Top 6 Best Nugget Ice Maker Machines for Cocktails (Sonic Ice) – Reviews
Some ice is just ice. Other ice is satisfying and can completely elevate the experience of taking a drink.
Do you want to enjoy a perfect cocktail at home or in your restaurant? Do you want to enjoy a crisp glass of water and enjoy the ice just as much? You need a nugget ice maker machine!
Have you ever had a drink from Sonic and enjoyed the spectacular ice? That’s the kind of ice these machines make. It’s softer and more porous than normal crushed ice.
The ice is sometimes called Sonic ice or pebble ice and even chewy ice. Machines that make this incredible ice aren’t cheap, unfortunately.
There are also some machines that claim to make this style of ice but actually fall woefully short.
I did extensive research and testing, and I was able to weed out the duds.
Here are the top 6 best nugget ice maker machines available, including machines for a range of budgets and needs.
Best Nugget Ice Maker Machines
Opal Small Nugget Ice Maker
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Scotsman SCN60PA-1SS Undercounter Unit
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Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 Pearl Self-Contained Ice Machine
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Bourkeliving Snow Flake Ice Making Machine
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Igloo ICE103 + Manual Ice Crusher
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Table of Contents
Best Nugget Ice Maker Machines
Opal Small Nugget Ice Maker – Best Seller For A Reason
No product reaches bestseller status without having something to offer. That’s definitely the case with this ice maker.
It performs extremely well, especially considering the more affordable price point. It offers a lot of value, as it performs as well as much higher-end, professional nugget ice makers.
The design is compact, so it won’t take up a ton of counter space. The compact profile also makes it easily portable. Using it is easy and convenient.
There is even a smart sensor that identifies the fill level of the bucket and turns the ice maker on and off accordingly. Adding to the convenience, you can schedule your ice making process with the FirstBuild app (IOS – Android).
Using Bluetooth, it will start making ice at the ideal time. This feature is great to use at the end of the workday, so you’ll have lovely ice ready for that perfect after-work cocktail as soon as you get home.
Another strong selling point for the Opal is its speed. It takes only 15 minutes for the first nugget and can produce up to 1 lb of ice per hour. In all, the bin holds 2.5 quarts (3 lbs) of ice.
- Compact and portable
- Makes perfect ice
- Easy to use, convenient
- Smart features, including Bluetooth control via an app
- Not too much insulation around the bin, so ice doesn’t last all-day
- It’s fairly heavy
- Can be noisy
- Requires regular maintenance
- Customer support could be better
Scotsman SCN60PA-1SS Undercounter Unit – Ideal For Commercial Use
If a small countertop machine isn’t enough for you, this Scotsman ice maker may be more your speed.
This is a machine that is ideal for commercial use, as it performs extremely well and can produce 80 lbs of ice daily.
Measuring 33.38 x 14.88 x 22.75 inches, this is a classy-looking machine that fits well under the counter.
The build quality is very high. It has a stainless steel door with a tall refrigerator-style handle.
The door is self-closing, so you won’t have to worry about it staying open when you have your hands full. Inside, there is a light.
A convenient scoop for the ice hangs on an interior wall. The box is fairly well insulated, and the up to 26 lbs of ice it holds will stay good for close to a week.
Installing the Scotsman is fairly easy and will likely only take a few minutes. It’s also easy to use. The control panel lets you know when the reservoir is out of water or it is time for a cleaning.
It has a built-in drain pump, meaning you don’t need to connect it to a drain. That means it could even be installed outside in an outdoor patio bar area or even on an RV or a boat if you have room.
Although this machine could easily be part of any kind of commercial ice machine setup, it would also work perfectly well in a home setting. It’s especially good if you want to feel like you’re at a fancy bar when enjoying a drink at home.
- Attractive, classy design
- Excellent build quality
- Self-closing door
- Easy to install, easy to use
- Produces and holds a lot of ice
- Decent insulation means your ice will last
- Requires regular maintenance
- It’s pretty loud
Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 Pearl Self-Contained Ice Machine – Top Choice For Undercounter Placement
Building a new home or renovating your kitchen or bar area? Adding an under-counter nugget ice machine is one of those special touches that you’ll really appreciate.
This Ice-O-Matic machine is ideal for installing as a permanent part of your kitchen or bar setup with its 33.4-inch height and stainless steel finish.
Installation is fairly easy although the included instructions are unfortunately rather mediocre. Depending on your plumbing and the location of your drain, you might need to purchase an optional pump.
This air-cooled unit features a small, self-contained condenser. Because it is air-cooled and thus optional for indoor use, this unit isn’t a good choice for a patio bar area.
The ice capacity is 85 lb. When full, the unit will automatically stop making ice. The operation, in general, is very straightforward.
The quality of the ice itself is top-notch. This unit also really stands out for its quiet operation. A lot of nugget ice makers are pretty noisy, but this one is extremely quiet.
- Ideal for under-counter installation
- Reasonably priced
- 1-year warranty
- Easy to use
- Quality of the nugget ice is excellent
- Build quality is a bit lower than competing models
- Durability is not as high as it should be
- Instructions could be better
- Customer service isn’t great
Bourkeliving Snowflake Ice Making Machine – Makes Up to 44 lbs of Ice Daily
The low price of this ice maker is very attractive, but it comes with a bit of a catch. This won’t exactly make nugget ice. Rather, the machine makes “small particles of irregular snow ice”.
This kind of ice is ideal for ice baths, so it’s a great home machine for a serious athlete who often uses ice as part of recovery.
Although this isn’t the soft, fancy ice that adds flair to a cocktail and even makes drinking a glass of water more enjoyable, it is pretty close and can certainly be used for drinks.
It’s definitely a big step up from the standard ice cube. If you like that restaurant-quality ice, this is a good starter machine that will get you closer.
It can make up to 44 lbs of ice daily, and it has the capacity to store 11 lbs. A door allows easy access to the ice, and a nice ice scoop is included.
It’s easy to use, and it starts producing ice in minutes.
This is not the kind of unit you can just add water to so you will have to hook it up to the waterline.
While this could potentially be installed under a countertop, that position could easily lead to overheating due to the lack of air circulation around it.
The stainless steel finish is nice, but the design looks a bit more industrial than residential.
- Low price
- Easy to use
- Holds up to 11 lbs of ice and can make 44 lbs daily
- Starts making ice quickly
- Great ice for ice baths
- Fairly quiet
- Ice is a bit larger than traditional nugget ice
- Not ideal for mounting under the countertop
- Some people report significant problems after several months
Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L – Water And Snowflake Ice Dispenser, 315 Pound/24Hours
Nugget ice is nice for cocktails, but it also can elevate even a simple glass of water.
This ice maker helps you with both the water and the ice. With a lovely stainless steel finish, this countertop model looks great and will fit in with your other stainless steel appliances.
It features an air-cooled, self-contained condenser. High production capacity is a big selling point with this model. It can make up to 315 lb of pebble ice in 24 hours.
Ice production doesn’t take very long once you start it up.
The storage bin can hold up to 10 lbs of ice. It’s very easy to use. You select if you want just water, just ice, or both water and ice and then hold your cup against the lever underneath the spigot.
If you and your family want to start drinking more water, this water and snowflake ice dispenser will help you achieve your goal. There’s just something about the crisp and refreshing quality of a glass of water with this style of ice.
That it makes getting water easier than ever only adds to the appeal, Manitowoc specializes in making ice machines, and that focus really shows in the quality of the ice you get.
This unit would work well in a hotel lobby or a gym, but it’s also great for your home.
- Attractive design
- High production and storage capacity
- Dispenses water as well as ice
- Build quality is very good
- 2-year warranty
- Lever water dispenser
Igloo ICE103 + Manual Ice Crusher – Low-Cost Solution For Home Bartenders
For the average home bartender, buying a pro-level pebble ice machine might be too big of an expense.
If you’re just getting into the art of mixology, though, you’re probably wishing you could have that perfect pebble ice experience that you get when you’re enjoying drinks at a bar.
For the budget home bartender, you do have an option. You won’t get ice exactly like you’d get from one of these expensive machines but this ice maker combined with this affordable ice crusher will help you get a bit closer.
This countertop ice maker from Igloo lets you make ice in 3 sizes: small, medium, and large.
You’ll probably want to choose small if your end goal is to get as close to that chewable nugget ice as possible.
Portability is a selling point with this ice maker. You could even bring it with you on the boat or camping. Use a generator to power the machine, and you can have fancy cocktails by the campfire.
The bucket holds up to 2.2 lbs of ice. It can make up to 26 lbs of ice in a day, and it can make a batch of ice in as little as 6 minutes.
The next step of the ice-making process for the budget home bartender is using a manual ice crusher. This low-cost hand crank ice crusher will get your ice into a consistency a bit closer to your goal.
As you turn the crank, the stainless steel ice maker blades crush the ice. Depending on how much you crush it, the ice will be either coarse or fine. It might be a bit more work, but for the price, you can’t beat it.
The ice won’t necessarily be perfect, but it will be good enough for a lot of hobbyist bartenders and their beverages.
- Relatively fast
- Compact and portable
- Gives you more control over the size and texture of the ice
- Easy to use
- 1-year warranty for ice maker, 5-year warranty for ice crusher
- Requires more work
- Capacity is quite a bit lower
- Ice maker can be noisy
Nugget Ice Maker Buyer’s Guide
Nugget ice also goes by many other names including pearl, chewblet, cubelet, and Sonic ice. Nugget ice is softer than regular ice, which makes it easier to chew. Below we have a brief buyer’s guide to help you choose the best nugget ice maker for cocktails.
This is an important consideration when choosing the best nugget ice maker. If the bin is too big, you will have wasted water and ice and higher electric bills. On the other hand, if the bin is too small, you will probably run out of ice or have to wait for the machine to make more. Ultimately, this also results in more wear and tear on your machine.
So, while the bin size may not seem like a big factor to consider; it definitely is if you want a nugget ice maker that can get the job done.
Another way to help prolong the life of your ice maker is by using a water filtration system or in-line water filter. This can help reduce the amount of mineral deposits that begin to build up in your machine. It also results in much better tasting ice while reducing the machine’s overall energy consumption.
When you use poor quality water, you may also find that the wear and tear can quickly void your warranty. Since a nugget ice maker is somewhat of an investment, you want to do whatever you can to care and maintain your machine and extend its life.
Ice Quality and Size
Portable ice makers offer higher speed production, but they do not produce that perfect ice you are looking for. Instead, you want an under the counter or countertop model. These ice makers may cost a bit more, but you will have access to the best ice with the best consistency.
Easy to Use and Clean
No one wants to have to learn how to use an overly complicated machine to get their ice. For the most part, most ice makers are pretty straightforward and easy to use, but you may find it harder to learn if the machine has extra features including different size options and ice types to choose from.
Another factor you definitely want to consider is how easy it is to clean the machine. If it has a built-in water recycling system, you will find it easier to drain and clean the machine regularly.
Nugget Ice Maker FAQ
Why are nugget ice machines so expensive?
It’s easy to think that an ice maker is a simple machine. In reality, they are more complex than the average refrigerator.
They are made up of fairly pricey parts and materials, including copper, refrigerant, control boards, pumps, compressors, and stainless steel.
Nugget ice machines need to create ice of a very particular size, shape, and consistency, and they need to do this fairly quickly. To make Sonic ice, these ice machine first start by freezing ice in small sheets.
The small flakes of ice that protrude are scraped off, and these flakes are then compacted into little nuggets or pebbles. When you really think about it, the price tag starts to make sense.
And personally, I think it’s worth every penny. It sounds like an exaggeration, but ice like this can really change your life. If that’s going too far for you, it can at least make having a drink more enjoyable.
Nugget ice VS clear ice cubes?
This comes down to a matter of preference. Both nugget ice and clear ice cubes are gourmet ice, and both work well in different kinds of cold drinks.
Clear ice is made through a unique freezing process that eliminates air. Unlike a standard ice cube, these cubes really are clear, and this definitely has a bit of a wow factor.
Clear ice cubes look classy and fancy, and there’s something about this that can just make drinks taste a bit better. What makes nugget ice different is the size and texture.
This ice is softer and smaller. It is known for being chewable and for its flavor retention abilities. Nugget ice is particularly good with soda and cocktails like the mojito.
How to make Sonic ice without a machine?
It’s impossible to make true Sonic ice without a machine. That said, you can make ice that is somewhat similar to that chewable ice you love.
Crushed ice isn’t the same as nugget ice, but when you crush normal ice to a certain consistency, it’s pretty close.
You can use a manual crank like this one by Vitorio Kitchen Products.
You will need to crush the ice until it is quite fine. Another option is using a Lewis Bag and wooden mallet, a special tool used historically for this purpose and still popular today with some bartenders.
For a DIY version of the Lewis Bag concept, you can crush the ice by putting it inside of a bag or wrapping it inside a tea towel and then hitting it with a hammer.
The finely crushed ice you end up with isn’t quite nugget ice, but it’s a lot closer than standard ice cubes.
Another way to get Sonic-style ice at home without a machine is to start with fizzy water.
Make ice cubes from club soda. The fizzier, the better.
Those big bubbles will help you get the porous ice texture you want. Don’t make full-size ice cubes. Keep them on the smaller side.
After making ice from this fizzy water, you’ll need to crush the ice, using one of the methods described above. With this kind of carbonated ice, you can even successfully get the size and texture you want by simply putting it in a glass and muddling it.
How do I clean my nugget ice machine?
All nugget ice machines need some regular maintenance, including descaling. In some cases, like with the Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L, there is a high-tech self-cleaning mechanism.
Whenever the machine needs to be cleaned, it will notify you, and then you can authorize the start of the self-cleaning process.
For other nugget ice machines, you’ll need to take a few additional steps.
Here is a detailed tutorial for how to clean the Scotsman SCN60.
Under the counter will be a pretty similar process for all nugget ice machines, although you will need to follow the instructions in the manual for your particular model.
If you don’t perform the recommended maintenance, including cleaning, your nugget ice machine might not last as long as it would otherwise. Considering the big investment, you definitely don’t want this to happen.
Another good reason to regularly clean your nugget ice machine per the instructions is that your ice won’t taste as good when the machine is in need of a cleaning.
Best nugget ice maker for the home?
This is an impossible one for me to answer because it really comes down to different needs and preferences.
The right one for my home might not be the right one for yours.
The 6 listed above are all good options for home use, representing a range of budgets, aesthetics, and features.
For families, the Dispenser might be the best option because of its large capacity, ease of use, and the fact that it can dispense water as well as ice.
If you’re building a new home or you’re undergoing a kitchen renovation, the Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 Pearl Self-Contained Ice Machine might be the best option for you since it works so well as a built-in, under-counter unit.
If you don’t have much to spend, the Igloo ICE103 + Manual Ice Crusher is a good budget option that will get you closer to Sonic ice until you can afford a true nugget ice machine.
For a lot of homes, the bestselling Opal Small Nugget Ice Maker is the best choice. It has an affordable price, makes very good ice, and quite compact.
How is Sonic ice made?
These ice pellets are comprised of frozen water and air. It is also good for use in cocktails because it is softer and blends up nicely. To make this ice, the water is run through a metal cylinder and the refrigeration system that you ice maker uses then cools the water down to a freezing temperature.
The water then begins to freeze in sheets and protrudes out of the side of the cylinder. An auger then scrapes the walls of the cylinder to create ice flakes. Those flakes are then pushed through a small tube and this is where they begin to take on their compacted, nugget form.
What are the benefits of nugget ice makers?
This is definitely one of the most preferred ice types, so if you are an ice enthusiast and you want access to these pellets, then a nugget ice maker is definitely something to invest in. You will have access to high-quality ice with just a simple click of a button, you will have fast and easy access to ice that is very blender-friendly, and you will also save you the cost of buying this kind of ice in bags over and over.
Which of these nugget ice makers would be best for your home? Let me know in the comments.
Feel free to share this list with anyone you know who enjoys a perfect pebble ice cocktail. You might want to share it with loved ones as well, hinting that it would make a great present for you!
Do you have any other questions about Sonic ice and nugget ice maker machines? Feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer you.
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