Running out of propane can be a real bummer and potentially dangerous.
There is nothing worse than running out of gas in the middle of a cookout, so it is important to understand the basics – and nuances – of your propane tank.
This includes how fast the gas will burn, and how long a tank will last before you need to buy a new one.
Want to know more? Keep reading to become a propane tank expert.
How Big Is A Propane Gas Tank?
Before you know how long a tank will last, you need to know how big your tank is.
Residential propane tanks are very substantial and can be anything from 100 to over 1,000 gallons in size.
That said, if your propane needs are modest then you are more likely to have a tank that weighs around 20lb and has much less gas.
If you are barbecuing then you are almost definitely going to have a propane tank that is 20lb or under.
Unless you have a very serious grilling set up, a modest 4.7-gallon propane tank will be more than enough to last for a good number of cookouts.
What Is Propane Used For?
How you use your propane will dictate how long a tank will last. Operating a furnace or hot water heater will use up far more gas than grilling some meat and veggies on a grill will!
As most propane tanks sold for barbecues are around the 4.7-gallon mark, you may be concerned that this is not enough fuel to keep you going for long.
Don’t worry! This size tank will last for around 8 intense grilling sessions.
One tank of propane that holds 4.7 gallons will last somewhere between 18 and 20 hours on a medium-sized grill.
As larger grills have more heat and more flame, they will burn through the gas quicker. A tank of propane will last around 15 hours or even 10 if your grill is particularly large.
You can break this down a little further to get a more accurate estimate. You can expect to burn 1 to 2 pounds of propane fuel for a cookout meal.
This will be accurate for a medium-sized grill that is kept on high heat. In a 4.7-gallon propane tank, that is roughly 8 meals.
Love math? Follow this formula to get a more customized idea of how much propane gas you burn when grilling. This figure, the volume of gas you use up, is called your burn rate.
- Find the weight of the tank. Not the weight of the tank with the gas inside, just the physical shell of the tank. This is usually written on the tank and is called the tare weight.
- Take the tare weight from the total weight of your tank. The total weight of the tank will include the weight of the gas it holds.
- Divide this number by 4.24. We are dividing by 4.24 because one gallon of propane gas as sold weighs 4.24lb.
- If you have a grill that burns at 60,000 BTU an hour, it is the same as saying that you have a grill that takes 1.53 hours (just over an hour and a half) to burn through one gallon of propane gas.
- Divide the total gallon content of your tank by the burn rate of your appliance. This information will be given in an hourly unit and should be available from the manufacturer. This will give you the number of hours that you have left to burn gas with your tank.
- Repeat this process several times with other appliances to get an idea of their fuel efficiency.
When To Top Up Propane Stores
Propane gas does not expire. Given its infinite shelf life, you only need to get more propane gas when you have used up all of yours.
If you are fortunate enough to have a company that will automatically deliver you propane whenever you are running low, you either need to keep an eye on the burn hours you have accumulated or understand how to accurately read the gauge on your tank.
Reading Propane Tank Gauge
The first thing you need to know is that the tank should never read more than 80% full on the gauge. The 20% gap in the tank is to allow for thermal expansion should the gas get a bit warmer.
Without this gap, the tank has the potential to explode and is very dangerous.
Once you hit 20% left in your tank, we recommend that you order some more propane. 20% capacity leaves enough of a window that you can still use your tank in an emergency if you are unable to get more propane promptly but is not so much that you are being unnecessarily wasteful.
When you are at the grill, it is tempting to hit the heat high and keep it there. But is that really the best way to go? Surprise – not really.
For the best BBQ, remember to preheat your grill for 15 to 25 minutes before you start.
This may seem like a long time and inefficient use of propane, but this period before you start to cook will kill off any bacteria and get all the grill nice and hot. This will counterintuitively save you time once you begin to cook.
That said, a true grill master knows when to turn the heat down. Thin cuts of meat – lamb, pork, beef, and hamburgers – are best when they are cooked hot and fast.
Other meats – like fish and chicken and vegetables – will be far better cooked at medium heat. Lowering the temperature of your grill is going to improve your food, but also reduce the amount of propane gas that your grill is using up.
Knowing how much longer you can use your propane gas tank will help prevent any cookout disasters.
As a guide, you can expect a typical 4.7-gallon tank to last for around 8 grilling sessions. An efficient, medium-sized grill will use up a 4.7-gallon propane tank in roughly 18 to 20 hours with the gas on high.
Keep in mind that a bigger grill will use up more propane a lot faster.
One way to be a little more fuel-efficient is to cook food at the appropriate temperature. It is tempting to cook on full blast at all times, but this is best saved for thin cuts of meat like lamb cutlets or hamburgers.
Veggies, chicken, and fish will all fair far better at lower temperatures. This is good for the food, and good for your gas consumption too!