Cocktail

How to Make (Almost) Perfect Ice at Home

December  5, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Do you have a chainsaw? No? Well, you can still make pretty good ice at home. Just don't expect perfection. 

Ice on Food52

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Perfect ice is the holy grail of home mixology. You've likely seen it at "serious" cocktail bars: a large cube, stately and sharply faceted and impeccably clear, sitting at the bottom of a lowball glass and surrounded by negroni. Try to replicate it at home, though -- even with a large mold -- and your results will look different: cloudy, likely misshapen.

Here's the thing about ice: its density varies. That sexy, crystal-clear ice cube in your $14 drink is denser than the cloudy stuff in your freezer, which means it's slower to melt. Less melting means less dilution; your drink retains its flavor longer.

How to Make Ice on Food52

In the name of research (and also in the name of drinking), I set off to bravely discover the secret to perfect ice. I had grand plans to talk to every well-respected bartender in town. My freezer would become a shrine to hydrogen and oxygen in their most perfect state! I would make very sexy cocktails.

And then everyone shot me down. Turns out perfect ice is nearly impossible to make at home. Many professionals do it by freezing enormous blocks of ice (think tons), then shaving off the less-clear edges with chainsaws

There is one way, though, recommended to me by bartender Sother Teague, which requires slowing down the freezing process. Cloudiness comes from air pockets trapped inside ice, which happens when ice freezes too quickly. You can get around this by freezing ice in ice cube molds inside a cooler full of water. Read about it here, try it at home, and let me know how it goes. 

Your other option is this: accept defeat and make ice anyways. There are still ways that you can make it clearer, purer, and bigger than you ever have before. Here are your options:

How to Make Ice on Food52

The old "boil it twice, freeze it hot" song-and-dance. 
You've likely heard of this technique, which promises clearer ice. While double-boiling your water will remove many impurities -- a huge plus -- it won't keep your ice from getting cloudy. If you're going to put in the time and effort to boil, at least freeze it in big molds -- big ice melts less quickly than small ice. And it looks cooler.

How to Make Ice on Food52

More: Pick up our favorite ice cube trays in Provisions.

How to Make Ice on Food52

The orange juice carton technique
This strategy comes from Brandon Pettit, the pizzaiolo at Seattle's beloved Delancey and half of MollyandBrandon. It's a resourceful tip for anyone who wants big hunks of ice but doesn't have fancy trays. Simply rinse out a carton of OJ or milk, then cut it down so it's cube-shaped. 

How to Make Ice on Food52

 More: Put this puppy in an Old Fashioned!

How to Make Ice on Food52

The brownie pan technique
Here's a tip from Erik Lombardo, Food52 columnist and bar manager at Maialino in Manhattan. If you pour water into a brownie pan and freeze it, the resulting ice will be cloudy in the middle and clear on the outside. Let the block of ice sit for a few minutes, or run the pan, upside-down, under hot water, then pop out your hunk-o-ice. Slice it with a serrated knife, or chisel a crevice into the ice with something sharp and something hammer-y. 

How to Make Ice on Food52  How to Make Ice on Food52

Even if you don't come up with the size or shape of ice you were hoping for, it will still be clear -- and likely look pretty cool. Cheers!

Ice on Food52

Tell us: Do you have any tips for making good ice? Think these techniques are dumb? Tell us in the comments!

14 Comments

mortie July 1, 2016
Our refrigerator ice machine died 3 years ago. What a blessing this was! Living in Texas, we put ice in everything, even my hot tea. After many hours of research I found the Luna Ice Machine. It truly makes delicious clear ice using the same method as sickies are formed - water flowing down over the cold cube tray. No air bubbles. Just beautiful clear ice.
 
Brian May 16, 2014
If you have room, fill a small cooler or insulated container with water and set it in the freezer with the lid open or uncovered. The water will freeze from the top down. Then you just take it out once the ice is thick enough, and the water furthest away from the exposed air will be unfrozen, but also be where all those nasty air bubbles would have formed if the block froze all the way through. Use your favorite method to chip off chunks or cut/break it into blocks. I did this all winter here by setting a cooler outside overnight. Worked very well for perfectly clear ice.
 
Rebecca M. January 5, 2014
I saw a test done on Discovery Channel (don't remember which show, though) a while ago on getting clear ice-- the experiments boiled down to getting all the little air pockets out, since that familiar cloudiness is microscopic air pocket that get trapped as the water freezes. The most successful remedy was to attach a device to the container that would vibrate it as it froze, thereby shaking all those little bubbles free as they formed. I can envision duct-taping one of those battery-powered toothbrushes to the outside of my pan and leaving it on until the ice is done. I might even try this the next time I need some nifty ice for a party.
 
John December 12, 2013
Ice made in your freezer is frozen from the outside in, thus trapping air/gas, creating a cloudy result. Professional ice makers crest ice from the inside out. Water is sprayed on a below freezing rod for example, resulting in clear ice.
 
rsimpson3 December 9, 2013
It's really sad that an article on making perfect ice makes no reference to Camper English who, to the best of my knowledge, did the definitive research on making ice at home and shared much more comprehensive explanations and the solution. Admittedly, his work was posted in a series of articles, but Kevin Liu beautifully summed it up (and paid it proper tribute) on Serious Eats.
 
CBZ December 5, 2013
I made perfectly clear ice once in my home freezer. I have no idea how it happened and always am trying to replicate it. I am glad I am not the only one obsessed.
 
Alan S. December 5, 2013
I may try one of these. I have always hated ice in my drinks since I was kid and got a soda at Dairy Queen, it must have been sitting our for a while, it was just about water. Since then I just put my drinks in the fridge or freezer.
 
CBZ December 5, 2013
I love ice. Lots and lots of ice. However, that is only in the home setting. When I am out I request my drinks with no ice and a glass of ice on the side that way I can maintain control.
 
Jack S. December 5, 2013
Two problems should be addressed, for at-home ice making: Air & impurities. Just buy 'distilled water' from your local store, and use this to make your ice... it's cheap, it's quick & just don't shake it up beforehand...
 
Cookie September 30, 2017
I use only distilled water for drinking and ice, and it does not at all provide clearer ice without prep. Cloudy ice is simply a matter of the ice freezing from the outside in, trapping air bubbles. I use a Whiskey Ice iceball maker for my cocktails, and it does help to leave the ice plug molds in the fridge overnight and let some of the gasses escape prior to freezing. The resulting ice balls are not perfect, but pretty damn close. They take hours to melt.
 
Liana December 5, 2013
I wonder if you get less bubbles by vibrating the water while if freezes?
 
andy December 5, 2013
First: I am a long-time lurker and really enjoy your blog.<br /><br />As a physicist, I would be remiss in my general duties if I didn't point one subtlety out.<br /><br />Frozen water has a well defined density and it is very incompressible (meaning you can't very easily change the density). The difference between high quality or pure ice and what you make in your freezer at home, as you note, is small air pockets. Air has a much lower density than water and it therefore reduces the total density of things contained within the ice cube, but not the density of the actual ice. By itself, this density effect has absolutely no bearing on melting rate.<br /><br />As for the increased melting rate, it is caused by the gas bubbles. As the ice starts to melt, the air pockets are filled with liquid which increases the surface area of the ice that is exposed to your cocktail and therefore the melting rate. <br /><br />Fortunately, I drink my scotch neat and don't have to worry about ice at all!<br /><br /><br />
 
EmFraiche December 5, 2013
yay science! Thanks for the comment. =)
 
Gigi December 6, 2013
If it's about density / air pockets is there a way to maybe "vacuum pack" water?