Whether you’re throwing a Tiki-themed party, setting out a celebratory spread of oysters and caviar, ramping up your frozen cocktail game in preparation for spring break, or simply trying to replicate the texture of your favorite soda-fountain staple, properly crushed ice is essential. Some folks are lucky enough to have an ice feed built right into their freezers, but the rest of us can crunch our own cubes into perfect, gravely bits with a few handy classic tools designed for just that.
Smaller pieces of ice mean more surface area and quicker chilling power but if too small, the pulverized shards will melt too quickly and water down those perfectly mixed tiki drinks, swizzles, fixes, and cobblers. Olde timey barkeeps whittled large blocks of frozen lake water down to their desired shapes, and while some retro cocktail experts are keeping the old craft alive, few home bars have the kit or the space necessary for such a pasttime. There are heaps of options out there for molding custom cubes, but, for some reason, home ice crushers have fallen out of fashion.
I personally believe that a well-chilled cocktail is never out of season or out of style. Whether you’re looking to hold a retro cocktail party or you just want to mix up one or two perfect, frosty drinks, these tools will get you where you you need to be.
My pal, cookbook author JJ Goode, recently asked me why so many pastry chefs like to whack lumps of pie crust with a rolling pin before sheeting it out. I didn’t have a solid answer for him, other than the fact that there are very few situations in life when aggressively whacking things is considered appropriate behavior. In this day and age, I’ve found it helpful to take every opportunity to do so.
This simple sack-and-mallet set is the classic method for crushing cocktail ice. Just fill the bag with cubes, then smash away until they are your preferred size. The heavy canvas absorbs excess moisture from the smallest, quick-melting bits, delivering dry, custom rocks to the stirred beverage of your choice.
I will be making room in my tiny kitchen for this sturdy German one-cube crusher. It fits right in next to my manual citrus press and it easily breaks cubes into irregular chunks with a satisfyingly loud crack. Westmark’s manual model only crushes a handful of ice at a time, so it's not ideal for party-sized batches, but for a studio apartment or for throwing in your tailgate cooler, it can't be beat.
This fierce little trident is perfect for whittling big blocks down to a more manageable size or for breaking up those hunks of bagged ice that fuse into a glacier during transport. Confectioners and pastry chefs will also find them useful for chipping away at bars of baking chocolate.
A sturdy stainless steel version from Deluxe, the Japanese bartending brand, is available from Umami Mart.
This hand-crank crusher is the sturdiest version I’ve found of those classic, sleek mid-century models. With a bit of force, it mills out a few cups of perfect, pebble-sized pieces for a Derby Day batch of mint juleps.
This crusher is not heavy enough to hold itself steady during use, so wrap an arm around the base and hang on tight.
Crushing ice in an electric blender or food processor is a great high-volume/low effort option. Unfortunately, all but the strongest models yield a sub-par mix of perfect pebbly pieces and powdery, quick-melting snow. Look for one with a large pitcher and a high-powered motor, like this home version from the restaurant stalwart brand Vitamix.
With the perfect glass of crushed ice, you'll need the perfect stirring tool: Old-school Caribbean bartenders stirred their drinks with swizzle sticks and the simple tool is still one of the best ways to stir a crushed iced cocktail. The long, pronged branches, snipped from the indigenous Quararibea turbinata shrub, are still prized for their ability to agitate the ice while lightly frothing the drink—with no sloshy mess.