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A Guide to Nugget Ice Machines

If someone has enough of an opinion about ice to have a favorite type, chances are pretty good it's nugget ice. Known by many names – including pearl, chewblet, gem, cubelet, and Sonic ice – this type of ice is soft and easy to chew. Read on to learn more about the benefits of nugget ice and to find the right commercial nugget ice machine for your business.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Nugget Ice

Nugget ice absorbs the flavor of the drink poured over it, resulting in faster cooling and a flavorful experience for those who chew the ice. Due to its small size, ice produced by a commercial nugget ice machine also provides greater displacement than cube or half-cube ice, making it a popular choice for operators who want to cut back on drink costs and boost beverage program profits. Because nugget ice is small and rarely clumps, it is ideal for dispensing and scoops easily. Its soft texture also makes it ideal for blending frozen drinks like smoothies and frozen cocktails.

Because nugget ice is less dense than gourmet, cube, or half-cube ice, it melts faster and is therefore not recommended for use in cocktails or high-end drinks. Additionally, because nugget ice displaces more liquid, if your restaurant does not use a self-serve drink machine, your servers will have to work harder to keep drinks filled. Because of this, nugget ice is often found in fast casual restaurants with self-serve drink stations.

How is Nugget Ice Made?

Unlike ice cubes, which are frozen in solid pieces on a grid, nugget ice is made inside a cylinder. Tubes of refrigerant wrap tightly around the outside of the cylinder, causing water inside the tube to freeze in thin layers. An auger pushes ice upward as it forms, gathering a soft slush until it reaches the top of the cylinder, where the ice is compressed into the appropriate density. That happens as the agglomeration is extruded through small holes, then is cut into the pieces we know as nugget ice.

Nugget ice maker diagram

By compressing flaked ice pieces instead of allowing water to freeze into solid pieces, nugget ice machines provide a soft, wet ice that is ideal for chewing without damaging teeth. Those benefits have made this ice type, famously used in Sonic restaurants, popular among consumers.

Nugget Ice Machine Options

Scotsman was the first to offer a nugget ice machine and remained the only manufacturer to do so for a while. Now, five brands offer machines that produce nugget ice, though each has its own proprietary name for it. Below is a table displaying what features are available from each manufacturer.

ScotsmanHoshizakiManitowocIce-O-MaticFollett
Ice Style NameNuggetCubeletNuggetPearlChewblet
Undercounter Daily Production Rates80-85 lbs.92 lbs.172-300 lbs.85 lbs.N/A
Modular Head Daily Production Rates420-2400 lbs.412-1814 lbs.315-1158 lbs.464-1350 lbs.1580 lbs.
Dispenser Daily Production Rates260-500 lbs.N/A261-505 lbs.N/A125-425 lbs.
Undercounter Door StyleCabinet-styleCabinet-styleLift-upCabinet-styleN/A
Outdoor Rated OptionYesNoNoNoNo
Water-Cooled Compressor AvailableYesYesYesYesNo

The amount of ice you need will depend on what type of business you are equipping. These guidelines can help you decide what size commercial machine you need.

Nugget Ice Maker Maintenance

Maintaining your nugget ice machine is an ongoing process. As with any commercial ice machine, scale buildup is a big concern, so a water filter should always be in place on the incoming water line, and its cartridge(s) should be replaced regularly. That can help slow scale buildup and provide purer water to improve the flavor of the ice your unit produces. If you hear grinding, popping, or squealing noises coming from your ice machine, these may be signs your unit has interior scale buildup that should be addressed.

While each manufacturer's recommendations are different and should be adhered to closely, the following are good guidelines for maintaining any commercial ice machine.

  • Brush down the condenser on a regular basis to remove dust and debris and ensure proper airflow.
  • Clean or replace the air filter on a schedule according to your needs.
  • Clean the ice machine according to the manufacturer's instructions regularly.
  • Sanitize your ice machine with each cleaning.
  • In addition to any automated cleaning cycle your ice machine may have, be sure to clean the bin or dispenser of your unit.
  • Routine inspections by a certified technician are recommended to help keep your commercial nugget ice machine operating properly.

Accessories

Ice machine accessories are available to make different aspects of using and maintaining a nugget ice machine easier. Ice scoops and shovels, along with scoop holders, help keep restaurants compliant with health regulations. Many scoops have a knuckle guard to help ensure users' hands do not come in contact with the ice in the bin.

Bar ice bins can be installed as standalone units or dropped into a counter or work table, providing a way to make ice readily available to servers and bartenders. Ice totes are used to transport as much as 11.3 gallons, while larger amounts can be moved with ice caddies, which are essentially ice bins on wheels. If you will sell ice by the bag, an ice bagger makes it easier to fill bags with ice.