Keep it outdoors….perfectly.
Outdoor refrigeration is not simply a matter of keeping the electrical safe in an outdoor environment. There are several issues when you leave the perfect 70 degree wind-free environment indoors.
The two categories of outdoor refrigerators are best described as “drink grade” or “food grade”. So basically you have 2 price ranges for outdoor refrigeration. From about $950.00 down you’ll get what I candidly refer to as “drink grade” (static systems) this means that regardless of the month of the year, your drinks will be colder than it is outdoors and in January and February they may freeze. A static system has no fan so it cools slowly (takes 24-48 hours to reach temperature). Most models will only go down to 38-40 degrees and will have long run-times outdoors. They use an exposed cooling plate — rely on heat rising to the cold plate to be removed, resulting in warmer products at the top of the cabinet, and the plate will usually ice up. The results: Although these units are cheaper, they will not offer quick cooling, stable temperatures, and will not last long outdoors. The insulation is good but without circulation fans, additional insulation, and a compressor you will never really have consistent temperatures. This is fine for drinks as it is essentially an electric cooler. A refrigerator that is what I refer to as “food grade” (forced air systems) is built very much like your indoor full-
size refrigerator but has the added features of extraordinary insulation in the walls up to 2″ thick, a very strong circulation fan, a compressor, and an electrical system that is safe in the outdoor environment. The temperature consistency is extremely good and you could leave eggs in it in August or January. The only real down side is that because this unit has so much more going on inside, it is considerably more expensive, ranging from $2,400 and up. There really is not a mid-range version that we have been able to locate that is of quality construction. We have found cheaply made forced air systems for less than $2400 and over-priced static systems for more than $950, but we’ve not found a really well made product we can stand behind in that middle range.
There are a many different brands out there and we have sold most of them. In our opinion the best food grade/forced air outdoor refrigerator is from True-Residential. The True product line is 100% outdoor rated so you don’t have to carefully shop models. The company sells direct to select dealers so the lead time is much shorter. Because they have eliminated a layer of distribution, the price is actually about the same and in some cases lower. This is one tough product. Look around at your favorite restaurants, most of them are using True. True takes great pride in the fact that they are a commercial company that offers a product to the residential market. I find it especially comforting that the product line was actually designed for under-counter commercial applications like beer/drink vendors at major ballparks, and other commercial venues where they needed the consumer to be able to see the product without constantly opening the door for long periods to decide what they wanted. In other words, this product is proven in commercial applications and available for the home. Another very fine outdoor refrigerator is from Perlick Outdoors. Perlick has done a great job with different sizes, 15″, 25″, 72″ wide models. This can be very nice but read the earlier comments on the downsides to the multi-units. Perlick is a very nice product but they don’t actually make this product, it is actually a Hoshizaki. Hoshizaki is also a fine product but the company spends smost of its time marketing to the commercial side. The Perlick product is going through multiple layers of distribution to get to you so the price is a little higher and the lead times can be ridiculous (6 weeks or more). Our experiences with Perlick service has been deplorable as well. Some customers waiting months for units to be looked at. There are other good food grade outdoor units and one of them is made by U Line. They are not quite as pretty as the aforementioned but a good solution if you want no frills and price is a big concern. U Line has not dedicated as much product development to the outdoor market but that may be changing. Currently they have a very limited number of models available for outdoor use so we have chosen to stay focused on the aforementioned.
As for brands of “drink grade” (static systems) outdoor refrigerators, it is really a matter of who will stand behind you when you have a problem. Most of these units are made in China and what you’re paying for is the appearance of the product and the support you expect downstream. Our experience has led us to FireMagic because of the customer support. We have sold hundreds of these units. They have held up well and the warranty support, when needed, has been extraordinary.
Sizes of different under counter models are generally from 15″ width to 24″ width. There are models like the Perlick that are essentially double or triple models where one unit is 48″ wide or even 72″ wide. The only advantage is that the dividing wall is one thickness instead of having 2 units and therefore twice the divider. The downside is price, difficulty moving (very heavy) and if one portion goes out you replace the whole thing. If you go with a 15″ model don’t think you’re saving big money because you aren’t. You will save space but the price is still up there – same motor, compressor, fans, etc. just a little smaller package.