The Best Refrigerators for an Outdoor Kitchen

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An outdoor refrigerator is the ultimate accessory for patio nirvana. It allows you to keep cold beverages close at hand while storing meat and vegetables close to your grill. Be aware, however, that these outdoor kitchen appliances are special.

While planning your outdoor kitchen, you likely found many sink and countertop materials that work as well outside as they do inside. This is not the case with outdoor refrigerators. These refrigerators are built differently to provide better durability, insulation and ventilation while standing up to an outdoor environment where dirt and debris are likely present. The best outdoor refrigerators or beverage refrigerators are the ones that can withstand outdoor use.

Stick With Stainless

When choosing an exterior finish for your outdoor refrigerator, it's best to stick with the tried and true stainless steel refrigerator. Refrigerators made from 304 stainless steel have a chromium content of 18 to 20 percent, which makes them resistant to rust and corrosion. This is crucial outside where you can't control the humidity level.

If your budget is tight, you can save a few dollars by going with a fridge with plastic exterior panels. Plastic gets brittle when exposed to UV light from the sun, however, and can become brittle when exposed to temperature changes. A stainless steel outdoor refrigerator can last five to 10 years. Plastic refrigerators will not last as long.

Outdoor Refrigerator Limits

It's important to understand that an outdoor refrigerator has its limits. These outdoor products simply aren't designed to operate in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in the Deep South where it's warm all winter, this may not be an issue for you. If your outdoor kitchen is in the North, however, you'll need to empty your outdoor refrigerator in the fall.

Fortunately, preparing your refrigerator for winter is an easy job. You'll simply empty the fridge, turn it off and unplug it. Leave the door slightly ajar so moisture and mildew don't build up inside the unit over the winter. If you opted for a freestanding refrigerator instead of tucking a smaller unit under your countertop, you'll need to place a loose cover over the appliance.

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Efficiency and Operating Costs

The air temperature around your refrigerator affects how well it works. Indoors, you likely use heat and air conditioning to maintain a fairly steady temperature all year. Outdoor refrigerators don't live in this controlled environment, and this may be apparent on your electric bill.

If you keep your outdoor refrigerator out of direct sunlight and provide adequate ventilation, it costs an average of $35 to $50 a year to operate it. This number is not carved in stone and can fluctuate widely. If you have an extremely hot summer, the cost of running your outdoor refrigerator will climb. To keep your utility bills as low as possible, look for an outdoor refrigerator that bears the United States Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR logo.

Size and Placement

Used primarily for beverages and for prepped food for grilling, most homeowners find that they can use a much smaller refrigerator in their outdoor kitchen than they do inside. A standard outdoor refrigerator is 34 inches tall, 24 inches wide and 24 inches deep. This makes it the perfect size for tucking under your countertop. Many models account for this and ventilate at the front of the appliance. A standard model provides 5.5 to 6 cubic feet of storage space.

You can also go smaller and opt for a compact refrigerator. These stand around 34 inches tall (some may be taller if they have wheels) so that you can install them neatly under your counter. They're also 24 inches deep. The width is smaller, however, at 15 inches. This reduces your internal storage space to around 3.3 cubic feet.

You can also choose a freestanding refrigerator. Because they aren't designed to be built into a counter, these refrigerators have a standard rear ventilation system rather than ventilation at the front of the unit. You can stand your refrigerator at the end of your counter or move it elsewhere if you prefer as long as you leave air space around the unit.

You can use these refrigerators as built-ins if you really want to do so, but they're not designed for that. You'll need to provide at least 1/2 inch of air space around a freestanding refrigerator for proper ventilation, but this ruins any chance of a seamlessly integrated look. Freestanding units often cost a bit less but buy one only if you don't want a built-in.

Care and Maintenance

Because you played it safe and got a refrigerator designed for outdoor use, you'll need to do very little maintenance to keep your refrigerator happy. You can wipe down both the inside and outside of your outdoor refrigerator with warm water and a mild detergent, like dish soap. Refrigerator racks are removable, so you can wash them in your kitchen sink as needed.

Most outdoor refrigerators are designed to be tucked under a countertop. As such, the compressor and coils on your unit are likely located on the front of the appliance. Keep these components clean and free of dust and debris. You can sweep away any leaves or other debris from the front of the unit and dust off the coils with a clean cloth. If you're having trouble, break out the shop vac and clean the coils with the brush attachment.

If you live in an area where winter temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you won't use your fridge over the winter. Give it a good cleaning with warm, soapy water before you turn it on and reload it in the spring.

Outdoor Refrigerator Costs

For an outdoor refrigerator in the 3- to 6-cubic-foot range, expect to pay about $500. Of course, you could easily pay more depending on what features you choose and the brand you select. Freezers, ice makers and other extras can add to the cost.

You can bargain shop if you wish, but doing so is not recommended. Clearly, you don't want to pay more than you have to, but bargains on outdoor refrigerators can mean shortcuts that affect safety. Make sure you're getting a fridge that is truly meant for outdoor use and compare warranties.

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Check the UL Rating

Outdoor refrigerators are exposed to the elements, which means rainwater could be a factor. Reputable manufacturers take great care to waterproof the electronics on outdoor appliances and weatherproof areas where water could cause a malfunction or a safety hazard. They use special materials where necessary and put them together in such a way to keep you safe and prevent rust from marring the refrigerator's appearance.

To know you're protected, it's important to look for a unit that is UL certified (bearing the UL seal). This is another reason to avoid bargain shopping. If you go too cheap, your unit probably won't have a UL seal and may not truly be safe to use outdoors.

Other Important Features

When shopping for an outdoor refrigerator, you'll need to decide if you want just the fridge or if you want a freezer as well. Adding a freezer increases both the cost of the appliance and its operation cost, but it also keeps ice handy if you're tending bar for your guests.

An interior light is another important consideration, especially for nighttime hosting and cooking. Ideally, you should choose a refrigerator with LED lighting. LED lights are long lasting, energy efficient and quite bright. They also stay cool when in use so they won't heat up if your kids insist on lingering while the refrigerator is open.

Many outdoor refrigerators also come with a lock, and this can be an important feature. A lock lets you store beer and other alcoholic beverages in your outdoor refrigerator without fear that you're unintentionally supplying the neighborhood minors with liquor.

You may have to choose between glass or metal wire shelves when refrigerator shopping, Both work well, so this largely comes down to personal choice. Open wire racks do improve airflow throughout the fridge but not enough that you're likely to see a difference in your electric bill. Glass shelves block airflow but are much better for storing small items.

references

Home is where the heart is, and Michelle frequently pens articles about ways to keep yours looking great and feeling cozy. Whether you want help organizing your closet, picking a paint color or finishing drywall, Michelle has you covered. If she's not puttering in the house, you'll find her in the garden playing in the dirt. Her garden articles provide tips and insight that anyone can use to turn a brown thumb green. You'll find her work on Modern Mom, The Nest and eHow as well as sprinkled throughout your other online home decor and improvement favorites.

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