Shopping for a commercial nugget ice machine?
You’ve come to the right place.
Why Do You Need A Commercial Nugget Ice Machine?
Nugget ice is one of the most loved types of ice. Part of the reason why Sonic Drive-Ins are popular is the soft, chewable nugget ice they add to their slushies.
In fact, it is because of this popularity that nugget ice is often also called sonic ice.
Unlike traditional ice cubes that are hard, nugget ice melts easily in your mouth, and you can easily chew on it.
If you are running a frozen street stand, a bar, a fast-food outlet, or a restaurant, getting a commercial nugget ice machine will be a great addition to your business.
You can sell the ice directly to customers and use it to make frozen drinks such as cocktails, margaritas, smoothies, sodas and more.
What’s In This Buying Guide?
In this 15-minute buying guide, we review the best commercial nugget ice machines.
Most of our top picks are high-capacity ice makers designed to produce enough nugget ice for a bar, restaurant, street stand, and other commercial settings.
But we also include smaller units that are perfect for a small bar or cafe.
If you are specifically looking for a small nugget ice maker you can easily carry around, read our reviews of the best portable sonic ice makers.
Best Commercial Nugget Ice Machines
- Best overall
15W x 24D x 38H in
- Best for large/busy restaurants & bars
16.3W x 24D x 35H in
2yrs warranty (5yrs on compressor)
GE Profile Opal
- Best portable
10.5W x 15.5D x 16.5H in
- Best budget
12W x 16D x 17.5H in
- Best value
9.8W x 16.1D x 19H in
- Best freestanding
14.8W x 22.6D x 33.3H
- Best built-in
14.8W x 22.7D x 33.8H in
1yr warranty (5yrs on compressor)
1. Best Overall: Scotsman UN0815A-1 Undercounter Nugget Ice Maker
We think the Scotsman UN0815A-1 is the best commercial nugget ice maker for most businesses and entertainment venues.
It’s reasonably priced for its capacity, makes and stores enough nugget ice to meet the needs of most bars and restaurants, and produces high-quality sonic/nugget ice.
The Scotsman UN0815A-1 produces 79lbs of ice daily, plenty enough even for busy restaurants and bars.
It matches the high production capacity with an oversize bin that stores up to 36lbs of nugget ice.
Once you switch the machine on, it’ll work round the clock, only pausing when the bin fills up.
Ice quality is as good as Sonic ice. It’s soft, crunchy and easily chewable. It goes well with cocktails, margaritas, sodas, and frozen drinks.
Build quality is excellent. The evaporator and auger - some of the most crucial parts of the ice maker - are made from stainless steel.
The exterior side panels are made from aluminium, ensuring they don't rust.
Despite having a high production and storage capacity, the Scotsman UN0815A-1 is surprisingly compact.
It’s designed to even fit in under-counter spaces that are only 15 inches wide.
Vents are at the front, so you don't need to worry about rear and side clearance.
To ensure a perfect fit, the legs are height-adjustable.
Note that you’ll need a plumber to connect the water and drainage lines for you and an electrician to hardwire the machine if you don't have an accessible under-counter outlet.
The ice bin is easy to access using a slide-back door that you can open easily, even in tight spaces. An ice scoop is included.
Issues & Limitations
If you plan to use a floor drain, the gravity drain that’s included with the Scotsman UN0815A-1 ice maker will work great.
But if your drain is higher up, or you plan to drain the machine into a sink, you have to buy a drain pump separately since the gravity drain won’t work well.
The Scotsman UN0815A-1 is best for: Mid-size and large restaurants, bars & businesses looking for a high-capacity and reliable nugget ice maker.
Avoid if: You own or run a small bar or restaurant. The Scotsman UN0815A-1 is far too big for your needs. We have smaller and cheaper recommendations below.
2. Best for Large/Busy Bars and Restaurants: Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L
The Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L ice maker stands out in three ways from other commercial nugget ice machines.
One, it has an extra-large production capacity. The Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L makes a whopping 315lbs of sonic ice every day. That’s adequate even for the busiest of restaurants and bars.
The Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L sacrifices storage capacity for production capacity.
The ice bin stores only 10lbs of nugget ice. But because the machine cranks out nugget ice so quickly, the small bin is not an issue.
The second unique feature is that the Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L dispenses ice.
You do not need to scoop it out. Just press a lever, and it flows out. This is more convenient and hygienic compared to using a scoop.
Third, the Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L is one of the few nugget ice machines with an integrated water dispenser. Note that it dispenses room temperature water. It doesn't chill it.
Size-wise, the Manitowoc ice maker, is roughly the same size as the Scotsman unit above. It doesn't take up a lot of space.
But unlike the under-counter Scotsman machine, the Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L is designed to be set up on a countertop.
There’s plenty of clearance under the spout to fit different containers. A large drain pan at the bottom catches any stray ice and water.
Build quality is great, and is backed up by a two-year warranty on parts and labor and a five-year warranty on the compressor.
Issues & Limitations
If you are shopping for a budget or even a mid-priced nugget ice maker, the Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L is not it.
It’s actually one of the most expensive nugget ice makers in the market. We recommend a smaller and cheaper nugget ice machine for small businesses that don't need 315lbs of nugget ice a day.
The Manitowoc CNF-0201A-L is best for: Large/busy restaurants, bars, and businesses looking for an extra high-capacity nugget ice maker.
Avoid if: You run a small or medium-sized business. A smaller machine is a better and more pocket-friendly choice.
3. Best Portable: GE Profile Opal Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
The GE Profile Opal is usually our top recommendation for home use. It’s also a great choice for small restaurants and bars that want a compact and portable nugget ice maker.
The best part about the GE Profile Opal is that you can set it up anywhere and move it anytime since it doesn't hook up to a water line.
The GE Profile Opal is quite different from our first two picks. It’s much smaller and designed primarily for home use.
But it’s perfect for small businesses that don't need a big and expensive nugget ice machine. The GE Profile Opal makes 24lbs of ice daily, and the pull-out drawer bin stores up to 3lbs.
It’s also a great choice if you don't want the hassle of plumbing in an ice maker. The GE Profile Opal comes with a removable reservoir.
You simply fill the reservoir, and then you can set up the ice maker wherever you want.
As for drainage, the GE Profile Opal doesn't need it. It recycles any melted water to make more ice.
The GE Profile Opal comes with Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to schedule when the machine makes ice.
It’s a nice feature, though most customers say it’s mostly a gimmick. You’ll likely end up not using it.
Issues & Limitations
If you run a medium-size or big restaurant or business, the GE Profile Opal is not for you. It makes too little ice to meet your needs.
The GE Profile Opal is best for: Small businesses looking for a small and portable nugget ice maker.
Avoid if: You run a large restaurant or business. Get one of the other high-capacity nugget ice machines instead.
4. Best Budget: KBice Self Dispensing Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
If you want a small nugget ice maker but think the GE Profile Opal is a bit too pricey, try the KBice Self Dispensing Countertop Nugget Ice Maker.
It is much cheaper than Opal, but makes 6lbs more nugget ice. Oh, it’s also a no-scoop self-dispensing ice maker.
If you are thinking about getting the GE Opal, but find it too expensive, the KBice nugget ice maker is a cheaper alternative.
The quality of the nugget ice is just as good as that of the Opal. The KBice makes more ice than Opal - 30lbs per day.
The best part is that it is self-dispensing. If you don't want everyone scooping ice from the bin, the KBice ice maker is a great choice.
You simply press the dispense button, and nugget ice flows out of the chute.
Similar to the GE Opal ice maker, the KBice nugget ice machine requires no plumbing.
It comes with an integrated water tank. You can detach it to fill it up (ideally with filtered or distilled water), or add water using the funnel on the side.
Any meltwater from the ice is automatically recycled, so you don't need to worry about drainage.
The no-plumbing, no-drainage design allows easy portability. You can set up the machine where it’s most convenient.
Issues & Limitations
The KBice nugget ice maker has a small bin that holds just 1lb of nugget ice.
We recommend getting some ice bags to store extra nugget ice in the freezer. That way, you’ll always have some on hand for your customers.
Remember that the Opal and KBice nugget ice machines are meant not for big restaurants and businesses.
We recommend them only for small cafes, outlets and businesses. They are also great for offices.
The KBice nugget ice machine is best for: Small restaurants and bars looking for an affordable portable nugget ice maker.
It’s also great for anyone looking for a cheaper alternative to the GE Profile Opal, or a self-dispensing nugget ice maker.
5. Best Value: FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
If you are looking for a good bargain on a portable nugget ice maker, the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is the best one we found.
It costs less than other compact nugget ice makers, but has the highest production capacity at 44lbs per day.
The FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ nugget ice maker is a great choice for small restaurants and bars looking for a large capacity nugget ice machine that’s affordable.
The FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ costs less than the GE Profile Opal, but has twice the production capacity at 44lbs/day.
It’s a great choice for restaurants and bars looking for a large-capacity portable nugget ice maker.
The large bin holds 3lbs of ice, and refills automatically when you scoop out the ice or it melts.
Any meltwater from the bin flows back to the reservoir and is used to make more ice. So, you don't need to drain the ice maker.
You also don't need to connect it to a water line, since the ice maker comes with a built-in water reservoir. An ‘add water’ indicator on the control panel lights up when the reservoir gets empty.
Measuring just 9.8 inches wide and 16.1 inches deep, the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ ice machine is perfect for small spaces.
And since it doesn't need a water hookup, you can easily move it around.
Issues & Limitations
While the no-plumbing design is an added bonus for many businesses, it can be tedious to keep refilling the water reservoir.
We wish the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ came with the option of connecting a water line to keep the reservoir filled.
Another issue with the FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is its build quality. There are numerous customer complaints about leaks, failing components (primarily the internal UV lamp that sterilizes the tank), and poor build quality overall.
If you are looking for a portable nugget ice machine that will last a long time without any issues, you’ll have better luck with the GE Opal. It’s pricier, but has better build quality.
The FRIGIDAIRE EFIC235-AMZ is best for: Small bars and restaurants looking for a budget portable nugget ice maker that makes plenty of sonic ice.
Avoid if: You own a large or busy business. Get an under-counter or freestanding unit instead.
6. Best Freestanding: Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 Pearl Nugget Ice Machine
If you are shopping for a large-capacity freestanding nugget ice maker, we recommend the Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 pearl ice machine.
Ice-O-Matic calls their nugget ice pearl ice. It’s just as crunchy and chewable as ordinary sonic ice.
The front vented design of the Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 pearl ice machine gives you the freedom to set it up as a freestanding unit, or build it into a cabinet.
It measures 15 inches wide and 33.3 inches high, so it should fit under most under-counter spaces.
The Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 makes up to 85lbs of pearl or nugget ice per day. Once you plumb it in and set up the drainage, you can leave it running round the clock.
Once the 22lbs ice bin fills up, it’ll stop making more ice until you scoop some out or it melts.
Note that the Ice-O-Matic GEMU090, like other full-size ice machines, doesn't have a water recycling feature. Any meltwater from the bin is drained away.
The Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 is approved for outdoor use. It’s a great choice if you have an outdoor bar, restaurant, or kitchen.
Just make sure it’s well shaded from the elements. Also, note that ice production will be lower if it’s too hot outside.
Issues & Limitations
If you are shopping on a budget, the Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 is probably not what you are looking for.
Currently, it costs more than a couple thousand dollars which is excluding the drain pump, which you’ll need to buy separately if you don't have a floor drain.
But for large businesses, it’s a worthwhile investment. It’s easy to use, makes a lot of pearl ice, and the ice is just as good as sonic ice.
The Ice-O-Matic GEMU090 is best for: Medium and large bars and restaurants looking for a freestanding nugget ice machine with a large production capacity.
Avoid if: You are shopping for a budget, or if you prefer a compact portable nugget ice maker.
7. Best Built-in: GE UNC15NJII Nugget Ice Maker
We choose the GE UNC15NJII as the best built-in nugget ice machine because it is the only one among our picks that allows you to pick a custom door panel and handle.
It’s a great choice if you want a built-in ice maker that matches with the rest of the cabinetry in your bar or restaurant. The only downside is the added cost of buying a custom door panel.
Most under-counter ice machines come in a standard silver finish. If you’d like a nugget ice maker that blends better with your decor and cabinetry, the GE UNC15NJII ice machine is the best choice.
It doesn't come with a door panel, so you are free to choose the one that you want. You can go with a rustic wood panel, a modern stainless-steel panel, or a sleek black or white panel.
The door orientation is reversible, so you can set it to open to whichever side is most convenient.
The GE UNC15NJII makes authentic nugget ice - the same crunchy and easily chewable ice you get from a Sonic drive-in.
It can produce up to 56lbs a day, enough for a mid-size business. The large bin stores up to 26lbs.
Similar to the Ice-O-Matic GEMU090, the GE UNC15NJII can be used outdoors. But make sure you shade it from the sun and other elements.
If your business is in a hot climate, however, it’s best to use the ice maker indoors where it’s air-conditioned.
That’s because high ambient temperatures can severely reduce ice production capacity.
Issues & Limitations
The GE UNC15NJII nugget ice maker is pricey, especially considering it doesn't come with a door panel.
It’s actually more expensive than some other brands with a higher production capacity.
If you are shopping on a budget, the GE UNC15NJII is probably not what you are looking for.
Also, keep in mind you may need to budget for a drain pump if you don't have a floor drain that can work with the unit’s gravity drain.
The GE UNC15NJII is best for: Bars and restaurants looking for a built-in nugget ice maker that’s compatible with custom door panels.
Avoid if: You are shopping for a budget nugget ice machine.
Commercial Nugget Ice Machine Buying Guide
What is Nugget Ice?
If you’ve ever tasted the ice sold at Sonic outlets, that’s nugget ice. Unlike ordinary ice that’s hard and dense, nugget ice is soft, crunchy and airy.
This makes it easy and safe to chew. Because of how well the airy ice absorbs flavors, nugget ice is great for mixed drinks like cocktails, margaritas, and soft drinks.
What is a Nugget Ice Machine - And How Does It Work?
An ordinary ice machine cannot make nugget ice. That’s because the process of making nugget ice is very different from that of making regular ice cubes.
Instead of freezing all the water at once, nugget ice makers freeze water in layers.
These layers are then compacted to create crunchy and chewable nugget ice. It’s like flaked ice that’s been compacted into small airy nuggets.
Because nugget ice makers require a more complex internal mechanism, they cost more than ordinary ice machines.
Types of nugget ice machines
Modular vs. Self-Contained
The most common nugget ice machines are self-contained. That means they come with everything necessary to start making and storing nugget ice. This includes the main ice-making unit, and an ice storage bin.
A modular ice machine, on the other hand, comes without storage. You get just the main ice-making unit.
The main advantage of modular ice machines is that they typically have higher production capacities, with some models capable of making up to 1,000lbs of nugget ice per day. They are great for big restaurants and bars.
Another advantage is that you can pair it with the right bin size for your business.
You can even get multiple storage bins and swap them out as necessary - maybe a smaller bin for slow days and a bigger one for busier days.
Some modular nugget ice machines can also be connected with an ice dispenser.
Freestanding vs. Undercounter vs. Portable
Nugget ice machines can also be categorized based on their size and installation.
Most commercial nugget ice makers are either freestanding or under-counter, or both.
These units have a larger capacity (typically over 50lbs/day), come with large ice bins and can be installed cleanly under the counter.
For smaller bars and restaurants, a portable/countertop nugget ice maker may be a better choice.
Portable ice machines are cheaper, most don't require a water hook up, and they take up less space.
What To Look For In A Commercial Nugget Ice Machine
Production & Storage Capacity
The first thing to look for is these two numbers: production capacity and storage capacity. They tell you whether a particular ice machine is adequate for your business.
Production capacity is how much nugget ice the machine can make in 24 hours.
It ranges from 24lbs for portable ice makers to 1,000+ lbs. for huge commercial modular ice machines.
For most restaurants and businesses, the ideal production capacity ranges from 30lbs for small outlets, to around 300-500lbs for medium and large businesses.
Calculate how much nugget ice you are likely to use in a day, and get a machine that matches the demand.
Storage capacity refers to the size of the bin. A large bin (20lbs or more), ensures you always have plenty of nugget ice on hand for your customers.
Don't get a bigger bin than you need, though. Unless you have a portable ice maker, unused nugget ice will melt (storage ice bins are not refrigerated) and the meltwater will be drained away.
With portable ice makers, melted ice is recycled to make more ice.
Running a small business without much space to spare? Get a portable nugget ice maker. They are compact and easily fit on the countertop.
Since they don't need a water hookup, portable ice machines can also be moved around depending on your space needs.
For bigger businesses with more space, a freestanding or under counter ice maker is perfect.
Get a freestanding unit if you don't have under-counter space or want the freedom to move the unit around.
But if you want a clean look, get an under-counter or built-in nugget ice machine.
If you plan to use the ice machine outdoors, look for one that’s approved for outdoor use. Remember, however, that an outdoor ice maker still needs protection from the elements.
Also, keep in mind that using an ice machine outdoors will reduce its production capacity if it's too hot.
Quality of Nugget Ice
Make sure the ice maker makes authentic nugget ice. Some companies may use different terms to describe the ice, such as Sonic ice, chewable ice, or Pearl ice.
Other types of ice, such as bullet ice, cubed ice, or gourmet ice are not nugget ice.
Check what accessories you may need to buy separately. Here are the most common accessories for nugget ice machines.
Finally, check the length and terms of the manufacturer’s warranty.
Most full-size nugget ice machines have a 2-year general warranty and a 3–5-year warranty for the compressor.
Pros And Cons
Frequently Asked Questions
How much electricity does a commercial ice maker use?
Check the user manual or look for a sticker at the rear of the machine for the wattage specification. Use that to calculate electricity usage.
Electricity consumption varies depending on the size and production capacity of the ice maker.
You can use this energy cost calculator specifically for commercial ice machines designed by the Federal Energy Management Program.
What are the types of water filters used in ice machines?
Usually, an in-line carbon filter is enough to reduce contaminants and fine sediment in water going to the ice machine.
But to ensure best protection, hook up the ice machine to a reverse osmosis water filter or a multi-stage carbon water filter.
If you have hard water, you should also get a water softener.
How much ice do commercial ice machines make in a day?
Check the stated production capacity of a particular unit. That’s how much ice it makes in a day under optimal conditions.
Actual capacity may be lower depending on ambient temperature, water temperature, water pressure, and other conditions.
How long do commercial ice machines last?
Between 5 and 10 years, depending on build quality and how well it’s maintained.
Is nugget ice the same as sonic ice?
Yes, it is.
Final Verdict: What Is The Best Commercial Nugget Ice Machine Sold Today?
The Scotsman UN0815A-1 Undercounter Nugget Ice Maker is the best nugget ice machine for most bars, restaurants and other businesses. It makes plenty of nugget ice, has a large bin, and is built to last.