Commercial Refrigeration Buyers' Guide
Reach-in refrigerators are the cold-storage workhorses of commercial refrigeration, used in nearly every commercial kitchen to keep the most frequently accessed foods nearby. They can include up to 3 sections with solid or glass doors and can be used for storing everything from fresh produce to bottled drinks. Many are designed to be "working boxes" and will maintain safe temperatures when they’re opened frequently. Some have half-sections with Dutch doors for increased organization and energy efficiency.
Glass door merchandisers are used front-of-house in restaurants and in retail stores for displaying packaged foods to the public. These have self-closing, swinging, or sliding doors, and most have bottom-mounted refrigeration systems, making them easy to access for cleaning and maintenance.
There are two types of refrigerated prep tables. Salad and sandwich tables usually have narrow cutting boards and room for several pans to hold toppings for salads and sandwiches like sliced meats, cheese, and vegetables. The pan area doesn’t always span the length of the table, and some of them include room on one end for holding countertop equipment like a panini press or griddle. Pizza tables have wider work surfaces and their ingredient rails are often above the prep area, giving you plenty of room to work with large pies. These commercial refrigerators also include a refrigerated base with cabinets or drawers for storing additional ingredients.
Refrigerated deli cases can display fresh products like sliced meats and cheeses, making them a common sight in sandwich shops and grocery stores. For non-refrigerated foods like baked goods, bakery display cases are a good choice. They offer the same design, but usually without refrigeration that could put moisture into the air and ruin your food. With straight glass, curved glass, and countertop units, you should be able to find a case that matches your needs and existing décor.
An undercounter refrigerator provides space-saving storage where you need to keep cold items handy, like at the bar or a fryer station. Similarly, refrigerated chef bases have reinforced tops to hold equipment like countertop fryers and griddles, while worktop refrigerators typically have a backsplash to contain spills and provide a place to do light prep work.
Back bar coolers hold bottled or canned beverages, allowing your bartenders to quickly grab a drink and serve customers. Choose one with glass doors so your patrons can get a glimpse of their choices, or choose an energy-efficient solid door model. If you only want to store bottles in bulk, consider a bottle cooler, which has a sliding top lid and can hold up to hundreds of bottles.
A draft beer system lets you provide frosty brews from up to four kegs. This type of commercial refrigeration is perfect for establishments that want to have a few beers on tap without the need for a larger walk-in cooler. Complement your draft beer system with a glass chiller to serve up brews in frosty mugs.
Drop in coolers come in three varieties: ice well, cold wall, and forced air. Ice well units include no refrigeration components; they must be filled with ice and typically include drains to empty the water when the ice melts. Cold wall units have refrigerant lines running through their walls, so they offer maximum cold contact with products. Forced air units, like most other types of commercial refrigeration, blow cold air around their contents to keep them cool.
A frost top is the drop-in's flat-surfaced cousin, which sits flush with the counter and cools products placed on top of it. These are great in a retail environment or a serving line where you'll be holding packaged items. Some hot and cold combination drop-ins include a cold and a hot section for displaying both types of food. Others can be switched between the two. Either way, they provide a flexible option if you'll be serving many different kinds of food throughout the day.
Milk coolers are a common sight in K-12 schools across the country, and there's more variety among them than you might imagine. Some of them only have lids on top, while others have doors on the sides. It's the latter that enable children to access the cooler, so this is the right type for elementary schools. Besides access type, you also have the choice between stainless steel or a combination of stainless and vinyl for the exterior. Some include built-in drains to make them easier to clean.
The cook/chill process is responsible for many significant innovations in recent foodservice history, from experiments in molecular gastronomy to the ability to serve consistent products across restaurant chain franchises. New safety regulations require that cooked food be brought down from 160 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in less than four hours. The blast chiller is one of the core pieces of equipment that enable this process. They're designed to bring freshly-cooked food down to chilled temperatures rapidly, so it can be safely held and rethermed later. This allows operators to cook food in large batches, divide it into smaller portions, then reheat those portions as necessary, saving tremendously on time and labor.
If you're serving America's favorite frozen treat, you'll definitely need an ice cream freezer, which comes in three distinct flavors. First is the dipping cabinet, which holds full tubs of ice cream. These are designed with domed glass tops that let customers see inside. Next is the gelato display cabinet, with a design similar to the dipping cabinet. The difference is that these are made to hold extra-deep food pans, which is the traditional way of holding and merchandising gelato. Finally, the ice cream merchandiser holds frozen novelties like popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, and individual pints, usually with a sliding glass lid for self-serve applications.
The walk-in cooler is the be-all and end-all of commercial refrigeration, as essential to most foodservice operations as their cooking equipment. Because a good deal of food that is served in today's restaurants is purchased in bulk and must be stored cold, sizing is the most important consideration to make when you pick one of these. You want to be sure your walk-in can hold all ingredients that need to be refrigerated. You'll find these commercial refrigerators as small as 6-feet square "step-in" boxes, while custom-built units have no specific size limitations.