How to Buy Outdoor Refrigeration | Buying Guide
Are you someone who prides yourself on your ability to entertain at a moment's notice — or do you want to become that someone? Do beloved friends and family have a near-open invitation to swing by for chardonnay on the patio, beers on gameday, or pool parties on a summer weekend? Ever taken a hard look at your personal bar and thought to yourself, "So close! If only I had draft beers on tap!" Do you have a pulse? Because we can keep raising hypotheticals, but the fact of it is that outdoor refrigeration is for anybody who wants to become more awesome at being awesome in the company of other people.
Whether you're planning poolside adventures in cocktail paradise or plotting to finally get on the same level as that so-called sommelier up the road, we consider outdoor refrigeration appliances a fast track to success. Seriously take your hosting space to the next level with the party-pumping glory of a great kegerator, the impeccable class of a wine cooler, or a beverage cooler packed with select beers — or more, if you believe that “one level at a time” is for chumps. Does adding a compact freezer or refrigerator sound thrilling? No, you say? Think about this: thanks to outdoor refrigeration, you can easily stock that prized outdoor kitchen with everything you need, right on hand, for a truly story-worthy barbecue experience. We’ll get you started down that path by running through the 3 key points you need to consider when looking for outdoor refrigeration appliances.
What is Outdoor Refrigeration?
Probably the hardest-working appliances on your property, unless you’ve forsaken logic and built a sauna around your central air’s external condenser. For those who want the convenience of having whatever you need, when you need it, at whichever level of ice-cool chill is appropriate, these are for you. From hosting private wine soirees to building your dream backyard bar, the diverse realm of outdoor refrigeration covers more bases than the periodic table of elements. Remember when we mentioned how hard these units work? You probably won't notice. Depending on whichever refrigeration appliances you choose, they'll run quiet as a whisper with a minimal energy impact — with few sacrifices in results.
Bear in mind, each style of outdoor refrigeration focuses on a specialty. Jacks-of-all-trades, step aside: these dedicated appliances are all masters in class. Nor should you want a one-size-fits all solution — you want the best for your needs, don't you? Let's find out together what models are right for you.
Outdoor Compact Refrigerators
Outdoor kitchens, rejoice! Store those perishables directly in your island for short-term use — cooking ingredients, refreshments, even treats for the kids! Choose NSF-certified refrigeration and store your goods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which pumps the brakes on bacteria, mildew, and mold. Forget spores: the only culture you ever want around your food is the sophistication of smoked sliced meats, ground bison burger patties from scratch, that zesty remoulade recipe your chef cousin taught you, and/or (we vote "and”) an ice cream cake for dessert. Most refrigerators don't need a drain — water vapor within will condense and evaporate out. Want to find out more? Read our Outdoor Refrigerator Buying Guide!
Outdoor Compact Freezers
Heavier-duty appliances like these laugh at the mere idea of short-term food storage. Taking the "Forget that, let's try 'uninhabitable'" approach to microbial deterrent, they're their happiest at 0 degrees — conveniently, just what FDA guidelines specify for food safety. While this is great in the long-term for frozen treats or popsicles for the kids, try one in a bar setting (especially with its best friend, a companion ice maker). Need a pinch of inspiration? Cocktail mixes, frozen fruit, chilled liquors begging for a shot glass... should we go on? An important detail to know: being a small freezer, drain access is a must to ensure proper defrosting. Need to freeze with ease? Read our Outdoor Freezer Buying Guide!
Outdoor Beverage Coolers
Too warm to properly store food. Too cold to optimally hold wine bottles. To all our craft brewers out there, be ready to hop for joy — because we have your ideal beer and canned beverage storage. Serving as the heart of any self-respecting bar, these bad boys operate around the upper 30s–50 degrees, just the right temperature for your precious pints and pinots. That’s why they’re such welcome upgrades to literally any indoor or outdoor space. Find yourself parched when tinkering in the workshop or in the garage? Does sitting by the pool or working in the garden inspire within you a spectacular thirst? Then you, too, could benefit from such an appliance. Thirsty for more? Read our Outdoor Beverage Center Buying Guide!
Outdoor Ice Makers
Do you hear Scott Joplin? Because it sounds like we’ve got an entertainer! Ice makers will keep the party going with a constant stream of fresh ice — replacing the older stuff as it melts away. After all, nobody wants to leave their own bash to run down the road for huge bags of convenience-store ice. We've all been there; we all know that physics keeps a contract with the Devil to melt 10% of it as soon as the cashier hands over the receipt. Forget warm cocktails — that’s heresy — with a dedicated ice machine in your bar area. Just keep in mind: ice makers are not freezers! Their supply needs to melt when not in use, which means they must have drain access. Give your party an icebreaker — read our Ice Maker Buying Guide!
Outdoor Wine Coolers
Wine! Such sensual, soulful sensitivity in a bottle. Speaking of its delicate spirit... did you know that anything other than silent darkness can ruin it? Hyperbole? No. We're talking light, temperature, vibration and humidity: things that will wake any sommelier in a cold sweat in the dead of night. Forget the guesswork with an outdoor wine cooler — operating between 45–65 degrees at appropriate humidity levels, their specialty glass panels keep bottles safer from UV light, and many models absorb shocks and vibrations. Though perfectly fine for wine aging, we find our customers prefer the wide versatility of shorter-term, "serving" storage. Be the envy of Dionysus; read our Outdoor Wine Cooler Buying Guide!
What could be better than saving money? Saving money while drinking beer! Economics teachers everywhere agree: it's substantially cheaper to buy your favorite brews by the keg, not the bottle. Undercounter kegerators are the ultimate upgrade to any bar island — can there be anything more majestic than a gorgeous, stainless steel tap (or 2, or 3!) rising from your countertop to spill forth those angelic hops? Simply set your unit to the temperature recommended for any given beer (almost always between 40-50 degrees) and, whenever storing: cold beer, happy beer! Save the can or bottle waste, save all those dollars, and save one for us. Oh, must we really say it…? Read our Outdoor Kegerator Buying Guide!
What is the Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Refrigeration?
Though the terms appear self-explanatory, there's a little more to them (hence, the paragraph you are reading right this second). Temperatures within a home tend to stay fairly steady, which means indoor refrigeration doesn't have to fight the rapid, sudden temperature swings of outdoor environments. This lends itself to a smaller compressor and less noise overall. To speak generally, indoor refrigeration appliances will be quieter and use less electricity than their outdoor counterparts. While indoor and outdoor refrigeration offer both freestanding and undercounter configurations, indoor appliances are more flexible when it comes to their variety of options. Thermoelectric wine coolers -- the quietest and most precise of the bunch — are available in nearly all cases only for indoor application.
Outdoor refrigeration units must weather greater adversity: wider ranges of climate, sudden temperature swings, and the elements. The vast majority will be freestanding, but many can be converted to built-in instead — not only do they require front-venting, but proper clearance and exhaust are key. While you’re at it, you want a UL rating for your appliances; this means they’ve undergone extreme temperature and durability tests to be outdoor-ready. After all, outdoor freezers and refrigerators have to work that much harder to keep their cabinets frigid while temperatures up to 100 degrees beat down on them — this means larger compressors, which in turn means somewhat louder operation and more energy. However, taking care of them means they’ll serve you for many, many summer BBQs and pool days to come.
What is the Difference Between Undercounter and Freestanding Refrigeration?
Spoiler alert: these models are meant to be built into a kitchen or bar island. Let's all say it together now: "Proper ventilation and drainage." Undercounter refrigeration depends heavily on front-venting designs and having the proper amount of space within the counter to ventilate or evaporate condensation. Your ice makers or freezers require drainage to operate. The type of ice maker you'll need for that undercounter bar island installation depends on how close you’re installing it to an existing drain: gravity drains work for adjacent placement, but any farther distance requires a drain pump build. Always be sure to consult your owner's manual for ventilation and drainage guidelines, and don't hesitate to involve a licensed plumber if alterations are necessary.
Stand-alone refrigeration models work wonders in indoor or outdoor spaces wherever guests tend to gather — and for additional food storage. Ventilation requirements aren't as strict here, but you'll still want to leave about an inch of space or so around the unit to prevent overheating. Now onto the fun stuff: for starters, mobility! Unplugging and moving is a huge help for cleaning any refrigerator or freezer, especially with the common feature of rolling casters. Many households keep a storage freezer or extra refrigerator outside the kitchen to stock up while game runs abundant or meat sells cheap. A beverage cooler in the man cave keeps your favorite brews at hand, and a garage partition featuring a dual-zone wine cooler is a wine cellar without the hassle.
Which Class of Outdoor Refrigeration Should You Buy?
Considering just how vast this product category is, we asked our experts to break it down into easily definable classifications to streamline your search. Using our tried-and-true evaluation system based on quality, performance, and features, they came up with 3 distinct classes: Luxury, Premium, and Standard. Below you’ll find a brief overview of each. It’s our hope that these at-a-glance descriptions will point you toward the right group of outdoor refrigeration appliances, saving you some time and energy in the process. Of course, we also have a full article to help you discover which outdoor refrigeration class is right for you.
- Stainless steel exteriors provide excellent longevity and protection from the elements.
- Some units carry 6-year warranties on sealed systems to protect your investment.
- Argon-filled, glass paneled doors and colored LED internal lights provide serious wow-factor.
- Lowest range of operating temperatures available, and automatic defrost comes standard.
- Powerful yet quiet compressors with fan-forced cooling won’t bother your guests.
- Stainless steel doors and exteriors enhance durability and longevity.
- Most models are outdoor-rated to hold steady temperatures in scorching weather.
- Longer warranties than models in the Standard class let you purchase with confidence.
- Zero-clearance, undercounter units allow for easy installation in outdoor kitchens.
- Additional features like glass doors, colored LEDs, and alarms improve usability.
- May not be outdoor-rated, meaning you can’t fully rely on them in environments with extreme heat.
- Painted metal exteriors won’t hold up long outdoors, as reflected in limited warranties.
- Interiors are typically plastic, with wire or plastic shelving to hold your food and drinks.
- Some doors are wrapped in stainless steel and generally have recessed handles.
- Cold-plate refrigeration is cheaper upfront and uses less electricity than forced air.
Things to Think About
Don’t go anywhere just yet! Though we’ve covered the main factors to consider when shopping for outdoor refrigeration, there are a few minor points that shouldn’t be overlooked. We’ve heard every question there is about these wonderful appliances, so we thought it best to answer the most pressing ones right here in this very article.
Freezing Outdoor Temperatures
As it turns out, outdoor refrigeration is prideful about its work and hates "help." If the temperature around the appliance decides to chip in and drop below freezing, they tend to... stop working. This isn't really their fault — most refrigeration works by creating a temperature differential between the area outside the unit and the environment inside its cabinet. So, when the temperature plummets, your freezer may be tricked into thinking its job is done, causing the compressor to shut off and your food to thaw. And outdoor fridges? Well, those guys just might freeze over completely in such a setting. Fortunately, some Luxury refrigeration models can handle freezing temperatures with little issue thanks to built-in warming units or multiple thermostats. You should still always consult your manufacturer or owner’s manual for specific instructions on fighting the freeze.
Cleaning Your Outdoor Refrigeration
You clean your indoor fridge every now and again, right? (Please say yes.) Same goes for your outdoor refrigeration appliances — we recommend you clean them out at least yearly. An exception: kegerators, which have beer lines and taps that should be cleansed each time you add a new keg. Otherwise, the flavor of your beer would be tainted, and we can think of no greater tragedy than that.
Before cleaning any refrigeration appliance, be sure to empty all its contents, unplug it from the power source, and allow it to come to room temperature. Use edible cleaners, like baking soda or vinegar, if possible because they pose no threat to your ability to safely store food. Feel free to wipe down your appliance with stronger cleaners, but make sure you let the unit air out until there’s no lingering cleaner smell before restocking. In fact, it’s a good idea to give your appliance a full day to rest unplugged, so the compressor isn’t subjected to a buildup of pressure from being plugged back in too soon.
Weight of Outdoor Refrigeration Products
It’s no secret that refrigeration units are incredibly heavy. You probably learned that at a young age, whether you got suckered into helping a friend move or tried to make off with a vending machine. When fully stocked, these appliances give a new meaning to the word “heavy” — a large wine cooler filled to the brim with bottles can weigh a literal ton! No matter the appliance, you should ensure your planned installation site can support its weight when full. This is true for indoor freestanding units and outdoor kitchen undercounter units alike.
Got more questions about outdoor refrigeration? We’ve got answers! We’re talking specifically about our outdoor refrigeration experts, who can be reached at 1-877-743-2269. Our Free Outdoor Living Design Service is another place worth checking out, especially if you're the kind of person who likes your outdoor space designed for free! Why not make it a trifecta and look into our 0% financing offer while you’re at it?
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