How to Make Hawaiian Shave Ice

Lots of you know I kind of collect unique kitchen appliances.  I’ve shared lots of them in my Instagram feed and mentioned them here and there and people are constantly sending emails and messages with questions so I thought it would be fun to start a series to share some of my favorites!  These are all things that I’ve purchased myself, not sponsored things I’m trying to sell you or anything.  I think it always helps to get honest reviews so I’m excited to show you some things that my family owns and LOVES. Since the temps are rising in most places, it seemed only natural to start with one of our summer favorites:  Hawaiian Shave Ice.

Now.  I’ve learned over the course of almost 10 years to never, ever claim to make anything “authentic” to a certain culture, or the internet will freak out on you.  But let’s talk about authentic Shave Ice.  For starters, if you want to sound legit- say “Shave Ice” and not “Shaved Ice!”  The difference between a snow cone and shave ice is that snow cones are finely crushed ice and shave ice is shaved across a sharp blade creating a smooth, melt-in-your mouth velvety snow kind of texture. 

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, Shave ice stands are everywhere.  (The photo above is from the famed Matsumotos on Oahu) They pile up scoops of cool, frosty snow and pour flavored syrups over the top.  The crowning glory comes from a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk poured over the top, commonly known as a “snow cap”and you can include a scoop of ice cream on the bottom if you wish (and I always wish).  On the islands you’ll often find tropical flavors like macadamia nut, coconut, and pineapple ice cream, along with the standard vanilla.  Sounds weird if you’ve never had it, but if you have had it, you know what I’m talking about.   Let’s review:  Creamy ice cream, fluffy snow, fruity syrup, sweet milk.  It’s the bomb.

Our family has been to the island several times and we have a deep love affair with shave ice!  We’ve had some little starter machines over the years (this is a fun, inexpensive table top version) and were ready for an upgrade to feed the masses.

There are some super nice, and incredibly expensive options available that will run into the thousands of dollars!  We bought one on the lower end of the nice commercial ones and have been really happy with it.  It’s the Great Northern Commercial Ice Shaver and at under $250 and almost 300 nearly 5-star reviews, it’s a good buy for a commercial-level machine.  You can find it by clicking here.  It’s super heavy, and really well made.  We’ve had ours for about 3 years and have used it lots and have had zero issues with it.

Guys, we love this thing.  We freeze water in cheap, round, plastic containers.  Some machines recommend ice blocks for shaving, but we found that smaller, round blocks had the best results for us.  We experimented with some different containers until we found the size that worked best and then I bought a bunch at Walmart so we can stock lots of ice blocks before parties.  

The ice will shave best if it sits to “sweat” for a few minutes before shaving, so we keep a cooler close by and load it up so we can crank them out constantly.  When we set up a party table, we do it something like this (this was from a family party we had a while back)

I love making a menu of flavors for people to pick from.  Our kids’ friends love this and we often do it for summer birthdays instead of cake!

For the flavors, sometimes I make my own syrups, which just involves making simple syrup (sugar + water) and then adding concentrated flavor.  There are tons of places online to buy fun and unique flavors.  You can also buy large jugs of prepared flavor syrups at restaurant supply stores.  I’ve also just used Torani (and similar) syrups, which aren’t quite as thick as the sugar syrups, but still taste really great.

For the sweetened condensed milk, I put it in squeeze bottles like these for easy drizzling.

You can also buy the fun traditional cups and spoon-straws on Amazon.  We buy them by the case!   

So to make your own shave ice, you will need an ice shaver- but remember if you aren’t interested in investing in the big momma one, there are fun inexpensive ones available, too!  Scoop a big scoop of vanilla ice cream into a cup and pile snow on top.  Pour flavored syrup over the top generously and then drizzle with some sweetened condensed milk.  That’s it!  I also make a low-calorie version by using frozen yogurt or high protein ice cream and sugar free Torani syrup.  

This is one of our family’s favorite foodie traditions, and I hope it can become the same for some of you!  Let me know if you have any questions or would like a video or something.  I’d be happy to share!  

AND, if you’re now craving some tropical eats, make sure to check out our Tropically-themed recipe index where you’ll find all kinds of Hawaiian-inspired eats.  Click here!


    1. I would love a link to the containers you found at Walmart as well, pretty please! Also the bottles that you serve the homemade flavors in?? Thank you much, can’t wait to try at our upcoming party!!

      1. Those bottles are just old Torani bottles that I washed out and re-used 🙂 And the Walmart containers were just a generic plastic container. If you have the shave ice machine, you can kind of tell by looking what size to get!

  1. I love shave ice! Can you tell me where you found the safety shield for this unit — it doesn’t seem to come with it and with little grandkids to make shave ice for, I’d love to have it.


  2. Do you store your syrups in the fridge? What about the ones you make yourself? If not, what would you consider to be the self-life? I really don’t have room in my fridge for big things of syrup, haha! Thank you!

  3. We have the exact same machine and love it! Where did you get your “ice shield” for the machine? Ours didn’t come with it and I wish it did! Did you order it separately? Thanks!

  4. Awe, the memories! I worked in my best friend’s Tropical Sno shave ice stand in high school back in the 80s. It was awesome to work there because I could eat as much shave ice as I wanted. But that was back in the day when we hand cranked the shave ice machine. None of this fancy electricity!

  5. Where did you get the shield for the ice block that fits on your machine? We have the same one and have issues with chunks of ice flying out as it gets smaller!

  6. I have this same shave ice machine and have loved it! We make our own flavors with kool aid packets and simple syrup. I am still trying to figure out how to drizzle the syrup so it doesn’t melt the top as much. Would love to see a video on how you do it!

  7. What a fun idea! We do it on a little smaller scale but blending ice cubes in a Blendtec and the ice turns into snow. I need to follow your advice and put some condense milk on next time!

  8. Your machine sounds awesome! I worked at a shave ice hut when I was a teen during the summer and have been so disappointed when I’ve gone to shave ice shacks and get crunchy little ice pebbles. Such a let down. Shaving the ice to be perfect little melt in your mouth ribbons is an art in my opinion 😉 I never would have thought about investing in one of these until now. My kids (and I) would be all over ditching birthday cakes to have these instead. And our birthdays aren’t even during the summer. Ha! Green apple and coconut with cream on top, forever. ❤️ Oh, we also used to have an option to have vanilla ice cream on the bottom of the cup. You should try that, if you haven’t already! It makes slurping up the last of the shave ice nice and creamy.

  9. Oh darn it, your post is a week too late! ? I tried to convince my mom to get this shave ice maker last week and she got a show come machine instead thinking it was too hard to figure out! Wish it had free return!

  10. This is crazy the timing of this. We are visiting family and my brother in law made it for us. He used black cherry flavored kool-aid made into ice cubes. When I had seen it in my Sisters freezer it looked like cubed watermelon. He got his Hawaiian. Ice shaver from a thrift store before they were married. I’m going to have to send this post to them. Kaylene Wheeler

  11. I’d really really love a post where you list and talk about all your “specialty” appliances and where to get them. I’m a bit of an appliance junkie myself and that’d be fascinating and convenient!

    1. Have you ever checked out the “Favorite Things” section on our blog? It has lots of fun stuff! I definitely need to update though, with some things like this- I’ll do that!

  12. I would love to know where you get your ice shield from as well! I have had this machine for years. And, as fun as it is for my kids to watch, it is far too dangerous! Sharp blade, chunks of ice flying in every direction, it is scary! I would love to buy the shield for it. Thanks for another wonderful post!

    1. Oh, and a picture of the containers you use to freeze your ice would be great too! I’ve been using cottage cheese or sour cream containers. They don’t seem too well.

  13. My Blendtec blender get the ice as fine as snow. The ice can’t be melty at all to get it like snow. It works for a small group.

  14. Shave ice is the best! I just bought a Little Snowie 2 and have been really impressed with it. The thing I like about it is that it takes regular ice cubes from the freezer and it still magically gives you the fluffy, shaved snow! No crunchy ice chunks. We sometimes drizzle a little heavy cream on top, if we’re in the mood for something a little less sweet than condensed milk. They both have a special place in my heart.

      1. Hi Sara. Thanks for your reply. We’re all clicking on the Amazon link you posted, but It’s $233.47. That’s not even close to $150. Have you just had your machine for a very long time, or should we all watch for a sale??

  15. I am so excited about this!! I just bought this shave ice machine after your recommendation…the kids don’t know yet, I plan on breaking it out this weekend for an “end of summer/beginning of school” pool party!! They will be thrilled! Thank you, thank you!!!

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