When it comes to refrigerators, French doors and top freezers hog all the glory, but you shouldn’t overlook the humble side-by-side. Each fridge type has its virtues. Side-by-sides save space by placing the freezer next to the fridge compartment while keeping everything at eye level. While side-by-sides aren’t as grand as French doors, they can offer high-end features like water and through-the-door ice dispensers.
Like any fridge, when we get a side-by-side in, we test it in our labs for temperature consistency, storage flexibility, and humidity retention. These three metrics determine how long your fridge can keep your groceries fresh and it's what we base our rankings on. Our favorite side-by-side on the market is the LG LSX26366S(available at AppliancesConnection for $1,395.00). It's a super unique three-door fridge that excels at temperature consistency and organization. However, if you're looking for a more standard design, there are plenty of those on this list as well.
Here are our favorite side-by-sides in ranked order:
Kenmore Elite 51773
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If you want a fridge that is capable of both high-quality food preservation and of being a conversation starter, look no further than the LG LSXS26366S three-door, side-by-side refrigerator. Yes, you read that correctly—it has three doors.
With a press of a button, you can access the door-in-door storage on the upper right side of the fridge, which allows you to easily grab the items you need frequently without disrupting the cooling of the rest of the fridge. If you don't press the button, the fridge opens normally. Between this very useful storage feature and food preservation that just won't quit, we'd highly recommend the LG LSXS26366S to anyone, especially if you're looking for a compromise between a side-by-side fridge and a French-door fridge.
We have plenty of experience testing these products in the lab, but we've also used them as normal people would in the course of their daily lives, which means that we have a great sense for what appliances are bargains at their price points, and which appliances have really useful extra features (as opposed to the kitchen-sink approach to features).
With all this in mind, you can feel confident that when we recommend a product, we're giving it our Reviewed stamp of approval, which means two things: firstly, this appliance performs well, and secondly, this appliance is easy to use. We're always reviewing new products, so stay tuned for our reviews and roundups of the latest products in laundry, refrigerators, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners.
At first glance, most refrigerators don't look like anything special. All they have to do is keep your food and beverages from going bad, right? It turns out that there's a lot more to these big, heavy, cold boxes than meets the eye, and between our specially calibrated refrigerator lab and our rigorous testing standards, the testers and writers at Reviewed can recommend specific fridge models, and back up those recommendations with hard data and personal experience.
The Refrigerator Test Lab
Just by living in the real world, you've probably noticed that appliances operate best in certain temperature conditions. Because an appliance involves a number of electronic and mechanical parts working together in harmony, the air in your home can inhibit certain parts from working at their best, especially in extremely hot or cold climates.
Refrigerators, in particular, can be very sensitive to ambient air conditions. To make a long story short, refrigerators pull in air and cool it down to temperatures cold enough (usually around 37°F) to preserve food and inhibit bacteria growth. In hot weather, the condenser and cooling coils have to work harder to cool the warmer air. In cold weather, the fridge struggles to operate in general. This is why, if you happen to have a second fridge in your burning hot or freezing cold garage, you may have noticed that the air inside that fridge is not as cold as the air inside your kitchen fridge.
To mitigate these possible temperature effects, we test each refrigerator in a special lab that conditions the air to a temperature of 72°F +/- 5°F, and a relative humidity of 50% RH +/- 15% RH (basically, room temperature). This way, each fridge can get the chance to perform at its best, and doesn't get inadvertently penalized for having to deal with warmer or colder air than its competitors experienced.
Over the course of a week (including a day for calibration), we put each refrigerator we tested through its paces. After filling the fridge up with water ballast (since fridges operate better when there's less empty space), we measure the fridge's temperature, humidity loss, freezing time, usable space, and energy use.
• Temperature — Our ideal temperature settings for the fridge and the freezer are 37°F and 0°F, respectively. With fridge temperatures higher than 37°F, you might have to start worrying about bacteria growth, as 40°F is the start of the bacteria "danger zone". Freezer temperatures warmer than 0°F mean that the food isn't being truly frozen. Once we set each fridge to those temperatures, we collect temperature data throughout the week's testing that tells us not only how close the temperature in the fridge and freezer are to 37°F and 0°F, respectively, but how close the air temperature stayed to those ideal values.
• Humidity Loss — For this test, we focus on the refrigerator's veggie crisper drawers. We add water to a floral foam ball, and then record how much of the water is evaporated away each day. Humidity loss rates are important because if the crisper is too dry, your leafy greens will dry out very quickly. If the crisper is too humid, then your fruits will rot. Fridges that can strike a balance between these two extremes will help you to preserve your fruits and veggies for as long as possible.
• Freezing Time — Once the fridge is plugged in, we measure the time it takes for the freezer to cool down from room temperature to 32°F (the freezing temperature of water). This is a good measure of how quickly your fridge and freezer can cool down food or beverages that have just been placed inside the refrigerator.
• Usable Space — One of the most common refrigerator specs is the storage capacity, or the volume of the inside of the fridge, in cubic feet. You'd think that a higher capacity means that you can fit more in that fridge, but that's not always the case. We measure the usable space, which is how much empty space is actually available in the fridge's interior. Any number of things can reduce the usable space in a fridge—the ice bucket and/or ice maker, a water filter, air filters, shelf arrangement, etc. The closer the usable space value is to the fridge's stated storage capacity, the more food you can fit in your refrigerator.
• Energy Use — Using an electric meter, we measure the fridge's energy usage (in Watt-hours) over the week of testing. The less energy used, the more efficient that fridge is, and the more money it'll save you on utility bills in the future.
We also use each fridge in a more casual sense so that we can answer usability questions about the fridge's specs and features, like the doors, shelves, controls, water/ice dispenser, and extras like smart connectivity, door-in-door or flexible storage options, etc. If a refrigerator keeps the temperature at a perfect 37°F, but it's very difficult to open the doors and the control panel makes no sense, we're going to penalize that fridge with respect to its ease of use.
We test each fridge from two perspectives—first, from a data-driven objective point of view, and second, as a regular person trying to get at the leftover Chinese food. The combination of these two types of experiences allows us to recommend the best fridge for you at any price point.
What To Look For When Buying A Refrigerator
If your refrigerator just died, chances are that you're in a hurry to replace it. When looking for a new or replacement refrigerator, consider the following topics carefully before buy.
No one wants to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a refrigerator that can't keep your food cold. Preserving your food is the most important facet of our refrigerator testing methodology; we gather temperature data in the fridge and freezer, and humidity data from the veggie bin to make sure every fridge can hit and maintain temperatures and humidity values best suited for keeping your food fresh. If you're out shopping for a refrigerator at a store, be sure to ask the sales associate about the refrigerator's cooling abilities. Additionally, you can look through our refrigerator reviews and our refrigerator roundups to see which refrigerators did the best when it comes to maintaining the right environment for your cold foods and beverages.
Your Refrigerator Cutout
If you're replacing a fridge with a very specific cutout (usually surrounded by countertops and/or cabinetry), measure your cutout carefully—it's not unheard of for consumers to buy a beautiful new fridge, only to have to return it because it's too large for the cutout. Measure the height, width, and depth of the cutout multiple times, then be sure to leave at least one to two inches between the top of the fridge and above-fridge cabinetry, as well as a couple inches between the back of the fridge and the wall. Leaving those extra inches behind the refrigerator is especially helpful for the fridge's air circulation.
Lastly, when looking at the depth of your cutout, be sure to account for the depths of the fridge doors. If the distance your fridge sticks out from your cabinetry is not as wide as the thickness of the refrigerator doors, then you might not be able to open the fridge doors all the way.
Your Preferred Refrigerator Style
There are four major styles of refrigerator: top-freezers, bottom freezers, French doors, and side-by-sides. Top and bottom freezer refrigerators have freezers located on the top or bottom of the unit, respectively; the fridge door pulls open to the side, and the freezer door may pull to the side or the front. French door fridges have the refrigerator on top, and have two doors that open from the center to reveal that fridge space; the freezer door below typically pulls out. Side-by-side fridges have the freezer on the left, the refrigerator on the right, and each side has its own door.
Counter-Depth vs. Not Counter-Depth
The term "counter-depth" refers to the depth of your fridge—specifically, how much it sticks out past your cabinetry. The standard depth for a regular, non-counter-depth fridge is typically about 30 inches. If your fridge is surrounded by cabinets, it probably sticks out anywhere from four to six inches. This doesn't bother most people, but if you have space restrictions or stylistic preferences that tend towards a refrigerator with a shallower profile, you might want to take a look at counter-depth fridges.
While there's no standard depth measurement for counter-depth fridges (it largely depends on the manufacturer), they can be as much as six inches shallower than their non-counter-depth counterparts. However, you lose interior storage space as a result of the shallower fridge profile. Before you buy a counter-depth fridge, be sure that the width of your fridge cutout is actually wide enough to support full opening of the doors; when refrigerators have a shallower depth, there's an increased likelihood that the back of the refrigerator door(s) will hit the cabinetry before it can fully open.
One more thing to consider: A counter-depth fridge may cost more than its non-counter-depth counterpart because the manufacturer may have to do some creative rearrangement of the interior compartments and storage units.
Through-Door Water and Ice Dispensers
When looking for through-door ice and water dispensers, be sure to check out the number of ice types available in that fridge—if you're an ice connoisseur, then you may want more than just cubed ice. Other ice options include crushed ice and cylindrical ice. Additionally, some of the more expensive refrigerators have additional dispensing options, such as hot water dispensers or a built-in Keurig pod coffee maker.
The most basic storage options include built-in shelves in the fridge, one or two crisper bins, and some shelving options on the fridge's doors. When it comes to extra storage, though, the possibilities are endless. In addition to moving shelves to different heights in the refrigerator, some shelves can flip up or retract; some door bins can slide and expand.
Some fridges have door-in-door storage, which allows you to access popular fridge items without opening the whole refrigerator door. French door fridges often have the most extra storage options, including an extra drawer, temperature-controlled deli/pantry drawers that can be set for specific fridge temperatures, pocket storage at the bottom of the refrigerator that make for easy access for kids, or a fourth compartment/drawer that can be set to fridge or freezer temperatures.
If the prospect of using less water and energy is appealing to you, consider the Energy Star rating for a refrigerator for an idea of what your utility bills might look like. Typically, the more complicated your fridge (in features and design), the more energy it uses. In our experience, it's not a lot more than your more basic fridges, but it can add up over time. Only you can decide if the added convenience is worth the increase in running costs.
Fit and Finish
While black and white refrigerators finishes are still available, most refrigerators these days come in some variation of stainless steel options. You should be able to find a refrigerator that matches your kitchen setup and your other appliances, but be ready to pay more money for any finish more sophisticated than black, white, or basic stainless steel.
Don't worry: Whether you're on a budget or have a blank check, you can find a fridge that will keep your food and beverages at the right temperature. Mostly, the price difference between high-end refrigerators and more affordable fridges is usually down to the number of available features, storage options, and finishes.
Other Side-By-Side Fridges We Tested
The Samsung RH25H5611SR has door-in-door storage on the entire right side door that allows you to easily access condiments and drinks without letting the cold air out of the rest of the fridge.
This 25 cu. ft. side-by-side fridge makes the most of its storage space, but will still fit in most kitchen cut-outs. In addition to its dimensions, we like its stainless exterior and the bright LED lighting inside. While the fridge ran a little hot at the 37°F setting, you can bump the temperature down a bit to increase the fridge's food preservation abilities. Happily, the freezer easily maintained sub-zero temperatures throughout our testing. For a side-by-side fridge that emphasizes convenience and style, be sure to check out the Samsung RH25H5611SR.
The Kenmore 41173 is a respectable fridge at a more than respectable price. The major complaint about side-by-side fridges is that the fridge/freezer shelf space isn't wide enough to fit a frozen pizza, or a baking sheet full of cookies, or other wide/large food items. As it turns out the 41173 can fit a frozen pizza in the freezer, which is a major hurdle other side-by-side fridges can't overcome. Other than its slightly wider profile and nice stainless steel finish, though, this fridge also has lots of storage space on the door and adjustable glass shelves.
With respect to temperature, the freezer runs a little hot, so be sure to adjust the temperature downwards to a cooler setting than the default value. If you're on a budget, but can't abide a top-freezer refrigerator, we'd recommend the Kenmore 41173 side-by-side refrigerator.
With the Frigidaire FGSC2335TF, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. While it may look like a normal side-by-side fridge with a smudge-proof stainless steel finish and through-door water and ice dispensing out the outside, on the inside, there are a few neat features that really add to the overall value of the fridge.
Once you open the door, the clever design touches become apparent: there's a third cold drawer (in addition to two crispers) with adjustable temperature settings, multiple lights throughout the refrigerator, and wine/bottle holders on the bottom of the refrigerator door. While both the fridge and the freezer run a little hot, you can easily bump the temperature down on the control panel to compensate. With this pleasantly surprising feature set and low price, the Frigidaire FGSC2335TF is an easy choice to make.
The GE GSE25HMHES is a pretty basic side-by-side fridge on the inside, and a conversation piece on the outside. GE is the only company producing appliances with the slate finish. Slate is a matte finish, which means that the outside of the fridge is fingerprint-resistant, and therefore lower maintenance than its stainless steel, fingerprint-smudged cousins.
Once you open the doors, you'll find that this fridge has everything you need and not a whole lot extra. Happily, there is plenty of deep shelf space on the door, a reach-in ice bin in the freezer, and a small deli drawer that sits above the two crisper bins, but everything else is pretty standard. As with most side-by-side fridges, the temperature tends to run a little hot, so be sure to set the temperature values to slightly cooler values than you would normally use. If you want a fridge that looks great on the outside and gets the job done on the inside, the GE GSE25HMHES is the fridge for you.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Senior Lab Technician at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
Matthew is a native of Brockton, MA and a graduate of Northeastern, where he earned a degree in English and Theatre. He has also studied at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin and spends most of his free time pursuing a performance career in the greater Boston area.
Cindy Bailen loves writing about major appliances and home design and has spent over 15 years immersed in that. In her spare time, Cindy hosts pledge programs for WGBH-TV in Boston and other public television stations.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.