How To Make Crushed Ice

People like crushed ice. It makes a drink feel special, adding a little extra something to the experience. Crushed ice is integral to many a cocktail from the Zombie to the Moscow Mule or the mint julep. It's also a summertime hit in iced tea, iced coffee, sparkling water, and lemonade. Though it has its naysayers, crushed ice is more than just fun and refreshing: It also adds texture and chills drinks faster than cubed ice, and dilutes drinks with high alcohol or sugar content, making them more palatable. 

There are a few ways to make crushed ice yourself depending on the tools in your kitchen. These methods can be broken down into two main categories. The first is the manual method, which includes the straightforward resealable plastic storage bag and rolling pin technique. Then, there's the mechanical route, which is basically a food processor, or similar equipment. Each method gets the job done, but one is easier than the other.

Why make it yourself? Not everyone has a refrigerator that makes crushed ice or a fancy stand-alone ice maker taking up space in their kitchen. You could go the store-bought route but only while supplies last (not long during the warmer months). Plus, the cost adds up. Then there are those times when you run out of crushed ice mid-party, and you need to get some right away. Whatever your situation, there are loads of reasons you might want to add homemade crushed ice to your skill set.

Making homemade crushed ice with a plastic bag and rolling pin

One way to make crushed ice at home is to use a resealable plastic bag and a rolling pin. To use this technique, put some one-inch ice cubes into a bag and take care not to overfill it as this can cause the bag to break. Next, seal it, pushing out all the excess air, lay it on a flat surface, and pound it with a rolling pin. You'll want to turn the bag and mix the ice around some as you go to ensure a uniform crush. Running a little warm sink water over the ice-filled bag first can provide a temperature shift that aids in breaking your ice. The heat hitting the ice causes it to expand, but that heat is only affecting the outer layer. The inside still stays just as cold, and if there are impurities or dissolved oxygen in the ice, it's going to crack (per BBC's Science Focus).

If you don't like plastic bags, a clean dish towel can substitute. Simply spread the towel on the counter, add your ice to the center, fold the edges of the towel around the ice, forming a pouch, and beat it evenly while holding the towel closed with your other hand (so no ice escapes). When finished, open the towel over a bowl and shake it into the bowl.

No rolling pin — no problem. Other suitable kitchen implements include a kitchen mallet (wood or metal), or a large wooden spoon. Plan on making lots of crushed ice at home? You may want to invest in a Lewis bag. This nifty little item is a sturdy bag designed specifically for bartenders for the very purpose of crushing ice.

Making homemade crushed ice with a food processor or blender

While manual ice-crushing techniques certainly get the job done, machines are made for expediting. Though you may hear people recommend a food processor to make the job faster and easier, according to Cindy Fisher, a veteran appliance tester for Consumer Reports with over twenty years of experience, you shouldn't use a food processor to crush ice. "That's the blender's job, as the ice can damage the food processor's chopping blade and plastic container." 

There are also mini blenders like the NutriBullet. These are great for small ice requirements, like if you're just making one or two drinks with crushed ice — though there are some caveats. According to the NutriBullet website, "Ice should only occupy 25% of the cup, no more than that." Also, a NutriBullet is not recommended for crushing dry ice (i.e. ice alone) rather it must be accompanied by a liquid. Add your ice first to the bottom of the NutriBullet, then your drink right in along with it. If you don't have a mini blender but just want that one delicious crushed-ice beverage, there's always the classic cocktail shaker and muddler. Simply put some ice in the shaker and mash it up before shaking it up with your drink. Whichever method or technique you use, one thing is certain — you're sure to crush it.