I’m glad you found this article. If you want to know how to make nugget ice at home I can share my struggle and give you the “right” answer.
Nugget ice also referred to as pellet ice or Sonic ice (for Sonic Drive-In) is highly prized. I’ve often wondered why I can’t buy a refrigerator with a nugget ice dispenser built-in. That would be the ultimate solution. Unfortunately, I was unable to find one that exists. On my quest to learn the best way to make pellet ice at home for myself I found that there aren’t many reliable options.
There really isn’t a way to make nugget ice by hand. You need a machine to do it for you. Unfortunately, they’re expensive and most of them are complete junk. But there are some gems.
Also, while you can’t quite make nugget ice at home, you can make shaved ice which is a great alternative. Be sure to keep reading for our suggestion on a great inexpensive ice shaver.
There is one popular design that looks like a bargain that I highly recommend you avoid. It works for a while but ultimately grinds itself into a pile of worthless parts.
Of the few ways to make pellet-style ice at home, the GE Opal Nugget Ice Maker 2.0 is the best solution for most people. There are other options available but they either come at a hefty price or sacrifice reliability. Continue reading to learn more.
Best Nugget Ice Maker For Most People:
GE Profile - Opal Nugget Ice Maker 2.0
FirstBuild, a project company by GE, developed the Original Opal Nugget Ice Maker to fill the niche of an affordable nugget ice maker for home use. They’ve learned a lot from the original being available to consumers for a few years and have now come out with version 2.0. GE has also folded the Opal into the Profile line of products.
Opal Nugget Ice Maker 1.0 vs 2.0
The new design features several improvements.
- Quieter design
- Better reliability
- Updated look
- Wifi Connectivity vs Bluetooth
- When cleaning, it drains completely in 30 seconds as opposed to minutes
- The ice bin now has a spring-loaded drain hole that closes when removed to prevent leaking when not in the maker
- Moving buttons have been replaced with touch-sensitive buttons
Why It’s The Best Nugget Ice Maker
The Opal Nugget Ice Maker 2.0 is currently the best pellet-style ice maker by far. It isn’t the cheapest option but it is the most reliable non-commercial pellet ice maker at the low end of the price range.
This isn’t a cheap device but it does its job very well and is large enough and fast enough to please most people in most situations.
How It Works
This countertop appliance isn’t too bulky and doesn’t require plumbing but no plumbing does mean you’ll have to manually fill the water reservoir yourself.
It can accept up to 6 cups of water which will turn into 3 pounds of ice within 3 hours. This is a reasonable amount of ice but not a huge amount. It should satisfy most, however. It’s great for a family but will have trouble keeping up at a party.
The unit has a single button at the top center ringed with a light that changes based upon the status of the machine. Solid white is in standby mode. A spinning white light means it’s making ice. Yellow indicates it is in cleaning mode. And a back and forth swaying blue light means that the water reservoir needs to be replenished.
This is a very reliable countertop pellet ice maker and features several welcome improvements over the previous version. While the price is rather high for a counter-top ice maker, reliable alternatives are currently not available.
Best Built-In Nugget Ice Maker:
Scotsman SCN60PA-1SS Brilliance Nugget Ice Machine
The Scotsman SCN60PA-1SS Brilliance Nugget Ice Machine is the absolute best nugget ice maker for home use that money can buy. It’s perfect for home use as an under counter ice maker and is made by the inventors of nugget ice.
This beast of an ice maker can make up to 60 pounds of ice per day. With this amount of production capability you won’t have issues running out of ice even if you’re throwing a large part.
The Scotsman accepts custom panels for the door as opposed to the stainless steel door that is included. This will allow you to match your cabinets for an integrated look. It also includes a pump for pumping drain water up to a nearby drain if you can’t plumb it to drain via gravity. This ice maker is also 40% more efficient than similar ice makers.
Scotsman has a very good reliability track record and gets glowing reviews. You’ll want to make sure this is professionally installed to ensure the best results. It needs to be plumbed properly and the lower front air intake needs to be unobstructed.
This is very much a luxury item and not for everyone. If you can afford one don’t waste your time with other brands. Scotsman is the original and the most reliable option. Similar units can be had for less but if you’re going to be shopping for a luxury item of this caliber you shouldn’t skimp on an inferior design.
A Design To Avoid
Arctic Pro Nugget Ice Maker
My wife bought me the Arctic Pro Nugget Ice Maker for Valentine’s Day this year (2021) which I loved and was very grateful and excited to receive. Unfortunately as of yesterday (August 17th, 2021), it is now dead.
This unit made great nugget ice while it lasted, but it has many design issues in addition to the one that killed it within 6 months.
- The first problem was that it was LOUD. I mean, hear it across the house through a closed-door loud. The volume of the grinding noise would vary up and down over the time we used it. I got to where I could tune it out but it was driving my wife crazy and if she hadn’t gotten it for me as a gift she would’ve gotten rid of it. This noise is common with pellet ice makers but this was next-level annoying.
- The second problem was it leaked from the lower front edge of the ice bin. It didn’t initially leak at all but once it started, we never could figure out how to get it to stop. It comes with a leak tray but that would fill within an hour or 2 so wiping up the counter and the floor was a constant chore.
- The third problem is the surprisingly unintuitive-to-use controls. Weirdly, each button required a different amount of time to hold it to activate. The light could be easily turned on or off by simply touching the button. This is how I’d expect each button to work. Unfortunately, the light would often be turned off accidentally by incidental contact. The UV light would require the longest time to hold down until it would activate. Honestly, the time it took to hold the other 2 I’m not completely certain of because I used them much less often. It’s only recently I figured out how to actually operate all of the buttons.
It’s a blessing that it died in a way. It was a truly terrible machine. It was a constant source of frustration with leaking and noise. Also, it would randomly stop making ice, randomly turn off the UV light, and possibly randomly turn off the interior light. It’s all possible those were incidental contact but given that all but the interior light needed an extended period of time to hold the button I think it’s unlikely.
If I had known she was going to get me a nugget ice maker I would have STRONGLY suggested the slightly more expensive Opal. Now that it’s dead and I’m hooked like a crack addict on pellet ice I’ll be placing an order for the Opal myself.
Similar Ice Makers
If you decide you want to try to save some money and go with an ice maker other than the GE Opal, avoid designs that look like the Arctic Pro. There are several on the market, including one from Frigidaire. These are all likely using the same parts and made in the same factory. I can’t imagine they’ll perform any better than the Arctic Pro I had.
Nugget Ice Alternative - Shaved Ice
Ok. So Nugget Ice can’t be made at home without an Ice Machine BUT you can make shaved ice which is similar enough for most people looking for some soft and chewable ice.
VIVOHOME Electric Ice Shaver
The VIVOHome Electric Ice Shaver makes some great flakey and thin ice chips that can be an excellent substitute for nugget ice.
It comes with a durable stainless steel catch bowl and also uses stainless steel blades to keep it shaving ice.
It can crank out a much larger volume of ice (143lbs/hr) than a pellet ice maker so it’s a much better fit for a party.
Last, it’s significantly cheaper than a pellet ice maker. While you have to actively use it to shave ice versus a machine that will make ice on its own, it’s a serious bargain in comparison.
Things To Keep In Mind
What is nugget ice?
Nugget ice is a considered a gourmet ice. It is very soft and pleasurable to chew. It absorbs liquids well and enhances drinks. Nugget ice is made in various ways but it is essentially ice that is scraped into a small pellet which keeps it much less dense than a regular ice cube. Although it is available at a wide number of retail establishments, Sonic Drive-In has become synonymous with it. Nugget ice is also referred to by many other names such as pellet ice, sonic ice, hospital ice, and even rabbit turd ice.
Why isn’t there a refrigerator with a nugget ice dispenser?
While I wasn’t able to find a definitive answer to this question online, I think the most likely culprit is the cost. Even the small counter top Opal is several hundred dollars. Under counter nugget ice machines tend to start at well over one thousand dollars and good ones are typically a few thousand. This alone rivals the price of most higher end refrigerators. I suspect the market just can’t justify the expense.
Is it worth it to buy a nugget ice machine?
The answer will vary from person to person but if you have the budget to support it, especially if you live in a warmer climate, you’ll likely have a hard time reverting back to cubed ice if you get one.
A good pellet ice maker will produce better tasting ice for a few reasons:
- The ice will be continually recycled and kept fresh as compared to some other ice makers
- Ice cubes in freezers that share space with other foods can take on an odd taste due to the items it’s sharing the freezer with
- Nugget ice absorbs the liquids it is placed in and better enhances the drinking experience
Best Nugget Ice Machine For Home Use
Unfortunately there isn’t a very inexpensive solution for making nugget ice at home but the GE Profile Opal Nugget Ice Maker 2.0 comes pretty close when compared with the other available options. It’s not as convenient to use nor does it have the volume of ice that the Scotsman SCN60PA-1SS has but it is a gross understatement to say that it is quite a bit less expensive. If money is no object, the Scotsman is without a doubt the better option.
If nugget ice makers are out of reach due to the high price, I suggest checking out a good quality ice shaver for a much cheaper solution to make something similar to nugget ice at home.
Good luck and if you find a better solution please drop us a line and let us know the details.