How much propane is in the tank?
July 11, 2011 8:44 PM   Subscribe

How do I know how much cooking time is left in a tank of propane for my grill?

I'm a very recent convert to gas grills, necessitated by the fact that the place we're currently living doesn't allow charcoal grills. We're having some people over for a BBQ, and I have no idea how much gas is left in the tank we have right now. For all I know, it could be anywhere between 90% full and virtually empty. Since it's my first tank, I have no concept of how long a tank lasts (and I haven't been tracking how much I've used it). I'd hate to run out of gas when I'm cooking for guests, but it also seems wasteful to trade in the tank if it's nowhere near empty. And we have a small balcony, so we don't really have room to store a second one if I were to take that route.

Is there any reasonably accurate way to tell when I'm getting close to running out of gas?
posted by sharding to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Weigh a full tank. Weigh an empty tank. Once you know these two figures, weighing the tank should give you some idea of how much gas you have left.

Too bad you don't have room for a second tank--that's the route I'd take.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:48 PM on July 11, 2011

Lift it and see how heavy or light it is.

I own two tanks so that I never actually run out. It also allows me to use a tank all the way down to zero and not leave some in and pay to have it all refilled.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:48 PM on July 11, 2011

Buy a second tank that way you will never be out.
posted by TheBones at 8:52 PM on July 11, 2011

Here's a message board that discusses this same subject. Might give you some ideas. I also believe that there's a temperature difference between full and empty. If you can figure out where the temp changes, you'll know how much is left.
posted by Gilbert at 8:53 PM on July 11, 2011

If your pour water on the outside of the tank you will see a horizontal line that forms in the condensation. People say that you have to do it with boiling water, but you don't.

Just as condensation forms on the outside of a glass of ice water (but only where the water is) putting water on the outside of the tank will give you a similar line. That line indicates the top of the liquid propane in the tank (essentially a "fullness" indicator).

Cool trick actually.
posted by milqman at 8:54 PM on July 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

There should be a tare weight written on the tank somewhere. Weigh. Subtract. That'll tell you how many pounds of propane are left in it.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:57 PM on July 11, 2011

There are also thermometer stickers you can put on the side of the tank to try to gauge where the temperature of the propane changes. Or you can just lift it before you turn it on and try to see if it feels light or heavy or sloshes around hardly at all. Or you can get a little hibachi grill as a back up (I have a back up tank), but if you have no room at all, you might just have times when you run out of propane. In that case, just make sure your guests have plenty of beer and you'll be fine.
posted by mattbucher at 9:04 PM on July 11, 2011

I grill probably every second day during the summer and I typically only use one tank per season. I don't imagine that you have a 100,000 BTU grill, since you're on a balcony, so your tank will presumably last about the same amount of time (i.e., one tank per 3-4 months).

This is obviously not as scientific as some of the suggestions above, but it should give you a rough idea.
posted by asnider at 9:10 PM on July 11, 2011

When it comes time to get your tank refilled, I suggest taking it to a gas station (some oil change places, too) to get it refilled, rather than the tank exchange like Blue Rhino. In my experience, swaps are much more expensive than getting your own tank refilled, and any gas left in the tank is lost. (If you have two tanks, it's easy enough to run one all the way empty and then swap; if you only have one, you generally wind up refilling it when it's low, cause if it runs out you're pretty much SOL.)

Also, with exchanges (and around here, especially Blue Rhino) I never seem to get a full tank. Pay more and get less, whee!
posted by xedrik at 9:41 PM on July 11, 2011

With an adapter, you could partially refill a completely empty 20 pound tank, from 1 or more 1 pound disposable tanks. The only "advantage" of doing this is that you save some space storing your "reserve" in small 1 pound tanks. The disadvantages, of course, are that you're handling propane transfer between pressure vessels, with the attendant risks.

Yes, I know that the linked page talks about refilling disposable 1 pound cylinders from larger 20 pound cylinders, but believe me, the propane neither knows or cares which tank is full and which tank is empty.
posted by paulsc at 10:11 PM on July 11, 2011

How about a transparent propane tank?
posted by ShooBoo at 10:22 PM on July 11, 2011

You could also get a much smaller spare tank in case the main tank does run out. My grill takes the short camping stove tanks of gas just fine when I need it to (very handy for camping actually). That way you can finish cooking and then go get the main tank refilled.
posted by fenriq at 11:11 PM on July 11, 2011

Check to see if you have any RV dealers or service centers where you are. Then call and ask if they change per gallon. This will be the case for most of them. This way you can top off your tank and only pay for the propane you needed. Very few gas stations do this. I find that they always charge for a full tank, even if you have a gallon or two before they fill the tank.
posted by Climber at 8:11 AM on July 12, 2011

There are pressure gauges that show how full the tank is. They cost about $20. When I bought our tank, it came with one on it. Somewhere between the second and third season of use, it became stuck at the 'FULL' position, so now it's just a conversation piece for the refill guys.

You have to cook a lot for the tank to run out in the course of a season, in my experience. It hasn't happened to me yet.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:47 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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