Guide to Outdoor Refrigerators
You’ve decided you’re going to build an outdoor kitchen. You are probably going to need somewhere to keep your beverages and foodstuffs cold if you don’t want to keep running in and out of the house every five minutes. Food kept at the proper chilled temperature is also safer for you and your guests.
While budgets and preferences vary, there are a few things you need to know beforehand so you can select the right outdoor refrigeration product.
Outdoor Fridge Types
When thinking about a refrigeration solution for your outdoor kitchen, you need to decide on the type you’d like which depends on how you will use the appliance. There are several kinds of outdoor refrigeration to choose from including:
Refrigerators are made for storing food for a limited period of time. Your refrigerator should be food-safe certified, and the temperature should be kept at 40 degrees or below to prevent the formation of food-tainting mold.
Food items are kept in freezers for long-term storage. Keep your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for safety. In your outdoor bar, freezers can also be used for temporary storage of frozen beverages.
Beverage coolers are designed to store your beer and wine in the appropriate manner. Most of the beverage and wine refrigerators run at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, which uses less energy over time than a refrigerator but isn’t quite cold enough to prevent bacteria from growing on your food. Outdoor beverage coolers, on the other hand, keep carbonated drinks and beer at the ideal temperature.
A kegerator is engineered to resist the environment and maintain a temperature of 34 to 40 degrees F for serving draft beer on your backyard patio, outdoor kitchen or pool deck. To prevent rusting, outdoor kegerators have a robust stainless steel front and a sealed back to protect the electrical components inside of the beer dispenser.
An outdoor appliance can be freestanding or undercounter. Similarly, they can be permanently installed or moveable, as in the case of light-weight or wheeled portable fridges.
There are also hybrid appliances which feature dual zones. A dual zone wine fridge will have individual temperature control for storing wines at a preferred temperature. You can choose a glass door refrigerator or refrigerator with wine storage combo, too.
Before you get all excited about features, you need to make sure that the refrigerator is engineered as food grade and is able to keep temperatures low enough to prevent spoilage. *
You’ve probably heard that any old refrigerator won’t suffice outside. What are the differences between indoor and outdoor freezers, and why should you care?
Indoor vs. Outdoor Refrigerators
There are two major differences between refrigerators designed for use outside and refrigerators designed for use indoors.
The first is the range of ambient temperatures. Refrigerators must work hard to keep everything inside cold, regardless of the outside temperature. People maintain a consistent temperature in their residences, ranging between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperatures outside can shift considerably from dawn to night, ranging from bitterly cold to scorching hot. In that highly unstable environment, outdoor refrigerators must maintain consistent cold temperatures.
To keep everything cool in the summer heat, a fridge would need greater insulation and more powerful compressors and components.
The electrical components must also be weatherproofed. Outside refrigerators, even when constructed within a cabinet or other outdoor appliance, might be exposed to water from rain, splashing from a pool, or other sources. Because water and electricity are such a deadly combination, specific safeguards are made in the design to prevent the risk of electrocution. Ensure that the refrigerator you purchase is UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved for use outside.
Compact refrigerators and mini fridges designed for office dorm use are not suitable for use outdoors.
Freestanding vs. Built-In
If you’re going to install your refrigerator into an island or some other type of cabinetry, make sure it’s intended to do so.
Refrigerators require adequate ventilation to keep components operating correctly and to transport heat away from the unit. Refrigerators that are designated as “built-in” have vents in the front (typically on the bottom) so that they can be flush mounted into a cabinet or island.
Refrigerators that stand alone require ventilation at the back, top, and sides. You’ll limit its capacity to function correctly and keep things cool if you build it flush into a cabinet or kitchen island.
You can still put a freestanding model under a counter, but you’ll need to provide enough space on all sides for ventilation.
Outdoor Refrigerator Brands and Price Chart
There are dozens of brands of outdoor fridges. It is difficult to know where to begin to select one that will fit your entertaining style and your budget. The chart below shows price ranges for the most searched for outdoor refrigeration brands. Some brands only manufacture one model, and you’ll notice only one entry listed for those.
As you can see, the prices range from modest to very expensive. However, the good news is that no matter what your desired budget is, you have a lot of name brand choices in each cost category. If brand is important to you and your budget is tight, you can select a model from the lower end of the range – maybe smaller with fewer features. If features and size are more critical, then choose a brand with a lower “high” cost and you will get all the bells and whistles that you desire.
|American Outdoor Grills AOG||600|
|BBQ Galore Turbo||550||1400|
|Fire Magic RH Peterson||590||3900|
|Uline Outdoor Series||2200||3800|
|*Online prices as of 10-2021|
Why are outdoor refrigerators so expensive?
Outdoor fridges cost so much because of the extra insulation and compressor power required to keep a constant temperature no matter what the outside temperature is, the higher quality materials they are made of to withstand the elements, and the electrical waterproofing and door sealing necessary to protect the components from dirt, rodents and weathering.
It’s more important to consider the value that an outdoor appliance adds to your outdoor kitchen than the specific purchase price when making a purchase. However, there are a few factors that can increase the expense of an outdoor refrigerator. Consider the following factors:
Weatherproofing: To avoid damage, all electrical components must be protected from the elements.
Advanced compressors: To keep things chilled in hot weather, the mechanical sections of the fridge must be designed to work overtime. Insulation alone will not suffice.
Rust resistance: In moist or humid locations, high-quality stainless steel construction is frequently utilized to resist rust.
Insulation: Because the weather is hotter and colder outside than it is inside, your appliance will require additional insulation to keep the contents cool.
UV protection: If the sun shines directly on your refrigerator, the temperature will rise and the surface will be damaged.
If your outdoor refrigerator is built into a kitchen island or countertop, it will require an additional venting area in order to function properly as mentioned earlier.
Buying an Energy Star certified outdoor refrigerator will help keep your utility costs a bit lower as outdoor refrigerators can use more energy than a similarly sized indoor fridge.
Size Considerations for Outdoor Refrigerators
Most conventional outdoor refrigerators have a capacity of 5 to 6 cubic feet (cu ft). The volume and size of your outdoor refrigerator are important considerations, and there are two options available. Compact refrigerators and standard-sized outdoor refrigerators are offered as well.
Normal-sized outdoor units are 34 inches tall, 24 inches deep, and 24 inches wide. Most outdoor kitchens include standard-sized refrigerators, which offer adequate space to store drinks and BBQ supplies. Compact units are smaller, with capacities ranging from 3 to 3.5 cubic feet.
Compact units are usually narrower, not shorter. They’re the same height and depth as regular versions, but they’re 30 percent to 50 percent narrower in width. Compact units are ideal for storing a few drinks and snacks for the evening’s entertainment, and you’ll most likely need to replenish the fridge at some time, especially if you have visitors.
Compact units, with a minimum of interior shelf space, allow for the installation of a fridge on a tight-on-space balcony. They are nevertheless an excellent alternative for persons who have small balconies or decks if they are approved for outdoor use.
More and more ADA compliant units are hitting the market every year. These units are 32 to 32.5” high to enable them to conform with ADA height guidelines.
Outdoor Fridge Styles
Consider the design, materials and style when looking for a refrigerator. A brushed stainless steel finish on your refrigerator door looks terrific. Stainless steel gives the finest corrosion resistance and assures that your refrigerator will last for at least 5 years.
Plastic materials are less expensive, but they won’t last as long as stainless steel. When choosing a stainless steel model, look for one that is made of 304-grade stainless steel. 304 is a corrosion-resistant metal that is also cost-effective.
Stainless steel has a high chromium concentration, which makes it rust-resistant, which is important if you live near the ocean or in a humid environment. The air near the shore is salty, and it rusts any bare steel in a matter of weeks. A stainless steel refrigerator will not show signs of corrosion for many years.
Heat, wind, snow, and rain are not a problem. The majority of outdoor refrigerators are composed of 304 stainless steel, which is sturdy enough to withstand extreme weather conditions. 304 grades are also resistant to rust and cohesiveness due to their high chromium concentration of 18-20%.
If you live in a humid region, a plastic body for your outdoor refrigerator can be a better option such as a matte white or matte black finish. However, you’ll want to make sure that the machine’s hinges and fasteners are all stainless steel for operating longevity.
The door seal is another important factor for your outdoor refrigerator. A lightweight silicone seal keeps the air within the refrigerator in interior refrigerators. Moving your internal fridge outside will cause the door seal to deteriorate, reducing the fridge’s efficiency.
If your refrigerator’s door seal fails, you’ll either need to replace it or throw it away. As a result, when choosing your ideal outdoor fridge, make sure it has a weatherproof door seal.
While door units are the most prevalent style of outdoor fridges, the popularity of undercounter refrigerator drawer units is increasing. A refrigerator drawer unit has a comparable number of cubic feet as a similarly sized door refrigerator.
Aesthetically speaking, because an outdoor refrigerator is usually part of a suite of appliances in an outdoor kitchen, coordinating finishes with an outdoor grill, beverage centers, and range hoods is another reason why a stainless steel door or stainless glass door refrigerators are popular.
Popular Outdoor Fridge Features
There are quite a few standard and optional features available for outdoor fridges. Leveling legs or feet, adjustable shelves, and inside lighting are all standard features on outdoor refrigerators.
High-end models, on the other hand, come with extra features that you could find handy. The following are some of the optional extras:
Adjustable thermostat controls
Energy Star Certified
Slide Out Beverage Shelves
Interior Circulating Fans
LED Interior Lighting
The door lock is useful to secure your food and beverages when you are not around to monitor their use.
While all of these options may affect the functionality of your refrigerator, they aren’t all necessary if you want your fridge to just keep your food cold.
Outdoor Refrigerator Materials and Maintenance
One of the best aspects of owning an outdoor refrigerator is its long service life and durability. Premium materials are used in the design and construction of outdoor refrigerators. As a result, they won’t quickly break down.
Your refrigerator may need a coolant recharge every 7 to 10 years, though. They are, nevertheless, a relatively low-maintenance appliance.
- If you have a builtin or freestanding outdoor refrigerator, auto-defrosting types are a time saver. Defrosting a regular refrigerator is a messy and time-consuming job and may need to be performed more often than you have time for.
- If you reside in a region where the winters are harsh and you have an outdoor entertaining space, it’s advisable to switch your refrigerator off and unplug it during the winter months to save money on power and extend the life of the appliance.
- Stainless steel is used in almost all outdoor refrigerators due to its ability to resist rust in moist situations. Stainless steel, on the other hand, can rust even in the harshest of environments. Furthermore, not every stainless steel has the same amount of corrosion resistance.
You’ll want to get a fridge made of a higher grade of stainless steel to minimize rust, which is a little more expensive. Models made of a lower quality of stainless steel (which is more prone to rust) or plastic-wrapped steel will be less expensive.
- In exceptionally wet weather, you may also wish to cover your refrigerator despite its weather-resistant construction. Outdoor refrigerators are weather-resistant, not weather-proof. The purpose of this weatherproofing is to protect the electrical components from water. It doesn’t imply you can leave it entirely exposed to the elements in the worst of storms or use it in the coldest of winters.
- Outdoor refrigerators, like their indoor counterparts, are not designed to operate in temperatures below 40 degrees. That is the temperature of the fridge, everything is kept on the inside. There’s no need to turn on the refrigerator if it’s already cold outside.
This can result in issues such as the freezer portion failing to turn on, causing everything within to defrost and spoil. If you keep your refrigerator outside during the winter, it’s best to empty it, unplug it, and cover it for the season. (You may also want to leave the door slightly ajar to allow air to circulate and prevent mold.)
What kind of refrigerator can be used outside?
An outdoor rated refrigerator can be used safely outside. Outdoor rating means that the unit has been sealed against accidental electrocution if it comes in contact with water or rain, it has more insulation to help it work efficiently in wide temperature extremes, the door seal is will not deteriorate and the materials it is made from, primarily stainless steel, are resistant to rust. Two other important factors that are present in outdoor rated fridges are a UV protected housing and more powerful compressors.
Can an outdoor fridge get wet outside?
Although outdoor refrigerators are designed with weather resistant materials such as stainless steel, it is a good idea not to let them get exposed to constant rain or lawn sprinklers. Even the best grade of stainless steel will eventually rust.
You can protect your outdoor fridge by installing it under your outdoor kitchen countertop or if freestanding, under a roof. Covering the fridge may result in condensation on the stainless surfaces which will accelerate rusting.
What type of outdoor refrigerator is best for an outdoor bar?
You can chill beverages in an outdoor refrigerator, but you can’t refrigerate food in a beverage cooler. Outdoor refrigerators are engineered to keep food at under 40 degrees F. which is a safe temperature to prevent mold and bacteria from growing. However, beverage coolers are designed to operate at a range above 40 degrees F. Temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees are perfect to chill beverages to serve outdoors but unsafe for food.
If you are not storing food in your outdoor bar, a beverage cooler will work splendidly for soda cans and beer. If your outdoor kitchen has an outdoor refrigerator and it’s nearby you can use it for any food materials you want to store for the bar, or, you can buy a separate refrigerator for your bar in addition to the beverage or wine cooler.
How do you winterize an outdoor refrigerator?
Before the weather turns cold, turn off your refrigerator and unplug it. Remove all your stored food items from the unit and clean the inside of the outdoor refrigerator with a mild baking soda and water solution.
You can use this opportunity to clean and polish the exterior surfaces of the refrigerator with the products your manufacturer recommends.
Also remove the vent grates on your refrigerator and vacuum out any debris, dirt or leaves that have accumulated behind them.
Although there is no reason you can’t leave an outdoor refrigerator outside in the winter, putting it undercover such as under a countertop or roof overhang, will keep it from getting damaged from a hail or ice storm.
Which is best, metal or glass shelving in an outdoor refrigerator?
For increased airflow which improves the energy efficiency of an outdoor refrigerator, metal grate shelving is best.
If you are refrigerating small items which might get stuck in the grates, then glass shelving is the better option.
Both options work well for allowing the refrigerator light to reach all parts of the refrigerator so you can see what you have inside the unit.
Slide-out shelving makes undercounter refrigerators more useful and prevents constant bending over to reach the back of the unit. This is particularly helpful if you spend a lot of time prepping food in your outdoor kitchen.
Should I lock my outdoor refrigerator?
Unlike its indoor counterpart, an outdoor refrigerator is accessible to anyone at anytime. If you are storing valuable food items or don’t want anyone to have access to the fridge, then a lock is a good idea.
If you are storing liquor in your outdoor refrigerator, you should lock it to keep adult beverages away from kids and teens. Wine fridges should always be locked to safeguard valuable vintages and protect minors.
*Because outdoor refrigerators are used to preserve food, it’s critical to look for ones that have been certified for food safety, which is usually done by the National Sanitation Foundation. Only items that have completed a stringent series of evaluations to verify they fulfill the FDA’s food safety regulations and construction standards are certified by the American non-profit safety standards organization.
They must demonstrate that they can keep temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, even under changing external conditions, and that they are made completely of FDA-approved, food-safe raw materials. The NSF certification identifies qualified outdoor refrigeration products, providing you peace of mind that your food will be stored safely and properly.