Refrigeration Buying Guide

Refrigeration Buying Guide


Before you purchase a refrigeration unit for your restaurant kitchen, include considerations such as refrigeration types, features and temperature ranges. We’ll go through these and more in this Refrigeration Buying Guide.

When looking to shop for new refrigeration units for your home, it’s hard to know which one is perfect for your needs. We realized that this same situation stands for commercial equipment as well, but the decision is made a bit harder because being able to see-and-touch while shopping, is much more limited. Hence the need for buying guides to help you navigate the world of commercial equipment, and in this case, commercial refrigeration.

First up is answering the question that comes with almost any heavy-duty equipment in the food service industry – “Can’t I just use residential equipment.” The answer is simple, you can, but it’s not recommended and could be against health code requirements in your area. Residential refrigeration isn’t built to take the wear and tear that commercial refrigeration takes. Residential refrigeration is also much smaller and less insulated, which means they won’t be as energy efficient in a restaurant setting.

Commercial refrigeration is built to meet health code requirements, is more insulated to take the heat that is inevitable in a restaurant, and is much more powerful to maintain temperature necessities. There’s also a much larger variety of refrigeration for commercial use, than with residential use – see chef bases, blast chillers, lettuce crispers, etc.

If you’re using duct tape to hold the door closed, odds are, it’s time to replace the door gasket. Other signs it may be time to change the gasket, include:

  • When frost starts to build up on the shelves and food in the freezer or walk-in.
  • The latch of the walk-in won’t latch because the gasket is too worn out.
  • You can feel cold air coming out of the refrigeration unit.
  • Temperatures are fluctuating in the equipment.
  • Cracks are starting to appear in the lining.
  • The gasket is starting to separate from the equipment.
  • The gasket material is starting to harden.
  • The gasket is always compressed.

How upsetting would it be to purchase a new refrigeration unit and it wouldn’t even fit through the door – yikes! That’s why it’s important to remember to measure first. Measurements should include the door(s) that the equipment must fit through (the door opening), and the space where it will finally reside.

First things first, you need to decide on what type of refrigeration you’re measuring for. A walk-in cooler is going to take up different space than a refrigerated display case, so know what you’re measuring for.

Things to keep in mind when measuring include measuring the depth, width and height (several times for accuracy) and measuring the door opening – when the door opens will it be blocking a doorway, is there space to open the door, do I need the door to hinge the other way? Also, if the refrigeration unit is going to butted up against cabinetry, they may not open, because they need to have swing room.

Remember, you’ll want to measure twice, so delivery only has to happen once.

There’s more to compressor location than just looks. First off, when the compressor is on the bottom it stays cooler because hot air rises, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard to keep the refrigeration at temperature. Bottom mounted compressors are also less expensive, offer extra shelving up top, are raised up off the floor (saving you from having to bend over to reach things on the bottom shelf), and are easier to clean since they’re at floor level.

However, top mounted compressors are known to last longer because they’re higher up in air, away from dust and flour. Those bottom mounted compressors are known to clog much easier, which means more do-it-yourself (DIY) time or hiring a technician more frequently to do it for you. So, you may have higher up front cost with top mounted compressors, but they last longer and keep the heat up high above the work zone, because the exhaust is at the top.

For walk-ins, the compressor can be installed inside or outside. Similar to top and bottom mount, if the compressor is inside, it’ll be less expensive and easier to clean, but the heat will be ventilated in the work zone and the compressor will be open to dirt, debris, dust, and flour. Outside, the heat stays out of the already heated work zone, the noise from the compressor is out of hearing range, and runs much more efficiently than indoor installations.

This is probably one of the easiest decisions when shopping for refrigeration units. If you aren’t worried about the equipment being able to move, go with legs. But, if cleaning underneath and behind the refrigeration unit is essential, you’ll want casters and most new units come with these included at no charge. It’s always advised to check with the local health code to see if casters are required for kitchen equipment, before making the investment.

It’s hard for us to answer this one without knowing your needs. Every restaurant and foodservice business is different. To truly measure the size of what unit is best for your operation, you’ll need to take a look at your food/inventory costs in relation to daily/weekly volume of your establishment. You’ll also need to take into consideration how often food orders are placed throughout the week.

Food for thought, 1 cubic foot of open capacity will house 28 pounds of solid food on average. If you need help with figuring out what size would be best and how to measure food and inventory costs against volume, give our team a call at 888-388-6372 or use our Live Chat feature.

Glass doors are pretty and do an excellent job of showing off delectables that are meant to be shown off. They’re perfect for front of house use, but not if they’re kept unorganized. Solid doors are better for the back of house as they’re much more insulated and hide any disorganization.

Most refrigeration units are made out of one of the five types of material on the exterior: aluminum, G90 galvanized, painted G90 galvanized, galvalume, or stainless steel.

  • Aluminum is corrosion resistant, but dents easily. The price fluctuates with this material, depending on current price of aluminum.
  • G90 Galvanized, likely a preferred material due to low cost and being corrosion and dent resistant, is not approved for manufacturing in the foodservice industry by the National Sanitation Foundation.
  • Painted G90 Galvanized, is more corrosion resistant than un-painted G90 galvanized and comes in multiple colors. It’s also a bit more expensive than G90 galvanized.
  • Galvalume, as the name states, is a combination of galvanized and aluminum material making it as strong as stainless steel and priced higher than the other options listed above. The downside? It’s more likely to have corrosion in the future.
  • Stainless Steel, though the most expensive option, is the strongest material in this list, making it the most dent resistant. It is also the least corrosive.

The interior of refrigeration units are typically lined with plastic; however, some do come with the above materials inside. For refrigeration units with metal material on the inside, there is typically a higher charge, than having the plastic lining.

As you begin the shopping process into refrigeration, you’ll notice that some units have drawers, as others have doors. Doors are typical in the kitchen and what you’re used to at home. They help you easily find things and you can stack to help free up space.

Drawers are best for storing full-sized food pans and condiments.

You’ll likely see NEMA plug and receptacle configurations as you shop around too. To help you learn more about those configurations, our designers put together these helpful charts to help you learn more about them:

The warranty on your new unit is important, because it protects you when future repairs are needed. Typical warranties for refrigeration units are one year parts and labor, but for each brand, you should check to see what the actual warranty is (or give us a call and we’ll help you find it) before making the investment in new equipment.

Most compressors tend to have longer warranties period than the refrigerator unit itself.

Because commercial refrigeration is typically in the back of house of a hot kitchen, they’re all very well insulated, which saves you on energy costs.

If maintained properly, commercial refrigeration should last you ten years or more.

Not all refrigeration units have locks, but for those that do, this option comes in handy when locking down your unit is essential. A common reason for wanting to lock your refrigeration unit down would be to prevent theft – bad employees, cleaning crews, break-ins, etc.

Most commercial refrigeration units are able to maintain between 34 to 40°F, whereas commercial freezers maintain between -10 to 0°F. To view exact temperature ranges, make sure to check the equipment manual.

Like residential units, you’ll be able to adjust the controls on the refrigeration unit, and some are able to be individually controlled, as with dual temp refrigerators.

Bar Refrigeration
As the name suggests, this type of refrigeration is typically found in a bar, including bottle coolers, draft beer dispensers, wine chillers, and more.
Blast Chillers
Blast chillers help bring food temperatures down quickly, which is useful when you’re cooking things like soups that need to maintain temperature ranges to remain safe to eat for later.
Refrigerated Buffet Tables
These refrigeration units are perfect for those in the foodservice industry involved in serving food buffet style.
Chef Bases
Chef bases are perfect for keeping items that need to be refrigerated close by. They have a flat surface to allow for other equipment to be stacked on top of them, and drawers so that foods that need to quickly be thrown on a grill can be grabbed quickly.
Commercial Freezers
These are units that only have freezers in them, but are glass door, reach-in, roll-in, undercounter or worktop. For more on these terms, see below.
Commercial Fridges
Like the commercial freezers description, these are your commercial refrigerators that come as glass door, reach-in, roll-in, undercounter or worktop. You’ll also have the option of whether the fridge is pass-thru or not. Learn about pass-thru below.
Dual Temp Fridges
If you need a refrigeration unit with dual temperature zones, these are the appliances for you; they include units that are able to freeze and refrigerate.
Refrigerated Display Cases
These are the display cases you’re used to seeing at ice cream parlors, grocery store delis, and bakeries. These units are perfect for displaying food for customers, while still maintaining the cool temperature they need.
Refrigerated Lettuce Crispers
In the salad business? Then a lettuce crisper is perfect for you! These appliances help maintain the crisp and coolness that customers expect in lettuce.
Similar to fridge display cases, merchandisers are the up-right counterpart to displaying food for customers, including frozen, refrigerated, and open display options.
Milk Coolers
When milk is high in demand, a milk cooler is perfect for your business. These appliances are usually found in school cafeterias where milk crates can be stacked, and little hands can easily reach in and grab a carton to go.
Milk Dispensers
Milk dispensers are great for front of house beverage centers. Typically seen at hotels and in a buffet line, these units help to maintain temperature, while dispensing milk to customers.
Refrigerated Prep Tables
Perfect for holding prep ingredients and deli items, prep tables are great for keeping things organized, while maintaining a cooler temperature. There’s typically a place for cutting in front of the organizer station and cabinets below to keep prep items within reach for quick refills. Some prep tables ventilate from the side or back, which needs to be taken into consideration before installing the unit.
Refrigerated Display Wells
Similar to buffet tables, refrigerated display wells are the permanent counterpart to the buffet line and prep station.
Refrigerated Transport Carts
If needing to move food that must remain cool is essential to your business (as in catering), than refrigerated transport carts are ideal for you.
Walk-In Coolers
Walk-in refrigerators and freezers are perfect when stocking mass amounts of food is important to your business. Ranging from 8-12 feet wide and 8-20 feet deep, there are a variety of options when it comes to walk-in coolers. If lack of space indoors is a concern with walk-ins, you always have the option to install them outdoors as well.
These types of units are able to fit under the typical counter height in the kitchen.
These types of units are access by opening the appliances door and reaching in to get the food.
Walk-in means that you can enter the refrigerated unit, i.e. you can walk into the unit to grab cold foods.
Roll-in is where shelving can be rolled into the refrigerated unit. This is convenient for prepping food in one zone, then stacking food pans on a shelf and rolling it over to the refrigerator. When it’s time for cooking, just roll the shelving over to the oven.
These units have a flat base that allows for you to work and prep on top of them.
When an appliance is pass-thru, this means that there are doors on either side of the unit, which allows for two work zones to have access.

Whether you’re looking for extras to help make your refrigeration unit work better for you or need parts for a repair, here are our top categories for parts and extras in commercial refrigeration.

We’re in constant pursuit of bringing more to the table, and when it comes to refrigeration repair, we have a mix of videos to help you learn how to do-it-yourself (DIY). However, if you still need a little help, give our team a call or Live Chat with us, we can do-it-together (DIT).

How to Reverse the Swing on Equipment Doors

Preventative Maintenance for Refrigerators

How to Replace or Install Casters

How to Replace Your Walk-In Door Hinge

Where to Find Your Model Number: Large Appliances

How To Replace Refrigerators Thermostats

How To Replace Refrigerator Door Gaskets

How To Replace A Refrigerator Fan Motor

Other Refrigeration Resources

We continue to build out resources over on the Back Burner for refrigeration too. For more refrigeration guides, how-tos, and repair help, visit our blog.

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Refrigeration Parts & Accessories