The Ultimate Guide to Commercial Refrigeration

Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers Buyers Guide

When storing high quantities of fresh food, the right commercial refrigerator and freezer is key. Keeping food and drinks at their proper serving temperatures is crucial. Not only does improper refrigeration in a commercial kitchen impact flavor and texture of food items, but it can also lead to foodborne illnesses. Many processes and applications in food service require some form of commercial refrigeration equipment. Commercial refrigerators and freezers may seem similar to residential refrigeration, but these high-powered units often serve more specific purposes than your in-home unit. Learn more about the functionality of each piece of commercial refrigeration equipment and decide which will be most beneficial to your business.

Selecting the Best Commercial Refrigeration Equipment for your Restaurant

Blast Chiller Blast Chiller: Blast chillers or shock freezers cool large batches of food at a rapid pace to avoid the time food spends in the temperature danger zone. Food held between 41°F and 140°F for any more than two hours is at high risk to grow pathogens that can lead to foodborne illnesses. Blast chillers help to avoid this entirely by quickly cooling food items straight from the oven or cooktop to safe temperatures. These powerful commercial freezers may be the first stop for your food items after cooking. Walk-in freezers and reach-in freezers aren’t designed to pull down temperatures as rapidly as a commercial blast chiller. For restaurants that cook large quantities of food, a commercial blast chiller can simplify the cooling process and keep your customers safe.

Buying Considerations:

  • Capacity: It’s important when looking for a blast chiller to determine first the amount of food your commercial kitchen cooks at a time. Overloading a blast chiller can be detrimental to the unit’s efficiency and slow the cooling process. Blast chillers are listed by how many pounds of food they can effectively chill at a time. Most units have chill cycles and freeze cycles, and each cycle has its own weight capacity. For example, your blast chiller may be able to chill a larger amount of food to refrigeration temperatures, and a smaller amount to frozen temperatures. Review the spec sheet of your commercial blast chiller to determine which is the best fit for your needs.
  • Size: Countertop blast chillers can be conveniently placed on an equipment stand without taking up floor space. Larger units will need more space but can hold more food.

Bar Refrigeration

Back Bar Cooler Back Bar Cooler: Versatility is the back bar coolers strongest suit. These units come in one to four door options to fit the needs of any bar, restaurant, coffee house, or sandwich shop. Keep bottled beverages, mixers, packaged food, and more in a back bar cooler. LED lighting, adjustable shelves, and single zone temperature settings are just a few features for these commercial refrigerators. Browse our selection and check over the spec sheets to see what options are available.

Bottle CoolerBottle Cooler: Top access bottle coolers are a bartender’s best friend. Dividers help organize bottles stored inside to streamline the service process. These bar refrigerators can hold and chill bottled beer, wine, cider, and more. Plus, many models feature an integrated bottle opener and cap catcher. Easy access and simple setup make bottle coolers a no-brainer for bars looking to quickly serve perfectly chilled bottled drinks.

Glass and plate chillerGlass and Plate Chiller: Keep cold beer, side dishes, and deserts cooler for longer with a glass and plate chiller. A warm glass or serving dish can cause its contents to warm up faster, impacting flavor and texture. Frosted beer mugs and salad plates give an upscale feel to any restaurant or bar. Commercial glass and plate chillers are generally listed by the number of 10 oz. mugs they hold. If your restaurant or bar serves various sizes and shapes of dishware, that number will fluctuate.

Keg coolerKeg Cooler: Pour and serve the perfect draft beverages with a keg cooler. Domestic or craft, any beer can be tapped using a kegerator. Since kegs can be switched out easily once they’re empty, keg coolers make it easy to provide a wide selection of fresh beer. Some models hold one or two kegs with a single tap tower, while others can hold up to four kegs with a dozen taps. High volume bars, smaller craft breweries, and restaurants serving draft beverages can all benefit from a commercial keg cooler.

Buying Considerations:

  • Finish: Appearance is important when cultivating the perfect bar aesthetic. Choose from black vinyl, black powder coated steel, and stainless steel finishes. Vinyl is a great budget friendly option that won’t show scratches or scuffs from everyday use. Black coated steel looks great and shares the same durability of stainless steel without smudging. Stainless steel is a sleek, classic finish for commercial restaurant and bar equipment. Ensure your bar refrigeration will form a cohesive unit in your brewery, restaurant, or bar with the right finish.
  • Doors: Common options for bar refrigeration door types are glass, solid, sliding or swing styles. Glass doors allow customers and staff to easily see the selection of drinks offered. Solid doors can conceal any unsightly messes you may want to tuck away out of sight. Sliding doors are most commonly glass and are great for compact spaces where an open door could block a walkway. Swing doors, both glass and solid can make it easier to reach contents in the back corners of the unit. Another common type of door seen on bottle coolers and glass and plate chillers is a club top door. This type of sliding door allows access at the top of the unit for quick service.

Chef Base Chef Base: Floor space can be limited when designing a commercial kitchen. Between cooking equipment, shelving, and room to walk, open areas fill up quick. Adding a chef base to your cook line allows chefs to store often used products within reach without sacrificing floor space. The tops of these commercial refrigerators are designed to withstand and disperse the heat of cooking equipment. Most chef bases feature drawers to organize and store anything from burgers to soups waiting to be cooked and served. Many models have raised edges to contain spills and casters to allow the unit to be moved out for cleaning and maintenance. Commercial chef bases help streamline the workstation and maximize productivity while safely holding food products.

Buying Considerations:

  • Pan capacity: Many chef bases will list their pan capacity based on full size food pans. Using adapter bars, smaller pans can be held in the refrigerated drawers to fit your commercial kitchen’s needs. With most models, food pans will not be included. Determine how many pans of food items will meet the demands of your peak service times when choosing the right chef base.
  • Size: Since chef bases act as a stand for cooking equipment, you’ll need to determine how wide of a chef base you need to purchase based on the size of the equipment it will hold. If you only need an equipment stand for a single charbroiler or griddle, a smaller chef base will work. For several pieces of cooking equipment, you’ll need to purchase a larger chef base. Each piece of commercial cooking equipment should have plenty of room so chefs can easily cook and plate food items. A crowded workstation will slow the cooking process and can lead to injuries or burns.

Chest Freezer Chest Freezer: Often used in convenience stores, gas stations, and ice cream shops, chest freezers are a great compact solution to your commercial freezer needs. Sliding lid models are great for displaying frozen treats for sale. For back of house operations and bulk frozen storage, flip top lids make it easy to stock and remove products as needed. Commercial chest freezers perform similarly to reach-in freezers but fit in smaller spaces since their horizontal design doesn’t require as much space.

Frost Tops and Cold Slabs Frost Tops and Cold Slabs: Frost tops are versatile units that can be used for mixing ingredients into ice cream as well as cold holding for refrigerated buffet items. Drop-in units are great for ice cream shops that will use the cold slab to create unique mixed ice creams for customers. Free standing frost tops can be placed in a buffet line up and will hold refrigerated food items that are ready to be served. These models are also a great option for catering operations. As their name implies, frost tops form a layer of frost over the stainless steel or granite slab to help maintain food temperatures once they’re placed on the unit. Frost tops slow the warming process rather than pulling down temperatures, so it’s important that any food you’re displaying or preparing on the unit is already well below 41°F to prevent bacterial growth or loss of quality.

Ice Cream Dipping Cabinet Ice Cream Dipping Cabinet: Add the convenience of allowing customers to view the variety of ice cream your business serves while also allowing servers to easily access and serve the ice cream with an ice cream dipping cabinet. Glass sneeze guards help protect your frozen treats from outside contaminants and maintain interior temperatures ideal for ice cream. Single section units allow you to store and serve four types of ice cream in 3-gallon tubs. Larger units can hold up to sixteen 3-gallon cans at once for a larger variety. For smaller spaces, consider a drop-in unit that will be installed in an existing countertop.

Milk Cooler Milk Cooler: Cafeterias that serve milk and juice in high volumes to students will need a commercial milk cooler. These commercial refrigerators are sized based on how many crates of milk cartons they hold. Milk coolers are available with several access options to allow staff to reach and serve cartons quickly during lunch hour. Top opening options are great for stocking quickly, but smaller patrons may not be able to reach the bottom of the unit when supplies run low. Sliding doors and pass-through models provide more accessibility. Pass through milk coolers can serve from both sides of the unit for a smoother flow in the lunch line. Milk coolers are most often used for school cafeterias, but cafés and restaurants can benefit from adding a milk cooler to their refrigeration line up. Bars and restaurants can stock bulk dairy products with a milk cooler, or chill other bottled or canned beverages in the back of house.

Commercial Merchandisers and Display Cases

Glass door merchandiserGlass Door Merchandiser: Glass door merchandisers are ideal for grocery stores, convenience stores, and other businesses looking to market grab-and-go products to customers. Canned and bottled beverages and pre-packaged food items can be refrigerated and displayed to catch the customer’s eye as they pass by with a glass door merchandisers. This type of commercial refrigerator can serve many specialized functions as well. Floral merchandisers, wine merchandisers, ice merchandisers and four-sided merchandisers for pies and desserts are all considered glass door merchandisers. Consider what product your business needs to display when choosing the right glass door merchandiser. Most models feature LED lighting, adjustable shelving, and sliding or swing doors to provide the most convenient access for customers.

Open air merchandiserOpen Air Merchandisers: This type of merchandising refrigeration has an open front design and uses an air screen to maintain interior temperatures. Open air merchandisers come in horizontal and vertical designs to fit in any space needed. Merchandising products with an open-air cooler can boost sales due to their self-service functionality and ease of access. Horizontal models are perfect to keep right by the point of sale for last minute impulse buys. Vertical open air merchandisers have the capacity to hold more product and will have more display levels.

Dry and refrigerated display caseDry & Refrigerated Display Cases: Commercial display cases protect food items from outside contaminants and keep products at the right temperature and humidity level for ideal storage. Retain food quality for cold cuts, slices or blocks of cheese, and pre-made sandwiches with a refrigerated deli case. Non-refrigerated or dry bakery display cases are perfect for baked goods like cookies, doughnuts, and bagels that don’t need to be refrigerated. Some units are designed with a split-unit function to store refrigerated and dry goods in one unit.

Buying Considerations:

  • Temperature and humidity: To store deserts, deli items, or even pre-packaged food items safely while retaining the highest quality, you’ll need to understand the requirements of the food or drinks your business will be selling. For sushi, chocolates, cheese, and deli meats, the refrigerator will need to hold temperatures at or below 40°F. Glass door merchandisers for bottled energy drinks, soda, or beer should also fall below the 40°F mark. However, some baked goods don’t need to be refrigerated, and if they’re held in a refrigerated case will lose quality of texture and even taste. By understanding the needs of your refrigerated or non-refrigerated products, you’ll be able to choose the right refrigerated merchandiser. Keep in mind that some units allow you to adjust the level of humidity in the unit for the perfect refrigerated environment.
  • Location: Most refrigerated and dry merchandisers have options for countertop or add-on style units. If your business is short on space, consider one of these compact options to add merchandising refrigeration in a smaller area. Refrigerated merchandisers also come in standard or shallow depth, as well as shorter endcap models that won’t impact visibility throughout the store.
  • Service type: Sliding and glass doors are common when it comes to commercial refrigeration, but refrigerated merchandisers have the unique function of self-service options. If the items you’re selling are pre-packaged and require no preparation before purchase, consider a self-service model to streamline the buying process for your customers.

Refrigerated Prep Tables

Sandwich prep tableSandwich Prep Table: Sandwich shops, cafés, and restaurants can all benefit from using a sandwich prep table. Recessed pans held in a refrigerated rail can hold deli meats, cheeses, salad toppings, and condiments to streamline the sandwich or salad assembly process. Full length cutting boards on sandwich prep tables usually range from 8” – 10” wide. Sandwich prep tables keep ingredients fresh and are often equipped with refrigeration systems dedicated to holding temperatures in higher ambient temperatures in case the lid is left open for long periods of time. These units also often are front breathing to allow them to be placed against a wall or to be built into an existing equipment line up.

Pizza prep tablePizza Prep Table: Getting a pizza from just a ball of dough, fully prepped, and to the oven can be a messy process. With a pizza prep table, all your cheeses, sauces, and toppings are held in a raised refrigerated rail, ready for assembly. The raised rail design helps prevent unwanted toppings from spilling onto pizzas if several are being prepped at once. Wide, full length cutting boards allow staff to move the pizza down the make line and add ingredients quickly. Pizza prep tables come as single section units, all the way up to four section models for high-volume pizzerias.

Buying Considerations:

  • Access type: Refrigerated prep tables come with options for undercounter storage as drawers, doors, or a combination of both. Drawers are great for organizing pans of product to make it easy to see and grab exactly what you need. Doors provide the ability to store larger pans that may not fit in drawers since most drawer units can only accommodate pans up to a depth of 6 inches.
  • Food pans: Check your refrigerated prep table’s spec sheet to see if pans for the refrigerated rail are included. Some models provide 1/6 size food pans for the refrigerated rail as well as adapter bars. If food pans are not included, you’ll want to purchase as many as your business will need for the refrigerated rail and back up product!

Reach-In RefrigeratorReach-In Refrigerators and Freezer: Store perishable food items like dairy, raw meats, fish, and pre-prepped meals at food safe temperatures with a reach-in refrigerator or freezer. These upright units are one of the most popular types of commercial refrigeration due to their versatility and ability to cool large amounts of food conveniently near prep and cook areas. Adjustable shelving and interior lighting help locate and organize food in your reach-in refrigerator. Restaurants, cafés, sandwich shops, and delis in need of bulk refrigeration in addition to or instead of a walk-in unit will benefit from adding a reach-in refrigerator or freezer to their equipment line up.

Buying Considerations:

  • Location: When deciding where to place a commercial reach-in refrigerator or freezer in your kitchen, it’s important to note a few things that could impact the unit’s performance. Reach-in refrigerators with a bottom mounted compressor allow for additional external storage on top of the unit, which can be great if you have a lot of clearance room available. Bottom mounted compressors also tend to raise the lowest shelf in your reach-in refrigerator or freezer for easier access to food stored at the bottom of the cabinet. Units with top mounted compressors can be a little trickier. Since top mounted compressor fans are closer to the ceiling, they can pull in rising grease and oily air if placed near the cook line. If you plan on keeping your reach-in refrigerator or freezer in an area where it may need to work harder to pull and cool air, check your unit’s spec sheet for features that may allow it to run more efficiently.
  • Number of compartments: Reach-in refrigerators and freezers come with one, two, or three sections of refrigerated storage. If you have the room, it can be beneficial to buy a larger unit. Overfilling your reach-in refrigerator or freezer can impact performance and overwork the refrigeration unit. This can result in higher energy costs and maintenance issues. Another great option is adding several smaller reach-in refrigerators to your commercial kitchen. Place one unit near the prep area and another near the cook line for a fully functional and optimized workflow.

Soft Serve Ice Cream MachineSoft Serve Ice Cream Machine: Commercial ice cream machines turn powdered or liquid mixes into delicious frozen treats. Soft serve ice cream needs to be held at a lower temperature than hand-dipped ice cream and needs to be consistently stirred to maintain the right consistency. Depending on the type of machine, the mix will be pumped or will flow using gravity to the freezing cylinder. In this cylinder, a spiral beater rotates the mix, allowing it to freeze in the chamber. Once it’s completed the freezing process, ice cream can be dispensed via a pull handle at the front of the machine. Soft serve ice cream machines come with single or multiple hoppers to hold ice cream mix, as well as one or more dispensers. For smaller operations looking to serve one flavor of soft serve ice cream, a single dispenser unit with a smaller holding capacity could be the perfect fit. If you’re looking to serve more flavors or have a higher volume of customers, consider a larger unit with more dispensers.

Undercounter RefrigeratorUndercounter Refrigerator and Freezer: Add cold storage to previously unusable space with undercounter refrigerators and freezers. These pieces of commercial refrigeration equipment are designed to roll under existing countertops for maximized space in a commercial kitchen. Undercounter refrigerators are commonly available in one, two, and three section units. Single section units are great for small operations, while three section units allow larger volume restaurants to store everything they need in a convenient location. An undercounter fridge can be used anywhere from commercial kitchens to sandwich shops, coffee houses, food trucks, and more.

Buying Considerations:

  • Door type: Choose what type of door you need based on how you plan to use your undercounter refrigerator or freezer. Some models offer glass doors and would work well as a merchandiser display for bottled drinks and packaged food items near the point of sale. Solid doors are durable and keep any messes out of view. Drawers are a great option if you’re looking to organize or slack frozen foods to be cooked.
  • Combination units: To maximize efficiency, undercounter coolers come as combination refrigerator and freezer units. House frozen desserts or ingredients in the same unit as your refrigerated goods with an undercounter refrigerator freezer combo.

Walk-In CoolerWalk-In Cooler and Freezer: For bulk food storage that won’t fit in a reach-in refrigerator or freezer, commercial kitchens will need a walk-in cooler or freezer. These industrial refrigeration units are an entire insulated room dedicated to storing large amounts of food for extended periods of time. Install epoxy coated wire shelving to organize your food products and prevent cross contamination. Adjustable hinges, digital thermostats, door gaskets, and latches are a few features that help lower energy costs and maximize efficiency. Some walk-in coolers and freezers come equipped with an anti-locking system as an added safety measure to prevent employees from getting locked inside.

Buying Considerations:

  • Insulation: There are a few common types of insulation used for commercial refrigeration and walk-in coolers specifically. The most effective of these is a foamed-in-place polyurethane insulation. Other options like laminated panels and extruded polystyrene (XEPS) can be more budget friendly. The effectiveness of commercial refrigeration insulation is measured by R-value. This measures how well the construction of your refrigerator or freezer resists the conductive flow of heat. R-value information can be found in your unit’s spec sheet. Look for the projected five-year R-value to see how the manufacturer predicts the insulation of your walk-in cooler will hold up over time.
  • Floor type: Some walk-in refrigerators or freezers will come complete with an included floor. If you’re looking for more customization or to have the flooring match existing flooring in the kitchen, you’ll want a unit without a pre-installed floor. If you choose to provide your own floor, remember that since a walk-in refrigerator or freezer is an entire room dedicated to holding commercial refrigerator temperatures, the flooring will need insulation as well. Non-insulated flooring can lead to higher energy costs and overwork the refrigeration unit. Specifically for walk-in freezers, a floor that is not properly insulated could crack from the cold interior temperatures of the room.

Worktop RefrigeratorWorktop Refrigerator and Freezer: These commercial refrigerators are similar to undercounter refrigerators and freezers. However, instead of being designed to slide under an existing countertop, the top of worktop refrigerators and freezers are dedicated to food prep. Worktop refrigerators feature a 3” – 4” backsplash to contain messes and prevent tools from falling behind the unit. The durable top of a worktop refrigerator or freezer will be NSF rated for food prep. This ensures that it won’t scratch, chip, or otherwise be compromised which could lead to contaminated food items. Worktop refrigerators and freezers are great for commercial kitchens in need of cold storage and extra workspace.

Choosing a commercial refrigerator or freezer can be a tricky process, but with the right information, your choice will be easy. Whether you need a countertop refrigerator, bar fridge or deep freezer, Burkett has the right option for your business. Your refrigerated inventory depends on proper storage to maintain its quality. Energy, labor, and food costs can all be positively impacted by the perfect commercial refrigeration setup. Provide the best experience for your customers with the right commercial refrigerator or freezer.