Outdoor Ice Makers Buyers' Guide

Outdoor Ice Makers Guide

If you operate an outdoor bar, it's a good idea to equip your service area with an ice maker to save your bartenders the legwork of running to and from the kitchen to stay stocked with fresh ice. If you're shopping for such a machine, please keep in mind that only certain ice makers are safe to use outdoors. This guide will explain the features that make an ice maker suitable for an outdoor installation and help you choose the appropriate one for your patio.

What Makes an Ice Machine Suitable for Outdoor Use?

Like any piece of outdoor food equipment, a patio ice maker must have certain features that allow it to stand up to elements that aren't present inside a kitchen, including moisture and wide fluctuations in ambient temperatures. Most outdoor ice machines include the following features that make them suitable for life outdoors.

  • Stainless steel construction: Whereas standard steel rusts readily in the presence of moisture, stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion. That's why outdoor-rated ice machines are built with stainless steel cabinets that resist the damaging effects of rain and humid air.
  • Operation in hot environments: Outdoor ice machines are typically able to produce ice in environments with ambient temperatures as hot as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the kind of temperatures that may be present in the summer months when your outdoor bar is busiest. Please be aware that higher ambient temperatures will result in lower production capacities. Before you buy, ensure the ice machine's specifications indicate it will produce ice in the volume you need at the ambient temperatures you expect it to be exposed to.
  • Pumped drains: Patio ice machines may not have access to the floor drains that standard ice machines are designed to drain into, so many outdoor models ship standard with a pumped drain or are available with one as an option.
  • Low production capacities: Full-size, indoor machines are generally able to produce a few hundred pounds or more of ice in 24 hours, but outdoor ice machines produce 50 to 100 pounds of ice a day on average. Manufacturers typically suggest that bars have between 2 to 3 pounds of ice per customer per day, so busy bars may need multiple outdoor ice machines or a way to supplement their ice supply, which we'll discuss below.

UL, the United States agency that tests and certifies commercial and consumer products to safety and quality standards, is the same organization that issues the standards that are most often used by ice machine manufacturers to determine whether a unit can safely and reliably be operated outdoors. Verify that an ice maker has been UL approved for outdoor installation before you choose one for your open-air bar or patio.

How to Choose an Outdoor Ice Maker

Take the following factors into consideration as you shop for an outdoor ice machine to make sure you buy the right one.

Ice Type

As is the case with full-size ice makers, you'll find versions of outdoor ice machines that can make many types of ice, whether you want traditional cubed ice, chewable nugget ice, or dense, slow-melting gourmet ice. Many operators favor gourmet ice for serving liquor and premium cocktails. This dense ice melts slowly to help preserve the full flavor of your beverages. You'll likely end up using less ice per drink when you serve gourmet ice compared to cubed ice.

Production Capacity

Picking a machine with the right production capacity will be critical. As we mentioned above, an average ice machine will produce between 50 and 100 pounds of ice over a 24-hour period. That number will be too low to keep a busy bar sufficiently stocked with ice, so consider installing more than one machine or have a backup source of ice, such as a spacious ice bin, either mobile or stationary, that can be replenished from a full-sized ice maker inside your building.

Electrical Requirements

Before you place an order for an ice machine, verify that its electircal requirements can be met at the site where you plan to install it. The majority of outdoor ice machines are designed to run on a 120-volt electrical circuit. Some may require their own dedicated circuits, while it may be okay to install others on circuits that also provide power to other equipment.

Clearance Requirements

The majority of outdoor ice makers are front breathing and air cooled, meaning they take in and expel air from the front, a design that allows them to be installed underneath a countertop with equipment or cabinets on either side. Check the ice machine's clearance requirements before you buy.

Drain Requirements

Verify that you'll be able to provide the right type of drain for your ice machine. By default, most ice machines are equipped with a "gravity drain" that relies on the titular force of nature to allow water to run into a floor drain. Many outdoor ice machines ship with a pumped drain or are available with a pumped drain as an option, which enables them to send melt water to remote plumbing and even push it up if the outlet is above where the line comes out of the machine. Floor-draining ice machines are less expensive, easy to set up, and continue to drain during power outages. Installation locations where no floor drain is present will necessitate a pumped drain, which must be routed to a drainage location such as a sink or a drain pipe.

Finished or Unfinished Door?

Since outdoor ice machines are designed to be installed underneath countertops, and they're sometimes installed alongside wooden cabinetry, some models are sold without finished doors so that you can install your own custom cabinet door panel. Others are finished at the factory with stainless steel doors. Be sure to verify that your ice maker will ship with the option you need.