When you first start looking for outdoor refrigerators, the prices are often a big shock.
“But, they're all so small! Why would they be so expensive? Why can't I just install a good indoor refrigerator and cover it up well?”
There are a few reasons why it's hard to find a good, cheap fridge you can use outdoors—and, why you do not want to use a regular indoor refrigerator, aside from simply voiding the warranty.
I've discussed this in a previous article, but just to review:
- Weatherproofing — The electrical components need to be protected from wet weather to avoid damage and electrocution.
- Rust Resistance — High-quality stainless steel to resist rust in wet weather or humid environments.
- Extra Insulation — It's hotter outdoors than indoors, so you'll need to insulate the fridge from the heat to keep everything cool.
- Advanced Compressors & Components — The electrical and mechanical parts of the fridge must be designed to work extra hard in the heat to keep its contents cool in hot weather. Good insulation isn't enough.
- UV Protection — The sun may be beating down on parts of your fridge. This not only will create extra heat, but can damage inferior plastic surfaces. Make sure it can handle the sun.
- Ventilation — If you will build your fridge into an outdoor kitchen island or other fixture, either it will need additional vents on the front to allow it to function, or you will need to install it with extra space around it for ventilation.
You see, it's quite a bit of extra engineering that goes into protecting your investment and keeping your food and drinks cold. However, it doesn't mean you have to be $1,000 or more in the hole.
As long as you're willing to give up a few bells & whistles and fancy looks, it is still possible to find good, functional outdoor refrigerators that abide by most of these basic requirements at an affordable price.
You WILL, however, have to take extra care of your outdoor fridge to make sure you get the best out of your investment.
Let me talk a little bit about how to make sure you don't waste your money before you make a purchase. Then, I'll give you my 3 suggestions for cheap fridges for outdoor use.
Making the Most of a Cheap Fridge for Your Outdoor Kitchen
In order to make their outdoor refrigerators more affordable, manufacturers have to make a few concessions on the above list of features to cut back on manufacturing costs.
For example, a cheap outdoor fridge might use a high-quality plastic coating to avoid using expensive rust-resistant stainless steel. Or, it may rely solely on the extra insulation to keep things cold, or on just the better compressors, but not on both.
Or, the components might not be designed to work in extreme heat — maybe it will work in 90ºF weather, but not 100ºF+ weather.
When companies make these concessions, you'll have to make up for it with how you install and care for your outdoor refrigerator. Here are a few tips:
Keep It Dry
As I mentioned in the previously mentioned article about outdoor refrigerators, “outdoor” does not mean “all-weather”.
Just because it says it's good for the outdoors, doesn't mean it can withstand rain, snow, and hurricanes. Keep it covered from the rain, and away from the pool, sink, and other sources of water. If it's not built-in to your outdoor kitchen island, bring it inside when it's wet outside.
This is especially important if it's not properly weatherproofed and UL rated for outdoor use (see that artcle).
Avoid Direct Sunlight
We all know that sunlight will heat things up. But, we assume that because the sun is not shining on the inside of our refrigerator, the contents are safe from the extra heat.
This is a little technical, but refrigerators work by pulling heat from inside, and releasing it into the air outside. If it's too hot on the outside, the heat won't be released properly.
Also, heat gets transferred through the metal and other parts of the fridge. If the insulation is not thick enough, it will let some of the heat inside to your food and drinks.
Again, you can build it into (or store it under) a cabinet or kitchen island that will keep it out of the sunlight. Or, you can keep your fridge covered and in the shade. Wrapping it tightly and putting it out in the sun isn't much different that putting it out in the sun uncovered. (See the next section.)
Built-in or Freestanding
I've mentioned building your fridge into cabinetry a couple times already, but this time it's about “ventilation.”
As I just mentioned above, refrigerators need to release the heat from the inside into the air around it. If there is no air around it, or if the air isn't properly refreshed, then the heat can't escape, and the contents don't get cold.
So-called “built-in” refrigerators have a vent on the front to make sure hot air can get out of the fridge even if you install it snugly into an outdoor kitchen island, or a cabinet of some kind.
“Freestanding” refrigerators do not have an vent on the front, and need to have the top, back, and sides exposed to some air in order to release the heat.
This doesn't mean that a Built-in fridge can't be freestanding, nor that a Freestanding fridge can't be built-in. It just means that the Freestanding designs need to be built in with at least an inch or two of space around it so that the heat can escape.
If you don't allow for this space, your fridge won't keep everything cold, and may even get damaged in trying to work extra hard to do so.
*Note: This is also why wrapping your fridge tightly in a cover is a bad idea. It prevents proper ventilation, and traps extra heat. UNLESS, you unplug the fridge to turn it off completely, this is not how you should keep your fridge out of the sunlight.
Read the Manual — CAREFULLY
Often, all this information about how to make the most of your fridge is written out for you in your refrigerator's installation manual or owner's guide — but most people simply don't read this stuff.
This is where you'll see what kinds of environments and temperatures the refrigerator will work in properly, and what kinds of protection you'll need to provide for.
That's why I've included links to the manuals here in all my outdoor refrigerator reviews on 3GoodOnes.com. These manuals are almost always available online. You should read them carefully to be sure the fridge is a good fit for your space and your entertainment needs — before you make your purchase!
3 Good Outdoor Refrigerators at $500 or Less
Ok, that should be all the technical stuff and advice about cheap outdoor refrigerators.
Now you should know why outdoor refrigerators tend to be expensive, and the extra care and attention* you need to give cheaper models so that they last as long as possible, get you the best out of your investment.
*If all that “care & attention” seems to be more trouble than it's worth, and you're willing to spend a couple hundred extra dollars, take a look at my Buyer’s Guide for Outdoor Refrigerators Under $1,000.
So, here are three such refrigerators that will give you a jump start on your search for affordable outdoor refrigerators:
$500 Retail | $339.99~$499.99 Online
|Shop online at:|
Danby took a number of precautions to assure that this 4.4 cu.ft compact all-refrigerator is suitable for outdoor use.
They've tested the cooling capacity to work in tropical environments as hot as 109°F (43°C), and no colder than 45ºF (7ºC). They also waterproofed the electrical housing, and weatherproofed the exterior to prevent water from seeping in. The exterior also uses UV protected plastics to resist damage from the sun's rays.
Even with those protections, you should STILL keep it out of direct sunlight and wet weather.
As for standard features and functions, you can look forward to the following to suit your refrigeration needs:
- Automatic defrost
- Vegetable crisper and cover
- 2 full width and 1 half-width adjustable glass shelves
- Integrated door shelving with tall bottle storage
- CanStor® beverage dispensing system
- Mechanical thermostat
- Interior LED light
- Integrated door lock
- Reversible door hinge
- Crystal clear food grade waterproof ice bucket
$379 Retail | $327~$375 Online
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I have already written a full review of this fridge a couple years ago, elsewhere on this site. But, this extremely low-cost outdoor refrigerator remains popular, and is worth mentioning again here.
The ambient operating temperature for this 4.5 cu. ft. fridge is 60°F~90°F (16°C~32°C). Not as broad a range as most outdoor refrigerators, but still good in relatively hot weather.
The stainless steel door is rust-resistant and matches other outdoor products like grills, but plastic is used for the rest of the exterior to resist water damage.
You'll also get adjustable plastic-wire shelving, crisper, and a reversible door which can hold tall bottles and includes a can dispenser.
|Shop online at:|
The first thing I should say about this very popular fridge is actually somewhat of a drawback: it is not UL outdoor rated.
This means that the Underwriters Laboratory has not approved it for having sufficiently waterproofed the electrical components from the elements. The manual even says it is your responsibility to protect it:
“This unit must be installed in an area protected from the element, such as wind, rain, water spray or drips.”
However, the outdoor capabilities of this unit are in its stainless steel front and ability to handle warm weather.
This is a freestanding unit that, when installed in a well-ventilated area, will keep food and beverages cold in temperatures from 60°F to 90°F (16°C~32°C) — similar to the Bull refrigerator, above.
It's similar in a number of the following features as well:
- 4.5 cubic feet of storage
- Reversible door option
- Door storage for tall bottles and can-dispenser
- 3 adjustable shelves
- Crisper drawer
- Automatic defrost
- Door lock
- Lighted interior
Some retailers, like BBQGuys.com, give you the option to buy this fridge with the door upgrade already installed.
Please don't confuse this for one of Blaze's two other weatherproofed, more rugged outdoor rated refrigerators. These are priced at about $800 and $1,100, and are definitely worth considering if you are willing to make the investment. See them here on Amazon.
Finding the Best Cheap Outdoor Refrigerator
Be careful when conducting your search. Sales information online can be misleading, or it might not take the above advice into consideration…
While a simple online search will reveal many compact under-counter refrigerators for less than $500 — some as low as the $200 range — most of them are not rated for outdoor use.
Online advertising will put all kinds of compact refrigerators in your face, whether they are outdoor refrigerators or not. Dig deeper to see if the manufacturer says that that the fridge has been rated or tested for outdoor use. See if they are willing to put it in writing in their manuals, and provide a warranty.
Read INTO the Reviews
When you read reviews about cheaper outdoor refrigerators, notice what people are saying.
Are the negative reviews complaining about things that could have been prevented by following the advice above or in the owner's manual?
Do the positive reviews go into detail about the situation or conditions in which the fridge is being used?
Read “between the lines” of what people write. They will give clues about whether they are using the appliances properly, or in an environment similar to yours. All this information will help you determine if the fridge is good for you.
In this article, I've selected from a few reputable outdoor appliance brands to find three that should fit the bill. There are a number of brands out there that you should consider, keeping in mind the information I've given you above. I hope you've found this information helpful.
Is there a an outdoor refrigerator under $500 that you love and respect that is not represented here? Or do you have a question about a fridge that you're considering purchasing?
Put your questions or suggestions in the comments below, so we can all benefit from each other's knowledge.
Happy Outdoor Living! Thanks for reading.
MORE articles on Outdoor Refrigerators
Shop around, and take a look at some of my other articles on this site about good outdoor refrigerators:
- Good Outdoor Refrigerators Under $1,000 (Reviews + Buyer’s Guide)
- 3 Good Outdoor Compact Refrigerators
- Bull Outdoor Refrigerator Review
- More Outdoor Refrigerator articles on this site