Buying Guide: Reach-In Refrigerators and Freezers

Buying Guide: Reach-In Refrigerators and Freezers

Reach-in refrigerators and freezers are the mainstay of any restaurant commercial kitchen. Be prepared and make the best decision when you’re shopping for your next commercial refrigerator or freezer – the safety of your food depends on it!

Compressor Location

When it comes to compressors, there are two choices: top-mount and bottom-mount refrigerators. A compressor draws in ambient air and cools it; therefore, the warmer the air is, the harder the compressor has to work. Your work environment will help you determine which is your best option. During your decision process, keep in mind that warm air naturally rises and cooler air will descend.

Top Mounted:

Top-mount refrigeration systems have the compressor on the top of the unit and are the industry standard. They are more energy efficient because the hot air discharge does not enter the refrigerated area and the work zone stays cooler as well. The increased air circulation around the compressor increases the compressor life. Because the compressor resides on the top of the unit, it won't pick up dust and grease from the work environment. Top-mount units also make optimum use of refrigerated storage area. The only downsides of the top-mount refrigeration are that you lose additional storage space on top of the unit, and the hot hair can be hazardous when  ceilings are very low.

top mounted


  • Energy Efficient
  • More refrigerated storage space
  • Ideal for cooler environments


  • No storage on top of refrigerator
  • Compressor harder to reach for cleaning and service
  • Not enough circulation if you have low ceilings


Bottom Mounted:

Bottom-mount refrigeration can usually be found on economy units. They run with cooler ambient air so they consume less energy, but the increased efficiency is reduced when hot air leaves the compressor and enters the work zone. The compressor does take up some of the refrigerated storage area as well, elevating the height of the bottom shelf. You do have the advantage of added storage space on top of the refrigerator.

bottom mounted


  • Economical price point
  • Added storage on top of refrigerator
  • Less bending to reach the bottom shelf
  • Ideal for warmer environments


  • More hot air entering the work zone
  • Less refrigerated storage area
  • Compressor can get clogged by dust and grease from the floor


Throttling Device

Gears Reach In Refrigeration

The throttling device is the way your refrigerator controls how much cooling power is needed. 

Expansion Valve:

Refrigerators on or near cook lines, where the door is opened and closed often, have higher temperature demands. The best bet in that case would be a refrigerator with expansion valve-type refrigeration.


Capillary-tube refrigeration is less expensive and designed for refrigerators that are mostly closed for storage and holding. Cap-tubes provide restricted refrigerant flow.

See more detailed information about this technology here.


When choosing a door type, consider the location of your equipment, kitchen entry and exit points, the location of surrounding equipment, and the width of the aisles around your new unit. Reach-in refrigerator and freezer doors are generally available in glass or solid stainless steel, at half-height or full height. Solid doors are easier to clean and are more insulated, but you can’t see the products inside. Although glass doors are less energy efficient, employees might spend less time with the doors open trying to find what they’re looking for. Half-height doors split the full door into two, meaning you can only open half at a time. Half-height doors may conserve energy because they are better at maintaining the unit's internal temperature.

Swing Doors:

swing door refrigeration

Swinging doors open outward. You can find them made with stainless steel or glass, at half-height or full-height. When considering swing doors, an important area of note is the swing radius. If you use large trays and pans, doors with a 180-degree swing radius can give you easier access to the unit. Otherwise, look for swing doors that have a 90-degree or 120-degree stay-open feature. Also take into account the traffic flow of your kitchen. Make sure that swing radius and location of the doors will not block traffic.

Sliding Doors:

sliding door refrigeration

A sliding door refrigerator can be useful in tight spaces; however, only one door can be open at a time. They are most frequently sliding glass doors, so you do lose a little insulation and are harder to clean.


Pass Thru Doors:

pass through refrigeration

If your refrigeration unit is going to be in between the kitchen prep area and the server station, you might consider pass-thru doors. Pass-thru refrigerator doors allow the kitchen staff to prep a cold dish and store it for the server to grab when needed. You can find these doors in glass or stainless steel, with full-height or half-height options.

Unit Sizes

Unit Sizes

Remember, refrigerators and freezers take up a lot of space! Measure your doors, hallways and installation space to ensure that your new unit will be able to make it into your work space.

Optional Refrigerator and Freezer Features

Optional Refrigerator and Freezer Features


For easier cleaning and sanitizing, casters are highly recommended. Not only do they allow for mobility, but more health departments strongly recommend them. While many refrigerator models come equipped with casters as a standard, some models offer casters as an optional feature.

Digital Thermometers:

Many of the newer models feature an exterior digital thermostat. This allows you to view and adjust the temperature without having to open the door and loose valuable cold air.

Removable Gaskets:

Look for a model with removable gaskets for the easiest cleaning and sanitizing. Additionally, refrigerators with removable gaskets make gasket replacement a simpler process in the future.