When you head out to a restaurant or bar, one of the things that is wonderful is the ice. I love the little square, perfectly clear ice cubes (well not really ‘cubes’) that come in a glass. Some places have more round ones, but I am a fan of the little flat square ones.

And if you are old enough, you remember how ice worked at home – with metal trays.

Today, most refrigerators make ice for you – and even use filtered water. We are all familiar with the crescent shaped ice that comes out of these in-freezer ice makers, right?

Not a pretty sight. So what’s the deal? Is it that hard to get decent ice? The old metal (and newer plastic) trays make nicer looking ice that those awful crescent shaped things!

I’m not sure why the ice in the trays tends to look nicer than ice from the ice maker, even with a filter. But both of those options entrain air into the ice. In the automatic ice maker in the freezer, the water sprays in after going through the valve at the bottom of the fridge, and sometimes the water in the pipe to the ice maker has been sitting there for a LONG time.

So how do the bar ice machines work? The same basic machine has been made for decades, and most of the parts of the various brands are interchangeable.

They have a compressor just like a fridge, but it is used to get a flat, inclined plate very cold, and then there is a circulation pump that runs water over the plate. The water is always moving, and a layer of ice builds up on the plate. After the ice is thick enough (and there is a control for this, totally based on how long it flows the water over the plate), the compressor becomes a heat pump and slowly warms the plate so the ice will slide off.

The ice slab slides off the plate and lands on a mesh of wires, which heat up and cut the ice into the little squares. Then they fall into the bin.

The bin is not cooled, the mass of ice is what keeps it cool. And the ice is continuously melting, so these sorts of ice machines have to have a drain. They are relatively expensive to operate, since they make ice almost continuously. There is a sensor in the bin, (near the top right, usually) that will shut off the cycle when the bin gets full.

But the ice is always fresh, since it is continuously (but slowly) melting, and the cubes are beautiful and clear because they are made from running water. Even if you are not using filtered water – the cubes will look perfect.

These machines do require maintenance, in 15 years I have replaced the compressor once (in warranty), rebuilt the control board twice, replaced the circulation pump 3 times. They are expensive to maintain, but the parts are easily available on Amazon or eBay, and repair instructions are easy to find. No repair I have ever done took more than 20-30 minutes (I let a professional replace the compressor).

I use a reverse osmosis water system for our drinking water, and I have the ice maker plumbed into that water – Yes, we are Ice Snobs!

Now you have just a little more knowledge about ice cubes…