Food Truck Air Conditioner Solutions – Achievable Solutions For Cooling Your Mobile Kitchen.

Is it Worth it To Install a Food Truck Air Conditioner?

Welcome to our guide on choosing your next food truck air conditioner. Some folks will say we just need to sweat it out, but is that the full reality? Let’s take a look at how we can add more stamina to your food truck game by lowering the temperature in your mobile kitchen.

Disclaimer: The products listed here are sold from our online store and linked via our Amazon Affiliate links, but we take every measure to speak generally about the AC types available to you to help you make your decision on what type of AC to put in your food truck. The one-of-a-kind, patented DIY mini-splits from MRCOOL are the exception to that rule.

Some Basic Stuff about Food Truck Environment Control

There are several important factors to consider when considering any attempt to control your food truck environment:

  1. How much heat your kitchen is generating.
  2. Your outside temperature and humidity.
  3. Your food truck layout.

Let’s look briefly at each factor. We could probably make a whole blog post just about your environmental control planning, but we’re going to make a brief discussion here. It’s all about understanding these factors so you can effectively plan your HVAC requirements prior to build. If you are stuck sweating and looking for a solution after your build, we can still fix that, but it’s just easier to right-size your HVAC requirements during the plan and build phases.

1. How much heat your kitchen is generating.

The base temperature in your food truck is linked, obviously, to what you’re doing inside. You might be a beverage or snack trailer with no cooking whatsoever. You might be a light-cooking food truck that only has a few countertop appliances and maybe a flattop. Then there are more full kitchens where you have an open range and/or a couple of deep fryers. That creates a range of heat generation where on the low range you are generating no excess heat to a high range where you are significantly raising the internal temperature of your food truck. This primarily helps with determining how much BTUs you need to overcome that heat.

2. Outside temperature and humidity.

Anyone who has lived in the southeast or any other high-humidity area knows that AC is essential to a cool environment, while in the west and southwest you can actually get away with just having good ventilation or a swamp cooler because of the dry climate. In terms of a mobile kitchen, if you are in a dry climate with lower humidity then you can possibly cut your BTUs or simply rely on good air flow to cool your truck. Temperature is pretty simple, the higher the temps the more you have to fight heat coming through your walls into your internal environment. That means in dry, but cooler areas like Colorado or Wyoming you may get by with just ventilation, but in the southwest where you have much higher daytime temps in the summer you may want to consider AC.

3. Your build and layout.

Build factors is looking at your wall and outer surface material along with any insulation you may have. You can insulate your trailer or truck, and doing so may have a huge impact in somewhere like the southwest, where you have a hot sun beating down on your truck during the day. Insulation, in that case, may have a higher impact than installing an AC. That’s an area where talking with other food truck owners in your area can help prior to looking at a food truck air conditioner solution or building your truck. Regarding your outer surface material, metal body with a black wrap or black paint is going to absorb and transfer lots of heat. That may also have an impact on how hard an AC has to work to cool your interior.

Layout becomes important primarily in consideration of a cooking food truck and where you put your appliances. If they are in the center, then an AC unit on one side is not going to push cold air past the hood to the other side; a great bit of the air is going to get sucked right out the range hood. We have solutions for that, one being a really outstanding product line of our chosen mini-split provider, Mr. Cool, that allows for DIY-installed dual-zone systems. You can get up to 75 feet with their pre-charged lines, so you can have one unit on either side pushing air, or even install a 3-way system with a cassette in the center pushing right down into the cooking area.

Disclaimer – your mileage may vary for food truck air conditioner solutions.

You probably noticed that we used a lot of “maybe”, “probably”, and other loose language above. We’re going to have to face facts – this is an area where no one is really an expert, except probably those that say “sweat it out”. The “heat in the kitchen” is a known factor, and most folks that have tried to cool their internal food truck air have simply ran into the unavoidable conditions where the cool air goes straight out of the vent hood. However, we believe there are plenty of options emerging on the market today (particularly those we are going to review from Mr. Cool), and, for those with a budget to explore, we want to see what you can do.

We also want to hear back from our readers! Comment below or e-mail the Food Truck HQs USA team and pass on your experience at cooling your food truck, along with what type of food truck air conditioner solution you chose.

The bottom line – why the factors above matter to you.

The factors reviewed in the previous section are important because they combine to determine how effective an AC unit is going to be in your food truck. This is helpful when considering what type, and how many BTUs you need in an AC unit. You aren’t going solely off manufacturer recommended square footage when considering BTUs – you’re going to size up depending on the 3 factors.

What we’re also saying is that being comfortable is not as simple as installing an AC unit. We want to make sure you do a little bit of analysis before buying an AC, either from us or another vendor.

Let’s get to AC types!

3 Solutions for Food Truck Air Conditioners

Here are the types reviewed in this post:

  1. Split Units – An interior heat exchanger cools air using refigerated lines coming from an exterior unit.
  2. Rooftop Units – Rooftop units as used in the RV industry.
  3. Portable Units – Roll-it in, plug it in, voila, no more sweating (hopefully)

Split units

Split units are convenient in that they do not require major modifications to your truck or trailer. A simple hole drilled in the wall allows for heat exchange between the internal, wall mounted blower and the external heat exchanger. Split units generally have a lower power draw and run quieter, since the noisy fan part is on the outside of your truck.

Another benefit of split units is not having to deal with water condensation draining. The complications of drain issues are obvious, and you could end up fighting that battle over and over with a rooftop unit or portable unit. Any AC in a hot kitchen is likely to run at full force constantly on a hot day, so that will mean max condensation and a firm requirement to drain that off.

The drawback is, unless you are that kind of DIYer, a split unit must be professionally installed, or at least to charge the lines. That’s why we have partnered with MRCOOL to sell their unique line of Do-it-yourself split units. Their patented coolant lines are pre-charged and do not require a professional to vacuum and charge them. You save anywhere from 2000 – 6000 dollars or more in HVAC technician fees, depending on your local market.

MRCOOL DIY 4th Gen Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner and Heat Pump – 115V 12K/18K/24K/36K 12,000 18,000 24,000 36,000 BTU 22 SEER / Ideal for DIY Food Truck Air Conditioner

$1,738.00$2,888.00

MRCOOL provides an ideal solution for truckers looking for a food truck air conditioner that is powerful and does not

These are available in 9000K BTU, but that may not be enough if you are dealing with multiple cooking units (ie, flat top and/or fryers and/or burners). I would say in most applications just spring for the 12000K, and if you have multiple cook units seriously consider the 18000K.

We can also arrange for purchase of the cheaper non-DIY split units, for those of you that can do HVAC work. It is not really recommended to do this unless you have experience and tools for vacuuming and charging the lines, or a friend with experience and tools.

Roof systems

Rooftop systems mount directly on to your roof and are the most space efficient system that you can install. If you are already squeezed for space within your kitchen-on-wheels then you may want to give these serious consideration.

Noise is your consideration with roof-top systems. If you have ever used these systems in an RV, or just know what it’s like having a window unit in a room, you know what that can be like.

You may also not want the hassle of a heat exchanger and tubing running to your tongue mount (or wherever you decide to put it). Placement is also going to be important, obviously and you will also need to MEASURE and CUT your roof carefully. When placing a rooftop system you don’t want to put it right next to your range hood, because your hood is going to suck all the cold air right out. If your cooking area is in the middle of your truck, then you may want your AC to be towards the back or front wall on the same side as your serving window. Then you will also want to consider an exhaust fan on the opposite side that is helping to pull the cold air across the interior rather than right up your range hood.

For our sample products, we list the RecPro rooftop systems because they are well regarded in the RV community as quiet (at least for rooftop systems), power efficient, and reliable. They are also sold and supported out of the USA in Indiana.

We have listed options available through Amazon as of publish date, via our affiliate links. We apologize that we can’t list prices since we are a new affiliate, but once we qualify we will be happy to list prices for comparison. Some options also don’t seem available anymore, and those are left blank. We will keep looking to see where we can find options, even if it’s other brands.

High ProfileLow Profile
9.5K BTUPurchase on AmazonPurchase on Amazon
9.5K BTU with Heat PumpPurchase on Amazon
13.5K BTUPurchase on AmazonAvailable from RecPro
13.5K BTU with Heat PumpPurchase on Amazon
15K BTU
15K BTU with Heat PumpPurchase on Amazon
There is also a 15K available with a condensate pump! This will go a long way to fight water pooling on your roof.

You’re probably springing for the 15K if you have commercial kitchen appliances (ranges, fryers, ovens, flattops).

Portable units

Portable units are a cheaper option than installing a split unit or RV unit. These are ok if you are doing light cooking or a non-cooking truck, but beyond that you might not get what you are looking for. You may find that a properly installed fan system circulating lots of air through your trailer does just fine, and saves space.

Your biggest challenge here is finding somewhere to put it + finding somewhere to send the duct; plus all of the noise is right there next to you and part of your big mobile kitchen family.

We picked the Black and Decker series sold on Amazon for comparison, linked below through our affiliate links. Recommendations? Kick them over to us.

There are cheaper, and there are more expensive. If we haven’t used it personally we look at reviews and product articles to find goldilocks equipment that are going to be just right (efficient, affordable, and reliable, with good brand support).

Maybe in a later post we will deep-dive and review units. Here are those Black and Decker portable units (model appearance may vary across BTUs):

8,000 BTU
10,000 BTU
12,000 BTU
14,000 BTU
14,000 BTU w/ Heat

If you are trying to cool an uninsulated trailer in the southeast or southwest, then you’re probably running one of these full time, which will result in ambient noise levels and potentially impeding communication in your kitchen.

As always, if you see bigger value in other brands or setups send it in! We are living and learning right next to you as we keep on food truckin’.

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