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Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for Best commercial refrigerators

Whether you work in a restaurant or another commercial setting, or you just have a busy home kitchen, you know a refrigerator sees a ton of action day in, day out. As such, it needs to be up to the task, and this is particularly true for commercial refrigerators.

Most commercial refrigerators have one to three sections, which will total a capacity of as much as 70 cubic feet. Commercial fridges are typically more durable than home refrigerators, and they incorporate a variety of features geared toward the heavy traffic and high pace of professional kitchens. They are usually just refrigerators (no freezer section), as these types of kitchens tend to have space for similar single-purpose freezers.

Don’t neglect regular cleaning and maintenance of a commercial refrigerator, as this can greatly extend its life. Owner’s manuals generally provide a recommended maintenance schedule.

Key considerations


Commercial refrigerators ship in a large variety of sizes. These range from 20 to 30 cubic feet of storage for a one-section refrigerator up to as much as 70 cubic feet of storage for a three-section one. While you can store more food in a larger refrigerator, such units naturally take up more kitchen space.


Refrigerators are all about temperature, and there are a number of questions you should be asking before settling on a commercial refrigerator.

  • How quickly will it cool down when you first plug it in?
  • Does it return to optimal temperature quickly after the door has been opened and closed?
  • What temperature range is it capable of?

While commercial refrigerators operate at a variety of temperature ranges, most will usually run within a range of several degrees between 33°F and 43°F.

Energy efficiency

One final temperature question to consider is related to efficiency: how effectively does the commercial refrigerator hold its temperature? The better a commercial refrigerator can hold in the cold, the cheaper it will be to run. For the best energy efficiency, go with a unit that has been Energy Star-rated. Pricier models also tend to feature higher-quality gaskets or “foam-in-place” insulation, which also improve efficiency.


The amount of sound these refrigerators emit (largely from their compressors) can vary considerably. While some are whisper-quiet, others are noticeably louder. You might not notice a louder commercial refrigerator in a busy restaurant kitchen, but the same unit might drive you to distraction in a more sedate culinary setting.

Consider the existing noise level where you will be installing the refrigerator to determine what level of refrigerator noise will be acceptable to you.

Did You Know?
“Foam-in-place” insulation has been sprayed into a refrigerator’s doors and walls. This feature offers better efficiency than simple block insulation.



Stainless steel throughout — bodies, shelving, hardware — is the way to go for a durable and long-lasting commercial refrigerator. Stainless steel will be more expensive than, say, aluminum, but the feature will pay for itself both with improved longevity and fewer service calls. Avoid commercial refrigerators with any mention of plastic, even if it’s just the shelving.


Commercial refrigerator shelving should be made from a strong and durable material, and stainless steel is recommended. This is also true for any clips that hold the shelves in place.

It’s important to note the number of shelves that ship with a particular commercial refrigerator. More shelves allow for more food storage options. For optimum versatility, be sure that all shelving is adjustable so you can reposition the shelves as needed.

Doors and handles

Commercial refrigerator doors and handles offer features that can be quite helpful in a culinary setting. For example, some units include self-closing doors, which can help save energy. Alternately, many commercial refrigerator doors have a stay-open feature, which eases loading and unloading. And whether your commercial refrigerator has one, two, or even three doors, chances are they will be swing doors.

Handles can be a weak point on refrigerator doors, given the fact that they are constantly being yanked throughout the day. For longevity, go with a recessed handle rather than a bar handle that sticks out from the door’s surface.


A commercial refrigerator should have sufficient internal lighting to keep food items from disappearing into the shadows. LED lighting is relatively inexpensive to run and long-lasting.

Temperature controls

Some commercial refrigerators still use physical knobs for setting temperature levels, but more and more now incorporate digital controls. With their digital displays, these units not only provide a more exact way to control the temperature but also an easy way to quickly tell the refrigerator’s current temperature.

Wheels vs. feet

Commercial refrigerators typically ship with either wheels or feet on the bottom. If the latter, the feet should be made from or coated with a nonslip material such as rubber. Feet often are adjustable, allowing users to level the fridge.

Wheels obviously allow the refrigerator to be more easily moved around a space or repositioned as needed. They can also be moved away from the wall, making it easier to clean under and behind. To keep your commercial refrigerator from rolling away, go with wheels that are lockable.

For ease in cleaning, consider a commercial refrigerator with removable gaskets around the doors.


Commercial refrigerator prices

Inexpensive: Commercial refrigerators under $1,000 tend to be more compact, typically with a capacity under 30 cu. ft. They are usually single-section refrigerators, often designed to store beverages.

Mid-range: In the $1,000 to $2000 range, the quality improves. Commercial refrigerators in this range usually offer a 30 to 50 cubic feet capacity and more shelving. These units more often have features like stay-open doors and digital displays. One- or two-section refrigerators are common here.

Expensive: Commercial refrigerators over $2,000 typically have two or even three sections and usually are larger than 50 cubic feet. These units tend to be more durable and better insulated, to run quieter, and to sport a range of advanced features like all-digital temperature controls.

Did You Know?
Commercial refrigerators originated in the 1740s when Scottish scientist William Cullen invented the first artificial refrigeration.


  • On the shelf: Uncertain whether a commercial refrigerator’s shelving will be enough for your needs? Choose one that offers additional shelves sold separately so you can upgrade in the future if the need arises.
  • A finer point: The corners of a commercial refrigerator can be another weak point. Units with welded corners offer advantages: they not only last longer but also collect less kitchen grime and are less likely to snag clothing.
  • Condensers: There are typically mounted on either the top or bottom of a unit, but bottom-mounted ones are recommended. This design leaves the condenser easier to clean and maintain while opening the top of the commercial refrigerator for storage.
  • Secure storage: In a restaurant or public commercial setting, theft can be a reality. To better protect your bottom line, consider a refrigerator with some form of locking ability.
  • Space concerns: A refrigerator’s size isn’t the only consideration. How far its doors swing open can also impact a smaller kitchen, particularly if the doors swing out into a heavily trafficked area.
Walk-in refrigerators are a special type of commercial refrigerator not covered in this guide. They provide much more storage space, usually at a much higher price.


Q. Which is better: a glass door or a solid door?

A. Commercial refrigerators typically have solid metal doors or glass doors, and each option has advantages. A solid door generally offers better insulation, so the fridge retains cold better. Solid doors also are easier to clean. Glass doors let users know at a glance what’s inside (and what isn’t).

Q. How do I know which size of commercial refrigerator to buy?

A. While you want a unit that holds as much food as you need it to, you also must take your available space into account. To verify that a refrigerator will fit your kitchen, carefully measure your space, taking into account both the size of the refrigerator as well as the recommended ventilation allowance. Measure not just width and depth, but also height.

You will also want to measure any hallways and doorways a commercial refrigerator will need to pass through, particularly if it’s a larger model. You don’t want a unit delivered to your curb only to discover that you can’t get it into your kitchen.

Q. How difficult is a commercial refrigerator to install?

A. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for placing and installing the refrigerator. In addition to explaining the proper ventilation space needed, these instructions will cover the power required. Most commercial refrigerators run on a standard outlet.

Other installation tips include setting your commercial refrigerator on a level surface and avoiding, if possible, dusty areas or placing it near other kitchen equipment that produces heat or moisture, such as a fryer or a sink.

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