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Undercounter Refrigeration Buying Guide

If you need a little extra storage space in your refrigerator that's close to a prep station, or simply don't have the room 'out front' for a traditional style reach in, an undercounter model is a great way to add cold storage space. Another popular piece of refrigeration equipment is the refrigerated chef base, which serves the role of a combination refrigerator and equipment stand. With so many sizes and configurations available, you'll be able to find the perfect one for your needs. We'll cover the ins and outs of all these units in this quick guide.

Undercounter Refrigerators and Freezers

These models share the same basic cabinet construction, with the main difference being the thermostat and refrigeration system. Undercounter models are available in sizes as small as 24" wide and as large as 119". Even though undercounter refrigerators and undercounter freezers look similar to worktop units, which are discussed later, they aren't best for use as a work space or for holding countertop equipment. A few manufacturers offer dual-temperature undercounter units, which have both a refrigerated compartment and a freezer compartment for even greater versatility.


When it comes to the height of the undercounter unit you're looking at, it's important to understand what the lingo means, read the Specification Sheets carefully, and break out your tape measure! A typical undercounter unit sits approximately 36" tall, including the casters or legs. Most manufacturers offer a "Low Profile" and "ADA Height" version of their cabinets as well. This is where you'll need to pay attention.

  • For example, many manufacturers' "ADA Height" models are approximately 34" high, which would sit level with a typical ADA-height (Americans with Disabilities Act) countertop.
  • If you want to have your undercounter unit fit under an ADA-height counter, you'll need to purchase the "Low Profile" version which sits just 32" high.

Compressor Location and Clearance

You'll also want to pay attention to where the compressor's intake and exhaust are located. Depending on the layout of the area where you wish to place the cabinet, you might need to make some adjustments.

  • If the exhaust is located on the right side of the unit, you won't be able to place it flush up against a wall or cabinet on its right side, for example.
  • Some models offer a "front breathing" design, which means that the intake and exhaust are both located on the front of the cabinet, which helps to lessen the side-to-side clearance requirements.
  • When in doubt, it's always a good idea to look at the Specification Sheet for any installation requirements and clearance. Many manufacturers won't honor the warranty if the unit is found to be installed improperly.

Doors and Drawers

Undercounter refrigerators and freezers are available with both doors and drawers. When you start looking at multi-section models, you often have the option of mixing and matching door and drawer sections.

  • Drawer sections will have less overall storage space compared to a section with a door, but may be more convenient since you can load food pans directly into the drawers. It all depends on what is most convenient to you in your situation.
  • Glass doors give you the benefit of being able to see what's inside without opening the door. They also allow for a bit of a merchandising effect for front-of-the-house situations. A trade-off is that you'll lose a bit of energy efficiency since a solid door is better insulated.

Work Top Refrigerators and Freezers

Avantco SS-WT-60R-HC 60 inch Two Door Worktop Refrigerator with 3 1/2 inch Backsplash

Work top refrigerators and freezers function in the same manner as their undercounter cousins, but have a handy backsplash attached to the back to protect the wall from food particles and splashes. Their top provides a convenient space for cutting vegetables and fruits, preparing portions of ingredients, and more.

Just like with undercounter refrigerators and freezers, you may see "low profile" and "ADA Height" work top versions. Remember that the height referring to the top surface, not the height including the backsplash. If you're unsure, check out the product's literature and specifications to be sure the unit you are interested in will meet your needs.

Some manufacturers' models have a backsplash that's bolted or attached to the top of the cabinet, while some others boast a seamless, one-piece construction. The latter is much easier to clean and sanitize, since food particles can't get trapped underneath the seam.

Chef Bases

Avantco CBE-52 52 inch 2 Drawer Refrigerated Chef Base

Chef Bases are gaining popularity because they bring close-at-hand refrigerated and freezer drawers right to the cooking line. Boasting a rugged top, they're designed to hold countertop fryers, griddles, charbroilers, and more on top, while housing the food you're waiting to prepare right underneath. To learn more, check out our chef base buying guide!

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