Forget the buckets of ice and rock salt. You can make a perfect batch of the classic summertime treat in a matter of minutes with the right equipment. We show you what to look for in a quality machine and recommend three top models that will have you July 31, 2006 1. How many types of machines are there? Three. You can still buy an old-fashioned wooden-bucket model that uses ice and rock salt to chill the mixture. Bucket models are available in hand-cranked and electric varieties. Canister models -- which you leave in the freezer for at least 12 hours -- are the most common and start at $30. But compressor models, which are self-chilling and completely electric, turn out the best product. RELATED STORIES Ten Tips for Making Great Ice Cream Ice Cream Recipes to Rave About 2. What's the key to making great ice cream? Constant cold, which is why compressor models are superior. Melting and refreezing results in a crunchy texture because the air whipped into the ice cream is lost. Says Jim McCarren, owner of two MaggieMoo's ice cream shops in Annapolis, Md., "The less ice cream is subjected to heat stress, the better it'll be." He adds, "Don't skimp on fresh ingredients." 3. How long does it take to make a batch? About 30 minutes is standard for a batch of ice cream, not including ingredient prep, such as slicing fruit or grating chocolate. 4. Are the compressor models worth the money? For the gain in quality and convenience, yes. You can make ice cream on a whim, without worrying about prefreezing canisters or dealing with ice and salt. But they do have drawbacks. Like canister models, they only make up to 2 quarts at a time (old-fashioned makers can produce up to 6 quarts). Compressor models can also be heavy and hog counter space. Smaller models are available, but they're usually louder, says Kirsten Fox, proprietor of online retailer IceCreamProfessional.com. Advertisement 5. Can I make gelato in an ice cream maker? No. Gelato differs from ice cream in two important ways. It's made with milk instead of cream, and it contains much less air. Most ice cream makers whip in about 50% air, says Fox. True gelato is only about 15% air. You can, however, make a great sorbet by putting fresh, blended fruit in your ice cream maker. Three cool choices Stainless Style: Nemox Dolce Vita Price: $100 The Dolce Vita makes 1.5 quarts of ice cream and is very durable, thanks to its chromed exterior and stainless-steel inner bowl. The canister doubles as an ice bucket or bottle cooler. Convenient Quality: Lello Gelato Price: $200 Advertisement With this compressor-type maker, you just pop in the ingredients, press two buttons and you're done. The motor avoids burnout by shutting itself off if the ice cream gets too hard. Makes 1 quart of ice cream (though not gelato, despite the name). Best Value: Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream Sorbet Maker Price: $50 This canister model has a transparent lid, which allows you to watch as your creation takes form. Makes 1.5 quarts. Need ice cream inspiration? Help yourself to these expert recipes and tips for making great ice cream.