A Guide to Choosing Commercial Refrigeration

Primary Types


These units come in a variety of sizes from 1 door to 3 door units and are essential for many restaurant operations to store their refrigerated ingredients. Glass doors are not recommended for back-of-house models as they’re less efficient and accumulate visible grime quickly.

Best for
  • Restaurant Kitchens
  • Back-of-House Storage


As the name implies, pass-through units give users the ability to open doors on the front and back ends of the unit, allowing the transfer of products through the cavity. These are available in single, double, or triple section units, full and half door types, and glass or solid door materials.

Best for
  • Large, busy, industrial kitchens
  • Quick access from prep to waitstaff
  • Cafeteria setting where the unit is built into a wall and the kitchen staff can fill from the back; Patrons can then retrieve from the front (Typically with a glass front)

Undercounter / table top

Built for out-of-the-way refrigeration, these units can tuck under your prep tables and hold minimal amounts of refrigerated items. Some units come with a heavy duty top to function as a prep table.

Best for
  • Prep areas

Refrigerated Equipment Stand

A refrigerated equipment stand is designed to have products available on hand for the chef. It is a bit lower than a regular table or undercounter unit so that it can accommodate equipment on top.

Best for
  • Cooking areas
  • Short order
  • Under Griddles


WIth the most storage capacity, walk-in refrigeration is best for restaurants with high-volume outputs and who have the space for a full walk-in unit. These are located at the receiving area and is situated to reduce traffic in the kitchen. These units are the most cost effective refrigeration both because of the heavy insulation and purchase cost per sq.ft. of refrigeration.

Best for
  • Institutions
  • Cafeterias
  • Restaurants buying in bulk
  • Receiving/Loading Areas

Specialty Types

Pizza Prep Table

These specialty units are equipped with a cutting board and food pans and are designed for speedy pizza preparation. Store toppings within reach on the topside of the unit while keeping sauces and other refrigerated ingredients in the cooled bins underneath.

Best for
  • Pizza
  • Stromboli

Sandwich Table

Keep sandwich accoutrements and toppings at-hand on the topside of the unit next to your prep surface while storing larger ingredients below-decks in the refrigerated compartments.

Best for
  • Deli Sandwiches
  • Chopped Salads

Dual Temperature

These units have the same abilities as refrigerators and freezers packed into a single model. While these come in all sizes and types, it’s best to get two separate units if you’re considering a 3 door model as the price is fairly equal.

Best for
  • Kitchens with Space Constraints

Size / Capacity

Depending on the type of unit you’re purchasing, there are likely a few options in terms of size and capacity available. There are a few ways to categorize the size/capacity of a unit:

  • # of Doors: Reach-ins and pass-throughs are generally available in 1, 2, and 3 door options.

Single Door

These units are reserved for same-day preparations and are restocked from larger refrigeration units. They’re designed for quick-access and fast service. Half doors keep the cold in the section not opened.

  • Located near final production line
  • Store only same-day items
  • Should not be placed too close to cooking equipment

2 or 3 Door

Storing bulk items, these larger units should be placed at the preparation areas and are restocked from walk-in units, should you have them. Also available with half doors or tray slides.

  • Located in prep area or towards the back of the kitchen
  • Restocked from walk-in units weekly or as needed
  • Keep away from high heat areas

  • External Dimensions: Each unit’s dimensions will need to fit into the schematic of your kitchen (as well as through the doors to get to its final destination). Walk-in units will consume the most external space but can be assembled on site.
  • Interior Dimensions: This will impact the storage space available within the cavity, and while two similar units with the same exterior measurements may seem the same, their interior dimensions can vary drastically. Check specification sheets for cubic capacity. Consider typical stock purchases, how many customers you serve at the busiest times, and the shelving you may need for a walk in box.

Door Type

To determine the right door type for your unit, take a look at specific design features of your kitchen including entrances, doorways, aisle width in the kitchen, and other equipment.

Full Size Doors

Makes it easier to load cases of items. Equipped with an stay-open feature, these doors can potentially block traffic and can quickly lose the refrigeration in the entire unit. If you expect a lot of door opening, consider half door models or an extra undercounter unit.

Half Doors

A variation on swing doors, these split a swing door into two sections. These can still block traffic but help promote energy conservation as you only have to open a smaller door to access specific items rather than a full swing door. They’re ideal for busy work areas, as opening only one half door can help keep temperatures regulated more efficiently as opposed to opening a full-size swing door. Also, the doors can have locks so that you can keep control over certain sections (not completely secure though because it is possible to access any section from above or below).

Note! Many institutions benefit from the the use of an air screen to improve the unit’s efficiency during extended usage, as an open door without any additional temperature barrier is simply a waste of energy.

Compressor Location


With top-mounted units, the compressor, evaporator, and condenser are all located above the cavity. Expelled heat from the condenser rises above the unit rather than into the work environment. These units may have more interior cubic ft.  Coils are harder to clean because they’re above the unit, but top shelves are lower, making them easier and safer to reach. Conversely, the bottom selves may be a bit uncomfortably low.

Best for
  • Areas that are not too hot. Since heat rises and the unit “breathes” from the top.


Bottom-mounted units separate the compressor from the evaporator and condenser, placing the intake below the cavity and the evaporator above. Grease-laden steam rises above the compressor, reducing the possibility of gumming up the system. More insulation is needed because heat from the compressor may rise into the cavity, and refrigerant lines must be run through the cabinet from the compressor to the evaporator, taking up precious space.

Best for
  • Hotter environments
  • Not close to to work areas as it does put heat out in front of it.

Exterior Compressor

Especially helpful for walk-in units, an exterior compressor and condenser located outside of your kitchen or building in order to gain efficiency. If the compressor is going outdoors, an outdoor package is required. Any unit going into extremely hot conditions can be remoted.

Best for
  • Walk-In Units
  • Freezers going into very humid conditions


Depending on the type of unit you choose, there may be many features available to choose from.

  • Removable Gaskets: While all refrigeration units require gaskets to keep an insulated seal, some feature removable gaskets for easy, quick cleaning.
  • Digital Thermostat: Many newer models include a digital thermostat, and because these are typically more reliable and easier to monitor, they can lead to fewer service calls and lower maintenance costs. Newer units include alarms and diagnostics.
  • Look for Energy Star certification. Not only will the extra cost for this type of unit be paid back in energy efficiency, there may be rebates available in your area. Energy Star Rebates & Incentives
  • Shelving: Upright units such as reach-in and pass-through models can be equipped with slides for sheet pans, while walk-in boxes and other specialty units may be equipped with shelving and dunnage racks tailored to your establishment’s needs. Sanitation codes do not allow you to store food on the ground.