There’s something mesmerizing about watching your bartender manipulate the perfect cube for your drink out of a big slab of ice. Thanks in large part to Japanese cocktail culture, the art of hand-shaping ice is slowly but surely becoming standard practice in other major drinking scenes around the world. And while not every bar has the luxury of time and space to do so, those who do are championing the craft, one cube, spear, or diamond at a time.
In Boston, Drink’s Ezra Star is at the forefront of the cocktail scene as a whole. We asked her for a few pointers on cutting ice at home. “There are a few staples that I think are necessary, the first being a nice ice pick,” Star says. Three-prong picks are her tool of choice—they’re ideal for breaking down larger blocks and for shaping ice post-cutting. “Ideally, you want one that is sturdy and has some weight so it doesn’t hurt your hand to use.” In conjunction with her pick, Star uses a mallet to break down larger chunks of ice, then using a small petty knife to shape.
Star’s tips for the home ice expert are rather straightforward, taking safety into consideration above all else. “Start with secure cutting boards and lots of towels (to stabilize the boards)––you're more likely to hurt yourself with the ice than with the knife, and the best way to avoid this is making sure your ice is steady when you cut it. For the home bartender, I'd recommend using an ice chisel. Because they are already about the size of your glass, it's easy to make the cubes you’re cutting look professional.”
Here are our top picks for ice tools inspired by Star’s advice.
According to Star, this is the one essential tool you’ll need when turning a big slab of ice into whatever shape you fancy. “You want to look for a stable handle and a bit of weight to save your energy when cutting,” she says, noting that stainless steel is an ideal material for ice tools in general, as rust is something to be wary of. This tool’s razor-sharp prongs are perfect for breaking up and shaping your desired chunk of ice.
Many bartenders recommend using a serrated knife to saw large slabs of ice into smaller, more manageable chunks. This DALSTRONG knife is vacuum-treated and ultra-sharp with an L-shaped silhouette for comfort and safety. When not using for ice, this makes for a great bread knife, too.
Star recommends using a mallet in conjunction with an ice pick to break up larger pieces of ice. For the most control, use the mallet to tap the end of the pick as it makes contact with the ice. Glacio’s beechwood mallet is a great choice and comes with a reinforced canvas ice bag so you can smash away without spillage.