French-door models dominate our Ratings

Last reviewed: July 2011

We tested more than 150 refrigerators, so you’d think they would all start to look the same to us. But we found big differences in performance, style, and efficiency, including many models that could spoil your expectations, not to mention the food in your fridge.

The expanding market comes amid stiff competition among manufacturers. Whirlpool recently asked the U.S. government to impose duties on some Samsung and LG refrigerators, accusing its competitors of price dumping. Whatever the ruling, Whirlpool and others could raise prices by up to 10 percent this year, citing the increase in raw materials costs. Here’s what you need to know to shop wisely:

Freshness claims are on the rise

Viking promises its Plasmacluster Ion Air Purifier “eliminates airborne bacteria and mold spores, removes odors, and enhances food preservation.” GE’s ClimateKeeper system will “help keep your foods fresh longer, stretching your grocery dollar and cutting back on your trips to the store.” And LG’s Push N’ Seal crisper drawers create a vacuum to “keep your produce fresh.”

Such freshness claims are hard to measure. But we know from our testing that the best refrigerators maintain a consistent temperature of 37º F in the main compartment, 32º F in the meat compartment, and 0º F in the freezer. Models with dual evaporators maintain higher humidity levels in the fresh-food section. But refrigerators with a Poor or Fair temperature score couldn't consistently maintain those temperatures or had warm spots in one or more areas. Bacteria can grow at temperatures above 40º F. Crisper drawers could lose moisture, causing unwrapped vegetables to wilt faster.

How you store your food can have just as much impact as climate-enhancing technologies. Leafy greens and carrots, for example, belong in the crisper drawer. Unwashed berries, cherries, and peppers will last longer in a plastic bag or sealed container stored in a warmer zone.

Efficiency moves past Energy Star

Saving energy is another selling point; some refrigerators exceed federal efficiency standards by 30 percent. Energy Star-qualified models must be at least 20 percent more efficient. The newly tested Whirlpool Gold GB2FHDXW, $1,200, is part of the 30 percent club, and its excellent efficiency helped make it our top-rated bottom-freezer. The Frigidaire Gallery FGUB2642L, $1,600, also delivers top energy savings in a French-door model. But others stand out for their inefficiency. See Two Strikes for Viking.

Four-doors aren’t just for cars

Four-door refrigerators resemble popular French-door models but they have an extra drawer between the double-door refrigerator and single-drawer bottom freezer. They are among the fastest-growing configurations. Depending on the brand, the extra drawer is a refrigerator or freezer compartment or both. Four of the seven models we’ve tested make our recommended list. The Samsung RF4287HA, $2,600, has the highest overall score, thanks to its excellent temperature performance and quiet operation. Samsung is targeting busy families with its four-door, noting that the kid-friendly middle drawer offers four temperature settings.