The best ice cube tray around for cocktails and other chilled beverages is Tovolo’s King Ice Cube Tray. Literally every bartender and mixologist we’ve spoken to has recommended it—by name. Its large cubes are great for most drinks and it’s easy to use and clean. It ranges from about $7.50 to $12, depending on which color you choose; blue and red happen to be the cheapest on Amazon.
Ice may seem like the most straightforward recipe in your kitchen, but frozen water deserves at least a little more thought than the average person gives it. It’s time to get out of the mindset of those cheap, plastic trays that come with your freezer. Ice is an extremely important ingredient—and often overlooked—when it comes to making quality beverages. For example, The Aviary, 3-Michelin Star chef Grant Achatz’s cocktail bar that specializes in advanced molecular gastronomy, treats every drink as a plated dish, produces literally dozens of different kinds of ice every night, and chips away at 300 pound blocks to get the exact size and shape they need for each specific use, like bartenders used to before Prohibition. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen at home. You need a simple vessel to pour water into, and get ice out of.
- Creates extra-large 2-inch square, slow melting ice cubes
- A must-have for cooling bar drinks, pitchers, punch or any beverage; jumbo size reduces dilution
- Multiple uses in the kitchen - perfect size for freezing and storing one-serving portions of leftover juice, wine, sauce, baby food or creating frozen treats
- Easy to clean, dishwasher safe durable food-grade silicone allows easy removal of just one or two cubes at a time
- Brightly colored tray measures 6.25 x 4.35 x 2 inches and creates 6 extra-large square cubes
Cheat sheet: Different ice for shaking vs. stirring vs. presentation
OK, so what type of ice should you use, and when? I’ll keep this simple.
For cocktail shaking or drinking water or other things you want cooled fast without worry of dilution. Ice from the Perfect Cube Silicone Ice Cube Tray, as well as most regular trays or the half-moon ice from your freezer ice-maker are fine here (all make around 1-inch cubes). According to tests by Dr. Delicious (a.k.a. Dave Arnold), all ice cubes are pretty much equal when it comes to chilling down liquids in a cocktail shaker. Larger cubes are harder to shake and crushed ice introduces too much surface water.
For cocktails on the rocks. Here’s where I break out the big cubes (Tovolo’s King Ice Cubes) and spheres. If you want a cold drink, with some water dilution, big ice is the way to go, as the cooling/diluting process will happen more slowly, giving you more time in the optimal temperature and dilution zone. For a cocktail or whiskey drink you could also use whiskey stones, but they won’t get your drink as cool and they won’t dilute your drink, which could be good or bad depending on what your drink preferences are. Also remember that the presentation of a food or drink can significantly impact the pleasure we derive from it. That’s why Scotch and wine tasters always begin by looking at their spirits, not tasting them. A big, clear hunk of ice is undeniably beautiful.
What makes a great ice cube tray for cocktails?
Any ice cube tray can do that, though. What separates a great one from the no-name plastic trays is cube shape, size, and ease of ejection. The first two factors have a big effect on how the ice melts in your glass, and how quickly it dilutes your drink. Brian Van Flendern was the head mixologist at Thomas Keller’s Per Se, a 3-Michelin Star restaurant which is widely regarded among the best in the world, and now runs Creative Cocktail Consultants. He recommends the Tovolo. “For the home user I’d recommend [it]…a larger cube makes for better cocktails.”
The science and practical nature of whether or not this makes a difference is marginally important, though. Big ice cubes also look great in drinks, and that’s how the pros serve cocktails when they want something that will dilute a drink slower, they told us. Flendern continued, “You have a slower rate of dilution”. We spent about ten hours researching, interviewing almost a dozen different bartenders, cocktail experts, and scientists to find the best choice. Then we did our own casual tests and the data backed up their choice.
- Creates extra-large 2-inch square, slow melting ice cubes
- A must-have for cooling bar drinks, pitchers, punch or any beverage;...
- Multiple uses in the kitchen - perfect size for freezing and storing...
- Easy to clean, dishwasher safe durable food-grade silicone allows easy...
- Brightly colored tray measures 6.25 x 4.35 x 2 inches and creates 6...
Aside from the fact that every professional drink maker we spoke to loves this silicone ice-mold, there are two main reasons why King Ice Cube Tray is our top pick. First, the cubes themselves. Larger cubes look cool, sure, but more importantly, they melt more slowly than smaller ones, meaning your drink won’t get diluted as quickly. “They dissolve more slowly due to their smaller surface area to volume ratio than the same mass of smaller cubes,” says John Seddon, professor of chemical physics at Imperial College London.
For reference, Lustroware makes a Covered Ice Cube Tray, available at The Container Store. Each cube is about 10 grams, and has a surface area of 7 square inches—about half to a third the size your average ice cube. On the other hand, King Ice Cube Tray creates ice with a surface area of roughly 24 square inches and a mass of around 100 grams. This means that the same mass of the smaller cubes has about three times as much surface area as the 2-inch cubes.
The second reason is the silicone rubber material from which the King Ice Cube Tray is made. It’s easier to remove ice from silicone than it is to pry it from plastic or metal. “The silicon-oxygen backbone of the polymer has strong chemical bonds and is also very flexible; the methyl side groups prevent crystallization, keeping it malleable, and also confer non-stick properties due to their hydrophobic and non-reactive character,” says Seddon. Instead of having to crack back and forth to loosen the ice, you simply push it out. You don’t have to worry about every other cube coming out when you only want one. What’s nice about the Tovolo King is that the silicone is rigid enough to support the shape without being floppy. (That’s one of the problems with Casabella’s Silicone Big Ice Trays.) Additionally, the Tovolo King is dishwasher safe, and BPA-free, which is always a plus.
“Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists” is an essential iPhone/iPad app for anyone interested in mixing up cocktails. In the app, contributors Jim Meehan, who has been named “American Bartender of the Year” by Tales of the Cocktail Spirit, and whose bar, PDT (Please Don’t Tell), has earned the distinction of “World’s Best Cocktail Bar” from the same organization, and Joseph Schwartz, co-founder of Little Branch and one of Food & Wine’s top five bartenders in America, share their knowledge on not only techniques and recipes, but tools, too. The app says the shape King Ice Cube Tray puts out is great for what’s called ‘shaking ice.’ “Its bulk allows bartenders to shake vigorously without risking excess dilution.” Additionally, the authors prefer it for “strong cocktails like the Old Fashioned, where minimal melting is preferred.”
“Tovolo was the first to release these types of molds, and I think they’re great,” says Meehan, although he now uses comparable models from CocktailKingdom.com. (Other bartenders have told us the trays from Cocktail Kingdom aren’t as sturdy as Tovolo’s, and they otherwise didn’t come up in our research.)
We spoke to a number of bartenders, and they all gave the Tovolo King the same plaudits. Chad Solomon is formerly of New York’s Milk & Honey, a bar that harvests huge ice blocks and breaks them down, and went on to co-found Cuffs & Buttons, a beverage consulting company. He said that his bar was Tovolo’s first commercial customer. King Ice Cube Tray is made of silicone that’s a step above what the FDA mandates for food grade material, and he also likes the chamfered edge. Asked why he prefers silicone to plastic or metal, Solomon said, “Plastic becomes brittle over time, and metal is not as flexible.” Although he highly recommends CocktailKingdom.com for barware, he says their silicone trays are a little more flexible, and can therefore be messier.
“I use the Tovolo silicone trays for nice square cubes at home,” says H. Joseph Ehrmann of San Francisco’s Elixir, designated as one of the best bars in America on multiple occasions by GQ, Esquire, and more. Kevin Liu, of ScienceFare.org and author of Craft Cocktails at Home, told us, “For the price, you can’t beat the 1-inch and 2-inch cube silicone trays by Tovolo.”
Our friend Lisa McManus is the senior editor responsible for all equipment testing for America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines. With America’s Test Kitchen, she put King Ice Cube Tray through its paces, and came out really liking it. In her review, she said “the cubes look impressive, but more importantly, they kept our drinks from tasting watered-down. Over the course of 30 minutes, the Tovolo’s cubes only added 36 percent more liquid to our drink, less than any other ice cube tray we’ve tested.” In its roundup, the tray was Cook’s Illustrated’s most recommend among other large-cube models, beating out the company’s own smaller mold and Casabella’s tray.
On Amazon, Tovolo’s ice maker has a 4.5 star rating, with 303 5 star reviews. Of the negative ratings, it seems that some customers received knockoffs that imparted a chemical taste to the cubes. If that happens, Liu recommends “rinsing the cubes in ice water before using to get rid of the taste.” It’s worth noting that among our staff, we’ve never experienced such an issue. As for longevity, there’s no written warranty, but Tovolo’s Jennifer Carroll told us the company backs its products 100%.
Testing the Cubes
We ran our own tests, and found that larger cubes do indeed melt at a slightly slower rate, and smaller cubes at a higher rate. Some dilution is a good thing, because it “opens up the aromatics of the spirit,” as Creative Cocktail Consultant’s Van Flendern reminds us.
Our less scientific experiments found that the same volume of smaller ice does indeed make for a more watered-down taste.
Is that enough to make a difference in taste?
I wanted to prove or disprove if using different ice cube sizes from our recommended Tovolo trays (big and small) would make a difference in taste.
So, I took an equal volume of ice but with different surface areas (four
1+ inch cubes melted down a bit to match a single 2-inch cube). (Volume was measured by water displacement. And after I melted the small cubes a bit to get the volume to match, I stuck the cubes back in the freezer.) I put two ounces of Templeton Rye in a glass labelled it A. Did the same thing for glass B. After 10 minutes I removed the ice cubes and put them in the freezer to stop dilution and keep the testers from knowing which type of cube was in each glass. Three editors, tested blindly, presented with multiple tastes of each, could not tell a difference in taste after 10 minutes. I put the ice cubes back in. After 18 minutes I repeated the test, the same three editors could tell a difference, but not unanimously:
- Two editors said glass “B”, which had smaller cubes, tasted more diluted.
- Another editor, who is not a morning person, said he could not tell the difference.
One of the editors who could taste the watered down drink also noted that they still tasted similar enough. After 25 minutes, the tastes were varied enough people could tell. This obviously isn’t a rigorous test, but it shows that using an ice cube in a shape with less surface area is noticeable, but still not a huge deal. In the end, if professional and award-winning bar tenders say use a bigger cube, we’re going to use a bigger cube.
Best small cube tray (for cooling water or juice or anything else quickly with a lot of dilution)
- IMPRESSIVE ICE: Trays create perfect 1.25-inch cubes. The durable...
- USER-FRIENDLY SILICONE: Durable, fade-resistant silicone lasts through...
- MULTIPLE KITCHEN USES: Freeze juice, coffee, sauce, soup, baby food,...
- EASY TO CLEAN: Trays are dishwasher safe. Rinse occasionally with...
- DIMENSIONS: 7.25" L X 4.5" W X 1" H. Creates 15 1.25" cubes. BPA-free...
As far as small trays go for cooling water or other drinks where you don’t really care about dilution—warm soda or juice you just want to get to drinking temperature swiftly or to soften out the sugary taste—we have a pick, too.
We liked the Tovolo Perfect Cube Silicone Ice Cube Tray, which comes as a pair, each making 15 1.25 inch cubes at a time. It takes about three of these cubes to equal the same mass as one of the Kings, but the molds otherwise share the properties you should be looking for. If you have smaller glasses, these should be a consideration. Additionally, “smaller cubes will aid in keeping carbonated drinks fizzy,” says Sother Teague, beverage director at Amor Y Amargo, a bar that’s received such accolades as one of the best new bars of 2019.
Others we did not like so much. Gizmodo ran its own tests of ice cube trays of traditional style and size. Sam Biddle found OXO’s Good Grips Ice Cube Tray to be his favorite. It has a non spill design, but if you want that, we preferred their Good Grips NoSpill Ice Cube Tray. Its silicone lid allows it to be placed in a freezer at up to a 45° angle. Both make cubes with rounded bottoms, allowing them to be easily removed by pressing down on either end of the cube. Still, the Tovolo Perfect Cube Silicone was better.
Spherical cubes (a neat trick)
- KEEP DRINKS COLDER FOR LONGER: At 2.5 inches, these large ice spheres...
- PRESERVES THE FLAVOR OF YOUR DRINK: The ultra-slow melting ice balls...
- PERFECT FOR THE WHISKY DRINKER: So much more distinguished than...
- NOT JUST FOR WHISKY: Add flare to punch bowls and drinks dispensers....
- PERFECT SPHERES OF ICE EVERY TIME: The sturdy plastic construction,...
The shape with the least surface area is the sphere; Tovolo makes a pretty neat set of Sphere Ice Molds. Each makes a 2.5 inch sphere, with a surface area of 19.6 square inches. This is with a higher mass than King Ice Cube Tray. Unfortunately you only get a pair of molds, and they’re more expensive—but man, do they look cool, and they fit in slightly smaller glasses. These are nifty—a few editors here have the King Ice as well as these spheres, and the feedback is that they’re expensive (that cost gets you two molds), more fragile (since they’re made from hard plastic in the lower portion) and because you have to rinse them in warm water to remove the cube, not the easiest to pop out. Still, all ice cubes are relatively cheap and these are a neat addition to a home bartender’s collection but definitely not beneficial beyond the wow factor.
Other Models We Looked At
- Uses gravity and the thermal conductivity of aluminum to quickly shape...
- Comes with 2.5in Ice Cube Tray
- Made of anodized aluminum with silver finish
- Produces 55mm ice balls which fit a single rocks glass
There are dozens, if not hundreds of other models that I passed on, most of which are the generic, white, come-with-your freezer variety. There are very few large trays that match the qualities of Tovolo King. There are also lots and lots of novelty trays, but no one needs AK47 ammo shaped ice cubes. “Stay with cubes. All the funny/funky shapes (guitars, skulls, etc) have to many surfaces and just melt faster,” advises Teague.
In terms of more premium options, Cocktail Kingdom sells a Professional Ice Ball Maker similar to models coming out of Japan that cost hundreds of dollars. This one is a more reasonable $150, and makes 2.25 inch spheres by melting a cube down to shape between two heavy pieces of anodized aluminum. The result is a perfect sphere, but the cost isn’t worth it for home use; stick with Tovolo’s King, or splurge for the Sphere makers if you must.
Wrapping it up
Whether you’re shaking up cocktails or putting your whiskey on the rocks, Tovolo’s King Ice Cube Tray is the way to go. From the price, to the size and shape of the cubes it puts out, to the material it’s made of, it’s everything you should be looking for in an ice cube tray. It’s used in bars across the country, and there’s a good chance you’ve had its cubes in your drink without ever knowing the name. It’s an everyday luxury at a modest price.
- 1 Cheat sheet: Different ice for shaking vs. stirring vs. presentation
- 2 What makes a great ice cube tray for cocktails?
- 3 Our pick
- 4 Testing the Cubes
- 5 Is that enough to make a difference in taste?
- 6 Best small cube tray (for cooling water or juice or anything else quickly with a lot of dilution)
- 7 Spherical cubes (a neat trick)
- 8 Other Models We Looked At
- 9 Wrapping it up