Snow cones can be traced all the way back to the mid-1800s during the American Industrial Revolution, with the first proper snow cone machine hitting the market in 1919 at the State Fair of Texas. Today, sweet shaved ice is, without a doubt, one of the best warm-weather treats around. It’s a simple snack with an endless array of flavor options to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. While combining ice and flavoring is certainly not a complicated process, crushing the ice into small bits can be quite tricky without the aid of a snow cone maker. Whether you’re looking for an everyday treat or a fun trick to roll out at parties, the best snow cone machine will keep you supplied with shaved ice all summer long.
There are a few major considerations and decisions to make before adding a snow-cone machine to your home-appliance collection. Think about who you’ll want to serve these sweet treats to—do you need something you can take on the go to the park or beach? Should you invest in an old-school cart? We’ll walk you through some essential questions to get you started.
What does a snow-cone maker actually do?
While it may seem straightforward to some, it never hurts to consider what exactly your new machine is doing to execute those perfectly fluffy ice crystals. Snow-cone makers provide custom ice molds or take common household ice cubes and turn them into veritable snow. With an electric model, typically all you’ll need to do is apply a little bit of pressure, pushing the ice through a specially designed blender that grinds it up without melting it. Depending on the machine you purchase, the ice will be doled out into those quintessential snow cone cups, and you can add the flavoring of your choice.
How many people are you hoping to serve?
If you’re looking to keep a snow-cone machine around to satisfy your family’s summer dessert cravings or serve a few friends, a standard countertop model will suit your needs. While each snow cone will be made to order, you don’t need an industrial-strength machine to serve four or five treats at a time. However, if you’re looking to host a more significant event, consider investing in a commercial-grade model. These machines will be slightly larger and can produce more than 100 pounds of crushed ice per hour. You can also look for a model with an ice reservoir. That way you can grind up a healthy amount before continuously serving. Just make sure to store any machine with a reservoir in a cool place—you don’t want to spend time crushing the ice only for it to melt. These high-end snow-cone makers will help your guests avoid a line and save you any additional stress.
Do you need something portable?
If you don’t have any access to power, consider purchasing a portable snow-cone maker with a hand crank during an outdoor park party. While they’re more tedious than their electric contemporaries, hand-crank models are easy to use and often come in small sizes that you can quickly pack away in a cooler or travel bag. Just remember, smaller models can only handle a certain amount of ice at once, so make sure you pace yourself if you need to churn out multiple rounds.
Do you want a complete kit?
A snow cone is much more than plain pieces of tiny ice. You need flavor (and cups). With most machines, you will need to supply your own ingredients, but there are a few complete kits out there that will help you get started. These kits are particularly great for folks who need a snow-cone maker on short notice or don’t want to go through any hassle trying to select the perfect flavors for an upcoming party.
If you want to venture out on your own to create a classic snow-cone experience, plan to add spoon straws, snow-cone cups, and syrup flavors with pouring tops to your shopping list.
The best snow-cone machines
Once you know more about where you’ll use your machine and who you want to serve, you can start your search for the best snow-cone machines. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a few of our favorites, from hand cranks to commercial-grade models.
Best overall: Hawaiian Shaved Ice Snow-Cone Machine
This complete kit from Hawaiian Shaved Ice supplies you with everything you need to create delicious snow cones right when you open the box. The machine itself is electric and features 25 snow cone cups, 25 spoon straws, and six-bottle pourers to help control syrup flow. Plus, it comes with six 6-pint bottles of syrup flavors: cherry, grape, blue raspberry, tiger’s blood, lemon-lime, and piña colada.
Best commercial grade: ZENY Ice Crushers Machine
A party full of hot, hungry guests will be no match for this ZENY ice slush machine. With an impressive motor and hefty size, this machine can churn out 143 pounds of shaved ice per hour—more than enough to satisfy a crowd. The high-end blade turns ice into extremely fine particles to create the ideal snow cone. The machine is protected against rust, and a heavy cast base dampens sound and secures its position on a countertop or table. You won’t need to use any specialized ice molds—simply pop cubes out from your at-home ice tray, play them in the ice receptacle, and push down on the handle. Keep in mind, this machine is designed to process a high volume of ice. So, rather than collect neatly in a snow cone cup, the ice will be expelled into an included, attached stainless-steel bowl, which you can then scoop from.
Best old-school: Nostalgia Snow-Cone Cart
The aptly named company, Nostalgia, makes wonderfully festive, old-school snow-cone machines. While they have several countertop models, our favorite has to be this snow-cone cart. Not only is this machine a treat for the eyes, but it’s one of the best functioning models on the market. Its stainless-steel blades can crush up to two pounds of ice in just 90 seconds, and it holds enough snow to dole out around 72 cones. The cart comes with a paper-cone dispenser and a side shelf-cum-prep station that can hold three individual snow cones. The top of this cart even separates from the bottom if you need to ditch the wheels for a stationary experience.
Best shaved-ice machine: Great Northern Premium Hawaiian Shaved-Ice Machine
This heavy-duty snow-cone maker can get through more than 350 pounds of ice an hour and roughly six pounds in a minute. The machine works by applying pressure and slicing through large ice blocks up to eight inches in diameter and 6.5 inches tall. If you can’t get to a store with ice blocks, you can prepare the night before you plan to serve your snow cones by filling up a paint bucket or using a classic milk jug with the top removed. This shaved ice machine employs a highly efficient motor, adjustable stainless-steel blades and weighs roughly 55 pounds.
Best budget: MANBA Ice Shaver
This portable ice crusher from MANBA measures just 7.28 by 5.1 inches and features an easy-to-use hand crank. All you need to do is fill the top portion of the canister, turn the crank until you feel minimal resistance, and then empty the ice into the bottom reservoir with a quick push. This shaver comes with a 15-piece ice tray so you can stock up before you head out on the town. For an even easier snow cone, consider filling the ice tray with fruit juice so you can crush the ice and immediately eat without needing to bring additional flavoring.
Q: What to look for in a snow-cone maker?
The simplest rule of thumb is to look for a machine from a reliable home appliance brand. The caveat is that you’ll need it to fit your space, so be sure to take a look at the product’s dimensions and measure the spot you’re most likely to keep in your home. Pay particular attention to the product specs and look for a snow-cone maker that can handle more than a couple of pounds of ice per hour.
Q: How much ice does a snow cone machine use?
Each snow-cone maker is different, so the amount of ice you’ll need to use varies from machine to machine. It’s also dependent on how many snow cones you want to make. In general, most snow cones use between four and six ounces of ice, which means a 20-pound bag of ice could make almost 50 snow cones. If you have special ice molds for your snow-cone machine, make sure you read the instructions, which should tell you how much ice you’ll need to prepare.
Q: What snow cone maker produces the most snow cones?
The Nostalgia Vintage Snow-Cone Cart can produce more than 70 snow cones, making it one of the most productive machines on the market. A commercial-grade machine like the ZENY Ice Crushers Machine might have a smaller receptacle, but a fast motor means as long as you can refill the machine, you can serve as many as 20 people in under five minutes.
Final thoughts on the best snow cone machine
Celebrate warm weather with a fun, new at-home home appliance to help you beat the heat. The best snow-cone machine will supply you, your friends, your family, your coworkers, your neighbors, and pretty much anyone else that could use a pick-me-up with a quick frozen snack. Our favorite all-in-one kit is the Hawaiian Shaved-Ice Snow-Cone Machine. If you’re on a budget, we’d go with the MANBA Ice Shaver. All you really need to do is pick a manual or electric machine that can handle the size of your party, grab your favorite syrups, you’re in business. You’ll have a simple, thirst-quenching dessert in your hands whenever your heart desires.