The burgers turned out great, the music has everyone feeling good vibes, and the happy hum of conversation fills your backyard. Congratulations, your outdoor party is a success! Until… Uh oh, you’re out of ice. You don’t want to abandon your own party, but are you really going to make your friends and family play “nose goes” to see who has to leave the festivities for an ice run? Good luck making that call.
Now picture a different scenario: The ice never runs out, the good vibes don’t stop, and no one has to leave the party you worked so hard to create. With an outdoor ice maker, that can be your reality every time you fire up the grill or have friends over for cocktail night. A BBQ island ice maker is a must-have for outdoor entertainers (especially if a bar center is involved), and drainage won’t be an issue when paired with a sink or drop-in ice bin. Better yet, these appliances are perfectly fine doing their job without being in the spotlight — they’re made of stainless steel to match other outdoor kitchen components, designed as undercounter models to seamlessly blend into a BBQ island, and keep a slim figure to take up as little space as possible.
At their core, ice makers are very simple machines. There aren’t many differences between models, but you should still take time to consider the slight variations that separate one product from another. We’ll walk you through the 3 simple choices you’ll face when buying an outdoor ice maker, because the drinks — not the party — should get put on ice at your next backyard bash.
Choose Which Shape of Ice You Want
Turns out frozen water can come in just about any shape imaginable. That being said, outdoor ice makers create 1 of 4 types of ice. Beyond basic aesthetics, different shapes of ice tend to have specific properties. Gourmet and cube ice makers, for instance, produce harder, denser, and clearer ice, though they won’t churn out the goods as quickly as nugget and crescent ice makers. So, which ice is nicest? That’s for you to decide.
Cube Ice Machines
We’ll spare you the snark and get right to it: Cube ice is cube-shaped with no indentations. There are slight differences among regular-cube, full-cube, and half-cube ice, but they all have enough mass to quickly chill drinks. Cube ice measures about 1 inch along each side, depending on the brand of ice maker.
Crescent Ice Machines
Odds are you see this type of ice on a daily basis. Crescent ice is the norm for commercial and residential refrigerator ice machines, with its flat top and curved bottom making for a distinct shape. That shape actually allows the ice to move more freely throughout a glass and better conform to its contour.
Nugget Ice Machines
Made famous by fast-food chain Sonic, nugget ice comes as small, crudely shaped bits that are easy to form because there’s no consistent mold. This ice is typically collected from the shards that remain on blender blades and is softer than cube or crescent ice, making it much easier to chew after draining a drink.
Gourmet Ice Machines
Also known as “top-hat” ice, this large thimble shape is quite popular among high-end restaurants and bars. It’s not just because top hats can really class up a place — the real charm of gourmet ice is that it melts slowly, cools quickly, and has a crystal-clear body that’s simply stunning in a whiskey glass.
Decide Which Drain Type You Need
Drainage is another crucial aspect of almost all outdoor ice makers, which are designed to filter out excess water or melt-water in 1 of 2 ways (only a select few models don’t require any drainage). The right type of ice-maker drain for your outdoor kitchen depends on its layout and design, specifically where your floor drain is located or where you can connect to plumbing. Just remember that outdoor kitchen plumbing should always be performed by a licensed professional.
Gravity Drains for Outdoor Ice Makers
Chances are your outdoor kitchen already has an existing drain for another appliance, be it a sink, ice bin, or bar center. If so, you may want to choose an outdoor ice maker with a gravity drain and place it near the existing drain. As long as there’s an uninterrupted, downward path for excess water to travel, gravity will pull it to the bottom of the BBQ island ice maker and into the connected drain.
Drain Pumps for Outdoor Ice Makers
No existing drain in your outdoor space? No problem! Drain pumps do all the work of transporting excess water from your outdoor ice maker to a drain some distance away, ensuring the appliance can continue running smoothly. While this type of drain is most useful for spaces lacking a method of water removal, it’ll also come in handy if you plan to install your ice maker out of reach of an existing drain.
Which Class of Outdoor Ice Maker is Best for You?
Maybe the type of ice and drainage don’t matter as much to you, and you’re just looking for a model that meets your needs in terms of quality, performance, and features. Luckily for you, those 3 factors are how we judge all our products, and they also form the basis of how we sort our inventory into classifications. For ice makers, there are 3 clearly defined classes to choose from — Luxury, Premium, and Standard. Check out the brief outline of each class below, then use that information to help narrow the search for your ideal ice maker.
Luxury Ice Makers
- Excellent longevity thanks to stainless steel exteriors built to withstand the elements
- The longest warranties available to protect your investment in outdoor living
- Compressors operate efficiently but quietly so your guests can party in peace
- Automatic defrost comes standard so you never have to worry about icing over
- Digital control centers keep your up to date with how the unit is performing
Premium Ice Makers
- Most carry an outdoor rating showing they can hold temperatures in extreme weather
- Exteriors and doors are built from stainless steel for longevity in outdoor settings
- Longer warranties than models in lower classifications provide peace of mind
- Zero-clearance units are easy to install and fit seamlessly into BBQ islands
- Reliable compressors ensure you always have fresh ice at your fingertips
Standard Ice Makers
- Might not be outdoor-rated, meaning they aren’t fit to be out in the elements
- Painted metal exteriors leave much to be desired in terms of durability
- Interiors are constructed with lower-quality materials like plastic and wire shelving
- Only certain doors are built from stainless steel and come with recessed handles
- Some lack front venting and require clearances, meaning installation is more difficult
Other Things to Consider When Buying an Ice Machine
You’ve sorted through the main points one needs to know when learning how to buy an outdoor ice maker, but there are a few other factors to consider before you make your big decision. (We thought about leading this section by telling you to freeze before you left this article, but there are only so many jokes we can make about ice.)
Clarity of Ice
There’s something special about watching light dance through a piece of crystal-clear ice, isn’t there? Aside from its natural beauty, clear ice is denser and harder than cloudy ice, meaning that it melts more slowly but also takes longer to make. Clarity is a feature of high-end appliances, such as Marvel outdoor ice makers that use fractional freezing to produce gourmet ice that’s perfectly clear and free of impurities.
Density of Ice
Density is the major difference between clear, gourmet ice and quick-to-produce ice that comes in crescent or nugget form. But what does density tell us about ice and the machines that make it? Here’s the rundown:
- Soft ice melts faster than hard ice, and it appears cloudier because it contains more air
- Soft-ice units can generate more ice at a faster rate, but they tend to ice up more often
- Hard ice lasts longer than soft ice, and it appears clearer because it contains less air
A note for all you outdoor entertainers: If you live in a warmer climate and/or frequently enjoy spirits with guests in your outdoor kitchen, long-lasting hard ice is the way to go.
Placement & Ventilation of Outdoor Kitchen Ice Makers
When planning your outdoor kitchen zones, be sure to include your outdoor ice maker in your “cold zone” or “wet zone” alongside similar appliances like fridges, wine coolers, or sinks that require a drain. This will save you a headache when figuring out drainage for the space. Your cold zone shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight — keeping your outdoor ice maker and its pals shaded will minimize temperature swings and ensure they don’t have to work overtime for the same amount of ice.
With proper placement comes proper ventilation (both intake and exhaust) as set forth by the manufacturer. Front-venting models usually provide best results, though rear-venting appliances work just fine as long as you plan for adequate vent panels and plenty of space inside the BBQ island for air to circulate. Of course, you should make sure the outdoor ice maker you choose fits the dimensions of your grill island cutout.
Outdoor-Rated Ice Makers
Appliances are rated for outdoor use only if awarded a certificate from Underwriters Laboratories, or UL for short. UL puts ice makers through a series of durability tests to evaluate important factors like weather resistance, strength of materials, venting, protection for internal electronics, and whether they can withstand major temperature swings in the environment without affecting internal temperature. An appliance that tests well in all those categories seems pretty desirable, right? With a UL certification, you can be confident your outdoor kitchen ice maker will stay cold enough to work on even the hottest days.
Outdoor Kitchen Ice Maker Production vs. Storage Capacity
The 2 defining features of BBQ island ice makers are how much they can produce and how much they can store at one time. We define production by an appliance’s output over 24 hours of continual use, while capacity measures how much ice can be stored inside the unit before it stops producing more. To figure out if a particular model meets your needs, ask yourself how much ice you’ll typically require versus how much you’d like to be able to produce in a given amount of time.
|Ice Storage Capacity||
Number Of Drinks
(8 oz. ice per drink)
|10 Lbs.||20 Drinks|
|15 Lbs.||30 Drinks|
|20 Lbs.||40 Drinks|
|25 Lbs.||50 Drinks|
|30 Lbs.||60 Drinks|
|35 Lbs.||70 Drinks|
A good way to think about consumption is 10 drinks per 5 pounds of ice, assuming drinks are 8 ounces each. If you host big events throughout the year, then you might be better off with a unit that has a large enough storage capacity to serve a whole fleet of drinks. But outdoor entertainers who rarely host huge events may find that an ice maker with a smaller capacity and greater production is the best fit. Keep in mind that you can pair a high-producing model with a pull-out ice chest drawer or a companion ice bin to start preparing in advance for large gatherings.
Made it to the end without getting brainfreeze? It’s OK if you didn’t — our outdoor kitchen experts are always standing by at 1-877-743-2269 to answer any questions you have about outdoor or indoor ice makers. Our Free Outdoor Living Design Service is another great resource that can bring you one step closer to chilling out and enjoying your backyard more than ever before.