Pass-thru Refrigeration Buyers' Guide

Pass-Thru Refrigerators

Selecting the right commercial refrigeration can have a huge impact on the efficiency of your kitchen's workflow. Pass-thru refrigerators can greatly improve the workflow in kitchens that can accommodate them, allowing both serving and kitchen staff to access the contents simultaneously. In some cases, they even serve as a merchandiser.


Size is always the first thing that should be considered when making a large equipment purchase. Refrigerator manufacturers usually rate the size of their models in cubic feet, but how the shelves can be set up is often more important than the size. Check how many shelves come with the unit and what increments the shelves are adjustable in. If you will be storing pans, you may also want to consider a unit set up with pan slides instead of shelves, which are usually at fixed increments.

Pass-thru refrigerators are available in one- or two-section units. If you are having trouble deciding between two sizes, go with the larger one. Adequate airflow is required to keep the food cool, so buying a size too small or overfilling it can strain the compressor and result in food being stored at unsafe temperatures.


Pass-thru refrigerators are models that have doors on the front and back. The number of sections the refrigerator has will play a role in determining how many doors the unit has. Each side will have one or two doors per section. The models with one door per section allow you to see the entire contents of that section when opened, but the half-doors, also called "Dutch doors," can limit the amount of cold air that escapes when the door is opened.

Another option available for refrigerator doors is solid or glass construction. Solid doors provide better insulation, but the fact that you cannot see what is behind the door until it is opened leads to the door often being held open longer than a glass door is, resulting in more cold air loss.

Pass-thru refrigerators that have glass doors on the front may also be used as merchandisers. These are often used to display drinks or desserts that are available for purchase. The doors on the back allow the refrigerator to be restocked as customers make their selections from the front.

Compressor Location

Pass-thru refrigerators use a compressor to cycle the refrigerant through the box to maintain cool temperatures. This compressor is mounted on the top or bottom of the unit. Top-mounted compressors are usually preferred for locations with high amounts of flour in the air, including bakeries and pizzerias. Settling flour can be sucked into the coils of bottom-mounted compressors, which can make them less efficient, reduce the unit's ability to hold your food safely, shorten the life of your refrigerator, and require frequent maintenance.

Top-mounted compressors are best suited for cooler kitchens. Rising heat in a hot kitchen can make the compressor work harder to cool the refrigerant, resulting in decreased efficiency and a shorter life for the unit. These top-mounted units are more difficult to access for cleaning and service, but may require maintenance less often than bottom-mounted compressors.

Specialty Options

If your pass-thru refrigerator will be a working box, meaning it will be opened frequently, you may want to consider a model that has an expansion valve. An expansion valve controls how much refrigerant flows through the system, matching that rate to maintain exact temperatures. That makes these units much more efficient in cooling and provides better recovery times compared to capillary tube systems. However, the latter, often called cap-tube systems, are typically more economical on initial purchase and are more common than their kin.

Self-closing doors can help save power by ensuring the door always closes after it is opened, even if the user has his or her hands full and cannot close it. Some door hinge designs allow the door to close on its own, with magnetic gaskets that ensure it seals fully. Some of those hinges also have a stay-open feature when pushed open to a certain angle to help make stocking easy.