September 10, 2021

Last Updated: November 20, 2023



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Best Countertop Nugget Ice Makers for Sonic Ice at Home

By trk

Last Updated: November 20, 2023

countertop ice maker, home nugget ice maker, nugget ice, opal ice maker, small nugget ice maker, sonic ice maker

Whether you call it Sonic ice maker, chewy ice maker, nugget ice maker, or pellet ice maker, this is soft, fluffy ice that people fall in love with. The texture is revolutionary--and now you can have this delicious nugget ice at home.

Here we review three of the best home nugget ice makers, share their features and pros and cons, and discuss the important buying considerations to help you make the right choice. If you love nugget ice and are thinking about buying a home ice maker, this review is for you. 


Table Of Contents (click to expand)

The Best Nugget Ice Makers for Home at a Glance

GE Profile Opal Nugget Ice Maker

Best Overall: GE Profile Opal/Opal 2.0

24 lbs of ice per day

3 lb storage capacity

Auto sensor to start/stop ice production

Optional 2.5 qt side tank

No water hookup required

Bluetooth capability (2.0)

One-touch control

1 year warranty

Weight: 44 lbs

Size: 15Hx10Wx17D"

About $550 w/side tank.


Best Bargain: Zafro Portable Nugget Ice Maker

35 lbs of ice per day

0.3 gallon water reservoir

Holds 1.5 lb of ice

Auto sensor to start/stop ice 

Detachable handle

No water hookup required

Self-cleaning function

1 year warranty

Weight: 18.7 lbs

Size: 11.3 x 8.6" x 12.6"

Available in several colors

About $99-$209.

Person using ice maker machine

Best Dispenser: KBice

30 lbs of ice per day

2 lb bin capacity

One-button ice dispensing

Water reservoir: 100 fl oz

No scoop--hygienic

R600a refrigerant

Self-cleaning cycle

Needs soft water 

1 year warranty

Weight: 40 lbs

Size: 16x12x17.5"

About $390.

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What Is Nugget/Pellet/Sonic/Chewy Ice?

From the edibleoklahomacity.com website (Sonic was founded in Oklahoma in the 1950s):

Pellet ice is made by passing water through a cold metal cylinder. The water freezes on the cylinder, forming a thin sheet, which is scraped off by an auger. This process results in flake ice. The flake ice is then forced through a small tube, which compacts the flakes. As the ice exits the tube, it either breaks off or is cut into small nuggets or pellets.
Sonic ice is likely so popular because of some of the properties of pellet ice. Pellet ice has much more air and has a much greater surface area than a typical ice cube. This matters because the air pockets in pellet ice act as insulation, which allows the ice to melt more slowly. It turns out the air pockets have other benefits. They make the ice much easier to chew, and also allow some of the drink to work its way into the ice nugget. Each piece of Sonic ice is a reminder of the delicious beverage it cooled. 

So, because of how nugget ice is made, it is softer than traditional ice cubes made by simply freezing water. 

Chewy nugget ice has exploded in popularity in recent years because people love the soft texture of it. It's been around commercially since the 1980s, but has been available to home buyers for less than a decade. As the number of nugget ice makers on the market increases and prices continue to drop, the nugget ice phenomenon continues to grow.

A lot of people are excited at the prospect of having chewy ice available in their own homes; there are apparently a lot of ice chewers out there! 

This review will help you pick out the best nugget ice maker for your home.

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Chewy Ice Pros and Cons

Magic Chef Portable Ice Maker

This Magic Chef regular ice maker gets good marks from Wirecutter and goes for under $120.

GE Profile Opal Nugget Ice Maker

The GE Opal chewy ice maker goes for about $550 with the optional side tank.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to nugget ice, but the pros are many and may surprise you. We'll start with the cons because there's really just one.

Cons

There are really just two cons to home countertop nugget ice makers: cost and cleaning.

The biggest drawback of nugget ice is that the ice makers are more expensive than regular ice makers. You can get a decent countertop regular ice maker for around $100, while the lowest we've seen home nugget ice makers is about  $200; our bargain pick is $99, but it's a portable model, so can't hold as much ice as a full-sized model (and this is probably a temporary price). 

Nugget ice makers are more expensive because nugget ice-making requires more complicated machinery. Regular ice is a simple process of freezing water in small blocks, but chewy ice is more like tightly compacted snow. To get this texture, the ice has to be shaved, compacted into nuggets, and extruded into an ice bin.

Though we will probably see a reduction in price of nugget ice makers as market competition increases and makers develop cheaper ways to make Sonic ice, it may never come down to the price of regular ice makers.

The other con is cleaning: most of these ice makers have a "self-cleaning" function, but it is far from a hands-off process. Cleaning requires unplugging the machine, dumping out all the ice and water--so you need to be near a sink or use a bucket or large bowl--and run a cleaning solution of diluted bleach, diluted vinegar, or store-bought ice machine cleaner through the  ice maker. Then you need to flush it with clean water several times to remove traces of the cleaning solution. Then you can hook it all back up and begin running it again.

Additionally, you'll occasionally need to wipe out the insides of the ice maker. If you have buildup from hard water or the inner workings are making odd noises (squeaking, scraping, etc.), you have to remove the cover and clean the insides. You can find videos online for how to do this. 

So for most people, cleaning the ice maker is the worst part of owning one. Most makers recommend cleaning the ice machine weekly, or possibly monthly if you use filtered water.

One other minor con--if it is a con at all--is that pellet ice isn't clear. The way it's made keeps it cloudy. However, as we point out below, the white color looks good in many food presentations that require ice.

To keep your ice maker working smoothly for the longest times between cleanings, use filtered water (reverse osmosis is the cleanest option).

Pros

Oysters on the half shell on a bed of nugget ice

Oysters on the half shell on a bed of nugget ice.

Softer: Nugget or pellet ice is softer than regular ice so it absorbs the flavor of your beverage and fills a glass more completely than regular ice. Not everyone likes this, but many people do. 

Melts slower: You may think nugget ice would melt faster than regular ice because it's softer, but the many tiny air pockets it contains insulates the pellets, causing them to melt more slowly than regular ice. This makes it great not only for beverages but for coolers, cold food presentations (such as a seafood counter displays or a plate of oysters on the half shell) and any other use where you want your ice to last as long as possible. (The white color also looks better under most foods than clear ice.) 

Fun to chew: The primary use for chewy ice is in beverages for people who enjoy chewing on ice.  If you love the the texture of chewy nugget ice, there really is no substitute

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Scotsman: The Original Chewy Ice

This under-counter Scotsman Brilliance is about $4200 and can make up to 80 lbs of ice per day.

Scotsman--see Scotsman ice makers on Amazon--is the original maker and inventor of chewy ice. The company invented the process in 1981. Though you can install a Scotsman in your home, they don't (yet) make a model designed for home use, so they're big, expensive, and produce more ice than a home user could possibly need in a day. They also require a dedicated water hookup and drain, which makes installation fairly complex (like having a second refrigerator). 

On the other hand, a Scotsman is the best nugget ice maker on the market, so if you're a serious ice chewer and can afford the best, then a Scotsman is the way to go; they're expensive, but they should last for years or even decades.

Note: Not all Scotsman ice makers make nugget ice. If you're interested in the brand, be sure the one you buy makes nugget ice. 

Scotsman ice makers are fabulous. All their models are sturdy stainless steel and commercial quality. Their pellet ice has taken the world by storm. But if you don't want to spend so much or don't want the hassle of a complicated installation, you can now get a sonic ice maker designed for home users for considerably less than a Scotsman.

Below, we review the best three we found.

While we normally love commercial grade products because they're built like tanks and last forever, the Scotsman is probably too over-the-top for most home users.

Pros

  • Soft and fluffy
  • Fun (and safe) to chew
  • Air pockets cause it to melt more slowly than regular ice (even though it's softer)
  • Absorbs the flavor of your beverage
  • Makes great slushy drinks
  • Fills a whole glass (because the nuggets are smaller than regular ice).

Cons

  • Nugget ice makers are more expensive
  • Most nugget ice makers for home use are made in China, so customer service may be hard to get
  • Most home sonic ice makers have a fairly short life span, often less than two years (the Opal is an exception).

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What to Look for to Find the Best Nugget Ice Maker

This section discusses important features to consider when buying a home Sonic ice maker. 

Freestanding or Water Hookup Required?

Most commercial ice makers require a dedicated water connection and a drain, which makes them harder to install; you may have to add a new water supply and drain to your kitchen, or wherever you decide to install the ice maker. 

Most home ice makers work more like coffee makers in that you add water manually and you don't need a drain. Some offer both options so if you want a dedicated water connection, you can have one. Some ice makers for home use require a water hookup and drain, but these aren't what we're looking at today.

There is no right or wrong answer and pros and cons to each design, but filling an ice maker manually works best for most home users. It frees you up to put the ice maker wherever you want it and requires little to no installation. 

Size and Weight

Most of these countertop chewy ice makers weigh between 30 and 50 pounds and are about the size of a small (college dorm) refrigerator or a very tall microwave. The Prime Home Direct model we review here is the first portable model we've seen: it weighs just under 20 pounds and is small enough to be truly portable.

Most countertop models are too tall to fit underneath an upper cabinet. Or even if they fit under an upper cabinet, if the lid is on the top of the unit, you can't put one there.

Most home ice makers also require a fair amount of clearance to operate correctly and not overheat.

Be sure you have a good place to park a nugget ice maker--for best results, out of direct sunlight--before you buy it.

Maximum Amount of Ice per Day

Commercial grade nugget ice makers can produce a minimum of 80 pounds of ice per day, another reason they are overkill for home users. That's more ice than even the best house party in the world could need. 

Most Sonic ice makers designed for the home make 24-35 pounds of ice per day--a pound or more an hour--which is plenty for most families. If you are having a party or need extra ice for some other reason, you can bag up the ice and put it in your freezer (although nugget ice is wet, and the ice can freeze together, so be prepared to break it up when you take it out of the freezer).

Otherwise, the daily output of a countertop pellet ice maker should be enough for normal daily use.

Storage Capacity

How much ice can the ice maker hold at once? Most can hold 2-3 pounds of ice. And while bin capacity is important, these are small differences that don't matter all that much, particularly if the maker automatically recycles the melted ice into more nuggets. The more important factor is whether the home nugget ice maker keeps the bin full. We found that most brands do this satisfactorily, even if the ice melts faster in some makers than in others.

Does It Keep the Ice Cold?

Surprisingly, no chewy ice makers keep the ice cold once it's made. You have to remove the ice from the bin and put it in the freezer or it will melt.

Melting isn't a big deal because the water drains back into the reservoir and gets turned into new ice. It's actually an elegant design that should keep your ice bin or dispenser full most of the time. 

We did find that some brands--the Opal in particular--have a better insulated ice bin, so the ice melts more slowly. The primary advantage of this is that the bottom of the bin isn't constantly covered with wet, slushy ice. (And again, a big reason why we picked the Opal as the overall best nugget ice maker.)

Model Type: Countertop, Under Counter, or Stand Alone

All of the models we review here are countertop ice makers--they sit on your countertop rather than on the floor, either under your counter or freestanding. They're smaller and tend to minimal installation (or none at all), so they are the most convenient design for most home users. 

They are also the least expensive models and the easiest to use. If you want an under-counter ice maker, you will almost certainly have to have a dedicated water supply and drain. This applies primarily to commercial units, which are extremely durable and will make a huge amount of ice, but will also cost up to ten times what you'll pay for a countertop, home-use Sonic ice maker.

Speed (How Fast Can It Make Chewy Ice?)

We found that several of the Sonic ice makers we tested took awhile to get going. The first ice took longer than the stated time, it was small, and only barely recognizable as nugget ice. 

Once up and running, most home nugget ice makers can put out at least a pound of ice per hour, with the first pellets coming out in less than 15 minutes. 

So getting going can be a little frustrating, but once running, you should reliably get a pound of ice or slightly more per hour. Considering how long it takes ice cubes to form in your freezer, that's pretty speedy.

If you keep your ice maker on 24/7 and keep it filled with water, you will be rewarded with a full bin of ice most of the time. 

You may be reluctant to keep your ice maker running all the time, but these countertop models are designed for this. You do not need to turn it off at night, and doing so will not result in longer life of the machine.

Shape of Ice 

While all nugget ice makers promise Sonic ice, chewy ice, or pellet ice, not all deliver. Most are very close, so much so that you won't notice much of a difference. But we found that the Opal was closest in size, shape, and texture to the original Sonic ice put out by the Scotsman ice makers.

All nugget ice is softer and chewier than regular ice, but if you want what's closest to Sonic ice, the Opal is the best choice.

Noise

When the machinery is running, most home ice makers operate at about 50-60 decibels. This is approximately equal to a running refrigerator compressor (which makes sense), or a normal conversation.

In other words, ice makers aren't terribly loud. However, when they run, you may find them annoying, especially if they're close to the dinner table or other areas of interaction. 

You may also dislike the sound of ice falling into the bin, but we found that this quickly became a background "house sound" that we stopped noticing. If the sounds of a running compressor or of ice falling into a bin is something you think you'll hate, you should probably re-think the whole idea of getting an ice maker.

Some brands of chewy ice makers got complaints about being loud. If your ice maker is loud enough to bother you, the best solution is to find a place out of your main living area to install it. If you have a bar, a recreation room, or even an attached garage with counter space available, your ice maker will be out of hearing range, yet close enough to conveniently use and fill.

Overall, we found the normal operating noise of the makers we tested tolerable. If your ice maker is rattling or making a high-pitched whine, grind, or other loud noise (that isn't the normal hum of a compressor running), it most likely needs deep cleaning or possibly servicing.

Dispenser

Most home Sonic ice makers have a bin and a scoop, but a few have a dispenser. With a dispenser, you put your glass under the spout and press a button to get ice. 

Dispensers are more hygienic than a bin/scoop system, but they are also more complex machines, and we think they have yet to be perfected for the home market. Our choice, the KBice Nugget Ice Dispenser, is the best model we found at a "home user" price point, but it has a few quirks such as occasionally dropping random nuggets of ice on the counter. 

Thus, if you really want a dispenser, you may want to think about going with a higher end model such as the Manitowoc--but they are really high end, as in the few thousand dollar range--and not all of them make pellet ice, so be sure you're getting the model you want that produces the kind of ice you want.

Ease of Operation

Most home nugget ice makers are easy to install and operate, and futzy to clean. We liked the Opal's one-button cleaning, but it still required repeated flushing and draining. All ice makers have similar cleaning procedures ("self-cleaning" is a bit of a misnomer).

Some ice makers have options that make them slightly harder to use, such as different ice sizes. In most cases, this is changed by the push of a button, so it's not really harder, just offers another ice option.

Overall, ease of operation of a nugget ice maker is simple, and probably not a deal breaker on any ice maker--though some are definitely easier to use than others.

Ease of Cleaning

Whatever ice maker you buy, you will have to clean it at least once a month to keep it in good working order. Most makers recommend cleaning every 1-2 weeks, or every 1-2 months if you're using reverse osmosis, distilled, or otherwise filtered water. 

Cleaning is the worst part of having an ice maker. Though you can run a cleaning cycle with the push of a button on most ice makers, that is not all there is to it. You have to use cleaning solution (diluted vinegar or bleach works, or you can buy cleaning solution), then drain it--you need a sink or a bucket--then flush it a few more times with water to get all the cleaning solution out of the machine.

You also have to wipe down the insides of the ice maker regularly, or surfaces will get covered with slime that affects the flavor of the ice and can cause illness. In fact, you should do this every time you clean your ice maker.

And if you use hard or unfiltered water, you will get scale buildup that will need to be removed. The vinegar or bleach cleaning solution will dissolve scale, but if there's buildup on the walls or inner workings, you'll have to do some scrubbing to get it off.

Cleaning an ice maker can be a pain, but it is imperative to the health and longevity of the machine. Be sure you understand the cleaning process before you buy, because you really have to stay on top of it. And for best results and the longest times between cleanings, RO or distilled water is the best choice. (The GE Opal has an optional water filter, which you should definitely use if you're filling it with tap water. But RO or distilled water is a better choice because it gets rid of more impurities.)

Adjustable Ice Size

You may want a Sonic ice maker that has adjustable sizes. This is a nice feature, but not one you can't live without. None of the models we tested have this feature, and no one missed it.

Lid/Opening Position

This may be one of the more important features: where you scoop the ice from. Many nugget ice makers have top access, so you scoop the ice from the top of the machine. But if you want to put an ice maker under an upper cabinet (if it fits), this lid position won't work. 

A top lid also makes it harder to see inside the bin.

The Opal chewy ice maker has a pull-out bin that's just above counter level, so it's much easier to access the ice and see inside the bin. 

Depending on where you want to put your ice maker and who will be using it (kids?), this may or may not be an important consideration for you.

Power Consumption

Power consumption varies by unit, usage, and other factors (commercial units like Scotsmen will use more power), the Find Any Answer website says this about ice makers:

Ice maker energy use is around 350 kilowatt hours (kWh) in a month—at a typical rate of $0.06 per kWh, that would cost around $21 a month.

This amount of power assumes you leave the ice maker on all the time (as you should, unless you're going away for more than a few days). It is not a small amount of electricity, so you may want to compare it to buying ice or using the ice your refrigerator makes (or even the old fashioned ice cube tray method). 

How Long Does It Hold Ice Before Melting?

Though all countertop ice makers recycle melted ice into new ice, the longer it can store the ice before it melts, the better. Some Sonic ice makers have thin walls and no insulation at all, so the ice can become a soggy, wet mess just below the top layer in the bin. The bottom layer can be constantly wet, which can really reduce the amount of usable ice in the bin.

The Opal chewy ice maker has the best design we've seen. The bin has a double plastic wall in the front, with a layer of air in-between that insulates the ice pretty well. It's one of the Opal's best features, holding cold ice longer than any other nugget ice maker maker we looked at.

Extra Features

Extra features on nugget ice makers aren't terribly impressive (yet), but they don't need to be, as the biggest draw is the fluffy, chewy ice itself. 

The Opal has a Bluetooth control feature, but it doesn't do a lot: you can use an app to start and stop the ice maker, change the lighting, and that's about it. The new Opal 2.0 has WiFi and voice control features that do the same things and add about $80 to the price. 

Some nugget ice makers dispense the ice, like the KBice machine we review below, which is a nice feature. Others, like this Frigidaire model that gets dismal reviews, dispense nugget ice, crushed ice, and water. Note that the water may or may not be cold; in many cases, water is room temperature because it comes from the water supply before it goes to the ice-making area.

Overall, we don't recommend buying a nugget ice maker because of its extra features. An ice maker largely works automatically--just add water--so fancy controls don't get you a lot more functionality. And they are all about the same amount of work to clean.

Instead, look for good reviews: dependability, good build quality, and great nugget ice: all the reasons we pick the Opal as the best nugget ice maker for home use.

Warranty

Most nugget ice makers come with a one year warranty, which you may be able to extend if you buy from the company website or with a special offer from the manufacturer. We strongly recommend not buying an ice maker with less than a one-year warranty. If you can extend the warranty, we recommend you do that, as well.

Though we stand by our recommendations, we also caution you that these ice makers are made in China, and customer service gets mixed reviews on all the models, even our favorite pick, the Opal. Warranties will help with this, but they aren't foolproof. 

Bottom line: read reviews carefully and decide if you're willing to take a chance on an imported ice maker. We think our choices are solid, but there have been instances of poor customer service and companies not honoring warranties. 

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Best Nugget Ice Maker FAQs

Here are some common questions about nugget ice makers.

Why Are Nugget Ice Makers So Much More Expensive than Other Ice Makers?

We're not sure, but we think it's because it's a more complicated process to make nugget ice. Regular ice is just frozen water. Nugget ice must be shaved, compacted, and extruded to get that fluffy, chewy ice texture.

As nugget ice becomes more popular and more makers flood the market, we may see prices come down. But nugget ice makers are probably always going to sell at a price point higher than standard ice makers.

Why Are They Called Sonic Ice Makers?

The Sonic restaurant chain was the first company to use chewy ice. It is the place where most people are introduced to chewy ice.  Thus, "Sonic ice" is synonymous with nugget ice, chewy ice, and pellet ice: they all mean the same thing.

Do You Need to Use Filtered Water with a Nugget Ice Maker?

Most makers do not require filtered, soft, or distilled water. Even so, we recommend that you use some type of filtered water. Our preference is reverse osmosis (RO) water, as the RO process removes the highest number of contaminants from your drinking water, as we discuss in our article The Best Water Filters to Buy (And Why You Need One).

Not only is filtered water a much healthier choice--all of your drinking water should be filtered--it will also help your ice maker go longer between cleanings, and last longer in general because there are fewer contaminants to muck up its machinery. 

Your ice will also taste better, particularly if you have an RO system that adds minerals back into the water; you can also do this manually with a few drops of remineralization additive or just a tiny pinch of sea salt.

For some makers, like the KBice model we review below, filtered--or at least soft--water is mandatory. 

Are Nugget Ice Makers Noisy?

They can be, depending on the model and your sensitivity to noise. When they run, most operate between 50-60 decibels, about the level of a refrigerator or normal conversation.

Ice falling into the bin can also be a bit noisy. 

We don't have issues with any of the ice makers we tested, but if you are sensitive to noise, we recommend you park your ice maker in an out-of-the-way spot rather than next to your kitchen table. 

If the ice maker is whining, rattling, or otherwise making loud noises that aren't those of a compressor running, it probably isn't working right.

How Often Do You Have to Clean a Nugget Ice Maker?

Cleaning frequency depends on several factors. Many instruction manuals recommend weekly cleanings, but we've found that if you use filtered water, you can get away with cleaning about every two months. 

You'll know your ice maker needs cleaning if ice production slows down (indicating the parts are clogged with gunk from your water), or if your ice tastes musty (indicating your ice maker is growing mold or mildew somewhere).

Where Is the Best Place to Buy a Nugget Ice Maker?

Today you can find nugget ice makers at several retail stores including Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and of course, Amazon. You can also usually buy ice makers directly from manufacturer sites.

We think retailers are the way to go because it gives you an extra level of protection: even if a manufacturer doesn't honor the warranty, the retail outlet will. We like Amazon because they're great to deal with, have a huge selection of options, and have the greatest number of customer reviews, which are a gold mine of useful information. 

If you have Amazon Prime, that makes Amazon an even more attractive option.

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Best Chewy Ice Maker Overall: GE Profile Opal

Under-Counter Scotsman Brilliance ice maker

See GE Profile Opal Nugget Ice Makers on Amazon

About $550

The GE Profile Opal is the premium countertop nugget ice maker on the market--you will pay more for it compared to other nugget ice makers designed for home use, but compared to any Scotsman--the original, commercial grade chewy ice maker--it's a bargain at about $450 without the tank and $570 with it (though these prices change frequently). The side is a worthwhile investment because it increases the amount of ice the Opal can make by about 3 times without having to fill the reservoir; with the side tank, most households have to fill it only once per day.

The Opal was originally made by FirstBuild, a subsidiary of GE. (Whether FirstBuild was acquired by GE or GE created it, we don't know.) As we know from our induction cooktop research, the "Profile" brand is one of GE's higher end, more expensive line of appliances, designed for the modern, streamlined kitchen. The Opal certainly fits that category. 

The Opal is currently the nugget ice maker to have. It has the best reviews, the greatest longevity (though many of these are too new for a fair comparison), the simplest user experience (one button operation! automatic start/stop ice making 24/7!) and it keeps the ice cold for the longest period before melting back into the reservoir.

The reason for this is due to the Opal's design: it has a triple-walled ice bin with air insulation between the walls that keeps the ice cold for a long time (kind of like a thermos). It's an elegant solution, both inexpensive and effective. It's not refrigerated, so as with all of these nugget ice makers, the ice will eventually melt back into the reservoir and get recycled into new ice. But if you go to bed and leave it on with enough water in the tank, you should have a full bin of ice when you get up in the morning. 

Sure, other nugget ice makers can do this, too, but the Opal uses less energy to keep the ice bin full and the ice cold.

The Opal was easy to set up and get operational: you just set it up on a countertop, plug it in, flush it for 5 minutes in the "Clean" position, and it's ready to go (the "Clean" mode is a switch on the back of the ice maker). Fill the reservoir (or preferably the side tank), press the button (there's only one), and you will start getting ice within 15 minutes. 

The one-button control has a color-coded "display ring" around it, telling you if the Opal is making ice, defrosting, needs more water, is in Cleaning mode, and more. The instruction manual explains all the displays, which are easy to remember:

GE Opal Display Ring and Button

A more complete control panel would be easier to use, but would detract from the sleek, minimalist design of the Opal. But the only really important alert is when the ice maker needs cleaning, which you will know from a slowdown in production or a musty taste to your ice--so you will rarely use the control panel at all.

The Opal has no option for a water hookup, which we think is a good thing because it means you can put it anywhere that you can plug it in. Filling it is easy, and with the side tank, there's a good possibility you'll only have to fill it once a day or less.  

The bin tilts out for easy access and makes it easy to scoop out the ice with no spills. We prefer this to the lifted lid on most other machines (such as the cheaper brand we review below) because it's easier to see what you're doing and you don't need space above the machine to get at the ice. You just have to be careful not to pull the bin all the way out. It took a few tries to get the hang of it but once we did it we found it easy to use.

We highly recommend using filtered (RO) or distilled water to get the greatest longevity from the ice maker, and to go the longest in-between cleanings. 

The single button can be lit up or turned off, and the internal light can be dimmed if you find it too bright.

We did not test the bluetooth function as we found it a bit superfluous for a machine designed to run automatically and manage its ice production 24 hours a day. But this model comes with a bluetooth app you can use to set the lighting and start/stop the unit. 

The newest 2.0 Opal has WiFi connectivity as well as voice control if you pair it with GE's "Smart HQ" appliance app. Again, we don't really see a need for this, but if you want voice or smart phone control, you can get it. 

When we first published this review, the 2.0 was brand new and hard to find. Today, it's the opposite: there are several 2.0 buying options on Amazon and not as many for the older model. But if you want to save some money and don't care about WiFi connectivity or voice control, the original model is the way to go.

There is also an Opal model with a dispenser, but it gets poor reviews, so we didn't test it.

Warranty info: All Opals have a one-year warranty. Amazon does not seem to offer an extended warranty on the Opal, but they do offer one on the Opal 2.0 (that may change). This is a good reason to go with the 2.0 model. You may also be able to get an extended 2-year warranty from GE on both models (check the paperwork that comes with the ice maker).

Like other ice makers, the Opal is a bit noisy when making ice. If possible, we recommend putting the ice maker away from your main living space, such as in a bar or rec room, if you think the noise will bother you. The only requirements are a flat surface, an outlet, and being out of direct sunlight.

Having said that, the ice maker is quiet most of the time, and when it does run, the sound is about the level of a loud microwave. 

Note that though this is a GE product, the one-year warranty is farmed out, so you may not get the customer service you'd expect from GE. The reviews from people who needed customer service were mixed, with some disturbingly bad ones. 

What about the water filter? If you don't have filtered (RO) water or want to use regular tap water, the Opal has an optional water filter you can easily install inside the machine to remove chlorine taste and some other impurities from your tap water. It costs around $20 and should be replaced every 3 months. 

If you're using RO or distilled water, the Opal water filter isn't necessary.

What about cleaning the Opal? Cleaning is easy: you unplug it and switch to "Clean" mode, put the drain tubes into a sink, and flush the unit out with a very weak bleach solution followed by several flushes with fresh water.

The instruction manual recommends cleaning the Opal once a week, but if you use RO or distilled water, you probably won't have to do it more than every couple of months.

How do you know if your Opal needs cleaning? Ice production will slow down, or the ice may develop a musty flavor. 

Features

Comes in stainless or black stainless steel

Makes 24 lbs of ice per day

3 lb ice storage capacity

Auto sensor to start/stop ice production

Optional 2.5 qt side tank (recommended)

No water hookup required (or possible)

Bluetooth capability (WiFi and voice control on 2.0 model)

One-touch control

Dimensions: app. 15Hx10Wx17D"; side tank adds about another 4 inches to the width

Weight: 44 lbs

1 year warranty.


GE Profile Opal Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Easy, fast chewy ice production
  • Closest in size and texture to "Sonic" ice
  • Side tank increases ice production by 3x
  • Keeps ice cold longer than other ice makers (better design)
  • Easy to use self-cleaning function
  • Bluetooth functionality and WiFi  w/voice control on 2.0 model
  • Filter option if you use tap water
  • Well built, good quality product with the best reviews of all the home-grade chewy ice makers we researched.

Cons

  • A little noisy (though no louder than others we tested)
  • Farmed-out warranty may not provide a GE level of customer service (mixed reviews on this)
  • Expensive.

GE Profile Opal Recommendation

If you want chewy ice but don't want to spend the money for a Scotsman or have to hook it up to a dedicated water supply, we think the GE Profile Opal is the best option available. You'll pay more for it, but you get excellent chewy ice fast, in an easy-to-operate and great looking machine. GE farms out the warranty on the Opal, and there are mixed reviews on customer service, but it's going to be better than most Chinese OEM ice makers.

Spend the extra $60 on the side tank for the easiest filling and ice making.

Person scooping up nugget ice from ice maker

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Best Budget Nugget Ice Maker: Zafro Portable Nugget Ice Maker

See the Zafro Nugget Ice Maker on Amazon

About $99-$209 (depending on color and size)

The Zafro portable nugget ice maker makes as more ice per day as the Opal, and it's small enough and light enough to be truly portable. 

And it's real nugget ice:

Zafro nugget ice closeup

The Zafro makes real nugget ice.

It gets pretty good reviews on Amazon, with some complaints being that it's loud, the ice is on the harder side, and the machine only worked for a few months (but Zafro replaced these with new machines, no questions asked).

Interestingly, Zafro makes a distinction between nugget ice and pebble ice, and the machine we tested makes nugget ice, so we're not sure what the pebble ice is like. We suspect they're similar, though, because no other company (that we know of) makes this distinction.

Note that the ice maker makes an impressive 35 lbs of ice per day, but the water reservoir is small--just 0.3 gallons--so you have to keep filling the reservoir and emptying the bin if you want that much ice. People also said the ice was wet and froze into a big block when put in the freezer. Frustrating, yes, but this is pretty standard for nugget ice machines. We didn't think the problem was any worse for this machine than for others we've tested.

Some people also complained that this ice maker is loud, but it was no louder than other machines we've tested, and quieter than some of them.

Features

35 lbs of ice per day

0.3 gallon water reservoir (small)

Holds up to 1.5 lb of ice

Auto sensor to start/stop ice production

Detachable handle

No water hookup required

Self-cleaning function

1 year warranty

Weight: 18.7 lbs

Size: 11.3 x 8.6" x 12.6"

Available in several colors

About $99 (black only).


Zafro Portable Nugget Ice Maker Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent price
  • Makes 35 lbs of ice per day
  • No water hookup needed
  • Good self-cleaning function
  • Easy to install and use
  • Removable handle for easy transport
  • Just two buttons on control panel
  • Portable.

Cons

  • Small water reservoir (0.3 gal)
  • Smaller ice bin because of portable size
  • The ice is on the hard side (but still nugget ice)
  • Some complaints about bad customer service and unit dying after a few months

Recommendation for Zafro Portable Nugget Ice Maker

We think this ice maker is a good choice if you want a good deal or portability. Only the black model is priced at $99, so you'll pay $199 for most of the other colors (and some are different sizes as well, so pay attention to that. 

It's the first real nugget ice maker we've seen for under $100. Our testing plus the good reviews are enough for us to be excited about this ice maker. And if it doesn't last, Zafro has a good record of replacing it free of charge. Win-win.

Zafro Nugget Ice Maker

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Best Chewy Ice Maker with a Dispenser: KBice 

KBice Dispensing Nugget Ice Maker

See the KBice Dispensing Nugget Ice Maker on Amazon

About $390

If you want a chewy ice maker that dispenses ice (rather than using a scoop to get it out of a bin), the KBice Dispensing Nugget Ice Maker is one of the few options available at the less-than-$500 price point that gets good reviews. (Check out this Manitowoc model to see what we mean about price. It's a superb product, but you will pay for all that excellence.) 

The advantage of a self-dispensing ice maker is that it's more hygienic: you don't have all your family members (and potentially guests) reaching into the ice bin. So if you have kids who can't be trusted to always have clean hands when they scoop their ice, and you can't afford to buy the Manitowoc, the KBice Dispensing Nugget Ice Maker may be a good option for you.

If that's not the case, however, we're not sure we see an advantage to getting this machine. Despite its good reviews, we thought this ice maker had some issues that made it hard to use:

  • You have to remove the front panel and insert a funnel (included) to fill the reservoir.
  • According to several reviews, it randomly drops ice from the dispenser, which melts on your counter. 
  • The all-plastic housing feels a little cheap (though overall the unit seems well made).

The KBice also requires soft or filtered water (water with a hardness of <100ppm) or it won't work. While we recommend using filtered water for everything that goes into your body, some people might find it annoying that you have to use filtered water .

If we didn't like this machine, why do we recommend it? Well, if you want a self-dispensing nugget ice maker for less than $500, this is the best option we found. If you check out this self-dispensing model from Frigidaire, you'll see that the KBice is a huge improvement. 

The KBice maker/dispenser is easy to use, easy to clean, and makes great ice. It's definitely the best self-dispensing nugget ice maker under $500 on the market right now.

Features

Up to 30 lbs of ice per day

100 fl oz water reservoir

2 lb bin capacity (but holds about a pound--less important for a dispensing unit than a bin unit)

One-button ice dispensing

Hygienic self-dispensing feature (no scooping/touching ice)

R600a refrigerant

Self-cleaning cycle

Requires soft water (hardness <100ppm)

1 year warranty

Weight: 40 lbs

Dimensions: 12 x 16 x 17.5 inches

Warranty: 1 year limited manufacturer warranty on parts and labor.


KBice Nugget Ice Maker Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Dispenses ice with the push of a button--easier and cleaner than a scoop
  • Makes up to 30 lbs of ice per day
  • 100 fl oz. water reservoir (about 3 liters)
  • Self-cleaning cycle
  • 1 year warranty.

Cons

  • Water fill port is kind of hard to use (unit comes with a funnel for filling)
  • Slowish to make ice
  • Requires a lot of clearance so as to not overheat 
  • Will occasionally drop ice to melt on the counter 
  • Requires filtered water (which we recommend using anyway)
  • All plastic housing
  • Too tall to fit under most upper cabinets.

KBice Recommendation

The KBice Self Dispensing Countertop Nugget Ice Maker is the best option under $500 that dispenses ice. It has a few issues we didn't like, such as an annoying filling process that needs a funnel, requiring soft water, and dropping the occasional ice nugget on the counter. We also wish the build quality was a little better, though for an all-plastic machine it's pretty good. If you want a dispenser at an Opal price point, this is the one to get.

KBice Dispensing Nugget Ice Maker w:Glass

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Other Nugget Ice Makers We Looked At

Frigidaire: Poor reviews, doesn't last, mineral build-up (filtered water would fix that), poor quality, noisy.

Frigidaire EFIC245 model with dispenser and crushed ice option: poor reviews, loud, doesn't keep ice cold

Manitowoc: Countertop nugget ice maker and water dispenser. Excellent build quality and reviews, but expensive.

Northair: Identical to Frigidaire model (no doubt made by the same company in China) with somewhat better reviews. 

NewAir Nugget Ice Maker: Terrible reviews. Big and heavy without making substantially more ice than smaller, lighter models.

Scotsman: Scotsman is the original chewy ice maker and has several models, all commercial grade. If you need a high output ice maker or want a heavy duty model that hooks up to its own water supply, Scotsman is the way to go--you will pay for it, but it will probably last forever. (Will Scotsman make a consumer-grade chewy ice maker in the future? We can only hope so.) 

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Final Thoughts on Chewy Ice Makers for Sonic Ice at Home

Nugget, chewy, pellet, and Sonic ice makers--all mean the same thing--are more of a luxury than a necessity. But chewy ice is a fabulous treat, and if you want it in your home, you now have several options. Our favorite is the GE Profile Opal, purchased with the side tank to minimize filling. The countertop design is the best fit for most homes, and the Opal is the highest quality and gets the best reviews of all the nugget ice makers we researched. 

If you want a portable, the Prime Home Direct pellet ice maker is our recommendation: it can make as much ice in a day as the Opal, plus two different sizes of ice. It gets great reviews, but it's pretty new to the market, so we can't guarantee that it will hold up. At the bargain price, though, it may be worth the risk if you want something small and compact. 

Finally, if you want an ice maker that dispenses ice automatically (no bin and scoop to deal with), we like the KBIce Nugget Ice Maker. This is a good choice if you're concerned about hygiene (no grubby hands on the scoop or in the bin, ever). 

Thanks for reading!

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Graphic of the best nugget ice makers

About the Author

The Rational Kitchen (TRK) is a collaborative effort, but the founder, editor, and writer of most of our articles is Melanie Johnson, an avid cook, kitchenware expert, and technical communications specialist for more than 20 years. Her love of cooking and the frustrating lack of good information about kitchen products led her to create The Rational Kitchen. TRK's mission is to help people make the best decisions they can when buying kitchen gear. 

When not working on product reviews, Melanie enjoys reading, playing with her dog Ruby, vintage video games, and spending time outdoors and with her family.

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  1. I have a Euhomy nugget ice maker that I purchased from amazon in may of this year (22) and I couldn’t be happier. The unit had a small issue and the customer service is beyond impeccable. Sent another unit without hesitation and even followed up with me after no response on my part for weeks. You cannot go wrong with the unit due to the customer service and their dedication to the customer

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