Long gone are the days of boring ice machines that don’t take your tastebuds to the land of euphoria. There’s a new type of ice in town known as “nugget” or “Sonic” ice. That’s right, the popular fast food joint known as Sonic changed the way we live. Nowadays, we can make Sonic ice in the comfort of our own homes. Welcome to my guide to choosing the best nugget ice maker for your home.
Before now, nugget ice makers for home use were limited or just too dang expensive. Not everyone has thousands of bucks to fork out to get nugget ice on demand. The good news is all that has changed, and this very guide is the doorway to nugget ice bliss at home 24/7/365. Just take caution because your friends may never want to leave when you invite them over for cocktails.
Are you a root beer fan? Don’t even get me started with how good a frothy root beer tastes with nugget ice. Plus, nugget ice is loved by ice chewers for its fabled airy, soft texture. Now, it’s time to strap in and get ready to check out an overview of my top picks before we take a ride inside each machine in the reviews.
Top 5 Countertop Nugget Ice Makers
Countertop Nugget Ice Maker Reviews
There are two routes to take when choosing a countertop nugget ice maker: premium and standard. Premium, high-output machines manufactured by Scotsman and Manitowoc are for hardcore nugget ice fanatics and high-demand applications. Families of four or fewer will get more than enough ice from NewAir and GE models.
However, it’s important to consider how much you typically host guests and if you plan to use your machine to serve ice at parties. The Scotsman and Manitowoc models in this guide are the best countertop models manufactured by each company for home use.
In the following sections, I share in-depth reviews of each model with the pros & cons to consider for each. Once you finish going over the reviews, you’ll be just one step away from on-demand nugget ice at home. Now, let’s get rolling.
#1) Manitowoc CNF0201 Countertop Nugget Ice Maker and Dispenser
For high-demand residential use and for large families who down ice daily, it doesn’t get much better than this. Manitowoc takes ice-making seriously; in other words, you get top-notch quality nugget ice with this machine. If your goal is to recreate Sonic ice at home, this machine will not disappoint.
The key consideration here is “True Ice” production. Manitowoc’s CNF0201 model boasts an impressive 90% ice to 10% water ratio. This is why “true” nugget ice is so soft and easy to chew. Beware of sellers who advertise “nugget ice” on standard ice machines because there’s a lot of this shady business going on.
If you’re comparing this model against the Scotsman model in this guide, both machines are about the same size. Manitowoc’s model is heavier and does not offer touch-free dispensing. Additionally, Manitowoc’s model holds 10 lbs of ice while Scotsman’s Meridian holds a full 12 lbs. Despite those differences, I give a slight edge to Manitowoc for home use.
- The 90% ice to 10% water ratio makes for super-soft and chewy nugget ice
- High-quality materials that won’t rust or become contaminated
- High-output for large families and people who regularly host guests or parties
- Built-in blue LED light for clear vision at night
- A long, dependable warranty period
- Too large for most small families, couples, and singles
- Costly compared to GE and NewAir models
- Larger footprint than compact models
- The heaviest model in this guide
#2) GE Profile Opal Nugget Ice Maker
The best overall nugget ice maker for home use is undoubtedly the GE Profile Opal machine. This unit is an excellent choice for anyone who doesn’t require more than 24 lbs of ice in a 24-hour period. Singles, couples, renters, and small families will all find this machine more than ample for their needs. Although, people who regularly host large gatherings will want to consider the competing NewAir model because of its larger capacity.
Where does the GE Profile Opal shine? One unique feature this machine offers that others don’t is Bluetooth, which makes this unit the best smart nugget ice maker on the market. Simply install the GE Profile Opal app on your iOS or Android device to customize your settings and ice production. Also, the Profile upgraded upon GE’s previous model, the FirstBuild, by moving the tank to the side for more ice capacity.
Several final highlights & considerations are 20 minutes to first ice, automatic refills, and the portable design makes it easy to use for a wide variety of applications. Lastly, the GE app gives you the option to schedule fresh ice, monitor your machine’s status, and order replacement parts. This is important to consider because finding replacement parts is easier than for competing models, including NewAir.
- The only smart countertop nugget ice maker on the market
- Ice quality is top-notch and easily chewed
- The side-tank design makes it more convenient than the GE FirstBuild (refill the tank while the unit is making ice)
- Produces fresh nugget nice in just 20 minutes after startup with automatic refills
- Easy to install, no water line required
- Energy efficient
- If you plan to move it often, it’s heavier than the NewAir model
- Slower than NewAir’s nugget ice maker
- Smaller capacity than NewAir
- Might be too tall to fit beneath your kitchen cabinets, be sure to measure twice before you buy
#3) NewAir NIM040SS00 Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
It’s no mystery that NewAir is in direct competition with GE, but is NewAir’s nugget ice maker better than GE’s Opal? Well, it really depends on your needs. GE’s Opal is more attractive, heavier (which tells me it’s built with higher quality materials), and features Bluetooth for people who love smart kitchen gadgets. NewAir’s model is faster, holds more ice, and offers up to 40 lbs of ice in 24 hours – which is nearly double the Opal’s capacity.
For this reason, large families of four or more may want to choose NewAir’s model over the Opal. At the time of this writing, both machines cost about the same, so it really comes down to your daily production needs. If you find that the Opal doesn’t give you enough ice daily, then the decision is easy. If the Opal’s 24 lbs of ice daily is enough for you, then the Opal is the better choice.
Outside of those considerations, why would you want to choose this machine? Several features worthy of your consideration are the extra-thick outer wall for added insulation, self-cleaning function, and the fact that it only takes 5 minutes to get your first batch of ice.
- Faster production than GE’s Opal
- A better choice for large families and high-demand applications than GE’s Opal
- 5 minutes to first ice is a luxury
- The insulated design reduces ice melt throughout the day
- High-quality nugget ice quality on par with Sonic
- The self-cleaning function keeps contamination at bay on autopilot
- BPA-Free parts
- No side tank
- No Bluetooth
- Replacement parts aren’t as readily available as GE
- You may find it to be a bit on the noisy side
- GE’s interface is more attractive and intuitive
#4) KBice Self-Dispensing Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
There’s a whole lot to like about this self-dispensing countertop nugget ice maker that’s actually the first of its kind. The obvious drawback with NewAir and GE models is the need to use a scoop. Then, if you have your heart set on a Scotsman or Manitowoc machine, the price hurdle may be too high. In comes the KBice nugget ice maker to save the day.
At the time of this writing, it costs about the same as GE and NewAir models, which is a heck of a lot more affordable than a Scotsman or Manitowoc. Essentially, you’re getting a miniature version of a commercial model. Yet, having said that, Scotsman and Manitowoc models make better ice that’s on a Sonic and Chik-Fil-A level.
Going beyond those points, let’s go over other highlights of this machine. First, it has a relatively small footprint that just about matches NewAir and GE models. Second, the time to first ice is 30 minutes, which isn’t too shabby but no match for NewAir. Third, it offers touch-free dispensing, which in my opinion is its greatest selling point.
- The first small touch-free, self-dispensing countertop nugget ice maker for home use
- Significantly more affordable than a Scotsman or Manitowoc ice maker
- 24 lbs of ice per day is no slouch
- It’s fairly light and portable at 40 lbs (no water hookup required, just plug and play)
- Excellent ice quality marks – soft and chewy texture comparable to Sonic
- Quieter than NewAir and GE machines
- The ice bin is on the small side at only 1-lb capacity
- 30 minutes to first ice is slower than NewAir and GE
- The machine is not compatible with 100ppm water and higher (important if you have hard water)
- You may need to run the cleaning function to defrost it for smoother daily operation
#5) Scotsman HID312 Meridian Series Nugget Ice and Water Dispenser
I couldn’t resist adding a Scotsman nugget ice maker because Scotsman is the gold standard for making Sonic ice at home. This machine is certainly not for everyone, but it is for the people who want to go all-in with their nugget ice machine. When you invest in a Scotsman, you know you’re getting decades of the finest quality nugget ice at home without ever having to worry about an ice shortage.
The biggest consideration is the upfront cost. A Scotsman is for people who need their daily Sonic ice without worry. On top of that, when it comes time to serve guests, you know for sure that you’ll never run out of your ice supply. In addition to supply and production speed, the HID312 offers touch-free dispensing along with a water dispenser for one-stop convenience.
Several additional goodies are the antimicrobial Agion feature to prevent contamination, fully-removable components for easy cleaning & maintenance, maintenance-free bearings, an integrated USB drive for software updates, and one of the smallest footprints you’ll find offered by a commercial-quality nugget ice maker. All in all, this is a premium nugget ice maker for homeowners who want a machine that stands the test of time.
- High-quality components throughout the machine to prevent rust and contamination
- Makes Sonic-quality chewable H² nugget ice
- You’ll never run out of ice while hosting guests and parties
- Decades of use
- Reliable warranty with five years of coverage
- Touch-free, infrared dispenser
- Large upfront investment
- The water pressure is non-adjustable for the water dispenser
- Too large to fit below kitchen cabinets
Before selecting the best countertop nugget ice maker for your home, consider the following points:
- The available space on your countertop
- Your daily production needs
- Your budget
- Whether you prefer a self-dispensing machine or you’re okay with using a scoop
- Time to first ice (e.g. NewAir is 5 minutes)
- Replacement parts availability
- Warranty terms
- Ice quality reports by real owners – Is the ice truly Sonic-quality nugget ice or is the seller pulling your leg?
- How long do you want the machine to last?
- Do you plan to move the machine or keep it in one spot for its life?
Once you answer those questions, choosing the right machine for your home becomes a whole lot easier. Homeowners who want a nugget ice machine for the long haul should consider Scotsman and Manitowoc first. New homeowners and renters will find that GE, NewAir, and KBice machines all get the job done and are the best currently on the market.