Cracked Ice: It’s All Technique

standard July 25, 2015 2 responses
Cracked Ice: It's All Technique

Understandably the ice cube is the first option for chilling cocktails for most aspiring home bartenders, but I’m here to tell you that in some cases that would be a big mistake. Sure liberating a few cubes from that antique you call an ice tray is easy, but cracked ice is often the best option

As I explained in my previous post Cocktail Ice: 3 Basic Types, ice is much more important than simply chilling spirits; it also impacts the flavor, mouthfeel, strength and the appearance of your cocktails. And while cracking ice requires a little more work, it’s worth it. So chill out while I give you a few basics and techniques to make you an ice-cracking expert.

Cracked Ice: A Primer

Thankfully the concept of making cocktail ice is pretty straightforward, but understanding what you’re trying to achieve when cracking ice is a little more complex. So let me break it down as simply as possible:

What Does Cracked Ice Look Like?

Somewhere between cubes and crushed, cracked ice is comprised of smaller pieces that are approximately the size of big pebbles (or large jelly beans). Although most people are confused by the difference between cracked ice vs. crushed ice, it’s fairly easy to understand. Cracked has small pieces and shards of ice ,while crushed resembles the stuff snow cones are made of. While many may feel this is insignificant, cocktail fans know differently.

Cracked Ice

Cracked Ice
Crushed Ice

Crushed Ice

Best Uses for Cracked Ice in Cocktails

Selecting cocktail ice for drinks depends on the cocktail and personal preference, but there are some rules of thumb that indicate when cracked ice may be the best choice. Here are a few hints that I look for:

Drinks That Need Some Dilution

Tiki Drinks Use Cracked IceCracked ice is an ideal component when balancing stronger drinks. Sure the concept of a good stiff drink sounds attractive, but for many the flavor can be overwhelming, so cracked ice will dilute the drink and make it colder. Not only does the addition of water mellow the flavor, but the temperature will make the tongue less sensitive to that harsh alcoholic bite. I typically used cracked ice in Negronis, Whiskey Sours and of course Tiki drinks like the Zombie.

Blended Drinks

For the frozen drink officianado, cracked ice is the ideal for any frozen daiquiri or colada. Smaller in size and easier to blend, it won’t clog your blender or dull the mixing blades. And if you’re chompin’ at the bit to create a blended drink, start with 1 ⅔ cups of cracked ice to create the perfectly blended beverage.

Adding Texture to Cocktails

Blended Cocktails Use Cracked IceTexture has a tremendous impact on cocktails and cracked ice provides a mouthfeel that’s somewhere between a slurpee and a cube. Now I fully acknowledge that this is entirely subjective, but a big block of ice tickling the end of my nose is not something I enjoy.

How to Crack Ice

Thankfully the process of cracking ice is not all that complex, but you can approach it in a couple different ways. If you have an automatic icemaker with in-door dispenser then you’re fortunate, but let’s focus on a couple manual techniques on how to crack ice:

Technique: Brute Force

If you’ve got a number of drinks to prepare, the brute force ice cracking method is probably your best option. Style and sophistication are not involved here where essentially you’re beating the crap out of a bag of ice.

Cocktail Ice Cracker: Mallet and Lewis BagWell that may a bit of an overstatement … because there is some technique involved. Here are the basic steps:

  • Place Two Handsfull of Ice Into a Bag (preferably cloth)
  • Lightly Crack the Ice With a Hammer, Tenderizing Mallet or Heavy Object
  • Store Immediately in a Chilled Container

If you need to prepare cracked ice for frozen drinks this method isn’t pretty, but it’ll save lots of time. And if you want to look like what you’re doing, get an old school wooden ice mallet and Lewis bag.

Technique: Suave and Debonair

Tap IcerIf you’re just looking to crack ice for few drinks and maybe do it with a little flair, The Suave and Debonair Method is the ticket. Essentially it’s cracking ice cubes by hand.

The basic technique is to place an ice cube in your hand and crack it with a bar spoon, but it’s seldom that easy. Steps in the process include:

  • Place an Ice Cube in Your Non-Dominant Hand
  • Quickly Crack the Cube with Your Favorite Implement (Bar Spoon, Teaspoon, etc…)
  • Place the Ice in a Chilled Glass, Mixing Cup or Container

Yes you can use the back of a bar spoon or another item, but if you want to simplify the process and look cool doing it I recommend the Tap Icer. A classic piece of 1950s bar technology, the Tap Icer is a small weight on the end of a long, flexible handle. So with the simple flip of a wrist you can generate maximum ice cracking power.

Tips to Crack Ice

Tips to Crack IceNo matter if you’re making cocktails for a dozen people or just a few friends, you can improve your bartending experience and your guests drinks with a few of these tips for cracking ice:

Don’t Use Sweaty Ice – Start with cold ice, because it’ll crack more easily and won’t disintegrate into mush.

Avoid Contact with Warm Hands – Yes manually cracking ice requires handling ice, but keep it to a minimum.

Keep the Ice Tools Cold – Chill bar spoons and other tools to minimize exposure to heat. In fact, I normally try to chill glassware, mixing cups and containers beforehand.

Minimize “Shrapnel” – Whether applying the Brute Force or Suave and Debonair method, there’s usually a little “shrapnel” involved.So when cracking ice place a thin cloth or dish towel over the cubes to minimize flying debris. I’ve even cut down an old pillow case in the past.


So the next time you’re mixing cocktails at home, consider whether cracked ice may be a better choice than the traditional cube. Hopefully I’ve given you some useful tips to make it easier.

2 responses

  • You did not mention mechanical ice crushers. The advantage is that the ice can be cracked fresh for each drink because they are faster than hand cracking.

    • Oliver,

      Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Frankly I was trying to keep it simple since buying a mechanical crusher is a real commitment to crushed ice. But that said, it’s a definite improvement since you don’t need to handle cubes quite as much and can be much faster.