And yet, some things weren’t adding up for me. Greenhaw says the ice melts slower because it’s less dense with greater surface-area-to-volume, but wouldn’t that mean it actually melts faster? I kept digging. (Googling.) “Follow the ice,” Donna’s voice (angry as ever) compelled me. And so, I went back, back to the source: Scotsman’s website. And there it was, what Big Ice had been hiding all along: Nugget ice is good for the bottom line. The architect of nugget ice writes, “Consumers enjoy how the chewable nugget ice absorbs the flavor of beverages, while operators appreciate its lower operating costs and higher liquid displacement, which lowers syrup costs per cup.”
“Cost per cup,” Donna’s disembodied voice whispered in my ear. “Cup…cup…cup…” I muttered aloud. And then, an epiphany! The ice is only part of the equation. We’re all talking about the melting point of frozen compressed water but failing to consider the environment in which said ice typically lives: a Styrofoam cup.
Yes, Sonic still uses foam cups. In 2014, a Change.org petition with 2,357 supports implored the restaurant to stop using the material due to environmental concerns. Sonic responded that while there is no perfectly friendly environmental option—see: the harvesting of trees for paper cups—user experience is central to their decision: “Like many other restaurants, SONIC does use foam cups based on attributes customers desire, including lack of condensation or ‘sweating’ and the superior ability to keep drinks cold or hot.”
Alas, it doesn’t really matter at which speed Sonic ice changes states of matter because the foam cup creates an insulated home where all those nooks and crannies can soak up your Cherry Limeade while melting at glacial speed (a metaphor which makes less sense every day, thanks to corporate impact on climate change).
While there’s a larger discussion to have about materials and global impact, when it comes to Sonic ice stan culture, all roads lead back to chewability, not melting point. So it makes sense that those who seek out 10-pound bags of Sonic ice and enjoy it outside the walls of a Styrofoam container are not bothered if it melts a little faster than it would in a more insulated structure.
And let’s be honest, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t really care about the cups, the melting point, the air pocket or the Big Ice cover-up of the century. What you really want to know is if there a nugget ice maker we plebs can get our hands on? Uehlein conceded there are a few different makers of home units that make a similar style of ice, but the one of note is the GE Opal nugget ice maker, which goes for $500 (a steal compared to the $20,000, 2-ton machine from Scotsman). Rachel Gulmi, PureWow managing editor, who tried and tested the Opal, raves about the appliance: “It’s not cheap, but the ice is incredible.” If you don’t have $500 to drop, you can pick up a bag of Sonic’s for around $2.59 (ya know, depending on the local health department regulations, Uehlein says).
But anyone who’s on the up and up knows you can also just ask for a Route 44 of ice, which they’ll usually give you on the house when you order something else. Word on the street is that the mozzarella sticks are legit. Maybe I’ll investigate.