It’s small and lightweight.
- Easy to use.
- Portable. Perfect for trips.
- Includes an ice scoop.
- All water from melted ice goes back into the system.
- Low storage capacity (around one pound or less).
- The texture is not as soft as authentic Sonic ice.
- Large cubes are pretty small.
This LITBOOS machine is slightly bigger than the previous one, but it is still compact and portable.
It weighs 24 pounds and has a simple design that you can adapt to your kitchen, RV, or bar counter.
It produces up to 26 lbs. of ice per day and the storage capacity is 1.5 lbs. (about 80 pieces). It’s an average capacity for a small machine.
Something great about this device is that it has very user-friendly controls and low power consumption. It’s effortless to use and it can make three sizes of ice.
- Makes three sizes of ice (small, medium, and large).
- Average speed (about 9 cubes in 7 minutes).
- Easy to use.
- Includes BPA-free ice scoop and ice basket.
- Stainless steel construction.
- All water from melted ice goes back into the system.
- Doesn’t make much noise.
- Low power consumption.
- Low storage capacity.
- The instructions are not very clear.
- Small water tank.
This one is an expensive option, suitable for small businesses and those who have a minibar at home.
It’s a freestanding/undercounter nugget ice maker that can produce up to 155lbs. of ice daily.
Given that it’s a commercial machine, it’s large and heavy, weighing 106 Lbs. Therefore, it is best to be installed in one single location or under the counter.
This Snooker Ice Maker is 38 inches tall and has a stainless-steel exterior made to last for years. In addition to that, the storage capacity is 44 lbs., so you will never run out of ice with this machine.
- Makes a lot of ice.
- Large storage capacity.
- Comes with an ice scoop and water filter.
- Keeps the ice frozen in the bin for a long time.
- Perfect for small businesses.
- Too expensive for home use.
- Big and heavy.
- It’s best for stand-alone usage as it’s pretty tall to fit under the counter.
Another excellent option for home by Frigidaire. This model is portable, easy to use, and produces up to 44lbs. of ice per day.
It’s perfect for everyday use, small gatherings, trips, and even camping. The storage capacity is 3lbs., which is impressive for a domestic ice machine.
The Frigidaire EFIC235-AMZ weighs 19 pounds and, just like the previous options, it also has a durable stainless-steel exterior.
Although this machine can only make one size of ice, it has some functional features that you won’t probably find in similar models. For example, it has a UV-light cleaning system that kills bacteria inside. Also, it has two small tubes at the back to drain the remaining water after use.
Additionally, this machine has a sleek design that allows you to see how much ice is inside, plus user-friendly controls.
Generally speaking, this is an awesome investment for your kitchen, but it’s not perfect as it’s a little big and noisy.
- Large storage capacity.
- Makes a lot of ice.
- Easy to use.
- Nice-looking design.
- UV-light cleaning system.
- Includes side tank, ice bin, ice scoop, and drip tray.
- Great price for all the features.
- The user manual is not helpful.
- A little big compared to other countertop machines.
- A bit noisy.
This one is another commercial undercounter sonic ice maker, very similar to the previous Snooker.
It’s 33.4 inches tall and weighs 133 pounds— so, yeah, we’re talking about a massive device that is not meant to be moved often.
Despite its weight, the Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 has an elegant, simple, and compact design, yet rugged enough for outdoor use. It’s very easy to install as well.
It can make up to 85 lbs. of ice daily and can store up to 22 lbs. It’s very suitable for cafes and small businesses.
- Easy to install without a professional.
- High production rate.
- Large storage capacity.
- Very quiet.
- Simple and elegant design.
- Rated for outdoor use.
- Suitable for small businesses.
- Expensive. Not made for regular households.
- Very heavy.
Last but not least, this KBice sonic ice maker is another choice for households. Weighing 40 lbs., it’s a lot heavier than other countertop machines, but this one is special.
Unlike all the previous models, this one has a self-dispenser, so you won’t have to lift any lid to scoop the ice yourself. Just press a button and enjoy!
The KBice self-dispensing countertop machine can make up to 24lbs. of ice per day and store up to 1 pound at a time.
Besides that, a nice thing about this machine is that it has a self-cleaning function, and also includes two water drains at the back.
- Decent ice production rate.
- Self-cleaning function.
- Easy to operate, even for children.
- Portable and easy to set up anywhere.
- Includes a funnel to pour water into the device.
- Has alarms and lights to indicate when the water reservoir is full.
- Rather heavy and takes up a lot of space on the countertop.
- A bit slow compared to other machines.
- Made with plastic; not stainless steel.
A sonic ice maker can be a good investment, but choosing the right one can be very difficult.
Before you buy your first nugget ice machine, you have to be aware of your needs and set a reasonable budget. Sometimes these machines can be pricey and unnecessarily complicated for personal use.
I hope this list of the 6 best sonic ice makers helps you find everything you’re looking for. With a bit of luck, you will soon become a member of the nugget ice gang!
I’m Maria and I love cooking—and mostly EATING—food from all around the world. I’ve been sharing my abuela’s secret Latin-American recipes for the last 7 years with the world on this blog. I’ve been a full-time food blogger for many years and I’m always trying new delicious meals that don’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef. I also love traveling, cats, and knitting.