We've updated this article to include the Frigidaire FFHT1425VV, a great little top freezer refrigerator. We're always testing more fridges, so stay tuned for future updates!
If you're upgrading or outfitting a new kitchen, there's a good chance you're looking for stainless steel appliances. Sadly, you might also experience a bit of sticker shock when you actually start shopping around and looking at price tags. Never fear: We've tested hundreds of refrigerators, and we can tell you that it is possible to get a great fridge at any price point. However, when it comes to getting nice aesthetics to match great food preservation, that can be a bit tougher to achieve on a budget.
Fortunately, there are some fridges out there that have that sleek stainless-steel finish and a price low enough that your wallet won't feel lighter than air. Our favorite stainless-steel refrigerator under $2,000 is the Samsung RF260BEAESR(available at Home Depot for $1,197.90), which not only looks like a million bucks, but performs better than many fridges at higher price points.
Here are the best options for stainless steel fridges that cost less than $2,000, ranked in order:
Kenmore Elite 79043
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The Samsung RF260BEAESR is a French-door refrigerator that is really punching outside its weight class. This 25.5-cubic-foot fridge impressed us because it's comparable in almost every way to fridges that cost twice as much.
Behind its sleek, refined exterior lies a fridge with stellar food preservation capabilities and a handful of useful features—including an internal ice maker and an enclosed drawer with three settings: Deli for deli meats, Fresh for fruits and veggies, and Chilled for your favorite cold beverages. If you're looking to remodel, and want to be able to have your refrigerator-themed cake and eat it too, check out the Samsung RF260BEAESR.
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.
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.
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. 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 sweltering 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 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 means 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. 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, 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.
Other Stainless Steel Fridges We Tested
Do you love the look and functionality of French-door refrigerators, but don't have the space to actually fit one in your kitchen? We have just the fridge for you: the Haier HRF15N3AGS. This fridge is considerably narrower and shallower than most French-door fridges; while that means you'll be able to fit it in a smaller kitchen, that also means you'll be able to fit less food in the fridge in the first place.
Because it's compact, the fridge itself is pretty bare-bones. There's no ice maker or water dispenser, and the shelves aren't very adjustable. The cooling on this fridge is top-notch, though, and it easily maintained fridge and freezer temperatures of 37°F and 0°F throughout our week of testing. If you don't need a lot of extra features and want to make the most of a relatively small kitchen, the Haier HRF15N3AGS compact French-door fridge is a great pick.
Affordable fridges are a dime a dozen, but the Whirlpool WRT318FZDM stands out. Despite this 18-cubic-foot fridge's low price point, it has a few cleverly designed and eye-catching storage options. Between a movable deli bin (that slides from one side of the fridge to the other), a retractable shelf on the door that can make it easier to store wine bottles, and movable glass shelves, you won't have any trouble fitting large or awkwardly-shaped foodstuffs in this fridge.
Best of all, this fridge was dead-on when it came to our temperature tests; it effortlessly maintained 37°F and 0°F in the fridge and freezer, respectively, throughout our week of testing. For all of these reasons and more, we think the Whirlpool WRT318FZDM is one of the best affordable fridges you can buy.
The Samsung RT18M6215SG is truly a unique top-freezer refrigerator. This 18-cubic-foot fridge has a sleek black stainless-steel exterior and temperatures that are spot-on for food preservation. Surprisingly, the most boring part of a typical refrigerator—the freezer— is where this fridge is truly innovative.
The freezer can either be a normal freezer, or, with a few button presses, you can convert it into a second refrigerator zone. This could be a great choice for a small kitchen, a vacation home, or a garage or basement refrigerator. We think that with its versatility and good looks, the Samsung RT18M6215SG a better-than-average value.
While French door fridges are becoming increasingly popular, some people still prefer that their refrigerators only have one door. These fridges are known as "bottom freezer" refrigerators, and the Kenmore Elite 79043 is one of the best bottom freezer refrigerators we've ever tested.
While it doesn't have through-door ice and water dispensers, it does have a reversible door, a brightly-lit interior, plenty of storage space (it has a 24-cubic-foot capacity), and an extra drawer beneath the two crisper bins. While our testing found that the fridge may run a bit hot, you can easily fix that by bumping the fridge's thermostat down a couple of degrees. The freezer doesn't suffer from the same problem, and is downright chilly at all times. If you prefer the bottom freezer fridge aesthetic, then the Kenmore Elite 79043 is one of the best out there.
If you’ve ever needed any proof of the adage “good things come in small packages”, look no further than the Frigidaire FFHT1425VV top freezer refrigerator. While this refrigerator has a profile that’s nearly ten inches shorter and ten inches skinnier than most fridges available on the market today, its food storage capacity is on par with that of your average french door refrigerator. If the space you have available for a fridge is very limited, the FFHT1425VV is a great fit (literally).
This energy-efficient fridge has solid temperature control in both the fridge and the freezer, although the freezer can run a bit warm at times. Fortunately, that issue can be easily overcome by bumping the freezer to a colder temperature setting. We really liked the sliding deli drawer, which allows you to both use the drawer and store tall items on the shelf below without having to adjust any shelves. For those who are short on kitchen space and have high expectations, the Frigidaire FFHT1425VV won’t let you down.
Top freezer refrigerators can be the most efficient type, but they’re rarely as attractive as the Samsung RT21M6213SR. The pocket handles and stainless finish on our test model really elevated the look. Don’t worry about fingerprints because they don’t show.
Inside, we noted that the fridge utilizes space very well, and we loved the deli drawer location at the top of the refrigerator section. You’ll have to bend to pull fruits and veggies out of the crisper drawers, but they do a decent job holding in humidity, which helps to keep your produce fresh. We also appreciated the “Flex Zone,” the innovative technology that Samsung uses to allow the freezer to convert to additional fridge space when you need more room.
Like the Kenmore Elite 79043, the Whirlpool WRB119WFBM is a bottom freezer refrigerator with only one refrigerator door (rather than the two doors found in french door fridges). While the WRB119WFBM flashes its designer looks on the exterior, its interior tends to favor function over form. It has a variety of different shelving and bin options, so you shouldn't have any trouble fitting a large platter in there. The freezer, which opens to the side, rather than pulling out, has a wire shelf and a wire basket; the freezer is clearly designed to hold bags of frozen food rather than individual frozen ice cream treats.
While we found that the fridge and the freezer ran a little warm, we were very impressed with how consistently it kept those temperatures; temperature deviations from the average temperature value stayed under +/- 0.25°F. The Whirlpool WRB119WFBM doesn't have many bells and whistles, but for those who don't want to break the bank and want a good looking fridge with plenty of storage options, the Whirlpool WRB119WFBM is a good fit.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager 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.
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.