In this guide, we'll go through 4 different ways (and for different budgets) of making crushed ice for cocktails.
But first, some basic things to know:
Why use crushed ice?
Crushed ice serves two main purposes. First, it chills your drink a lot faster than any other type of ice. Secondly, it dilutes a drink faster compared to ice cubes or an ice rock.
Additionally, crushed ice adds a pleasing aesthetic top to the drink, and for some, the pleasure of "snacking" on the crushed ice.
When to use crushed ice in cocktails?
Crushed ice is very often used in drinks that have a high alcoholic content, viscous textures, and bold flavors—such as tiki drinks. The extra dilution helps tone down the strength of flavors, open up flavors, and balance out the texture (viscosity) of the drink.
Some delicious cocktails that use crushed ice are the Mint Julep, Chartreuse Swizzle, Sherry Cobbler, and a Zombie (for those occasions where we live to forget).
Deconstructed Drinks is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.
So how do you crush ice for cocktails?
1. Lewis Bag
This method, the standard in many bars, is using a canvas bag (called a Lewis Bag) and a wooden mallet.
You insert ice cubes into the bag (more like a sleeve), then you hammer away your frustrations with a wooden mallet.
The canvas bag soaks up the water which leaves the crushed ice inside relatively dry for when you need to make another drink.
Pro Tip: Smack the Lewis back over a solid and dense surface. If you have thin countertops, find a place of your counter that has a support beam. For added stability, I like to bang against a thick wood cutting board.
Use Crushed for this recipe:
2. The MacGyver Method
This is the make-due-with-what-you-have method.
For this method you need a clean kitchen towel, and a hammering device. Either a rolling pin, a hammer, something hefty and solid that will not break (I use the butt of an empty booze bottle as a last resort).
If you don't have a decent size kitchen towel, you can use a large zip-lock bag (just be mindful that the bag will tear) or perhaps an old—but clean—shirt.
If you don't have a hammering tool, you can smack the bag with ice against the floor or counter.
3. Opal Ice Machine
There's a machine called Opal that creates beautiful and uniform ice—known as pebble, nugget, or sonic ice.
The Opal is the only machine for consumer use that makes pebble ice.
The price is a little hefty (and hefty on the counter space), but it's worth every single penny. I love this machine, I've been using for about 3 years now and it's still solid.
4. Food Processor
A low impact method to making crushed ice is using a food processor, or if you have one, a really good blender. Make sure you are pulsing, instead of blitzing.
I have to say, this is not my preferred method. I feel I have no control over the size of the ice. It tends to produce a lot of snow, and not enough pebbles is you're not careful. But, if you live in an apartment building, it won't wake up the neighbors if using a Lewis bag.
Ice crushing devices
An enticing option is using an ice crushing device. But, if you look at the reviews for pretty much all the inexpensive machines out there, they all suck. Mostly because they're made of plastic.
A lot of folks have been able to source antique ice crushers that were built like tank back in the day.
Although, there is one machine that folks swear by and is still available for purchase. In the book Smuggler's Cove, they recommend the Waring IC70. I've never used it personally, but I'd take the recommendation from such an acclaimed tiki master.
Mind the Texture
Crushed ice can vary in size—from bigger cracked ice cubes to pebble size (think of the size of a jelly bean) to a snowy consistency.
What size of crushed ice should you aim to get?
The recipe you are trying to make should dictate the size. Unfortunately, many recipes don't specify the 'crushed ice size'.
For example, a proper Mint Julep should be made with fine crushed ice. It's pretty much a boozy and classy snowcone.
But on the other hand—if you're making a tiki drink, like a Mai Tai, you should not be using very fine ice. The ideal size is small pebble ice.
As a standard practice, you should always aim for a pebble size around 5mm. It will still give you the benefit of getting your drink very cold fast, the aesthetics, and a reasonable melt rate.
Places where you might be able to buy crushed ice
If you're having a party and need to stock large amounts of nice pebble ice, you can nicely ask some establishments to sell you a bag or two.
Here are some places in the US (and depending on the city you live) that use pebble ice: your local craft cocktail bar, local fish markets, chik-fil-a, Sonic, Costco. They don't technically sell ice, but if you ask kindly (and offer a few bucks), you can procure some.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.