Commercial Ice Machines Guide

Ice Ice, Baby!

Nearly every restaurant, commercial kitchen, concessions stand, bar, deli, coffee shop, food truck, hotel and hospital needs an ice machine. Bar none. In many cases, you need more than one and perhaps an ice bin to hold your ice. What determines the right ice machine is the type of ice you need and how much ice you need in a day. Let’s take a look at those options.

Ice Types

Ice type is something to consider, based on how you intend to use ice. There are several types of ice an ice maker can produce, including crescent style, bullet style, gourmet, cubed, nugget and flaked. Each one serves a very specific purpose, but not all are perfectly suited for commercial uses.

High volume commercial ice machines can produce essentially three types of ice: cubed, nugget or flake ice, though the crescent and gourmet style are becoming more prevalent.

Cubed Ice

  • Cubed ice is more dense than flake or nugget style.
  • Cubed ice melts slower than nugget or flaked ice, making it the better choice for beverages and cocktails.
  • Cubed ice is consumed slower by patrons, making ice supplies last longer
  • Cubed ice is available in multi-sized cubes
    • Full cube resembles a die, being equal in height and width
    • Half cube resembles small pads of butter and is a popular choice for self-serve drink machines.

Nugget Ice

Different ice machine manufacturers call this ice type by different names. You may see nugget ice referred to as pearl ice, chewblet ice, or cubelet ice. Patrons and people in the industry may refer to this ice type as hospital ice or Sonic ice, after the popular use in Sonic restaurant drinks.

  • Nugget ice is often compressed, which freezes quicker with more oxygen in the ice crystal. This makes the nuggets “soft” and easy to chew
  • Cools drinks more rapidly than cubed ice
  • Fills a greater volume of a cup/glass, leaving less room for actual beverage
  • Dilutes beverages quickly
  • Nugget style ice is available in multi shapes
    • Irregular chunks
    • Spherical
    • Cylindrical
    • Rounded or pebble like

Flake Ice

Flake ice looks like small chips of ice and is not usually the right choice for high volume drink stations. Rather, flake ice is more commonly seen in displays, salad bars, beer or soda bottle displays as it is more useful in ice molding situations. Hospitals and healthcare institutions may also have moderate use for flake style ice.

  • Flake ice is usually small and chip like
  • Flake ice is soft, like nugget style, with a high volume of oxygen
  • Flake ice will cool very quickly
  • Often used in bars for blended drinks

Crescent Ice

Cubed and nugget ice types have a fundamental drawback in commercial ice maker machines. It is easy for the ice machine to get backed up and ice jams form. Some manufacturers have answered that issue with the creation of a crescent shaped ice cube. Curved on one side, resembling a half moon, this ice type is becoming more and more popular.

  • Dense, like cubed ice
  • Rounded ice resists stacking in machines, which causes ice jams

Gourmet Ice

Considered the highest quality of ice you can get, most gourmet ice machines are available only in small outputs. Different manufacturers refer to this type of ice with different names, like octagon ice, top-hat ice, or clear ice. Gourmet ice is a perfect solution for upper crust bars and lounges known for serving premium spirits.

  • Very hard ice, with little oxygen
  • Slow melting and slow dilution rate

Ice Machine Types

Once you’ve established the type of ice you want, the next step is to determine how much ice you need and the space you have to store that ice. Essentially, there are three types of ice machines that directly address just those issues of volume and space. Let’s look at modular, undercounter and countertop ice machines.

Modular Ice Machines
These ice machines are the units you see atop beverage dispensers in places like fast food restaurants, high traffic cafeterias and high volume restaurants. Depending on the unit, modular ice machines can produce up to 1000 pounds of ice per day. These unit are typically air-cooled, but some water cooled models are available.

Undercounter Ice Machines
These units are typically the choice for smaller volume establishments with a lower volume output need. Undercounter ice machines are intended to fit within a certain space constraint and are a combination of ice machine and bin all in one. These units can be either air-cooled or water cooled.

Countertop Ice Machines
For very small spaces, these units are often found in places like hospitals and often double as a water dispenser. Countertop ice machines typically produce flake or nugget style ice and may only produce a limited output of ice in a day.

Top Ice Machine Brands

In the world of ice machines, there are top manufacturers to consider. These brands carry many variations and can be your answer for finding the perfect ice machine for your needs.

  • Scotsman
  • Manitowoc
  • Hoshizaki
  • Ice-O-Matic
  • Centaur


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