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You know what they say – keep your food cold, and your beer colder! …Okay, we made that phrase up, but it kinda works for this buying guide.
The point of an outdoor kitchen is to cook outside and enjoy the outdoors, not run back into the house every time you need a different ingredient, utensil, or beverage for a guest. A major outdoor kitchen component you may not have realized you’ll need is refrigeration, including wine/beverage coolers, kegerators, compact fridges and freezers, and ice makers.
If you want to make sure you can provide fresh, ice cold beverages for your guests while you cook dinner, but you don’t know what outdoor refrigeration appliances are right for you, keep reading. This guide should help clear things up.
Here are just some of the appliances you might want to consider adding to your outdoor kitchen.
The first outdoor refrigeration unit you should consider is a compact refrigerator. This is ideal for storing your perishable cooking ingredients and refreshments for a short period of time. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) evaluates and certifies which home/outdoor refrigeration products meet the FDA’s food safety requirements. If you choose an NSF-certified unit, you’ll know you can store your food and beverages below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, thereby ensuring bacteria, mold, and mildew won’t ruin your food. Most of the time, you won’t need a drain for your refrigerator because the water vapor inside will condense and evaporate out.
Next, consider getting a compact outdoor freezer to go with your outdoor fridge. You can keep things at a cool 0 degrees, which is the FDA’s food safety guideline. You can confidently store frozen snacks, frozen fruit, liquor, and more, even for a longer period of time. Small freezers should have drain access so they can defrost properly.
Wine should usually be stored between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit, so you might like to keep yours in its own separate cooler instead of in your outdoor fridge. A wine cooler can also maintain appropriate humidity levels so your wine corks won’t dry out and leak while spoiling your wine. It’s also good to have a wine cooler than can protect from UV light so you can avoid prematurely aging your wine. You should also find a wine cooler that can absorb shocks and vibrations to prevent disturbing bottle sediments. Make sure your wine cooler is outdoor rated to respond quickly to any sudden changes in outdoor temperature. If you install an indoor-rated wine cooler outdoors, you will more likely than not void its warranty.
Cheers to cold beers! Beer is best stored at 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a little too warm for the food in your outdoor compact refrigerator and a little too cold for your wine. Outdoor beverage coolers are great for keeping your beer and other carbonated beverages between the upper 30s- and 50-degrees Fahrenheit. Try to find a model that has interior lighting instead of an incandescent bulb because the ultraviolet light can spoil your beer.
If you are a craft beer enthusiast (or plan to host them in your backyard), an outdoor kegerator would be a worthwhile addition to your outdoor kitchen setup. Not only is it cheaper to buy beer by the keg than the bottle or can, but there’s nothing like a good beer on tap. Plus, you’re being environmentally friendly by avoiding can and bottle waste! There are plenty of options available including single or dual taps, built-in or freestanding, and various keg sizes. Indoor kegerators are available as well, so you’ll want to make sure you select a model that is outdoor-rated. That way, you can be confident your kegerator can handle temperatures ranging from freezing up to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you and your guests are more of the cocktail type, consider adding an outdoor ice maker to your backyard setup. This ice machine will constantly create fresh ice to replace the older ice that has melted away. Now, you won’t have to worry about filling a cooler with a bag of ice from the gas station, nor will you have to worry about running out of ice when it all melts! One thing to remember about an ice maker is that it’s different from an outdoor freezer. They must have drain access because the ice supply needs to melt when it’s not being used.
Your refrigeration units can be built in to an island or be freestanding. Here are some things to consider when deciding what configuration will fit your outdoor kitchen best.
One major thing you’ll have to consider is ensuring you have proper ventilation and drainage for your refrigeration unit(s). If you are going to build your refrigeration in, you’ll have models designed with front vents, and you’ll have to make sure there’s enough space to evaporate any condensation. Remember, freezers and ice makers require drainage, so your drain setup will affect the type of ice maker you can get. If you’re installing the unit near an existing drain, gravity drains will work. But if it’s farther away, you’ll need a drain pump build. Always carefully read your owner’s manual for what the ventilation and drainage requirements are for your particular refrigeration unit(s).
Stand-alone refrigeration models have the benefit of mobility, so you can unplug and move the unit when you need to clean it. This is especially true if the unit is on rolling casters. Freestanding refrigeration isn’t as particular with its ventilation requirements, but you should still leave at least an inch of space around the unit to prevent overheating.
It’s important to note the differences between refrigeration appliances intended to be used indoors vs. outdoor-rated refrigeration.
Indoor refrigeration will have a smaller compressor than outdoor refrigeration, resulting in a quieter unit overall. Most of the time, indoor appliances will use less electricity than similar outdoor units. This is because the indoor unit doesn’t have to maintain its temperature during a rapid temperature change like an outside refrigeration unit does. Instead, it remains in virtually the same temperature/environment at all times, while the outdoor unit has to work much harder for the same results. Make sure your outdoor unit has a good UL rating, indicating that it will be durable outdoors.
Indoor and outdoor refrigeration units come in both undercounter and freestanding configurations, but indoor models tend to have a wider selection. Outdoor refrigeration choices tend to be freestanding but can be converted to built-in if you prefer. Just make sure you pay attention to the manufacturer’s requirements for exhaust, clearance and ventilation.
We have broken up outdoor refrigeration options into three different classes based on features, quality, and overall performance – Luxury, Premium, and Economy. We hope this breakdown helps you decide which class is right for you and your backyard.
Outdoor refrigeration in the Luxury category is built to last against the elements. Stainless steel exteriors make them extremely durable, but they’re often backed with nice warranties just in case. These are the most powerful units, but they tend to be quieter than models in the lower classes. They are visually appealing with glass-paneled doors and internal LED lights, adding to the luxury aesthetic of your outdoor kitchen.
In addition to having to work well in hotter temperatures, your outdoor refrigeration is also going to be affected by colder temperatures. See, if the outside temperature becomes colder than the inside of your refrigeration unit, most compressors will shut off completely. Some outdoor refrigeration in the Luxury category have built-in warming units or thermostats to avoid issues in freezing temperatures. Your owner’s manual should have specific instructions on how to handle extreme temperatures.
Premium outdoor refrigeration models are one step down from Luxury models, but they are also durable and should last several years. Doors and exteriors are made with stainless steel. Most units in the Premium category are outdoor-rated so you know you’ll have good performance even in varying temperatures. Warranties are good in this category, but might not be as long as ones found in the Luxury class. Undercounter units in this class can be installed easily.
Economy outdoor refrigeration will do the job, but they’re not as durable as the higher-class models. Models in the Economy class are made from cheaper materials like painted metal exteriors, plastic interiors, and wire or plastic shelving. You’ll find that not all of these models are outdoor-rated, which means they’ll have a harder time weathering the elements. Not only that, but their warranties are much more limited than Premium and Luxury refrigeration.
Cleaning – everyone’s favorite part of using their backyard kitchen, right? Kegerators should be cleansed every time you change out your keg so the old flavor won’t taint the new one. All other outdoor refrigeration should be cleaned out at least once a year.
When you’re ready to clean the unit, empty everything from inside, unplug it, and wait for the appliance to warm up to room temperature. Vinegar and/or baking soda can be used to clean your appliances so that it doesn’t affect food storage. You can use stronger cleaners if you prefer, but make sure to air the appliance out before restocking it. Ideally, you should leave the unit unplugged for at least a full day regardless. This prevents the compressor from having a pressure buildup if it’s plugged back in too soon.
One thing to keep in mind is that refrigeration units are always extremely heavy, especially if they’re full. Prior to installation, always be sure the area you plan to put the appliance can handle the entire weight of the unit, even when it’s fully stocked. This is true regardless of what configuration you choose.
We know there’s a lot to think about when it comes to keep your food and beverages appropriately chilled. If you still have questions, please give us a call at 800-437-4188. We’ll help you find the right products for your needs.