Seven Types of Ice (& When to Use Them)

April 6, 2020

From the budding mixologist to the avid host, ice plays a vital role in entertaining. Learn about the different types of ice and how best to use them.

ice and lemons

Ice is ice: it gets your drink cold, but if you’re not careful, it waters it down. Who doesn’t love an ice-cold green tea or sparkling water with a wedge of lemon to take the edge off of a warm day? Whiskey on the rocks? Yes, please! Wait, this is a big ice cube. Why is it so big? And clear? Why use different types of ice? Ice is ice, right?

Like all seemingly normal things, there is always another level of depth. Another step in the complexity, but with understanding comes appreciation and a good amount of fun. Why settle for plain bagged ice or the crescent ice your built-in ice maker spits out when you can enjoy different types of ice, each with its own niche in the world of drinks? We’re not saying your ice maker needs to be thrown away; we’re just saying there is a lot more out there to enjoy.

Here’s our quick guide to seven different types of ice and when to use them.

1. Regular Cube/Half Cube

These are the standard/most common ice cubes. You’ve probably used a million of them in your lifetime. Your typical freezer ice is meant for quantity, not quality, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get the job done. You’ve likely enjoyed them in everything from teas to juices, to cocktails. These cubes can also be crushed into pieces. If you’re not trying to win an award for looks, stir and shake them with any drink.

However, if you’re hoping to make a drink look as good as it tastes, they’re best used to cool your mixture in a cocktail mixer before straining into a clean glass with either nicer ice or fresh ice cubes.

2. Crescent Ice

It fills many of the same roles as standard cubed and half cubed ice, but it has a quirky shape that separates it from different types of ice. This shape allows it to fill a glass better and creates exceptional liquid displacement and easy flow as you enjoy your beverage. Crescent ice is a tad harder to crush due to its rounded edges, so be careful.

3. Crushed Ice

Most refrigerators come with two different types of ice: cubed and crushed. If your refrigerator doesn’t have a crushed ice option, the best tactic is to wrap freezer ice in a clean towel and carefully break it into pieces with a mallet or meat tenderizer. You’ll also find this fluffy and slushy ice in fountain machines.

Crushed ice is perfect for strong slushy cocktails that need a lot of dilution, like juleps, cobblers, and tiki drinks. Crushed ice is better than the other different types of ice for frozen drinks because it won’t clog the blade of your blender.

4. Full Cube

Often two-by-two-inches, these large cubes melt slower and provide a clean look to your drink because of their measured shape and size. Due to the larger size and slower melt rate, full cubes offer maximum cooling and reduced amounts of dilution, so you don’t get a watery beverage.

Best, and most commonly, found in whiskey drinks where the slow melt cools the liquor without diluting it. However, large cubes can also be used for shaking, as they aerate and cool the cocktail without watering it down.

mixed cocktail

5. Nugget Ice

These little chunks of ice have several names, but people really love them. Nugget ice is growing a legion of fans for its versatility, soft chewy texture, and it's amazing ability to cling to flavors. It is also increasingly being found in ice makers because it is drier than different types of ice, making it gentler on dispensers and less likely to jam.

Nugget ice is best used for blending in frozen drinks and smoothies, juleps, cooling sodas, and anywhere else it can soak up big flavors and offer a delicious chewy slush.

6. Block Ice

Traditionally, ice used to be cut to order from a large block. However, today you’ll usually find ice blocks floating in big bowls of punch, agua frescas, and large batches of cocktails. The best way to make block ice is to use an insulated cooler in a freezer to maximize the clear ice and reduce cloudiness.

Ice blocks keep their reputation as the bulk party ice: best used in large volume containers, slowly chilling the drink throughout the duration of the party.

7. Spheres

If you’ve had a drink with an ice sphere, or the oxymoron round ice cube, you’ll remember how visually stunning the drink looked. Ice spheres fall into similar roles as the full cube ice, in that they are often used with a straight spirit for slow dilution or are stirred (not shaken) in cocktails. The ice sphere also doubles as a garnish. Additionally, ice spheres melt at a slower rate than their cube counterparts and often fill a good portion of a glass.

Ice spheres are a gourmet ice choice that can really wow a crowd.

ice spheres

How to Try New Ice

Now that you know a little more about different types of ice and their applications, you might want to try them in your drinks and see if there is a noticeable difference. Maybe your lemonade is better served with large cubes, or perhaps you want to give ice nuggets a shot. While you may be able to find a local ice provider that can satisfy your curiosity, you’re more than likely going to need to find special ice trays/molds or buy a dedicated icemaker for your home.

However, refrigerators have come a very long way in the realm of ice makers. You may be used to the typical options of crushed and cubed or crescent ice, but new models like the LG InstaView Line have dual icemakers: one that produces your typical freezer ice and a built-in sphere craft ice maker. It’s a great way to really step up a party with slow-melting, beautiful ice without the worry of pouring molds or the risky business of shaping your own.

Maybe you’ve discovered a preference between the different types of ice or want to take up an ice-making project before your next gathering. Either way, you’re going to need a well-running fridge and/or freezer to ensure you can keep things chilled until the time comes to enjoy. Visit your local Howard’s store if you’re looking for a unit that aligns with your newfound ice appreciation.

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