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Shopping for the best commercial nugget ice machine for your establishment? You are most likely doing the right thing for your business – with its soft and chewy consistency, nugget ice, also commonly known as sonic or pellet ice, has become the favorite of many people who have had the chance to try it.
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The challenge of offering chewable ice to your customers lies in nugget ice makers themselves.
As we said in our last post about best undercounter ice makers for home, the nugget-ice machines are difficult to find and are even more challenging to afford due to their steep price tag.
Things get even worse for those looking for a home-use nugget ice maker.
In this guide, however, you will find the answers to your questions.
We will showcase 12 commercial chewable ice makers in different categories, with different ice production capacities, with some of them being even suitable for residential use!
And to help you pick the best nugget ice maker, we’ll provide you with a few handy tips in our buyer’s guide right after sonic ice maker reviews.
What Is Nugget Ice (a.k.a Sonic Ice) To Begin With?
Nugget ice might look like regular crushed ice to you, but they are not even remotely the same thing.
Crushed ice and nugget ice are different because crushed ice is made by crushing large pieces of ice, while nugget ice is made from flaked ice that is compacted into nuggets.
Due to the making process, nugget ice has small pockets of air in them, which dictates its following special features:
- Nugget ice is soft and does not hurt teeth when chewing.
- The air pockets allow nugget ice to absorb the color and taste of the drink more easily.
- While nugget ice is small, it has a large volume. This means that you can reduce the drink’s volume by adding more ice to it, which may translate to money savings for your business.
- The air pockets in the ice increase its surface that touches the drink. Due to this, nugget ice may allow for more rapid cooling than crushed ice.
- Nugget ice melts slower than crushed ice because it has a smaller contact surface with the beverage.
- Nugget ice is light and airy, which allows it to float on the surface of the drink and distribute more evenly.
- There is little to no foaming with nugget ice in the drink.
Nugget ice has been popularized by Sonic drive-ins. Due to this, nugget ice is very commonly called Sonic ice, though there also are many other names like Pearl® ice, pellet ice, cubelet ice, chewable ice, Chewblet®, or soft ice. Some of these are brand names marketed by ice maker manufacturers – we'll explain it a bit later.
These days, nugget ice is highly popular with cocktails, fountain beverages, and other drinks thanks to its cooling properties. Some people use it as a supplementary ice when chilling the food or drinks in coolers, in addition to ice cubes, ice packs or/and bigger block ice)
Remarkably, this ice is even used in healthcare for patients who can’t easily swallow liquid and schools because it’s safer to chew on for kids.
Brands That Make Nugget-Style Ice Machines
Only a handful of top brands are making commercial nugget ice machines nowadays. We can pinpoint the following “big 5” of nugget ice maker manufacturers:
This US-based manufacturer is a pioneer in the industry since the Sonic chain has originally used its machines at its drive-ins. Scotsman keeps things simple and doesn’t have any brand names for nugget ice – the company just calls it nugget ice.
Another well-known and respected brand, originating from Japan but manufacturing locally in US as Hoshizaki America. Hoshizaki refers to nugget ice as “cubelet ice” and their cubelet ice machines can make nugget ice in three sizes – mini, small, and medium (detailed sizes here).
Ice-O-Matic, a US brand with more than 50 years of history in building ice machines, calls nugget ice Pearl® Ice (yes, they trademarked the name). What's good to keep in mind is that all Ice-O-Matic machines with “GEM” in their name can make nugget-like Pearl® ice.
Manitowoc is another leading commercial ice machine brand known for their superb quality. Like Scotsman, Manitowoc calls nugget ice simply by its name.
Follett is a Pennsylvania-based company and like many of the above brands, they have been on the market for decades. Follet uses the brand name Chewblet® to refer to nugget ice.
Apart from these 5, there are only two other makers of nugget ice machines that we know of – Snooker Ice and Opal, the latter being famous for their crowd-funded small nugget ice maker for home.
Best Sonic Ice Makers – Types We’ve Focused On Below
To prepare this post, we’ve decided to focus on 3 types of pellet ice makers:
- Commercial countertop nugget ice machines with dispenser.
- Commercial undercounter nugget ice machines, some of which are suitable for residential use.
- High-capacity, modular nugget ice machines that are intended for more demanding businesses or even for industrial use.
Since the topic of this post is commercial nugget ice makers, in our reviews below, we’ll pay special attention to the production capacity of each of the listed models to help you select the right machine for your business needs.
But even though our focus is on commercial pellet ice machines, we are going to start our reviews with the only compact nugget ice maker that is worth buying – the GE Profile Opal countertop sonic ice maker.
We know that some of our readers need a space-efficient machine for home use, and we think that this little machine will cater to their needs.
GE Profile Opal Sonic Ice Machine – Best Nugget Ice Maker For Home (Countertop)
- Production Capacity: 24 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 3 lbs
Until just recently, you wouldn’t be able to find a countertop nugget ice maker designed with home use in mind. In contrast, you could find plenty of cube ice makers on the market.
The only two ways to obtain nugget ice was to either buy it from chains such as Sonic or spend a few thousand dollars on a small commercial nugget ice dispenser to make ice at home.
With the introduction of the Opal nugget ice maker, available at Amazon right here, homeowners can now make sonic ice at home without spending a fortune. Yes, it's still relatively expensive if you consider that most ice cube makers tend to cost less, but chewable sonic ice comes with a price – it's simply more complex to make than ice cubes.
Needless to say, we absolutely love what this machine has going for it.
The Opal machine is like any other home-use ice maker in terms of convenience. It not only is sized compact enough for countertop use (15.5 x 14.25 x 17.2 inches), but it also requires no water hookups – the only thing that this machine needs to get going is standard 120V current.
Needless to say, you won’t be getting commercial amounts of chewable ice out of the Opal maker. However, its daily output of 24 pounds of ice should be enough for many users.
It doesn’t take long to make ice with this machine either – about 20 minutes, and the integrated bin can hold 3 pounds of ice at a time. Again, it's not much but should be fine for a family.
Notably, the Opal nugget ice maker boasts Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to schedule ice-making sessions via the GE Profile Opal mobile app. The build quality of Opal is great as well, with an abundance of stainless steel and some plastic elements here and there.
While we think the GE Profile Opal is the best nugger ice maker for home in its category, it certainly isn’t perfect as many buyers have complained about the noise it makes while making chewy ice. But what would you prefer – to tolerate a few minutes of noise to get that soft and crunchy nugget ice, or go to a Sonic drive-in every time you want cool goodness in your drink?
- Inexpensive (for a nugget ice maker).
- Requires no water hookups.
- Sleek and high-quality build.
- Produces 24 pounds of ice daily.
- Very compact.
- Expensive (for an ice maker in general, as ice cube makers tend to cost less)
- A bit noisy.
Best Commercial Nugget Ice Machine – Reviews Of Our Top Picks
Undercounter Nugget Ice Makers – Best for Small Businesses or More Demanding Households
Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 Self-Contained Pearl® Ice Maker
- Production Capacity: 85 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 22 lbs
Though by no means cheap, the GEMU090 undercounter nugget ice maker from Ice-O-Matic is a fairly inexpensive machine in its category.
Compared to another similarly priced unit from Snooker (will be reviewed a little later), it’s also a more rugged unit because it is rated for outdoor use.
In terms of daily production capacity, GEMU090 is solid – 85 pounds of daily nugget ice should be enough for smaller establishments. The bin capacity of 22 pounds should nicely complement its daily production volume, ensuring that you always have ready ice at hand.
Interestingly, this ice maker employs the so-called Pure Ice technology to produce odor-free ice as well.
Sized at about 14-7/8 x 23-5/8 x 33-3/8 (W x D x H) inches, GEMU090 is quite a compact machine that should be able to fit most undercounter spaces. In fact, this unit’s sizing is great for outdoor kiosks and smoothie stands.
With all that said, GEMU090 has a few downsides to know about as well.
First up, some users have experienced breakdowns with this machine in a few years of use. No ice machine is free of breakdowns, but a noticeable number of buyers have complained about it. The unit is covered by a 2-year warranty though, so you should be fine.
Then, also keep in mind that GEMU090 is shipped to commercial addresses only. Besides, the warranty only covers commercial use, so this machine certainly isn’t for home use even if you have the money.
- Not terribly expensive.
- Rather compact.
- Pure Ice technology for odor-free ice.
- Produces up to 85 pounds of ice daily.
- Rated for outdoor use.
- Warranty covers commercial use only.
- Ships only to commercial addresses.
Scotsman SCN60GA-1SS Pellet Ice Machine
- Production Capacity: 80 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 26 lbs
Scotsman’s SCN60GA-1SS nugget ice machine is much pricier than GEMU090, but it has many bells & whistles to justify its price.
For some people, the biggest advantage of this unit will be its convenience. It has a few fancy features like a self-closing door, no-water alerts, cleaning reminders, and a few others to help you keep your establishment safe and the machine running. The build quality appears to be better as well.
Daily capacity-wise, SCN60GA-1SS is pretty decent – it produces up to 80 pounds of ice daily, which makes it a good option for kiosks or small bars.
At first glance, the fact that this undercounter sonic ice machine produces less ice than GEMU090 at a higher price seems like a downside. However, you could expect the Scotsman machine to live without issues longer. Aside from that, thanks to its relatively low capacity, SCN60GA-1SS is sized about as compact as GEMU090.
But while the daily ice capacity in this machine is lower, it can hold more nugget ice at a time than GEMU090 – about 26 pounds.
As final words for this review, note that this particular listing of SCN60GA-1SS includes a gravity drain, and there also is another listing with a pump drain (SCN60PA-1SS – so the P in the name means Pump).
- Daily ice yield of 80 pounds.
- Excellent build quality.
- Quite compact.
- Approved for outdoor use.
- Convenience features like a self-closing door, no-water alerts, and cleaning reminders.
- Comes in two drainage variants: with a pump or gravity drain.
- We’d like to see more daily production capacity for the price.
Snooker Nugget Ice Maker – Undercounter / Freestanding Chewable Ice Machine
- Production Capacity: 155 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 44 lbs
This commercial Sonic ice maker from Snooker is priced close to Ice-O-Matic’s GEMU090, but it’s a very different type of beast.
First and foremost, the Snooker machine is much better for high-volume use – providing up to 155 pounds of ice per day, it’s a suitable option for small and moderately sized establishments. The ice bin is double the size of the one in GEMU090 as well – 44 pounds.
The second big difference in the Snooker commercial chewable ice machine is that it comes with a water filter. With all other nugget ice makers in this category, you have to buy a water filter separately, which will likely add a few hundred dollars to your expenses.
We can’t tell how long the included filter will work, but it will at least allow you to spread out your nugget ice machine expenses over time.
Of course, being a higher-volume machine, the Snooker unit is quite bulky. More precisely, it’s 38 inches tall, so it won’t fit under every countertop. It may be used standalone, but if you want an undercounter machine, then be sure to measure your countertop height.
We also can’t tell for sure whether this machine is suitable for outdoor use like GEMU090. Snooker writes about a rust-proof design, but there is no info on its suitability for outdoor use.
Finally, if you want even more ice, then there is a 280-pound variant of this machine available at Amazon right here.
- Not too expensive.
- Produces up to 155 pounds of ice daily.
- Comes with a water filter.
- Rather tall.
Manitowoc RNS-0244A Nugget Ice Maker
- Production Capacity: 172 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 40 lbs
Manitowoc’s RNS-0244A commercial chewable ice maker goes even further in terms of ice capacity. It can produce up to 172 pounds of nugget ice per day, and it can also hold up to 40 pounds of ice in its bin. The bin capacity is smaller than in the Snooker machine, but it should be enough for most use cases.
If that's still not enough for you, then know that Manitowoc offers similar machines with higher production capacity, like 300 pounds.
Notably, the RNS-0244A pearl ice maker is also more compact than the Snooker machine. More precisely, it’s just 33-3/16 inches tall, which is about as tall as Scotsman and Ice-O-Matic units reviewed earlier.
However, note that the Manitowoc machine is 3-4 inches deeper than the so far reviewed models, so you need a deeper countertop to neatly install it in your working area.
To keep things a little space-efficient, the RNS-0244A commercial Sonic ice machine has a door that slides up rather than swings open. This feature should make this unit easier to open in cramped spaces.
As a rather pricey nugget ice maker, RNS-0244A also boasts a heavy-duty stainless steel build that can resist corrosion. This model should thus be suitable for outdoor use, though Manitowoc doesn’t advertise it as an outdoor ice maker.
- Makes 172 pounds of pellet ice daily.
- Heavy-duty stainless steel build.
- Space-efficient door.
- Very short for its capacity.
- Pretty deep.
Scotsman UN324A-1 Undercounter Nugget Ice Machine
- Production Capacity: 340 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 80 lbs
The UN324A-1 undercounter nugget ice machine from Scotsman, which you can check here, is the last and most advanced option in this category. It far surpasses so far overviewed makers both in terms of capacity and durability.
If your establishment experiences high demand of nugget ice, then you will probably be glad to hear that this nugget ice maker can produce up to 340 pounds of ice per day – nearly double the capacity of the Manitowoc RNS-0244A machine reviewed previously.
The ice bin capacity is impressive as well – 80 pounds – so you shouldn’t ever encounter a sonic ice shortage.
When it comes to the build, Scotsman has chosen to mostly use plastic in UN324A-1. We and perhaps many other people would expect more metal, but plastic still does what it needs to. It’s durable and, most importantly, doesn’t rust.
Interestingly, the UN324A-1 commercial pellet ice maker has height-adjustable legs, so there should be some room for error if your countertops are low. And for added convenience, this machine has a vertically sliding door.
However, this is by no means a compact nugget ice machine – sized at 24 x 28-1/2 x 39 (W x D x H) inches, it’s the largest unit reviewed so far. But if you have enough space and absolutely need a high-volume machine, this might be the best commercial nugget ice machine for your needs.
- Produces a whopping 340 pounds of ice per day.
- Space-efficient gliding door.
- Height-adjustable legs.
- Quite bulky.
- For the money, we’d expect more metal in the body.
Modular Commercial Nugget Ice Machines (Industrial-Grade)
Manitowoc RNS-0608A 591-Pound Sonic Ice Machine for Commercial Use
- Production Capacity: 591 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: none
Although Manitowoc RNS-0608A’s production capacity of 591 pounds is far more than what we’ve seen so far, it actually has the lowest daily volume among the selected industrial-grade machines.
Apart from that, as a relatively inexpensive model in its class, RNS-0608A might be the best nugget ice maker for those who have a tighter budget.
When it comes to functionality, RNS-0608A is one of the simpler industrial-grade nugget ice machines on our list. It has some basic things like a timer mode and cleaning reminders, but it doesn’t have the fancy stuff that we’ll have a look at in other models.
Unlike the undercounter units reviewed earlier, industrial-grade machines don’t have integrated ice bins. You will have to buy one yourself – for RNS-0608A, you could buy something like Manitowoc’s B-420 310-pound bin. It’s quite expensive but is high-capacity, durable and high-quality.
Do keep in mind that RNS-0608A may not be the most energy-efficient industrial-grade nugget ice maker on the market. From what we’ve gathered from our research, this thing consumes 6.36 kWh per 100 pounds of ice. Compared to other industrial machines on our list, this is a lot. Still, this is a very solid modular ice maker, especially for the price it costs.
- Not very expensive.
- Produces up to 591 pounds of nugget ice per day.
- Cleaning reminders, timer mode, and other convenient features.
- High power usage.
Scotsman N0622A-1 Prodigy Plus Nugget Ice Maker Machine
- Production Capacity: 643 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: none
The Scotsman N0622A-1 Prodigy Plus not only has a higher production volume, but it also boasts increased convenience and functionality.
This nugget ice maker’s highlight is the Auto Alert indication lights that let your staff know when it’s time to sanitize, descale, and clean it. And to ensure quicker repair, N0622A-1 features an internal diagnostic code display that provides you with guidance on where there may be issues in the machine.
Notably, the N0622A-1 commercial chewable ice maker supports the Smart-Board advanced controls that give additional data for diagnostics. Another thing that you may hook to this machine is the Vari-Smart ice level programming device.
Interestingly, N0622A-1 Prodigy Plus is very energy-efficient as well, consuming 4.65 kWh per 100 pounds of ice. And speaking of ice, the production capacity in this nugget ice maker is up to 643 pounds daily.
Keep in mind that like it was with the Manitowoc ice machine, N0622A-1 requires an ice bin. Among the available options is the Scotsman B322S ice bin that can take up to 370 pounds of ice at a time.
- Produces up to 643 pounds of nugget ice in a day.
- Advanced alert & notification system for safety and convenience.
- Quite energy-efficient.
- Superb quality
- Quite pricey.
Hoshizaki FD-650MWJ-C Cubelet Ice Maker
- Production Capacity: 622 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: none
Although not the most high-volume model on our list, the FD-650MWJ-C commercial Cubelet ice maker is the priciest. Instead of insane production volume, it has a few other interesting features to offer.
First up, this particular variant that we based our review on is equipped with a water-cooling system. Thanks to the water cooling, FD-650MWJ-C will most likely be a better option for all-day operation than other industrial-grade machines on the roundup.
Next, this nugget ice maker is protected from germs by the so-called H-Guard Plus agent. It’s difficult to tell how much better this machine will be in terms of sanitation than others, but if you are extra-worried about it, then perhaps this is that best commercial nugget ice maker for your needs.
Another noteworthy feature is the infrared bin control that, as we understand it, provides high accuracy when detecting impurities and gives you timely cleaning reminders.
When it comes to production capacity, FD-650MWJ-C is solid but offers nothing exceptional – it makes up to 622 pounds of ice per day. And like the previous industrial-grade pellet ice makers on the list, it requires a separate ice bin. As an option, consider this Hoshizaki B-300PF 300-pound ice bin.
Also, know that there is a remote-cooled variant of FD-650MWJ-C available. Installed outside of the machine, the remote cooling system will keep heat and noise away from your working space, which is a benefit worth considering.
- Perfect for continuous operation thanks to water cooling.
- Produces up to 622 pounds of nugget ice per day.
- Protected by antimicrobial agents.
- Infrared bin control for timely cleaning.
- The most expensive industrial-grade machine on our list.
Ice-O-Matic GEM0650A Commercial Pearl Ice Maker
- Production Capacity: 740 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: none
Finally, in this category, we have Ice-O-Matic GEM0650A pearl ice machine. With its daily capacity of 740 pounds, this is the highest-volume model on our list. It should be a good option no matter the size of your establishment and the daily flow of customers.
Apart from that, there is a water-cooled variant of this pearl ice maker available. The air-cooled model we based our review on should be heavy-duty enough for continuous use, but for extra durability, the water-cooled GEM0650A may be worth it.
For added safety, the GEM0650A nugget ice machine also has a water sensor for automatic shutoff in case the water input is disrupted. Ice-O-Matic claims that this sensor can’t be affected by weather conditions.
As you could’ve already guessed, GEM0650A requires an ice bin to operate as well. A great ice bin for this machine would be the Ice-O-Matic B55PS bin. Taking 510 pounds of ice, it’s an excellent addition to this model.
To close this review off, keep in mind that GEM0650A is pretty large. In fact, 27 inches tall, it is the tallest ice maker in its category. Its width and depth are comparable with those in smaller machines, but if you have limited headroom for your new nugget ice maker, GEM0650A may not be the right choice.
- Daily ice capacity of 740 pounds.
- A water-cooled variant available.
- Water sensor & auto-shutoff for damage prevention.
- The tallest machine in this category.
Commercial Countertop Nugget Ice Makers with Dispenser
Scotsman HID312A-1 Meridian Nugget Ice & Water Dispenser
- Production Capacity: 260 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 12 lbs
Moving on to commercial countertop machines with an integrated dispenser, with the first model being Scotsman HID312A-1 Meridian nugget ice machine! This is a comparatively inexpensive and compact machine that may be a great choice if you have little space and budget.
The production capacity of this machine is the lowest among countertop nugget ice dispensers – up to 260 pounds of nugget ice daily. The integrated ice bin is also pretty small, taking just 12 pounds, so this perhaps isn’t the best option for serving a large number of customers at a time.
With that said, there are larger alternatives to this model available with 25-pound or 40-pound ice bins. These two alternative options are sized at 500 pounds daily as well, so they are a better option for larger establishments.
Serving ice right into the cup like, HID312A-1 significantly reduces the risk of contamination. The AgION antimicrobial treatment applied to some key areas should minimize health risks even more.
And interestingly, HID312A-1 Meridian has infrared sensors that allow for touch-free ice dispensing. According to this machine’s manual, the sensor is triggered when its infrared beam bounces back from a container placed under it.
HID312A-1 also has a water dispenser, but it’s not of the highest functionality. Most notably, you can’t adjust its pressure, so you may end up with splashes of water around your workspace.
Size is also important for a countertop nugget ice maker, and HID312A-1 is solid in this area. Measuring 16-1/4 x 24-3/8 x 35 (W x D x H) inches, it’s quite a space-efficient machine and should be a good choice for small bars or kiosks.
- Produces up to 260 pounds of nugget ice in a day.
- Fairly compact.
- Touch-free dispensing.
- Antimicrobial treatment applied to key ice contact areas.
- The water dispenser pressure is not adjustable.
Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L Ice Nugget Maker With Ice and Water Dispenser
- Production Capacity: 315 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 10 lbs
With a daily production capacity of 315 pounds, this Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L nugget ice dispenser is a better suit than the Scotsman machine for larger establishments. In fact, despite its larger capacity, it’s just as compact as the Scotsman model, allowing for great space efficiency.
For easier maintenance, CNF-0201A-L is equipped with the so-called DuraTech front panel. This front panel is tough, scratch-resistant, and very easy to wipe clean with a cloth. CNF-0201A-L looks sleek as well, which may matter to some business owners.
The ice bin in this machine is on the smaller side – 10 pounds. So even though the higher daily capacity of CNF-0201A-L will allow you to serve more people throughout the day than with the Scotsman maker, its lower bin capacity will make it less suitable for serving large amounts of tasty, chewable ice at a time.
After the touch-free dispensing system of HID312A-1 Meridian, the lever-actuated dispenser in this model is also a downside. The lever is still hands-free since it is pushed by the cup, but it may be an extra weak point in this machine’s health safety.
- Daily production capacity of 315 pounds.
- Very compact for its production capacity.
- Scratch-resistant and easy-cleaning front panel.
- The water dispenser pressure is not adjustable.
Hoshizaki DCM-300BAH-OS Opti-Serve Cubelet Ice Dispensing Machine
- Production Capacity: 321 lbs per day
- Storage Capacity: 40 lbs
Last but not least, we have Hoshizaki DCM-300BAH-OS Opti-Serve, the priciest yet most advanced countertop nugget ice dispenser unit on our list. Although the daily production capacity of this machine is close to that of Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L, it’s safer and more suitable for high-volume production.
For safety, the Hoshizaki machine boasts the H-Guard Plus antimicrobial agent along with a LED-activated sensor for touch-free ice dispensing. The sensor is technologically different from the infrared sensor in Scotsman HID312A-1 Meridian, but they do the same thing – minimize contamination.
Another highlight of the DCM-300BAH-OS Cubelet machine is the CleanCycle feature that purges the machine from water impurities every 12 hours.
Thanks to its large 40-pound ice bin, the Hoshizaki commercial Cubelet ice machine will be a much better fit for serving a high number of customers at a time as well.
All this beauty costs a lot though – as of this review’s writing, DCM-300BAH-OS was the priciest machine in our entire list. Plus, sized at 26 x 22-1/2 x 40 inches (W x D x H), it’s large and needs considerable countertop space.
- Produces 321 pounds of ice daily.
- Large 40-pound ice bin.
- LED sensor for hands-free dispensing.
- Protected by the H-Guard Plus antimicrobial agent.
- Self-purging capability.
- Quite bulky.
How Is Nugget Ice Made?
How is nugget ice made, you ask? Well, the making of nugget ice is simpler than you may think. Of course, it’s more complex than in other ice machines types (hence the higher cost of those machines), but it’s not rocket science either.
The typical nugget ice maker works like this:
- Water is run through a vertical metal cylinder. This cylinder is cooled by the machine’s refrigeration system.
- The water freezes and forms sheets of ice on the walls of the cylinder.
- An auger in the cylinder turns, scraping the walls to grab ice and push it to the top of the cylinder. This step produces what is called flake ice.
- The ice flakes are pushed through a small tube at the top of the cylinder, compacting in the process.
- The compacted ice nuggets go through an extruder tip. Here, the ice breaks into smaller pieces under its own weight or is cut by a blade.
For a clearer picture, here’s a helpful video showing how nugget ice is made in Hoshizaki machines.
Choosing The Best Commercial Nugget Ice Maker
Now, let’s try to understand how you should choose the best nugget ice maker for your needs. Below, we’ll cover the most important features to consider when shopping for a commercial chewable ice maker.
Cost vs Brand
There aren’t that many commercial pellet ice makers on the market, whether from domestic or overseas brands.
What’s worse is that they are much more expensive than other ice machine types, and some brands are more expensive than others.
You can’t go wrong with the brands featured in our post. They are trusted and make excellent commercial ice makers. With that said, you will have to choose one brand and stick with it for some time.
To make the optimal decision, consider the following things:
- The machine cost vs its features.
- How well machines from the brand work with what you already have.
- What opportunities for future upgrades and expansions you are provided with.
- Whether the manufacturer allows for easy repair or replacement of malfunctioned components.
- Perhaps they're some pre-existing parts you currently own (like ice bins). This could point you towards a specific brand.
These factors will ultimately determine the value of the machine in the long term. We think that the long-term value is more important than the upfront cost, so if a pricey machine provides great value, it may be worth it.
In this video you can see the features and benefits of Scotsman ice machines. As you will see, the company pays a lot of attention to quality and functionality.
The production capacity of ice machines is measured in the amount of ice produced in 24 hours. This spec is also called “24-hour yield”.
In nugget ice machines, the daily capacity ranges from as low as 20 pounds to as high as 1,000 pounds. Needless to say, it’s important to pick the right capacity based on your budget and business needs.
If your business is new, then you will probably have a business plan with estimates for customer flow. You may choose production capacity based on your estimates. However, allow some room for growth to avoid having to buy an all-new machine if you turn out to be underestimating the demand for nugget ice.
If you want a replacement ice machine, then determine whether your old nugget ice maker was enough for your customer flow. If not, then you will need to find out how much more capacity you will need.
If you are at a loss, here are some estimates of ice needs for different types of establishments:
- Cafeterias: 1 pound per person.
- Hotels: 1 pound per person.
- Hotel guest ice: 5 pounds per room.
- Restaurants: 1.5 pounds per person.
- Cocktail bars: 3 pounds person.
- Patient ice: 10 pounds per patient.
- Water glasses: 6 ounces per 12-ounce glass.
- Salad bars: 35 pounds per cubic foot.
If you have your own data based on experience, then you should probably base your decision on it instead.
Ice Bin Capacity
Any nugget ice machine requires an ice storage bin to operate. Some machines have integrated bins, while others require you to purchase them separately (more on this later).
Ice bins allow you to have ice ready for serving. Needless to say, it would be ideal if you had only as much ice as you need at any given moment. With too little ice, your customers will have to wait to be served longer; with too much ice, you may be losing ice to inevitable melting and bacteria.
How big your ice bin should depend on your customer flow. Generally, it’s recommended to have an ice bin that is 10%-20% larger than the daily ice yield of the machine. But depending on your peak times, you may not need such a large storage bin.
Next, you should plan the ice capacity for peaks. If your peak falls at 4-5 PM on Sunday, you should choose a bin size with demand at that precise moment in mind. Though it’s just an hour in our example, you don’t want to strain your staff and leave your customers unsatisfied.
Finally, consider the ice production capacity of your machine as well. Your ice maker will produce ice continuously, meaning that you may not need a large bin.
One smart move, if you can afford it, is to purchase not one but two or more ice machines of different capacities or with slightly different designs (e.g. one with ice dispenser, another one modular etc). This way, you can adopt to changing conditions and be better prepared for peaks.
As you might have noticed from our nugger ice maker reviews, these machines come in three designs – modular, undercounter/freestanding, or countertop. Which one to go for depends on your needs:
Modular ice machines (also called ice machine heads) have the highest 24-hour yield among the three types. They are designed to be placed on top of an ice bin or dispenser and require a separate ice bin. This allows for greater flexibility in terms of ice storage but increases costs.
Freestanding or Undercounter
Designed to be placed beneath counters, these machines are perhaps the most space-efficient of the three styles. They also usually have integrated ice bins, which makes them great for small bars, kiosks, and other establishments.
Countertop units usually have an ice dispenser, an ice bin, and sometimes a water dispenser. Designed for countertop use, these machines are easy to get ice from, which makes them popular in healthcare facilities. They are also popular in offices, as well as may be used in establishments where easy access to the machine is important.
Energy consumption in commercial sonic ice machines is measured in kWh per 100 pounds of produced ice. Needless to say, lower energy consumption translates to long-term reductions in your energy bill and money savings. You could save hundreds of dollars annually by buying an energy-efficient nugget ice maker now.
Aside from looking for lower energy consumption, you may want to get an ENERGY STAR-certified model. According to ENERGY STAR, certified ice machines have the following energy benefits:
- Batch-type machines: 10% higher energy and 20% higher water efficiency; 700 kWh & $75 savings annually and $660 savings over the machine’s lifetime.
- Continuous machines: 16% higher energy efficiency; 1,350 kWh & $145 annual savings and $1,260 savings over the machine’s lifetime.
Cooling System Type
Even best sonic ice makers produce a lot of heat, which needs to be removed to protect the machine from damage.
There are three main types of cooling systems used in ice makers – air, water, and remote. Each of these has its pros and cons, so let’s talk about them below.
Air-cooled machines are the most efficient since they do not require any water. Apart from that, they are generally cheap and are a good pick for new businesses.
With that said, air-cooled condensers typically need at least 6 inches of clearance around the air inflow and outflow ports, so you need to have extra space for them.
Water is much more effective at cooling than air due to its significantly higher heat conductivity (0.6 vs 0.025 W/(m⋅K)).
Generally, water-cooled machines are used in areas with an ambient temperature of over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Apart from that, water cooling may be used in areas where the air is contaminated.
Also, because water-cooled ice makers require little clearance, they are better than air-cooled units for tight locations.
In a remote-cooled machine, the condenser along with the cooling system is installed outside the machine, e.g. outdoors on a roof. Remote cooling systems may use air or water for cooling.
Since the cooling system is situated away from the machine, you will have less heat and noise in your workspace. Apart from that, remote cooling systems can get bigger and more effective than air and water systems because they are not restricted in size by the ice maker’s housing. The downside is that the installation costs will likely be higher.
Nugget ice machines require a water filter for two reasons:
- To protect the machine’s components from sediment or chemicals in the water.
- Improve the taste, appearance, and food safety of ice.
Choosing a water filter isn’t a simple topic and requires a more in-depth look. However, what you should pay attention to is whether the desired machine comes with a water filter or not. Most do not, but if you don’t have spare few hundred dollars on a filter, look for a machine that comes with one.
Ice machines require a drain to remove water as well. Pay attention to whether the desired machine comes with one, as well as consider the drain’s type:
- Gravity drains rely on gravity to remove water from the ice maker. These drains require no costs to operate, but they need to be lower than the machine’s drain outlet and be located close to the ice maker (generally within 12 inches).
- Pump drains should be used if the mentioned two conditions for a gravity drain are not met. Pump drains consume electricity and require maintenance, but they remove water no matter how the pellet ice maker is placed.
Sanitation Safety Features
For increased food safety, some nugget ice makers may have sanitation safety features such as:
- Touch- and hands-free dispensers (in countertop machines).
- Anti-microbial agents.
- Self-sanitation capability.
Manufacturers may use proprietary solutions for sanitation, so it’s impossible to cover them all here. But if you need advanced sanitation features, check out what the desired cubelet ice maker has.
Even the best nugget ice machine requires maintenance and cleaning, but some top models may make your job a little bit easier with features like:
- Self-cleaning or purging.
- Cleaning and descaling reminders.
- Diagnostic codes for easy troubleshooting.
- LED status lights.
Since we are talking about heavy commercial use, features like these would probably make your staff more efficient and your job easier.
Finally, consider the support offered by the manufacturer.
In commercial settings, nugget ice maker downtime will be critical for your business, so it would be ideal if the manufacturer provided fast and on-point support. The warranty coverage is important as well – pay attention to the duration of the warranty and what is covered by it.
All the brands featured on our list appear to have excellent support. But to stay safe, you may read reviews of other users (e.g. at Amazon) to see how their experience has been.
Nugget Ice – Frequently Asked Questions
Nugget ice vs flake ice – what are the differences?
Nugget ice is drier than flake ice. It melts slower and is better for chewing, use in dispensers, and drinks.
On the other hand, flake ice would be better for blended cocktails, salads, chilled foods, and anywhere else where food is put on display.
Pearl ice vs nugget ice – what is the difference?
They are the same thing – Pearl® ice is just a brand name for nugget ice used by Ice-O-Matic. There may be some size or shape differences between Pearl® ice and non-branded nugget ice, but they are otherwise identical.
Can you add flavorings, sugar, or syrup to the ice maker water reservoir for a better taste?
As tempting as it sounds, no, you can't, because nugget ice makers aren’t designed to take anything other than plain water. You may break the machine by adding flavorings, sugar, syrup, or any other additive to the water.
Why are nugget ice makers so expensive?
The main reason is the more complex build. There are more stages in nugget ice making – freezing of water, production of ice flakes, their compression, and shaping. In traditional ice makers, the water is frozen in ice trays, after which the ice is heated to slide out of the tray – pretty simple.
Not that regular ice makers don’t have their challenges, but they appear to be less sophisticated than nugget ice machines.
Best Nugget Ice Maker Reviews – Final Words
Nugget ice machines are difficult to find, especially for home use, but that’s actually good for you – many people will have to go out and pay a visit to your establishment to find it!
Hopefully, our in-depth guide was sufficient to help you find that best commercial nugget ice machine. Make sure to read the specs of the desired machine, understand what it offers, know your needs, and you shouldn’t have much trouble with finding the best nugget ice maker for your business!
And if you're a home user, looking to enjoy the tasty, chewable sonic ice at the comfort of your home, make sure to check the previously mentioned Amazon listing of the GE's Opal – we liked this one so much that we titled it as the best home nugget ice maker.
But if you're ice making needs are bigger than what Opal can deliver, we recommend checking the undercounter or freestanding models we discussed. We hope you'll find what you're looking for!
Thanks and good luck!
Last update on 2020-10-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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