Isn’t it the worst when you’re trying to remove ice from an ice cube tray and it just won’t budge? Ice cube trays are one of those kitchen items that’s often an afterthought, but some options are truly better than others.
In this article, I’ll discuss why it’s worth having good ice cube trays, what to look for, and which the best options are. Feel free to skip right to these picks from the links in the table below to see the current prices and reviews on Amazon.
The Many Uses of Ice Cube Trays
Even if you have an ice maker as part of your fridge or even as a separate appliance, ice cube trays are a handy item to have.
Aside from making ice, I use ice cube trays to store fresh squeezed lemon juice for lemon water, cubes of homemade stock, pesto to add into sauces, pumped breast milk, and herbs stored in oil. Ice cube trays are a great way to store small amounts of unused foods and sauces.
Here is a list of other clever uses for ice cube trays.
What to Look for in Good Ice Cube Trays
Some of these factors may be more important for certain uses of ice cube trays. What type of ice cube tray is best for you may depend on what you intend to use it for most.
Ease of Release
If the ice is difficult to remove, the ice cube tray is probably going to drive you mad! Consider whether the ice can all be released at once with a twist, or if each cube has to be removed separately. If you regularly use ice in beverages, this is important.
Trays that can stack are convenient for saving space and making multiple trays of ice at once. Be sure the trays won’t sink into one another after you’ve filled them with water (that’s happened to me…).
Lid or No Lid
If you plan to use ice cube trays for food, or if you tend to not use your ice quickly, trays with lids keep freezer flavors out (and the water in).
Ice cube trays have a rough job, with extreme heat fluctuations and the twisting required to release the ice. It’s common for cheap trays to crack and splinter. But good quality ice cube trays can last a long time.
Most ice cube trays are made of some sort of plastic. Look for ones that are BPA- and phthalate-free. Silicone is also a popular choice as the flexibility allows for easy release of cubes, though it can leave a taste or film if not properly prepped.
Old ice cube trays were made of aluminum, and today you can find ones made of stainless steel which is a nice option if you’re concerned about chemicals in plastics and silicone. But it definitely takes a little more work to remove the ice.
Check out this vintage ice cube tray in action:
Size, Shape and Number of Ice Cubes
Most ice cubes are rectangular, but you can get all sorts of shapes including actual cubes, spheres, stars, etc. Sizes are usually given in dimensions or volume.
Ice Cube Tray Options
And you thought ice cube trays would be a simple matter! The range of options shows you just how many variations there are.
This is a very average-looking ice cube tray. They are BPA and phthalate-free in a soft plastic.
These trays each make 16 rectangular ice cubes. They can stack on top of one another in the freezer and won’t freeze together as long as you don’t overfill them.
I’m not sure exactly what it is, but people are passionate about these ice cube trays. Many people on Amazon, Reddit, and sites like Chowhound declare emphatically that these ice cube trays are the absolute best.
The biggest benefit according to reviewers is the ease with which these release the ice cubes. There doesn’t appear to be any trick to it; they just work. Other reviewers also praise the longevity of these trays, some people noting they’ve had them for up to 9 years!
Negative reviews mostly focus on the price. I recommend you play around with the quantities, as there are options to buy packs of 1, 2, 4, and 8 trays. I linked to the 4-pack as, at the time of writing, this was a better value (and still a reasonable number of ice cube trays).
These silicone trays get very high ratings. I’ve linked to the 2” cube trays, but they also manufacture 1.4” ice cube trays, which you can find here.
These trays solve one of the biggest problems with silicone—floppiness. The steel sides keep them from sagging when full. You can also use them for baking (they are oven safe up to about 450ºF).
There are two main complaints with these trays. One is that they cannot be stacked in the freezer with water in them, though you could stack a newly filled tray on top of one that’s already frozen. The bigger complaint is that the trays leave the cubes with a silicone taste, and sometimes a film. Pratico Kitchen has responded to a number of these complaints, recommending either a baking soda or vinegar/lemon water soak.
I’ve read elsewhere that this can be an issue with silicone trays, but that people do have success with prepping the trays properly first.
These ice cube trays from OXO offer some of the benefits of both more rigid plastic and silicone trays. It’s an interesting design. The trays themselves are made of PVC-, phthalate- and BPA-free plastic. The lids are silicone.
The idea is that you press down the silicone lid, squeezing excess water out through the channel on the side, creating a water-tight seal at the top of the cube so you can stack them, and so that the trays can be placed in the freezer at an angle without leaking or causing the cubes to deform.
There are a lot of reviews on these trays, and most of them are positive. Reviewers note that the trays really do work as described and the cubes are easy to remove by either twisting the whole tray and dumping it, or pushing each round-bottomed cube out.
Negative reviewers note that the tray is large, and that the silicone lid takes on a freezer burn odour over time, which leaks into the cubes.
These stainless steel ice cube trays are reminiscent of vintage ice cube trays. These are made of high grade stainless steel and are hefty compared to plastic or silicone. This tray makes 18 rectangular ice cubes.
Some people really love these trays. They like the retro design, the feel of quality, and the fact that there’s no concern of chemical leaching like you may have with plastic or silicone.
The reviews are mixed, though. Many people dislike these trays as they have a very hard time removing the ice. Some reviewers also noted that it seemed like the recurring freezing of the ice warps the metal which makes it harder to remove the cubes.
Other people, however, recommend either letting the frozen tray sit out for about 5-10 minutes or running them under water before attempting to crank the ice out. I think what this shows is that if you want to avoid plastic, you’re giving up some of its convenience, so you need to manage your expectations accordingly.
The Best Ice Cube Trays for Your Freezer
As you can see, there really are a number of options of ice cube trays depending on your needs and priorities.
If you just want a basic ice cube tray that easily releases ice cubes, doesn’t impart flavors, and stacks neatly in your freezer, the classic Rubbermaid ice cube tray is the one for you.
If you are partial to the squishy convenience of silicone, Pratico Kitchen’s steel reinforced trays offer some nice design features such as the rigid sides that won’t sag and the neat, truly cube cubes.
If you’re looking to completely eliminate plastic from your kitchen, the snazzy Onxy stainless steel trays would be your best bet. I’d love to give this a try to see how much of the difficulty is user error vs. actual design flaws!
What do you prioritize in an ice cube tray? Do you have a favorite?