If you’ve ever had nugget ice, it can be hard to settle for regular ice cubes ever again. The chewy, airy nuggets level up drinks, impress guests, and are perfect for chewing. My kids absolutely love them in their drinks and they are safer for your teeth than regular ice.
This led me to wonder, is it possible to make nugget ice at home rather than having to get it from a fast food chain?
The best way to make nugget ice at home is to use a specialized nugget ice maker machine or a nugget ice cube tray. Freezing carbonated water in a pellet ice cube tray, or breaking ice cubes in a Lewis ice bag or blender makes the next closest thing.
Nugget ice is made by compressing and freezing thin flakes of ice together and breaking them into small pellet sized cubes. The fact it's made from compressed flaked ice is where nugget ice gets its soft, airy texture. Unfortunately, it’s also why it’s so hard to make at home.
Hard, but certainly not impossible.
These are my 7 favorite ways to make nugget ice at home, or at least to make the next best thing.
1. Use A Nugget Ice Cube Tray
This is hands down the cheapest and most convenient option for a lot of people and it's the option I went with. If you don't mind putting in a bit of work then getting a nugget ice cube tray will get you close to the nugget ice you buy in stores.
I say close, because the ice cubes come out a bit harder than regular nugget ice so it's not quite as good. But for under $20 this is a great solution for a lot of people.
Nugget ice cube trays, pellet ice cube trays, or pebble ice cube trays, whatever you want to call them, are basically just silicone ice cube trays with smaller compartments — designed to make pebble ice.
The small compartments make ice that’s similar in size to nugget ice but the consistency of regular ice.
To get the texture closer to real nugget ice, use carbonated water instead of still water. Remember, don’t fill to the top, make sure you leave plenty of room for expansion.
These mini ice cube trays make 160 cubes of nugget ice each. Made from 100% food grade silicone these trays and BPA and great for kids drinks of cocktails.
Pack also comes with a ice bin for storing ice cubes and a plastic scoop for serving.
2. Use A Nugget Ice Maker
A nugget ice maker is the only actual way to make 100% legitimate nugget ice at home. That is, ice made of compressed ice flakes.
But how exactly do they work?
The Opal Nugget Ice Maker works by drawing water into a freezing cold metal cylinder. Water that contacts the sides of this cylinder begins to freeze in tiny sheets.
A spiraled auger shaves the ice from the walls of the cylinder and pushes it upwards. As the shaved ice gathers at the top of the cylinder, it’s compressed and forced through small compartments — the width of the eventual ice nuggets.
Finally, the long, thin pieces of compacted ice are broken into nugget-sized pieces on a barrier, usually a curved tube or cone. The newly-broken nuggets of ice fall into a collection bin and await use.
If you want a more detailed explanation, check out How Do Nugget Ice Makers Work?
There are a few different brands out there of countertop nugget ice makers but the Opal is the original brand and is currently the most popular one on the market.
The major downside to making nugget ice this way is the larger cost of nugget ice machines. Nugget ice machines aren't cheap due to their complex components and the fact they are a fairly new invention. But if you've got the budget for it this is the best option available.
Even though a nugget ice maker is the only way to make real nugget ice at home, there are a few other methods that make something super close.
3. Freeze Carbonated Water
Freezing carbonated water instead of still water makes softer, more chewable ice. Not real-deal nugget ice, but something pretty similar in texture.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- Don’t fill your ice cube trays to the top, carbonated water expands more than still water as it freezes. Filling trays about half full has always worked well for me (half empty if I’m feeling pessimistic).
- Don’t worry if the ice looks white inside, that’s just the air bubbles trapped in the ice.
- Any plain sparkling water will work, but if you want to spice things up, experiment with flavored sparkling water.
To get the size and texture even closer to nugget ice, combine this method with a nugget ice cube tray and you can get small cubes that are also light and fluffy like regular nugget ice.
4. Crush Ice By Hand
If you like to do things the old-fashioned way, you can crush ice into bite-sized pieces by hand (not literally with your hands, of course). Using carbonated ice with this method will make your crushed ice even closer to nugget ice.
Any sturdy bag or tea towel and something to beat it with will do.
A Lewis bag and mallet are designed for this purpose — but a tea towel and hammer or a ziplock bag and can of soup will work too.
Just be sure to use a cutting board or something solid underneath. You don't want to have to explain why there’s a chunk missing out of the marble countertop.
This Lewis Bag and Mallet is the perfect way to make crushed ice. The canvas bag keeps the ice contained and absorbs excess moisture. Perfect for making cocktails, drinks for kids or as a Christmas or birthday gift.
5. Use A Blender
Chopping ice in a blender makes nice bite-sized pieces of ice. Chopping carbonated ice in a blender makes something surprisingly close to nugget ice.
It’s easy to overdo it and end up with a pile of slush.
Use the pulse button sparingly and give the blender a few shakes to make more even pieces.
Don’t forget to strain out any melted water before serving or storing.
6. Use An Ice Shaver
This one’s a bit of a stretch, to be honest, but shaved ice checks many of the same boxes that nugget ice does — it’s soft, airy, and pleasant to chew.
If I don’t have nugget ice, my second choice is shaved. And I don’t really feel like I’m settling.
You can even try to compact the shaved ice with your hands after making it to get closer to that nugget ice texture.
7. Grab A Bag From Sonic Or Chick-Fil-A
Okay, I admit, this one’s definitely cheating.
But if a nugget ice maker is out of your price range or you really only need it for an event every now and then, buying a bag or two of nugget ice from your local Sonic or Chick-Fil-A will do the trick.
Bags of ice don't really appear on the menu but most restaurants will be happy to sell it to you. Sometimes Sonic restaurants have bags of ice prepared for this very purpose.
If you need multiple bags you may need to call ahead and arrange it with the manager.
It’s legitimate nugget ice, requires little effort, and will only set you back a couple bucks.
Just don’t forget the cooler when you go to pick it up!
While using a nugget ice maker is the only way to make authentic nugget ice at home, there are other methods that make something really close.
To make nugget ice at home:
- Use a nugget ice maker.
- Use carbonated water for your ice cubes.
- Use a nugget ice cube tray.
- Use a blender.
- Crush ice manually.
- Use an ice shaver.
- Grab a bag of nugget ice from Sonic or Chick-Fil-A.
Try out the carbonated ice cube method to match the texture of nugget ice. Use a blender, Lewis ice bag, or pellet ice cube tray to match the size.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.