Gather friends around the ice cream tubs for a great way to cool off this summer.

Chocolate Decadence Sundae for a Crowd
Credit: James Carrier

When the thermostat rises, it's hard to beat a big bowl of ice cream–especially when it's topped with all sorts of treats, from chocolate chips and whipped cream to sprinkles and cherries. If grilling out with friends doesn't sound appealing in the hottest dog days of summer, ice cream socials are an old-fashioned way to enjoy each other's company without slaving over smoking coals. Plus, ice cream is appealing to all ages, from kids to adults, and a social makes for great family fun.

Any good ice cream social starts with two or three varieties of fresh ice cream. While you can certainly buy ice cream from the store, it's almost a summertime rite of passage to churn your own with a hand-cranked or electric freezer. Using the hand-cranked kind also gives eager little chefs a chance to help in the kitchen, while letting your own arms have a break! Since most homemade ice creams start with an egg custard cooked over the stove, we can show you how to make the perfect custard for cool, creamy ice cream.

The Basics
One of the wonderful things about an ice cream social is that it doesn't take much preparation. If you'll have a lot of different toppings, set up a card table and cover it with a disposable tablecloth in a fun summer hue, like yellow, hot pink, or bright blue. Set out plastic or ceramic bowls for toppings, making sure to leave space for the ice cream too. Finally, you'll want to stock up on napkins to keep sticky fingers clean, plus plastic bowls, spoons, and drink cups.

I Scream, You Scream...
Not sure which flavors to churn? Traditional types will love Vanilla Ice Cream or Malted Chocolate Ice Cream, while the more adventurous should check out Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream or Key Lime Pie Ice Cream. Or, satisfy both sides with one or two classic flavors and a third creative one.

Top It All Off
Get friends involved in the social by turning it into a potluck affair. Everyone knows that the best part of an ice cream social is fixing your own ice cream creation from the array of syrups, sauces, sprinkles, and more. By asking guests to bring their own favorite topping (or toppings!), you're sure to get a variety of indulgent choices–plus, it's a super-easy way to entertain! Or, you can assign a particular type of topping (sauce, fruit, candy, etc) and let guests take it from there.

While storebought toppings like sprinkles, M&Ms, and chocolate chips are delicious, there are some you can make on your own, from whipped cream to hot fudge sauce. Experiment with these recipes to create your own versions by adding new flavors, like mint, almond, or lemon.