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 / Updated  / Source: TODAY
By Tracy Saelinger

Once, I bought an ice cream maker that made a pint (a pint!) at a time. I swore that next time, I'd go big.

After all, while homemade ice cream is a treat, it takes work. That's one reason the Hamilton Beach 4-quart automatic ice cream maker is so appealing: It churns out a gallon at a time for your efforts. Plus, it has more than 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon.

Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker, $34 (usually $35), Amazon

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Of course, we had to try it. Here's what we found:

It's easy to use.

ice cream maker
Here's how the Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker arrives--it's about 12 by 15 inches.Tracy Saelinger / TODAY

On the outside, it may remind you of the old hand-crank ice cream makers. It essentially is one, except it has a brilliant motor on top that churns the ice cream for you. (If you've ever hand-cranked ice cream, you know it's only fun for about two minutes.)

Unlike some ice cream makers, you don't have to remember to pop a freezer bowl in the freezer 24 hours in advance. You will just need ice and rock salt (both of which you can get quickly and cheap) to get the thing ice cold in minutes.

ice cream maker
Pour your ingredients into the metal canister (we're making the Rocky Road here--with extra marshmallows), then add the ice and rock salt to the plastic tub to get the whole thing ice cold.Tracy Saelinger / TODAY

It works quickly

Here's how it works: Add your ingredients to the metal canister, insert the mixing paddle and lock on the motorized top. Then, add ice and rock salt between the metal canister and the plastic tub of the ice cream maker. Plug it in, and you'll have ice cream in 20 to 40 minutes.

You can also stick the finished ice cream in the freezer to harden, if you prefer. (One note: The motor is loud, so don't plan on making the frozen treats too early in the morning.)

ice cream maker
To make basic flavors, chances are, you probably have a lot of the ingredients needed on hand.Tracy Saelinger / TODAY

You can make healthier treats in it, too

While, yes, you can make classic ice cream in it, we also tried strawberry frozen yogurt (which got rave reviews from kid testers), as well as sherbert, for lower-fat treats.

Use your own recipe or pick from one of the 20 that come with the machine for ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbert (as well as custard or gelato).

You might even have most of the ingredients on hand. For the Easy Vanilla, for example, you just need milk, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon juice and heavy whipping cream. Or, go for mix-ins. I made Rocky Road, the most popular flavor among my kids. Plus, the ice cream lacks the preservatives found in a lot of the store-bought stuff. I tasted the freshness!

ice cream maker
We stored the leftover ice cream in takeout quart containers--and the results? Fresh-tasting ice cream and frozen yogurt that could pass as pro-level.Tracy Saelinger / TODAY

It makes a lot of ice cream

If you're going to make ice cream, you might just become the most popular person in your neighborhood. So, make enough to share. The gallon capacity is enough to feed a crowd at a backyard barbecue or a small family reunion — and it doubles as a fun activity for the kids, to boot.

Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Maker, $34 (usually $35), Amazon