• Jennifer Bringle

Outdoor Refrigeration Advances

As part of our June Elements series focusing on the air, we explore the chilliest advances in outdoor kitchens.

On a hot day, few things hit the spot like an ice-cold beverage. And we hear that the current trend is for folks to entertain as many people as possible in their outdoor spaces.

Years ago, ugly coolers or bulky refrigerators were the extent of outdoor chilling options. Nowadays, consumers build gorgeous outdoor kitchens that rival the look of indoor spaces, and they want the appliances to match.

“I think the innovation in outdoor refrigeration has evolved from the fact that people are truly looking to bring their indoor kitchen outside with all the amenities they have inside,” says Jim Gnocchi, president, Coyote Outdoor Living. “They want the ease of use, convenience and flexibility outdoors.”

Patio Power

When selecting an outdoor refrigerator, one of the most important things consumers should consider is the compressor. This mechanism powers the unit, and particularly in warmer climates, the compressor has a rigorous job—keeping the refrigerator cold when the surrounding air is hot. This makes outdoor refrigerator compressors even more important than those of their indoor counterparts that cool in a climate-controlled environment.

“If it’s sitting out in the heat, it makes your refrigerator work harder, so you need a strong compressor,” says Mitch Slater, owner, Danver and Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens. “Some of the less expensive ones don’t have long warranties on the compressor and wear out faster.”

Refrigerators packing a lot of power tend to be a bit more expensive. Slater says that consumers looking to cut costs often choose a cheaper refrigerator and a more expensive grill—but that’s a mistake.

“The refrigerator should really work better than the grill,” he says. “It keeps your food cool and beer cold.”

Other key mechanical points include selling refrigerators that are Department of Energy (DOE)- and UL-compliant, and making sure the air vents through the front to ensure the most energy efficient flow.

“You want your refrigerator to vent from the front—you don’t want the fan belt or compressor working any harder than they need to,” Ginocchi says. “I would recommend that consumers looking for an outdoor refrigerator check that it’s DOE-certified and truly outdoor rated. Otherwise the shelf life is normally 1-2 years.”

Icy Innovation

Not only have power options advanced for outdoor refrigeration, but now consumers have a host of choices when it comes to size, style and functionality.

According to Slater, drawer refrigerators are trending due to their ease of use and energy efficiency.

“I’m seeing more moves to the drawers because when you think of the under counter, you want the refrigerator open as little as possible,” he says. “With the drawer, you can open up, look right in, pull something out, and the cold isn’t pouring out.”

outdoor kitchensBrown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens
Slater also says wine coolers are growing in popularity. Style-wise, he sees an uptick in glass-door refrigerators and wine coolers, but cautions that the glass introduces its own set of issues.

“Make sure you get it tinted,” he says. “And when you’re laying the kitchen out, don’t put the refrigerator where the sun is shining on the glass. You get condensation and it makes your refrigerator work harder to stay cool.”

For those who don’t want to invest in a refrigerator, drop-in coolers offer a cost-effective alternative for keeping drinks frosty.

“The drop-in cooler is one of the biggest accessories,” Gnocchi says. “It’s convenient for people who don’t have a refrigerator and entertain a lot with a drink component. It’s got the ease of use—when the ice melts, it just runs into a bucket, so it’s a self-contained unit.”

Slater says that with the growth of designers in the outdoor category, and increasing interest in outdoor kitchens, exterior kitchen companies and retailers have a wealth of opportunity with refrigeration units.

“We work with a lot of designers and architects,” he says. “We’re giving them the look that’s really cool for the outdoor room concept.”




Image of Jennifer BringleJennifer Bringle | Features Editor, Casual Living

Jennifer Bringle is the features editor of Casual Living. She previously served as an editor and reporter at a number of publications, including Kids Today, AAA Living Magazine, The News & Observer of Raleigh and Carolina Parent. Her work also has appeared in The Washington Post, Southern Living, Our State and The News & Record of Greensboro, and she is the author of several non-fiction books for middle and high school-aged children.  Contact her at jbringle@casualliving.com

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