Ice Machines

Commercial Ice Machine Buying Guide

Learn about the kinds of ice machines, ice types and other factors you should consider before purchasing a commercial ice machine for your business.

We dare you to show us a high performing kitchen without an ice machine. An ice machine is integral to any successful food service operation, and is used for a variety of applications like iced tea and blended beverages, salad bars and even for patient care. Plus, give it a few weeks (or even days) and you'll soon find that schlepping bags of ice around gets old pretty fast.

But while an ice machine is one of the most important purchases in your kitchen, it's also one of the costliest. Picking the right ice machine for your business is important to get right the first time, because hopefully it'll be several years before you're shopping for one again.

Ask a customer what kind of ice they'd like and you'll probably get nothing more than a perplexed stare. Unless you're in the foodservice industry, you probably didn't consider the multitude of ice options that exist for a variety of applications. And to make matters more confusing, each manufacturer likes to get creative and call familiar ice shapes a unique name that fits their brand.

The first step in choosing the right ice machine for your business is identifying your particular needs. Are you a fast casual concept that will be selling hundreds of soft drinks per day? Do you have a salad bar or cold buffet that requires food to be kept at a certain temperature? Or are you a fine dining restaurant that's looking for an upscale ice option? Identify your needs before purchasing so you can select the right unit for you.

Find out more about the different ice types below:

Full Cube

Full Cube (also known as regular cube or whole dice)

Full cube ice melts slowly and cools drink quickly. You'll often see full cube ice used for cocktails due to its pleasing aesthetic quality for customers--not to mention that satisfying "clink" customers love in their drinks served on the rocks! Full cube ice is also great for large applications like ice dispensers and other retail sales.

Nugget

Nugget (also known as pearl, cubelet, Pearl Ice®, chewblet, gem)

Nugget ice is commonly used in soft drinks and other beverages because it is easily chewed by customers. Softer than cubed ice, but denser than flaked ice, nugget ice is ideal for beverages like iced tea, water and more. You'll typically see nugget ice also used in the health care industry because it's easier to chew than full cube ice.

Half Cube

Half Cube (also known as rhomboid, half dice)

Half cube ice is considered the most versatile type of ice. Used often as bagged ice in convenience stores, half cube ice has a relatively high ice-to-water ratio, which means it has more cooling power longer. Because of its lower production needs, commercial ice machines that sell half cube ice are the most popular.

Flaked

Flaked (also known as flake, flaker, crushed, shaved)

Requiring the least amount of energy to produce, flaked ice is ideal for blended drinks. Due to its small size, flaked ice is easily molded for salad bars, or meat and seafood displays. Not to mention the fact that the small size of flaked ice reduces the risk of being a choking hazard, making it perfect for healthcare and childcare applications.

Goumet

Gourmet (also known as supercube and "Top Hat")

Relatively new to the scene, gourmet ice comprises ice cubes made of unique shapes that might be octagonal or cylindrical. Typically gourmet ice is larger than regular ice cubes, making it extremely effective at cooling beverages. These hard, clear ice cubes are perfect for elegant settings like fine dining or high-end liquor bars, where you want to easily enhance the aesthetics of your beverages.

Learn more about different ice types by downloading our Commercial Ice Machines: Ice Types Infographic »

Once you have an idea of the type of ice you need for your business, then you can start examining your volume. For example, a restaurant can estimate needing around 1.8 pounds per person, and multiply that by a 100 customers and you're looking at around 180 pounds of ice required for service. Sizing an ice machine appropriately for your business is important--too small and you won't have enough ice for service. Some may tell you to upsize your bin for the purpose of storing ice and being prepared for busier service hours, but consider this--leftover and wasted ice may slowly melt in the bin, contributing to bacteria and mold growth (not to mention wasted water).


Calculate Your Ice Usage
The following are approximations in pounds per person unless otherwise noted

Area Total
Restaurant 1.8 lbs
Bar 3 lbs
Salad Bar 40 lbs per cubic foot
Hotel Guest 5 lbs per room
Catering 1 lb
Cafeteria 1 lb
Patients/Rooms 10 lbs per bed

When it comes to sizing your ice machine, also consider the unit's physical size. You'd hate to purchase the perfect ice machine, only to find out it won't fit in the location you've selected. Ensuring you have enough space for a machine, bin, filter, and adequate air flow clearances is crucial to the longevity of your machine. Not only that, consider where the placement of the machine will affect employee traffic flow.

Find out more about the main types of ice machines below:

Ice Machine and Bin Combination

If you have the space for it, consider picking up an ice machine and bin combination unit. These units come in a variety of capacities so you're sure to find just the right size for your business. Keep in mind that the unit you select also makes the ice type you're after (full cube, half cube, or flakes). The right ice machine and bin combination should fit perfectly into your back line without taking up much space.

Countertop

Countertop ice machines are ideally used in self-service beverage stations or high-traffic back line areas. These small ice machines give you the output of a traditional ice machine without taking up additional floor space, making it ideal for smaller areas. Most countertop ice machines dispense nugget ice and water, and are commonly used in healthcare facilities, breakrooms and more.

Undercounter

When space is at a premium, look to an undercounter ice machine designed to fit beneath counters or where height restrictions prohibit the use of larger equipment. Due to their size you can expect a lower yield in ice production, with most machines topping out at about 350 pounds per day.

Hotel

Not just for hotels (but you'll commonly see them there), hotel ice machines are perfect for high-traffic areas where you need access to ice without the scoop and bin combination. Due to its chute-dispensing design, all you need is your trusty bucket for on-the-go ice with minimal mess!

Modular

Modular ice machines give you the greatest flexibility because they enable you to select the bin and head unit separately. Typically modular units are available in cube, flake and nugget ice types so you can easily find the best ice for your business. You may also see modular ice machines sitting atop a soda dispenser, as these units range from a minimum of 250 pounds per day to as much as 1,000 or more pounds per day.

You've chosen the type of ice and the style of ice machine. But wait, there's more! Selecting your compressor type is important when it comes to the day-to-day operation of your machine because it affects the quality and consistency of your ice. There are three main types of air compressors: air-cooled, water-cooled and remotely cooled.

Air-Cooled
Air-cooled ice machines circulates air over the condenser to draw heat from refrigeration lines. Affordable and easier to install, air cooled machines utilize less water compared to water-cooled units, with some even achieving Energy Star Compliance for those who strive to be eco-friendly and meet sustainability goals. However with that savings comes a price. Though less costly to operate, air-cooled machines are noisy and can raise the temperature in the room (making your hot kitchen even hotter). Also keep minimum clearance requirements around the air intake and discharge areas in mind when considering where to place your new ice machine.

Water-Cooled
Water-cooled ice machines will require two different water lines: one to feed the ice-making compartment and one to run along the condenser. These units come with a higher price tag because they operate efficiently in hot environments (i.e., they won't heat an already hot kitchen) and tend to be quieter than their air-cooled counterparts. Water-cooled units may also be used in areas where the air contains a high level of contaminants (like grease). However, water-cooled units may violate local conservation codes depending on your location, so be sure to check any local restrictions before purchasing.

Remote-Cooled
Large ice machines that produce more than 500 pounds of ice per day can be equipped with an optional remote condenser unit. Typically placed on a roof, these condensers are air-cooled and tend to be more efficient (and quieter!) than indoor air-cooled units due to their Energy Star rating. Initial costs are higher here since these units require a professional to install correctly. Due to its cost, remote-cooled units are typically chosen only when a water-cooled or air-cooled unit will not work. That said, remote-cooled units typically require a roof or wall penetration to install.

Part of keeping your ice machine in working order for the long haul (at least 10 years) is following the proper cleaning and maintenance schedule. Typically your ice machine should be cleaned and sanitized (with a scale remover like this one from Scotsman) once every 6 months to prevent (and remove) the presence of scale, slime or mold. Failure to adhere to a regular cleaning schedule can cause scale buildup to occur on evaporator plates, impeding heat transfer and resulting in costly repairs; not to mention that you're putting customers at risk for not practicing proper food safety procedures.

Consult your ice machine manual for specific cleaning instructions and power switch locations since those tend to vary from machine to machine.

You should consider:

Water filters

It all starts with the quality of the water flowing into your machine. Water naturally contains several minerals (like calcium) and other contaminants that will slowly build in the tubing and around the heating elements of your machine. Water filters are relatively inexpensive units made up of a simple screen with many microscopic holes which are designed to capture these contaminants. They also feature a scale inhibiter which helps protect the working parts in the machine from these contaminants. Most importantly, the water filter will make your ice look clear, smell better and taste great.

Use Ice Scoops

Sadly, many industry workers still use pint glasses as ice scoops. Not only does a glass (or plastic cup) put hands into direct contact with the ice (read: instant contamination), but they house bacteria as well. Plus, consider how easily glass breaks. Try finding glass in a bucket of ice, and let's not even talk about the risk of cutting yourself on a sharp edge and contaminating the entire bin; and don't forget that most health codes require the entire bin to be emptied and cleaned if glass is broken in or around an ice bin. Just say "No" to glasses in the ice bin and pick up a real scoop, like this one from San Jamar.

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