Freezer Week

Everything You Need to Know About Chest Freezers

published Aug 11, 2020
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chest freezer with frozen packages around it
Credit: Images: Shutterstock, Joe Lingeman

What do chest freezers and toilet paper have in common? They have both been super-hot commodities since late March. As the coronavirus spread around the United States, shoppers panicked about the availability of food, worried that grocery stores were going to close, and tried to limit the number of times they needed to leave the house to shop. In response, many Americans went out (or online) in search of chest freezers to hold large amounts of food. And then, as supply and demand would have it (along with the intricacies of international imports during a global pandemic), freezer chests sold out nearly everywhere!

They’re slowly starting to be restocked and, with some of us wondering if we may see a second stay-at-home order in the fall, we thought now would be a good time to take a closer look.

What Is a Chest Freezer and Who Should Get One?

It’s like a big treasure chest. A giant freezer that opens from the top and has room for lots of food. Do you need one? Not if you like to shop often and primarily eat fresh food. But if you shop in bulk (either to save money or to make sure you never find yourself saying, “there’s not a thing in the fridge for dinner”), these chests can be a big convenience. With one of these freezers in your basement or garage, you can invest in a whole side of beef and have it broken down into dinner-size portions or buy a bushel of corn in the summer and freeze it for winter eating. The hunter or fisher in your household can bring home the catch of the day for long-term storage. 

The best thing about chest freezers, as opposed to upright models which have a door that opens like a refrigerator and shelves inside (and also saw an increase in demand this spring!), is that they can hold a lot more food. They are pretty much big, wide-open spaces, except perhaps for a few removable hanging baskets or dividers. However, keep in mind that this means they can be hard to organize. That bag of frozen beans that you know is in there someplace can be buried at the bottom where it’s both hard to find and to reach. When you have a chest freezer, you need to mark foods well and develop an organizational system.  

Pros and Cons of Chest Freezers


  • They’re relatively cheap: You can buy a small one for less than $200. 
  • They’ll make less of an impact on your electric bill than the upright kind. 
  • Foods are less likely to develop freezer burn in a freezer chest versus another kind.


  • Chest freezers have a big footprint. It’s unlikely one will fit easily into your kitchen and you’ll probably need to find room in your basement or even the garage. 
  • They can be hard to organize.
  • They don’t have automatic defrost cycles. While that helps them stay really cold it means, occasionally, you’ll have to defrost them, which is definitely not a fun task. 

3 Things To Consider Before Buying a Chest Freezer

  1. Where you are going to keep it? You likely can’t keep this thing in your kitchen. If you plan to store the freezer in your pantry or mudroom, consider not only how much space it will take up but also how it will look. If you’re planning to put it in an unheated garage or an unairconditioned basement, check the appliance’s specifications for temperature limitations; many will be marked “Garage Ready” which generally means they can withstand temperatures of 0° to 110° F.
  2. What are the safety features? We highly recommend you buy a freezer with a safety lock to keep children out. Just think what could happen if a tot went scrounging around for an ice cream pop that’s hidden at the bottom of the chest. Another great safety feature is a temperature alarm that sounds off if the door has been left open or the temps have climbed above freezing, putting your food at risk. 
  3. Does it have any organizational features? To prevent your freezer from becoming an icy junk drawer, look for one that has baskets (at least two) that can help you corral foods. An interior light is also nice to have, as it lets you see inside to arrange things and pull out what you need. 

What’s the Best Chest Freezer to Buy?

You’re unlikely to see a big difference between chest freezers when it comes to performance (read: keeping your food frozen). But for its energy efficiency and convenient features, we recommend the GE 15.7 Cubic-Foot Manual Defrost Chest Freezer Model #:FCM16DLWW. (That’s a fun name, no?!) In addition to being large and garage ready, it’s one of the few chest freezers that are EnergyStar certified — meaning it will be soft on your electric bill. Plus it has all of the extras that we think are important. It comes with a lock that requires a key to open it and an alarm that lets you know the temps are rising. Inside it has LED lighting and 4 sliding baskets that are height adjustable. Yes, it’s a lot more expensive than the cheapest models out there (those in the $200 range) but we believe these extra bells and whistles are worth the difference in price. And, as of press time, it was actually in stock at Lowe’s.

How to Care for a Chest Freezer 

  • Minimize Frost: Don’t leave the lid open for any longer than you have to — keeping it closed will prevent ice from building up on the walls and freezer burn from developing on your food. It’s a good idea to keep a list of what’s inside or even draw up a “map” so you can find things quickly, without rummaging around. Label food well for the same reason.
  • Store Food Correctly: Make sure food is packed tightly in several layers of plastic wrap, a freezer-safe storage container, or a freezer bag. And that the packaging is well-marked including the date it was put into the freezer. Consult the government’s guidelines for how long to safely keep food frozen. 
  • Defrost When Necessary: When you see a thick layer of ice on the walls of the freezer, it’s time to defrost. You might want to let your stash of frozen food diminish before you tackle this task. 
    • Start by unplugging the unit and removing all the food. It’s a good idea to have a cooler, insulated bags, or bins with ice to keep everything frozen while  the freezer’s defrosting.  
    • Remove the drain plugs and put a shallow tray under the drain to catch the water as the ice melts. 
    • You can speed up the defrosting process by leaving the freezer lid open. As large pieces of ice loosen from the freezer walls, remove them before they melt. You can also place pans of hot water inside to speed up the process.
    • Whatever you do, don’t  use a sharp object to puncture or chip away at the ice as you could wind up damaging the freezer walls. 

Are a recent proud owner of a chest freezer? Where did you get it and when?