How Much Grilling Time Is Left In My Propane Cylinder?

gas grill level iowaWe’re approaching the height of outdoor cooking season here in southwest Iowa – time to get out using your propane grill! Just make sure you have enough propane to get you through your next summer cookout.

There is one small problem with this: as any veteran propane griller knows, most 20-pound propane cylinders don’t have a gauge – which means you will need some other way to assess how much fuel is left in your tank.

Here are three simple ideas for you to do that:

  1. Weigh the tank. The simplest way to estimate how much propane is left in your tank is to simply weigh it. Most propane grill tanks come with two numbers stamped on the handle – the water capacity (“WC”) and “Tare Weight” (TW – the weight of the tank when it’s empty). Most grilling tanks weigh about 17 pounds when empty and hold about 20 pounds of gas.

    To estimate how many pounds of propane are left in your tank, simply weigh it on a scale and subtract the TW number. For example, if a tank weighing 27 pounds has a TW of 17 pounds, there’s about 10 pounds of gas left – a little more than half a tank.

  2. Use warm water. Here’s a neat and safe trick for estimating the amount of propane in your cylinder courtesy of the FIX IT Home Improvement Channel on YouTube:
    • Fill a small bucket with warm to hot tap water.
    • Pour the water down the side of the tank.
    • Run your hand along the side of the tank and feel for a cool spot.

    The top of the cool spot is the fill level of the tank (it’s cool because liquid propane inside the tank absorbs heat from the water, which makes the metal wall of the tank cool to the touch).

  3. Add a gauge. A variety of external propane tank gauges are available to add to your propane cylinder. Options include:
    • Inline pressure gauges, which install between the gas line from the grill and the cut-off valve on the tank, where they measure pressures to determine how full the tank is;
    • Analog propane scales, which are pre-set to take your tank’s TW into account; and
    • Digital propane tank scales, which provide a digital readout of gas fill percentage (some even come with smart phone apps).

    Pick the gauge you like (your local hardware store has them) and give it a go!

Average Propane Cylinder Cook Times

So now that you know how to measure how full your tank is, how do you use that information to estimate how much cook time you have left in your cylinder?

As a rule of thumb, a 20-pound propane cylinder used on a medium-sized grill on high heat will provide between 18 and 20 hours of cooking time. A larger grill can easily burn through fuel at twice that rate.

Of course, these are just estimates: If you’re feeling ambitious, why not keep track of your grilling time this summer to have a better idea of timing for future propane cylinder refills? It’s all part of the art of cooking on your propane grill!

Don’t get burned by your propane cylinder – follow these tips to know how much gas is left in your tank before your next summer cookout! If you need to refill your propane cylinder, just stop in – while you’re here, we can also let you know if your tank needs to be recertified.

Oh, and be sure to transport your propane cylinder safely!