We weren’t able to do any hands-on testing, so we devoted our time to researching, spreadsheeting, and reading about all of the top available freezers—a process that took dozens of hours over the course of several weeks. Once we were done with the research we sifted through all of the data to find the freezers that struck the best balance of features, specs, reviews, prices, and availability.
First we eliminated any model that lacked a few crucial features. Those were:
- Capacity between 14 and 22 cubic feet: We think this is the sweet spot—not too big, not too small. It’s also the most popular range of capacities, according to certain manufacturers we spoke to. Most experts agree it’s wise to overestimate rather than underestimate your needs. “If you hunt big game, you are likely to need a lot more freezer space when successful,” said hunter Greg F. “Larger is better for the times you need more room like storing ice before a party.” As Heather Marold Thomason, a butcher at Primal Supply Meats, told us, there’s nothing worse than running out of space. “Freezers are like purses,” she said. “The bigger they are the more you fill them up.”Of course you want to be realistic about your needs, not just because bigger freezers cost more, but because a full freezer is an efficient freezer. Less empty space means less air moving around inside, and it’s air that forces the machine to work harder while increasing the risk of freezer burn.
- Power-on indicator light, leveling legs or wheels, door/safety lock, interior light: A power-on light lets you know at a glance if the freezer is working, which is useful for preventing spoilage. Leveling legs allow you to properly balance the machine on uneven floors. A lock helps ward off children or nosy guests and housemates. An interior light makes it easier to see inside your freezer. All four are common enough and useful enough that they gave us a reason to dismiss any freezer that lacked one or more of them.
- At least three adjustable storage shelves: Pretty much every freezer in our capacity range has three shelves. The real difference is when you get to those larger than 17 cubic feet—some have three shelves, some have four. We favored models with four. Any shelf should be adjustable and removable.
We also cut any freezer that didn’t have at least 150 reviews from at least one major retailer, and we dismissed those with an average customer review of less than 4.5 out of five stars. This was not a huge hurdle because most top-selling freezers at Home Depot, Best Buy, Lowe’s, and the like have very positive customer reviews.
Some specs and features are not necessary but nice to have. Usually it’s just a matter of personal preference.
- Frost-free: Frost-free freezers periodically rise from 0 degrees Fahrenheit (the ideal freezer temperature) to about 32 °F, to melt any frost buildup. This means you’ll never have to manually defrost the inside, as you would likely have to with a chest freezer. The downside to frost-free is a heightened risk of freezer burn. Once again, you can protect against this by vacuum-sealing or tightly wrapping your food.The majority of upright freezers are frost-free but there are some manual defrost options, which just hold a constant temperature. Manuals need to be defrosted once a quarter-inch of ice has built up. You do this by unplugging the freezer, emptying it, pulling a drain plug on the bottom, and letting the whole thing melt over the course of a few hours. How often you need to do this depends on a bunch of factors, but at the most it will need to be done once a year. Some people may never have to do it, so it just comes down to personal preference and risk avoidance.
- Temperature alarm: This is a nice feature in some models that audibly alerts you if the freezer door is left open or if the internal temperature gets too high. It’s not a super-common feature so we didn’t require it, but it can provide some peace of mind.
- Temperature control: 0°F is the FDA-recommended setting for freezers. There aren’t many reasons why you’d want to deviate from that, but precise temperature control could be helpful in a freezer that isn’t properly calibrated.
- Storage bins: Some upright freezers come with storage bins, sort of like the crisper drawers you find in fridges. They can add a bit more organization to your freezer but they’re not going to change your life.
With freezers, everything scales with capacity—especially the price. The larger the machine, the more you pay for it. This makes for a pretty wide price range, with “mini” freezers available for as low as $150 and giant upright models as pricey as $1,000. We tracked price per cubic foot of space, aiming for a figure of about $45 or less per cubic foot. That isn’t a perfectly fair metric, because other things factor into a freezer’s asking price, but it is useful for comparison.
Coordinating all of that with other data, including warranty info, price averages, annual energy consumption, and general availability, we were able to winnow our list down to two upright freezers that fit our criteria the best.
But honestly, most of these machines should work great. They’re all very well-reviewed and reliable and we don’t think you can go wrong focusing on whatever specific set of needs you have. We tried to focus on the features that we think would work well for most people, but we realize that it’ll vary depending on your circumstances. How much capacity you need, how much floorspace you have, your home’s risk of a power outage, whether you prefer a manual or frost-free system—all that precedes the above-mentioned criteria. Unlike a lot of small appliances—like mini fridges, ice makers, toaster ovens, and air conditioners—most upright freezers are made by mainstream appliance brands and tend to be fairly reliable, likely to last at least a decade. Bottom line is, don’t stress this purchase too much. Just get what you need and don’t worry about whether or not the thing will work as advertised, because it probably will.