May 15, 2020

How to tell how much propane is left in your BBQ tank

May and Memorial Day especially are the unofficial start of the BBQ season. That means it’s time to break out the grillgive it a thorough cleaning, throw some steaks on it, and have your first backyard cookout of the year. What’s worse than overcooked meat during BBQ season – running out of propane in the middle of making dinner.

So how do you know how much propane is left in the tank? The majority of store-bought propane tanks don’t come with a gauge to let you know how much fuel is left and the tanks are pretty heavy when empty, so it’s tough to tell just by picking it up what’s remaining. However, there are a few simple and quick ways to check the level before you fire up that grill.

Cook Time – If you’re good at tracking your cook time and doing a little math you should be able to estimate how long one propane tank will last for your BBQ. On average one gallon of propane produces approximately 92,000 BTUs. If you know how many BTU’s your grill produces at its max heat setting you can determine the number of hours it will take to use one gallon of propane by dividing 92,000 BTUs by your grills BTU rating. Take that number and multiply it by the gallons in the tank. Assuming you have a full 20 lbs. tank, it should be about 4.7 gallons. If you typically only use half of your grill’s burners than you can double the estimated cooking hours. This is just a rough approximation that can be helpful if you don’t mind tracking how long you cook each time you fire up the grill.

Install a Gauge –  There are a few different options to choose from that are available at just about every home improvement and retail big box store. If you want something quick and easy, you can use stick-on strips that will display the temperature change at the level of your liquid propane. You can also install a gauge that is similar to your gas gauge in your car. It can easily be removed if you chose to swap your tank for a full one vs. having it filled. More expensive options include handheld ultrasonic tools that can detect where the liquid or gas is inside the tank. But you have options depending on how much you want to spend and how easy you want it to be to install.

Weigh it – An empty 20 lbs. propane tank weighs about 17 lbs. while a full one is about 37 lbs. you can determine an idea of how much propane is left in your tank by placing your tank on a household scale and subtracting 17 from that number. An average size (500 sq.-in) grill will use about 1 1/2 pounds of propane an hour cooking medium to high.

Pour water on it – This is the messiest method as it requires pouring water on your tank. Turn off the valve on your tank and disconnect it from your grill. Pour several gallons of warm water from top to bottom on the side of the tank. Then feel the tank. The tank will feel cooler where there is propane and warmer where there isn’t. This will give you a rough idea if it’s full, half full, or almost empty.

Don’t forget to make sure you grill safely this season. For some safety tips, check out our Summer Propane Safety blog on the subject.

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