Propane grills for dummies
June 3, 2016 5:50 AM   Subscribe

I just moved into a new apartment, and the previous tenant very kindly left me his propane grill. He said it's clean, but the tank is empty. I've never used a propane grill before, and I'd like to use it this Tuesday to grill some hot dogs and hamburgers. What do I need to know to use it properly? Assume minimal knowledge of grills in general.

In addition to prep and actual grilling, I'd appreciate information about what needs to be done in between uses and at the end of grilling season.
posted by ocherdraco to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1) Get a full tank of propane or refill your current one - usually this is done at a gas station.
2) Make burgers (this is left to the reader I prefer to add a small amount of bread crumbs and an egg along with a secret everchanging blend of herbs and spices)
3) about 15 before you want to start cooking light the grill if it has an electric start it may or may not work, so I would recommend getting a long lighter so you can light the gas easily. make sure the lid is up when lighting the grill.
4) cook after letting the grill warm up for 15 minutes
5) turn off gas and eat
6) I usually wipe down the metal bars of the grill everytime with a grill brush cleaner

when it gets gungy or when you are experiencing a lot of flareups - clean out the bottom of the grill you may not need to do this if you have lavarocks, but probably will if you have a metal heat spreader.

I also disconnect the tank from the system after every use mostly to ensure that there are no leaks from a loose connection anywhere, but this isn't strictly necessary turning it off at the tank is sufficient.
posted by koolkat at 5:58 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't use those tank exchange kiosks at convenience stores and elsewhere! Take your empty tank to a place that actually fills them (around here, there's a chain of hardware stores that do it). The cost will be about half of the tank exchange places. Plus, the tank will actually be full.

Always turn off the valve at the tank when done; don't rely on the grill controls to keep the gas off.

Preheat the grill. Clean the grill with a wire brush after it gets hot. Adjust the controls so it is around 400 F or so for hot dogs and hamburgers.

Don't squeeze the hamburgers with a spatula. That makes them dry.

Keep a spray bottle of water at the grill to put out flare-ups.

Cover the grill with a dedicated grill cover after it cools down.
posted by yesster at 5:59 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Keep a spray bottle of water at the grill to put out flare-ups.

I always use beer but ymmv.
posted by koolkat at 6:15 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

yesster has it, but you might also need to clean out the burners / venturi tubes to get rid of gunk and/or spiderwebs if it hasn't been used in a while. Brush across the burner tubes, not lengthwise, to help prevent knocking schmutz into the tubes. If, after doing this, your flames are still more orange than blue, you might need to disassemble the grill a little bit to clean out the venturi tubes (or just blow some canned air through there).

I prefer to add a small amount of bread crumbs and an egg along with a secret everchanging blend of herbs and spices

Also this is a meatball.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:16 AM on June 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

usually this is done at a gas station.

Or at various supermarkets, oftentimes for cheaper. They will want the old, empty tank back or they'll charge you much more for a new, full tank on its own.

Also you can spend a few bucks and get a tank gauge if you don't want to rely upon the old "pickup and shake/weigh" method to see when you're due to run out. The reviews on magnetic ones are mixed at best so consider getting a mechanical/in-line one. Or just skip that altogether and do what I've always done which is to have an extra laying around for easy swapage when the fire dies. Then go return the empty and make it the extra. Repeat.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:48 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also disconnect the tank from the system after every use mostly to ensure that there are no leaks from a loose connection anywhere, but this isn't strictly necessary turning it off at the tank is sufficient.

I would go so far as to say this is completely unnecessary and, if anything, opens up the potential for leaks that wouldn't exist normally/otherwise. Just use the valve on the tank to turn it off like you're supposed to as this is how they are stored by the vast majority of users and all the sellers that stock them.

One thing I do is turn the gas off at the tank before I turn the burners off so that I'm sure that the combustibles are burnt off, as much as humanly possible, before I turn off the actual grill's burners. That's not a bad idea, but still probably unnecessary for the most part.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:54 AM on June 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

If it doesn't light right away, turn off the dial and close the valve and walk away for a few minutes.

You can accumulate a gas cloud around your BBQ in a couple of minutes of time trying to light it and when you do - WHOOSH - you'll have shorter eyebrows.
posted by srboisvert at 7:10 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

A good way to clean the grill surface is to run the burners at full blast for about 10 minutes, and then scrub the grill surface with a wire grill brush. I do this before I cook every time.

I've made "meatloaf style" burgers (with eggs and breadcrumbs and whatever) and plain burgers (just meat, salt, pepper). These days, my preference is for plain burgers. Important burger-grilling rule: flip only once.
posted by adamrice at 7:12 AM on June 3, 2016

If it doesn't light right away, turn off the dial and close the valve and walk away for a few minutes.

I have a story about this. I had a lovely but very stupid roommate. She got a propane grill and the first time she used it, she turned on the gas, then went back into the house to find matches. Shhhhhhhhhhh, said the grill. I said, "Turn that off, and let it rest, then light it." She said, "Oh no! I know what I'm doing!" I ducked behind the counter in the kitchen. KA-BLAM! said the grill. "I just blew off my eyebrows!" said my roommate.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:27 AM on June 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Some grills have very different heat levels in different spots, so keep an eye on food as it cooks until you learn how even it is. You might be able to use a cheap IR thermometers to find hot spots as well.

Most cheap grills' thermometers are not all that accurate, so you might add an oven thermometer. If you do 1" thick hamburgers, grilling them for ~4 minutes per side at 400 degrees turns out well. An instant read meat thermometer is nice to have as well.

If you want to add vegetables into the mix, a grill wok is well worth it to keep chopped veggies from falling between the cracks. If you use kabobs, put all of the same thing on each skewer and combine them after the fact. Lots of things on the same one is pretty but can lead to burned or underdone food.

Good tongs are well worth a few extra bucks. Grilling with bad ones is miserable.

Your apartment/municipality may have restrictions on where grills can be used, so be aware of where you're supposed to be doing it and what liabilities you're creating if you ignore them.
posted by Candleman at 7:35 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is probably already taken care of since you inherited the grill with the new apartment, but if you're grilling on your balcony instead of somewhere outside on the ground, make sure there is either a sprinkler system nearby or a fire extinguisher on hand. And if it's on the ground somewhere, don't grill under trees or near dry brush.

If it has an internal warming rack, that's also a good place to toast buns. And maybe throw some corn cobs on too.
posted by mattamatic at 7:37 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

You will save $7 if you have a local independent hardware or farm store nearby that will refill your tank, however depending where you live it's entirely possible that it's not worth the effort to save $7. Around DC it is $20 plus or minus $2 to do a bottle exchange at just about every grocery store, gas station, and drug store around.

Also - don't take the empty bottle inside the store. Leave it by the full bottles and go inside to find somebody to help you.

One more thing, a full propane bottle will last for at least 14 hours of grilling. Forgetting to turn it off after cooking dinner and not noticing until you put the dogs out the next morning is not a good idea.
posted by COD at 7:51 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

From my experience:

Keep your grill clean. You'll want to give it a good scrub with a wire brush just after every use. Grills are much easier to clean hot.

Propane is hot, but for more heat, put the lid down. This helps greatly speed up cooking through hamburgs for example.

Tongs work better for most things than spatulas. A spatula is worth it however for delicate items, hamburgers and fish.

Meats are typically easy, but veggies need a mist of oil so they don't stick. Misting the veg directly works better than oiling the grill, in my experience.

Corn is one exception. I just clip the tassels off before cooking, then put the whole cob on unhusked, 5 minutes a side, 15 minutes tops. Best corn ever.

Smoking is really easy with a grill too: just get a bit of foil, add some wood chips and throw at the back of the grill. Close the lid and you have a smoker. You need at least 20 minutes to develop a smoke flavour though, so the challenge with smoking on a grill is simply to do it slow enough.

Finally, always turn off the tank. The valve controls at the burners leak and you'll always be running out of gas just before company arrives.
posted by bonehead at 8:59 AM on June 3, 2016

Make sure the lid is open when you light it! I personally have seen a BBQ top blow 20+ feet in the air when someone forgot this, and yes, shorter eyebrows were a result too.

I marinate my veggies before grilling and have never had an issue with sticking, even when I was lazy and used a bottle of balsamic viniagrette. If you use wooden skewers to make kabobs, soak the skewers in water for about an hour first, so they won't burn.
posted by peppermind at 9:13 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

//You'll want to give it a good scrub with a wire brush just after every use//

Some people think the wire brushes are dangerous because the wire bristles detach and can end up in your food and cause an ER visit. There are a non-zero number of cases of this happening. My wife just made me buy a coil brush last week, as she is suddenly worried about this after 25 years of using a wire brush with no issues.

The coil brushes don't clean as well.
posted by COD at 11:00 AM on June 3, 2016

Also you can spend a few bucks and get a tank gauge if you don't want to rely upon the old "pickup and shake/weigh" method to see when you're due to run out.

By far the easiest and cheapest way to figure out how much gas is in your propane tank - boil some water and pour it down the side of the tank. Feel the tank where you just poured the water. The hot part is empty. The cold part? That's where there's still propane.
posted by hanov3r at 3:06 PM on June 3, 2016

I'm going to stress this one more time.

NEVER use tank exchanges. They are stupid.

Do you go to a gas station and just trade your 1/4 full tank for one with an unknown level?


Take your tank to a place that will fill that exact same tank, and charge you for the exact amount they put in it.

Lift your tank. Is it light? Go fill it. You don't have to worry about how much it has in it.

Do you drive your car until it stops because there's no fuel? Every time?

Tank exchanges are a scam.
posted by yesster at 3:36 PM on June 3, 2016

Tank exchanges are an easy way to replace an old worn-out tank with a new one however.
posted by joeyh at 4:11 PM on June 4, 2016

Yes, you're right about that.
posted by yesster at 12:04 PM on June 5, 2016

Thank you all! This is all extremely helpful!

My only regret is that I failed to name the thread using Hank Hill's "propane and propane accessories." I'm sorry for the oversight; it won't happen again.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:10 AM on June 6, 2016

First use of the grill was a success! Got the tank filled at a nearby UHaul, cleaned the grill before using it, and had a friend help me judge when to flip the burgers. I found it helpful to watch YouTube videos to see how to hook up the tank and how to clean the grill.

One side isn't lighting; I suspect that tube needs to be cleaned out.

I had one semi failure: I tried to grill onions and lost about 40% of them down the grate. I know there are special veggie grilling baskets, but is there some way to handle them without spending more than about $5?
posted by ocherdraco at 7:14 AM on June 8, 2016

Are you grilling the onions as wedges or slices?

Three tricks for onions: cover the 'onion' area of the grates with tin foil, poking some holes in the foil to let heat through; grill the onions inside a cheap grocery store roasting pan; or run a skewer or toothpick through the onion (make sure to soak the skewer in water for 20-30 minutes before use to prevent burning).
posted by hanov3r at 9:48 AM on June 8, 2016

They were slices, not wedges.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2016

KA-BLAM! said the grill.

This may not be strictly on point, but I'm compelled to share it. My roommate raked up a winter's worth of weeds and yard waste into a pile in the back yard. I stood on the balcony and watched him pour a generous quantity of recycled toluol over the pile. He carefully capped the can and set it a safe distance away, then returned to the pile, squatted down next to it, struck a match and stuck it in the pile. I didn't say anything because I didn't believe he was really going to do it until it was too late. Whoom! Significant hair loss and first degree burns on hand and face.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:52 AM on June 10, 2016

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