Choosing a Commercial Reach-in Refrigerator

Refrigeration is an absolute necessity in a kitchen, no matter the season. With so much heat emanating from the ovens, and so many bodies moving back and forth on the line, you need to have a reach-in refrigerator that you can depend on. Extreme temperatures can affect a low-quality refrigerator, and it has to work harder just to maintain a base coolness. This is why it’s so important to invest in a reach-in with strong build quality, durable doors, and a reliable compressor.

Before selecting a reach-in refrigerator, consider your kitchen’s layout, aisle width, average temperature, and other key factors. Do you have enough space for a refrigerator with full-sized hinged doors, or will you need a half-door model for extra convenience? How hot does your kitchen get? Would you prefer to see the stored ingredients at a glance?

These questions will help you decide whether to buy a solid or glass door fridge, and whether the compressor should be bottom- or top-mounted. Sometimes, a bottom-mounted compressor is better for hot environments, because the compressor draws cooler air from the floor. This also elevates the refrigerator shelves to a more accessible height. However, a bottom-mounted compressor is more likely to get dirty and clog, since it’s located near the ground. Top-mounted refrigerators tend to have more interior storage, and they run cooler because the expelled air comes out of the top.

For example, you often find top-mounted refrigerators in bakeries, because a bottom compressor can easily collect flour and other particulates. They also tend to be used in schools and hospitals, where staff take extra care not to get cleaning products in the refrigerator when cleaning the compressor.

Meanwhile, merchandisers and quick-serve delis tend to use bottom-mounted refrigerators because the doors have a higher viewpoint above the compressor. Caterers also prefer bottom-mounted fridges because they are bottom-heavy, which makes them safer to transport on casters. All in all, bottom-mounted fridges are easier on the back and they use space more effectively than top-mounted models.

Typically, reach-in refrigerators are designed with one, two, or three sections, depending on your storage needs. Meanwhile, most refrigerator doors are designed with self-sealing gaskets that prevent cold air from escaping, and they also have stay-open door hinges when required. If you have a glass-door refrigerator, you’ll be able to see most of your inventory without even opening the door.

Next, think about where you plan on installing the reach-in refrigerator. There needs to be enough clearance to move the fridge through doorways and into the desired space. This may not be possible with a two- or three-section model. You should also make sure that the area has enough space for safe ventilation, so that the unit works at full capacity, avoids dust, and stays dry. Check to see that the floor is level, and find a nearby electrical circuit with the correct voltage for your refrigerator. This should be a dedicated circuit, so that you have enough electricity to power the fridge and avoid outages.

Quality reach-in refrigerators are built with stainless steel, aluminum, or vinyl coating These highly durable materials are easy to clean, safe for storing food, and pleasing to the eye. Inside a reach-in fridge, the walls will typically be built with vinyl-coated and NSF-approved aluminum (or stainless steel, plastic, and galvanized steel), which is insulated with eco-friendly polyurethane.

Below, we’ve shared an overview of the main reach-in refrigerator types, so you can make an educated purchase for your restaurant or foodservice business.

Glass Door

First and foremost, a glass door reach-in refrigerator allows you to quickly scan for items before opening the door. This is convenient in a fast-paced kitchen where tempers and temperatures get pretty heated. Often, the glass is double- or triple-paned with energy-efficient material that retains the cold. If your reach-in refrigerator has “thermal” glass, it means that the glass is constantly being heated to prevent condensation from obscuring the view.

All in all, we recommend a glass door reach-in fridge for storing items that you need to gauge on a regular basis. This refrigerator type can save energy that you would normally spend opening and closing the door, but glass is less energy-efficient and insulating than a solid metal door.

Half Door

Meanwhile, you may opt for a reach-in refrigerator with two half-doors (also known as Dutch doors), instead of the normal full-length design. There are a few benefits to this door type. When you open a half door, you waste less energy because only one compartment is expelling cold air. Typically, these reach-in models are built with stainless steel exteriors, self-sealing gaskets, and PVC-coated interior shelves that are easy to clean.

Pass-Through

Next, a pass-through refrigerator has doors on opposite sides of the unit, so that chefs can access product from the front or back. This door type is extremely convenient when the fridge is centrally located. It allows multiple people to restock at the same time, and your kitchen staff can also use the doors to pass cold items to the server stations.

Typically, a pass-through unit is installed between the prep area and the service area. It’s designed for last-minute plating when you’re keeping items cold until serving time, so that they retain their temperature and consistency. Pass-through refrigerators can have solid, glass, full-length, or half-doors, depending on your kitchen’s needs. They are also offered in one- or two-section sizes.  

Solid Door

Finally, a solid door reach-in refrigerator is the best all-around choice for commercial kitchens. Solid door models tend to be more affordable than pass-through and half-door models, because there are fewer parts involved in the design. Solid doors also offer more insulation than glass doors, and their interior temperature has a faster recovery time after being opened, keeping the cold in.

If you’re running a tight kitchen staff with few employees, it helps to have low-maintenance equipment that just works. Solid doors are easy to clean, they’re built to last for decades, and they’re offered in two- and three-section sizes. The design’s biggest strength and weakness is the door itself, which is typically made with durable stainless steel, but takes up a lot of aisle space when opened.

Since 1988, Chefs’ Toys has been selling, shipping, and installing commercial reach-in refrigerators to the foodservice industry. It’s the lifeblood of our operation. Whether you’re a Michelin-starred restaurant, a local diner, or a university dining hall, we have the best refrigeration products on the market. Let us help you find the ideal reach-in refrigerator for your business. Click here to send us a message, or call (714) 665-CHEF to speak to our team.