I wasn’t always an ice snob. In fact, I rarely thought about the quality of the ice in my freezer—as long as it was frozen, it was good enough for me and the afternoon glass of Coke Zero that would get me through the rest of the day.
But then one day, I poured my emotional-support soda over a glass of clear ice chips, and as I sipped on a crisp, effervescent beverage that stayed bubbly until the last drop, I realized that the type of ice you use makes a difference, especially if you like fizzy beverages.
“Clear ice cubes don’t make carbonated drinks fizz as much as cloudy ice does,” our guide to ice makers reads, “so your bubbly beverages will taste better for longer.” This is because clear ice is free of air pockets, creating a smoother surface with fewer crevices for bubbles to form. Cloudy ice, which is riddled with trapped air pockets, causes excessive fizziness the moment seltzer or soda hits it—and when that foam recedes, you’re left with an instantly flat drink that tastes sad and lifeless.
Armed with this information and intent on sipping only the bubbliest, most effervescent soda, I set out to find the best way to make clear ice at home. After hours of research, several icy experiments, and a case of Coke Zero, I found that there are only two reliable ways to achieve see-through ice if you’re doing it yourself: the quick, expensive way, or the slower but more affordable way.
A quick, pricey path to clear ice
After testing different DIY methods, we’ve concluded that the only way to achieve large batches of crystal-clear ice cubes—perfectly sized for chilling sodas and seltzers—is a clear-ice maker. But such ice makers are pricey: The Luma Comfort IM200, the only pick in our ice-maker guide that makes clear ice, costs about $230, a little over $100 more than our top-pick bullet-ice maker.
Clear-ice makers also work more slowly than bullet-ice makers. The Luma Comfort IM200 takes around 20 to 25 minutes to complete a batch of ice at room temperature, while our top-pick bullet-ice maker can crank out a batch of ice every seven to nine minutes. But batch sizes vary between the two types of ice makers: The Luma model makes about three times as much ice per batch than the bullet-ice maker, so the two even out over time.
Another thing to keep in mind before purchasing a clear-ice maker is the size of the appliance itself. The Luma ice maker is big—larger than most other kitchen appliances but smaller than a microwave—so many people with small kitchens may not have the counter space for it. Make sure that you have the storage space before adding another kitchen appliance to your arsenal.
The best way to make clear ice on the cheap
Outside of expensive clear-ice-making machines, the only way to make clear ice at home is with a method called directional freezing. In this process, water progressively freezes into ice from only one side of a container, explains Greg Titian, host of the popular YouTube cocktail-making show How To Drink. As the water freezes, the air bubbles are pushed to one side, and only the last section to freeze is cloudy. (A traditional ice cube tray, which isn’t insulated on any side, allows water to freeze from all directions, which traps air bubbles in the center of the cubes.)
The DIY way to directionally freeze water into clear ice—referred to as the “cooler method” on cocktail-making subreddits—involves using a personal-size cooler to freeze water into a single supersize ice block. This ice-making technique requires several days to freeze from the top down—and once the ice is frozen, you then have to cut it into cubes yourself. That seemed like a good way to lose a finger or two, so I opted for the next best thing: the True Cubes tray, a $50 clear-ice mold that employs the same freezing technique but doesn’t require sawing through a block of ice.
The True Cubes mold is a complicated-looking, three-piece contraption that’s actually really easy to use, even though it takes up a significant amount of freezer space. All you need to do is assemble the pieces—the two pre-sectioned silicone molds stack atop one another inside the insulated tray box—and fill it to the top with tap water before sticking it in the freezer. The water freezes from the top down, creating four blocks of see-through ice cubes in the top part of the mold and four cloudy blocks in the mold underneath.
Even this method has its downsides. Not only do the cubes take 18 to 20 hours to fully freeze, but also the pre-sectioned tray makes ice intended for cocktails, so it produces only four 2-inch cubes at a time rather than dozens of small cubes. You can break the ice down on your own—I thwacked at my giant cubes with a bar spoon to create smaller ice chips—but it’s a messy endeavor, with ice flying every which way, and it leaves you with enough ice for only a few drinks.
Other methods we tested (that didn’t work)
The internet assured me that there were plenty of easy clear-ice-making methods, most of which involved boiling the water before freezing to eliminate the so-called impurities that cause cloudiness. Let’s get one thing out of the way—that’s a myth.
Clear ice is clear for one reason: It has no visible air bubbles. Water naturally contains dissolved gases, and “as you freeze the water, it forces the gases out into a little bubble,” said Titian. “And if you freeze that water from the outside in a way that it typically will in an ice tray in your fridge, all those little bubbles get distributed through the ice cube, or they get stuck in the center.”
Still, I wanted to test all of the possible methods of making clear ice, if only to disprove the myths floating in the ether. I busted out the ice cube trays that Wirecutter recommends, along with blue painter’s tape and a Sharpie marker, and then I got to work. I split the trays into sections: filtered water that was boiled once, filtered water that was boiled twice (as in boiled, cooled, and then boiled again), tap water that was boiled once, and tap water that was boiled twice. Once the ice cubes were sufficiently frozen, I popped them out to compare. And as I predicted, all four methods produced cloudy ice.
Making clear ice at home, no matter how you do it, requires a certain level of dedication to crystal-clear ice. For some people, it isn’t worth the time, money, effort, and storage space.
I never thought I’d become the kind of person with such strong opinions on what is, essentially, frozen water. But now, when given the option of cloudy ice or no ice at all, I opt for no ice—because once you’ve experienced the absolute joy of sipping a soda chilled with clear ice, it’s really, really hard to go back.
This article was edited by Alexander Aciman and Catherine Kast.
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