Say you want a premium fridge, but you don’t like the commercial look of stainless steel. A panel ready refrigerator is an ideal choice. It marries a high-performance interior with an exterior that you can cover with cabinet panels to match the rest of your kitchen.
Rather than being the center of attention, a panel ready fridge is so unobtrusive and hidden that you may need to show first-time guests where it is.
Like many of the best refrigerators, they’re also a smart investment that will boost the value of your home, should you ever need to move.
There’s a variety of panel ready refrigerators to choose from, and they all have pros and cons—from cost to design considerations to lifespan. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you're clicking through all the options.
To make your decision easier, we’ve compiled a guide to what to look for in a panel ready fridge along with our top seven options. Let’s dive in.
This Miele panel ready fridge has Shaker cabinet doors on the exterior.
What is a Panel Ready Refrigerator?
You’ve probably seen a panel ready refrigerator or two before, even if you didn’t know what to call them. “Panel ready” is the manufacturers' term for fridges that have doors designed to be fitted with custom kitchen cabinet panels.
You might also see it called a “cabinet refrigerator,” “custom refrigerator,” or “integrated refrigerator.” Sub Zero refrigerator brand, for instance, refers to their columns as "integrated" and the iconic top compressor fridges as "Built-in's".
You’ll find many panel ready fridges listed among the best built in refrigerators, which sets them apart from the best standard or even the best counter depth refrigerators in their design, installation, and cost.
Unlike standard or counter depth refrigerators, you can’t slide a built in fridge out of your cabinets to clean underneath and behind it. They’re integrated into your cabinets and can’t be moved around.
Built in refrigerators are also a bit more involved to install since you don’t want gaps between the edges and your cabinetry.
To learn more, check out our guide to counter depth vs standard refrigerator.
No kitchen or family is identical, and so there are many options for your cabinet refrigerator. Some of the most popular widths are 24, 30, 36, 42, and 48 inches, but you’ll find others that can fit your needs if you have a nonstandard space.
Door Types & Designs
As with traditional refrigerators, panel ready fridges can come in a variety of design types. There are aesthetic and functional benefits to each refrigerator type, so it’s important to consider which look you like best and which one will actually serve you best.
Top freezer: a traditional old-school fridge, with a freezer compartment and door on top and a fridge compartment and door on the bottom. Top freezer refrigerators do not have panel ready options.
Bottom freezer refrigerator: a more modern design, with a fridge compartment and door on the top and one or two freezer drawers on the bottom.
French door: a fridge with a pair of fridge doors on the top and one or two drawers on the bottom. Sometimes one of these is a flex drawer that can be a fridge or freezer, depending on what you need. We like French door fridges for narrow spaces, because the doors have half the swing of a single fridge door and need less clearance.
Columns: These single units give you the most versatility and functionality at an additional cost. You purchase each section (fridge, freezer, wine cooler, beverage center) separately and can build them into your kitchen in any configuration you like, whether right next to each other or in different areas. This luxury appliance is a high-end investment that allows you to receive the most use out of your fridge.
Fridge and Freezer Drawers: These mini units are sometimes used in combination with other refrigerators or columns for extra storage. They can be paneled to match your cabinets, too.
Is it a match for you?
Pros: Reasons To Love
You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your kitchen. It’s also the room of the house where you get the biggest return on the investments you make. Plus, you want to love how it looks. The right fridge is a foundational piece.
If you love the look of an integrated fridge, there are lots of practical reasons to go for one.
1. They Don’t Cost More Than Other Premium Fridges
A panel ready fridge can be a big visual upgrade, but it doesn’t have to be a big additional expense. Often, they can be purchased for less than a great stainless steel built-in fridge.
2. They’re Ideal If You Don’t Like the Commercial Look
Maybe you don't want a big stainless steel box to be the first thing your eyes get drawn to when you walk into your kitchen. You might think that it feels too industrial, or too much like a restaurant—not as homey as you want, or just not your style. A paneled fridge won't make the same kind of statement—no matter what size you choose— since it hides behind the cabinets and hardware. It also lets your your home's architecture or perhaps your range or range hood be the center of attention.
3. They Upgrade Your Space (Think of Home Resale Value)
Panel ready refrigerators can eliminate harsh lines and improve foot traffic by sitting flush with your counter space and cabinets.
Plus, if you’re looking to boost your home’s marketability in case you may need to sell it in the future, panel ready refrigerators are a relatively simple upgrade that will raise your home resale value. The brand name and style of this appliance will catch potential buyers’ eye.
Cons: Reasons To Avoid
While panel ready fridges offer a variety of benefits, they may not be right for everyone—especially those looking to remodel on a budget.
1. They Cost More Than Traditional Fridges
Panel ready refrigerators are inherently in the high-end, built-in category. Therefore, they often cost more than standard or counter depth refrigerators. In the world of appliances, they are considered a luxury item, designed to be stylish and modern in almost any kitchen. This is especially true when you begin to research the models out there, such as the Kitchenaid refrigerator, which combines a luxury appearance with a popular name brand.
They also require additional purchases that an average good refrigerator may not require. This includes the cabinetry and hardware for the door and higher installation costs.
2. They're More Complicated to Install
If you're working with existing cabinetry, you might need to make big changes to fit a built in panel ready fridge into the spot where an old standard or counter depth fridge once sat. You also need a certain height ceiling for it to fit. And even if you do have the space, installing one requires more specialized experience. You want to be sure to use an installer who's familiar with the brand you bought.
3. When They Break Down, They’re More Difficult to Replace
The best panel ready refrigerators are designed to last 20 years or more. That’s a long lifespan, but it’s not forever. If you’ve got an older panel ready fridge and are looking for a replacement, you might find that the standard widths and heights today have changed.
For example, Sub-Zero used to make 27-inch width panel ready built in bottom freezer fridges, but it doesn’t offer that size anymore.
You may find that you need to look to another brand or consider making changes to the surrounding cabinetry.
How Much Does a Panel Ready Fridge Cost?
Generally speaking, expect to spend $4,000 to $10,000 or more. Like other styles of refrigerators, panel ready fridges range in price depending on the design and features you choose.
You also need to factor in the cost of cabinetry and hardware. A custom cabinet panel with expensive hardware runs higher than simple designs.
Delivery and installation may be an additional expense you’ll want to plan for.
Want to compare this with other quality options? Check out our guide to refrigerator costs. If you find yourself in a predicament where you need to replace an aging Sub Zero fridge check out the alternatives.
The Best Panel Ready Refrigerators of 2022
These seven options cover all the bases, whether you need a simple, budget-friendly fridge to upgrade your kitchen or want to invest in something luxurious.
1. Best 48-Inch Side-by-Side Panel Ready Refrigerator Sub Zero BI48SO
The Sub Zero panel ready side by side refrigerator combines elegant minimalism with innovative technology. WiFi capable with LED lighting, the BI48SO model is designed to help create a kitchen that works better for you all while breathing new life into your home with its chic design. It includes leading technology designed to best preserve your food as well as an easy to access and organize side-by-side design.
Looking for additional features? Consider its cousin, the Sub Zero BI48SiDO. This model is similar in build and quality to the Classic BI48SO. However, this model displays a convenient internal water dispenser.
Although Sub Zero makes fridges with an external water dispenser we do not find them decorative in a panel ready setting.
2. Best Panel Ready Column Refrigerator & Freezer Sub Zero IC36RIDRH and IC36FILH
These Sub Zero columns give you a 36-inch full fridge and a 36-inch full freezer. The fridge is 20.5 cu. ft. and the freezer is 20 cu. ft. for a grand total of 40 cu. ft. of storage—that’s huge. You’ll also enjoy an integrated filtered water dispenser and ice maker. Each column has Sub Zero’s popular technology such as air purification and seal locks to ensure your food is always fresh. Columns do cost more, but this is the sleekest solution we know of for maximum space.
3. Best for Small Apartments Beko BBBF2410IM2
While popular sizes for panel ready fridges tend to begin at around 30 inches, they’re not the only option. This Beko refrigerator saves space with a bottom freezer, allowing it to measure just 22 inches wide—ideal for urban apartments or smaller homes.
This Beko model includes the Turkish company’s NeoFrost dual cooling technology, similar to what you’d find on high end brands like Sub Zero. It also has reversible hinges, so you can choose the direction the door opens upon installation. Choosing the wrong hinge is a common mistake—but one that you won’t have to worry about making.
4. Best Budget Fisher Paykel RS36A72J1N
This Fisher Paykel refrigerator utilizes French doors for maximum space and ease of access, all while maintaining the ability to customize its exterior to fit your kitchen. The bottom freezer includes 5.1 cu. ft. of space as well as an ice maker for added convenience.
This model is also designed to be counter depth, ensuring that it fits flush with your cabinetry for a seamless appearance.
5. Most Stylish Interior Lights Miele KF2902VI
The Miele KF2902VI includes modern innovations such as Wi-Fi connection so you can check what’s in your fridge remotely. This Miele refrigerator has simple, efficient, and well lit interior storage and a food preservation system that’s designed to keep food fresh for longer.
Another feature we like are the Push2Open doors, which do exactly what they sound like. Thanks to this capability, you don’t necessarily need a door pull on the exterior. If you’re going for modern cabinetry, this feature enables you to keep the surface extra sleek.
6. Best Promotions Thermador T30IB905SP w/Package Discounts
With a premium stainless-steel interior and custom paneled exterior, this slim Thermador refrigerator delivers high-end design in a space-friendly bottom freezer format. The SoftClose door and drawers ensure your cooking won’t be interrupted by harsh slams whenever anyone grabs a drink; we also like that they open and close with a gentle push or pull.
Thermador’s Freedom hinge design also guarantees that your fridge will sit completely flush with your cabinets—a must if you’re going for a modern, seamless effect.
It also comes Wi-Fi enabled, with an internal filtered water dispenser and ice maker.
What makes the Thermador fridge very attractive is the 1-2-Free promotion that the company has been running for the last several years. The brand offers a straightforward discount structure whereby when you purchase a Thermador range that you will receive a free dishwasher. Adding a fridge to this package will get you a free ventilation i.e. sizeable savings well over $6,000.
7. Most Reliable Monogram ZISB480DNII
If you’re looking for a relatively affordable but spacious upgrade, consider Monogram. This upscale GE brand offers a variety of panel ready fridge options that cater to a range of budgets. This 48-inch-wide side by side design is unusual in that it has an exterior filtered water dispenser; the frame is color-matched so it’ll blend into your cabinetry. It has solid glass shelves inside and a magnetic seal dairy drawer, plus it comes equipped with Wi-Fi.
If you like this design but need something a bit smaller, it’s also available in narrower 36- and 42-inch widths.
Avoid Mistakes: Installation Tips
1. Use Exact Measurements
In order for the cabinetry panels to blend effortlessly into your kitchen with no noticeable seams or gaps, it’s important to research the right counter depth for your kitchen. Make sure to pay close attention to the installation guides for precise measurements, as different manufacturers may include different measurements. Depending on the retailer and brand you choose, you might also have the option of having a pro come out for a site survey to take your kitchen’s measurements before you order. Taking the extra time for this step helps ensure you get a smooth delivery and a functional kitchen with no avoidable delays.
2. Order the Extras
Depending on the panel ready refrigerator you invest in, you may need to purchase a merging kit. Merging kits are used when your fridge and freezer are joined together, such as when you order two side by side columns. This helps ensure that heat doesn’t transfer from the fridge to the freezer, better preserving your food.
Keep in mind that merging kits can add additional width to your panel ready fridge, so it’s important to keep this aspect in mind when deciding the right size of fridge for your kitchen and designing your cabinetry.
3. Coordinate with Your Cabinetmaker or Designer
You’ll probably also need to invest in additional design aspects to get your fridge up and running. This includes handles, which aren’t included (you’ll want them to match your current hardware), and panels that match your cabinetry. If you’re updating to a different manufacturer or newer model of panel ready fridge from an older model, you may still need to buy new panels, as your current ones may not fit your new fridge.
A fridge is a personal appliance that should work with your kitchen, not against it. Panel ready refrigerators offer the same interior customization and options as traditional fridges, allowing you to choose whether you would like a side-by-side design, bottom freezer, or another popular style, all while breathing new life into your kitchen by producing a more cohesive and seamless design between your cabinetry and appliances.
In this top seven list, we strive to include a variety of high-quality panel ready refrigerators with diverse features and options to appeal to a broad set of preferences, making it easier to find a refrigerator you’ll love.