Ice Machines

Ice machines produce ice for service in foodservice facilities, restaurants, bars and hotels, either in the back of the house or for customer self-service.


Ice Machines: An Overview

Ice machines produce ice for service in foodservice facilities, restaurants, bars and hotels, either in the back of the house or for customer self-service. The type of ice these units produce determines their classification. Ice types include cube, nugget or extruded and flake.


Cube ice is the most common form, especially at chain restaurants. It is most commonly used to cool beverages. This type comes in larger or smaller sizes, depending on the operator’s needs. Hotels, for example, use large quantities of cube ice for banquet and catering services and often have an ice machine on every floor to service guest rooms.

Flake and chewable ice forms are suitable for smoothies and blended cocktails. These softer ice types create consistently smooth beverages and may result in less wear and tear on blenders. The ice also takes less time to blend, which enables bartenders to make and serve more drinks. Foodservice operators can use flake or nugget ice as part of seafood, meat or produce displays or to keep items cold in salad bars.

Operation varies, depending on the type of ice. Cube ice machines, sometimes referred to as batch ice makers, freeze water over a period of time. Within the cuber or vertical evaporator market, operators can choose from small, medium and large units. This is the most common type of machine because of the versatile nature of the ice it produces. These units harvest and dispense clear, rhomboid-shaped cubes one at a time.

Flake and nugget machines produce ice continuously with no lag time in between batches. These systems tend to use less water and electricity compared to cube machines. Nugget ice is a popular type and softer for easy chewing. The consistency of nugget ice is due to its makeup of 70 percent to 80 percent water versus ice. Flake ice is even softer than the nugget ice because of its extremely high-water content. It is for this reason that flaked ice is primarily used for display purposes with grab-and-go food, rather than in beverages.

The newest gourmet ice category has emerged simultaneously with the growth in popularity of craft bourbon and whiskey. These ice machines produce a large 60-gram cube that melts more slowly for use in higher end liquors.

Ice machine capacities vary, ranging between 500 to 3,300 pounds per 24-hour period. The most popular capacity for commercial foodservice falls between 300 and 1,000 pounds per day. Operators commonly use smaller units as auxiliary ice machines.

Operators have a choice of four condenser types. The air-cooled version sits on the machine’s exterior. It works with air from the environment drawn over the condenser to cool the refrigeration system.

Water-cooled ice machines draw in water from a separate chilled water loop to cool the unit. Due to the separate plumbing hookup, this type is more common for larger operations, including schools or hospitals.

The third option is a remote version where the condenser is an auxiliary or separate unit placed on a rooftop or in an area away from the ice machine. With this type, much of the unit’s heat is removed from the kitchen, keeping the area cooler. A fourth condenser type, geared for front-of-house use, remotely locates both the compressor and condenser, removing heat and noise from kitchens. Small ice makers tend to be self-contained, while larger units are more likely to use remote condensers.

When purchasing ice machines, operators can choose between various ice machine sizes and configurations. Widths average 22, 30 or 48 inches to fit on top of beverage dispensers. Modular units are available for use atop ice storage bins. Self-contained ice machines, also referred to as undercounter units, have built-in bins.

Some units produce ice and deliver it through a tube to a dispenser up to 75 feet away. This removes the heat, noise and bulk of the machine from the kitchen and provides easier access for cleaning, since the unit does not reside atop a beverage dispenser.

Energy Star-rated ice machines include air-cooled models that are modular, self-contained or remote condensing. Batch-type ice makers save on average about 1,200 kWh and 6,300 gallons of water per year, according to Energy Star data. Continuous-type ice makers have average yearly savings of about 1500kWh.

A ruling published by the U.S. Department of Energy set stricter energy efficiency guidelines for all ice machines sold in the U.S. Effective January 2018, the ruling requires all ice machines manufactured in this country to meet a minimum energy consumption rate. Some predict the use of green or natural refrigerants will further increase the efficiency of ice machines. Europe has mandated the use of natural refrigerants in these units by this year.