Do I Need Refrigeration in My Outdoor Kitchen?
Outdoor kitchens are a hot trend and getting hotter, especially since we’re doing more of our socializing outdoors these days. As the trend grows, it’s evolving from a simple grill island with countertop and some storage, into a complete outdoor entertainment center divided into task-specific stations.
The cooking or “hot” station is the core of any outdoor kitchen and includes a gas grill and additional cooking appliances like a smoker, kamado, pellet grill, or pizza oven. Many outdoor kitchens now also include a “cold” or beverage station, outfitted with an undercounter refrigerator, and sometimes even wine refrigerators, kegerators, ice makers, dishwashers, and sinks.
Making the Case for a “Cold” Station
Do I really need a cold station, or for that matter, even a refrigerator, in my outdoor kitchen? If space and budget permit, the answer is a resounding, YES! Having access to refrigeration outdoors is super-convenient, practical and fun for both everyday use and entertaining.
It keeps ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, and other condiments close to the grill and outdoor-dining area, so you don’t have to haul them outdoors every night. You can safely store uncooked meats while you’re getting ready to grill, and keep salads and side dishes cool while the main course cooks. An outdoor refrigerator is ideal when it’s too hot to keep the buffet open, but everyone is eating at different times between games of corn hole or dips in the pool. Just transfer serving dishes to the fridge and let everyone help themselves.
And, do we even need to say it? Having access to beverages, ice and snacks outdoors, keeps kids – and adults! – from constantly tracking into the house.
Can’t I Just Use a College-Size Refrigerator Outdoors?
All refrigerators are not created equal. An outdoor installation calls for an outdoor-rated refrigerator that’s been tested and certified for outdoor use by an independent laboratory such as UL.
Outdoor-rated refrigerators have extra insulation, more durable components, and 304-grade stainless-steel construction to hold up in the elements. They incorporate weatherproofing to protect internal systems and digital controls, and the compressors are engineered to withstand extreme ambient temperature fluctuations outdoors.
Undercounter refrigerators require front venting when being installed in an outdoor kitchen. Since most standard indoor refrigerators are rear vented, there would not be enough clearance to function properly as a built-in.
While an indoor, dorm-style fridge may cost less initially, you’ll likely spend more replacing it every couple of years due to failure and/or rust. In fact, using an indoor fridge outdoors would probably void the warranty. Also, it’s a hassle to remove a built-in appliance, and not always easy to get a replacement to fit within the same cutout dimensions, so it’s smart to choose with longevity, durability and warranties in mind.
More Considerations Before You Chill Out
You’ll need to install electrical outlets for these appliances. And, in colder climates with freezing temps, you’ll need to winterize refrigerators, ice makers and kegerators by unplugging, draining, cleaning, and thoroughly drying them. (Tip: Store a box of baking soda inside appliances until you power them up again in the spring.)
Since refrigeration appliances can be pricey, it’s smart to do your research. Renaissance Cooking Systems (RCS) has just expanded our lineup of outdoor-rated refrigeration. With premium quality and features without the premium price, these offer some of the best values in the industry. All are 304 stainless steel with digital controls, front ventilation, sleek handles, and locking doors. Some units are ADA-compliant.
The glass-fronted, LED-lighted 15” Refrigerator adds sophisticated to an outdoor kitchen, but is super practical with space to stock a wide selection of beverages and snacks on multiple racks that can be configured to fit bottles, cans and food containers.
Wine drinkers will want the 15” Wine Cooler, a dual-zone outdoor-rated refrigerator designed to holds 29 bottles of wine (a.k.a. a “weeks’ worth”) at the perfect service temperatures for whites and reds. Preset temps are 46 degrees in the upper zone and 54 degrees in the lower zone, but can be adjusted manually using the digital controls. LED interior lights look cool through the glass door, and ensure you don’t pull a chardonnay when you wanted a cabernet.
If you prefer a solid door to keep contents out of view, the stainless steel, Outdoor Rated Refrigerator REFR2 with two wire shelves and wire drawer, is ideal. Or, opt for the Dual-Drawer Refrigerator with soft-close drawers and digitally controlled temperatures ranging from 32 to 50 degrees. The deep drawers are great for storing food and drinks, and can even accommodate wine bottles upright.
For outdoor rooms that morph into mancaves, the Double-Tap Kegerator eliminates the need to lug in cases of beer bottles and cans, then lug them out again for recycling. It holds either one full keg or two pony kegs, if you want to offer “great taste” and “less filling” options.
If you entertain frequently, an ice maker is the ticket to stress-free parties. The outdoor UL Rated REFR3 Ice Maker cranks out 44 pounds of ice daily in choice of cube sizes, and maintains a constant supply of 26 pounds, so you won’t have to buy bags of ice or worrying about running short.
Limited space or budget for an outdoor fridge? Don’t have access to electricity or want to deal with winterizing? Or, just like the old-school way of serving beverages on ice? Consider a Drop-in Cooler. The deep, insulated well holds ice and drinks when needed, but when not in use, the closed lid sits flush with the island counter. Some people even install a cooler, ice maker and a refrigerator in their outdoor kitchen – the cooler and ice maker supplements the fridge during parties.