Did you know that ice “cubes” actually come in all sorts of shapes and sizes? You’ve probably experienced most of them in your lifetime, particularly if you eat out. Whether you frequent cafeterias with serve-yourself salad bars or fine dining establishments, you’ll notice that different restaurants serve up different kinds of ice in your drink — and not all of them are square. In fact, different shapes and sizes of ice have properties that make them great for some uses, but not all ice is created equal.
Confused? Don’t be! Here’s everything you need to know about the most popular forms of ice types and when to use each one.
Cubed ice is what most people tend to think of when they talk about ice cubes. These are solid blocks of ice that are roughly square shaped, though they may be slightly tapered at one end or rounded at the corners instead of sharp. Still, these are the iconic ice cubes you make at home, found in most convenience stores, and they are the most likely shape you’ll come across if you’re looking for the crystal-clear cubes that upscale restaurant bartenders and home mixologists prize for mixed drinks.
Full cubes are the best all-purpose ice, and they are especially good for chilling a drink quickly and for icing down your cooler to keep your favorite foods cold on the go. Their shape is compact, and they are relatively slow to melt, making them ideal for a range of uses.
Also known as half dice ice, these smaller ice cubes are what you’d get if you cut a regular ice cube in half: They’re thinner in width, rather like a pat of butter. This type of small cube is very common in drink dispensers — both self-serve beverage dispensers and behind-the-scenes ice machines — because they fill a glass more thoroughly and blend easily with drinks as they melt.
Half-cube ice is a great choice for filling individual drink glasses and for making slushy, blended cocktails. The smaller size makes it easier to process in a blender for smoother daiquiris and frozen drinks. It’s also good for iced coffee due to even melting.
As the name suggests, bullet ice is shaped more or less like a bullet. It’s typically cylindrical with a rounded tip on one end. It’s often hollow in the middle, which allows it to melt more quickly. This ice is common in self-serve dispensers and commercial ice makers in hotels. Bullet ice is also known as pearl ice — the pearl ice is also an apt description of its color, which tends to be cloudy or white throughout.
Because it’s often hollow, bullet ice is great for mixed drinks. The ice melts evenly and quickly chills drinks due to the increased contact area on the “inside” of the ice bullets. Like half cubes, the smaller size is ideal for blended cocktails. Bullet ice makers are also a good choice for carbonated soft drinks and casual establishments where a bit of cloudiness isn’t an issue.
Crescent ice, also known as half moon ice, is a solid block of ice that looks as if someone cut a fairly large cylinder in half lengthwise. One half of the ice cube is flat, while the other is rounded over as a semicircle. These are the relatively large cubes you’ll find in hotel ice dispensers or in your home freezer’s automatic ice maker.
Crescent ice is typically very hard, so it’s not ideal for popping in a blender. It’s also quite large, which makes it best for coolers and large cups or glasses. Because it’s frozen so solidly and is rather large, it melts slowly and offers top-notch cooling for drinks on a hot day. The rounded shape also prevents splashing when you’re pouring a drink over the ice, so it’s great for home and family use.
Top Hat Ice
These diminutive ice cubes are a riff off of the classic cube ice that everyone knows and loves. They are hollow cylinders that are about as tall as they are wide, putting a circular twist on the classic ice cube shape. There’s also a rounded lip on the open end that looks like a hat band, which is how this ice gets its name. Also known as gourmet ice, this shape is popular in upscale restaurants and bars where clarity and a bit of flair are in order.
Top hat ice melts slowly, so it’s great for mixed drinks that have a careful balance of ingredients and shouldn’t become too watered down. These ice cubes are often crystal clear, making them ideal for cocktails that deserve to look as good as they taste.
Very thin pieces of ice look as though they’ve been chipped or shaved off of the block by the iceman who used to fill the icebox before electric refrigerators were invented. This type of ice is prized for its snowy good looks as well as its unique texture.
Flake ice is great for creating a snow-like bed of coldness wherever it’s needed: Use it under a bed of shrimp cocktail for a party, or for produce displays in retail settings where freshness is key. It’s also popular for making snow cones, and it’s a good choice for medical ice packs because it’s soft and pliable around an injury.
Choosing the Right Ice for Home Use
All of these varieties of ice are made by commercial ice machines, but the average home owner isn’t interested in making room for a full-sized commercial appliance in their home. Fortunately, you can purchase a countertop ice maker to get the job done easily. If you’re after crystal-clear ice for great mixed drinks and gourmet dinner parties, the NewAir ClearIce40 makes up to 40 pounds of perfectly clear cubes each day. This is a great choice for entertaining.
For everyday ice needs, bullet ice is a great choice because it’s versatile enough to use in the blender or in the glass, while its rounded shape reduces splashing when you’re pouring drinks. Try the NewAir AI-250W for the best all-around home ice making capabilities.
Whatever you choose, a home ice making machine saves you time and ensures that you always have perfect ice when you need it — and you’ll love having the right type of ice for your drink every time.