How long does a propane tank last for grilling?

Isn’t it frustrating when you’re in the middle of grilling, only to have your propane tank run out? You have to stop everything you’re doing, make a trip to the store and then lug it back home to start all over again.

Trust me, having to deal with this situation can make a dent in the fun outdoor gathering you had planned or worse, leave you with half-cooked food and a hungry crowd (or just a hangry you).

So, the burning question is how long can you expect your propane tank to last on a grill? If you’re a frequent griller or even someone who just fires up the grill on occasion, you’d want to get a good idea of the average time a propane tank will last, especially if you don’t have a back up laying around.

What is a propane tank?

Propane tanks are the go-to fuel source for most gas grills. These portable steel cylinders hold pressurized propane gas (mostly) which is a colorless and odorless flammable gas commonly used for home heating, cooking, and powering appliances such as grills.

It is a clean-burning fuel that produces heat quickly and evenly, making it an efficient and readily available source of energy for grilling.

Propane tank

Some people choose to have large, stationary propane tanks connected to their grill through a gas line. This eliminates the need for constantly refilling or exchanging smaller tanks, but this also means that your freestanding grill is no longer portable.

Plus, the added cost of installation and the potential danger of gas leaks make this option unfavorable.

What are the most common propane tank sizes?

Propane tanks are measured in pounds of propane. The standard size being 20-pound tanks (equivalent to approximately 4.7 gallons of propane).

While propane tanks come in various sizes, from small 5-lb tanks to larger 100-lb tanks, the most commonly used size for grilling is a 20-pound cylinder, also known as the “propane grill tank.”

This size is suitable for most regular-sized grills and can last for several grilling sessions before needing a refill or replacement. You’ll find this size at most grocery stores, gas stations, and home improvement retailers like Lowes or Home Depot, making it a convenient option for the average griller.

If you’re an avid griller or have a larger gas grill, you may opt for a 30-lb (~7 gal) or 40-lb (~10 gal) tank. These larger tanks will last longer and require fewer refills, but they are also more challenging to find and transport.

What is the average length of time a propane tank lasts for?

As with any fuel source, the longevity of a propane tank on a grill depends on several factors such as the size of the tank and frequency and duration of use.

On average, a standard 20-pound propane tank can last anywhere from 18 to 24 hours of cooking time in a medium-sized grill or around 8 to 10 grilling sessions.

Gas grill with flames

Larger grills, however, will require more fuel so a small propane tank may only last for 10 to 12 hours of cook time.

Note that this is just an estimate and the actual propane usage may vary depending on the heat setting (medium vs. high heat), cooking method (slow vs, fast), and the overall efficiency of your grill (low vs. high BTU ratings).

How do you know how much propane you have left?

Even if you have a rough idea of your propane consumption, it’s best to know for sure how much fuel you have left in your tank. It may seem like a guessing game, but there are actually a couple of ways to know if you still have enough fuel for grilling.

Weighing the tank.

The easiest way is by weighing the tank. Generally, there are two weight markings on a propane tank. The two being the tare weight (the weight of the empty tank) and the water capacity (the amount of propane that can be filled in the tank). If you subtract the tare weight from the current weight, you’ll get an estimate of how much propane fuel is left.

Hot water test.

Another way to determine if you still have enough propane for grilling is by using the “hot water test.” This involves pouring hot water down the side of your tank and feeling for a cool spot.

Pouring water on a propane tank

Liquid propane absorbs heat, so you’ll be able to feel where the propane ends and the empty space begins. The fuel level is indicated by the point where the tank feels cool to the touch.

Touching a propane tank

If you don’t feel any temperature difference, it’s time to get a new tank. However, this method is not always reliable, so it’s best to use the next method for more accurate readings.

Using an external fuel gage.

The best way to measure the remaining propane in your tank is by buying a propane tank gauge level indicator.

Some large propane tanks come with built-in gauges that show propane level, but for smaller tanks like a 20-lb tank, you can buy an external gauge that attaches to the valve of your tank to monitor your fuel consumption.

Propane tank with gauge

They come in different types, such as analog or digital gauges, and some even have built-in leak detectors for added safety.

External gauges are relatively inexpensive and you can easily find them at most hardware stores or online retailers. They will definitely save you from worrying about running out of propane in the middle of grilling, especially if you’re having a big cookout.

Magnetic gauge.

While searching online I found these magnetic gas level indicators and thought I would give them a try.

Basically you stick them onto the propane tank and wait for about 10 minutes with the gas running.

Magnetic gas level indicator

The gauge on the magnetic indicator will read out a level based on what’s actually left. Not a bad idea to have around and very easy to use.

Where can you buy propane tanks?

When it’s time to refill or exchange your propane tank, you can go to your local hardware store, gas station, grocery store, convenience store, or even chain stores like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Home Depot. These places carry both tank refill and exchange services, so it’s really just a matter of convenience and preference.

Many online retailers and propane distributors also offer automatic propane delivery which involves tracking the level of your tank and delivering a new one before it runs out.

You can set up a schedule for them to regularly deliver exchange tanks to your doorstep, eliminating the need to make trips to the store. While this option is convenient, it may come with extra fees and commitments, so it’s best for those who grill frequently or have multiple propane-fueled appliances.

How much does it cost to refill or exchange?

By now, you already know that you have two options when replacing an empty propane tank: refilling it or exchanging it for a full one. The average cost to refill a 20-pound propane tank ranges from $14 to $19 ($3 to $4 per gallon), depending on your location and retailer.

Meanwhile, exchanging a tank, which involves swapping out your empty tank for a full one, usually costs around $24 to $28 ($5 to $6 per gallon).

Wrapping up.

So, what’s the verdict? If you want to save money in the long run, refilling is the more cost-effective option as you’re only paying for the propane itself and not the tank. However, you need to strictly follow proper maintenance practices to keep your fuel tank in good condition and ensure its safety and longevity.

As far as keeping an eye on your propane levels I highly recommend an external gauge to have the most accurate readings of your propane tank. The last thing you want to do is second guess yourself and run out during mid cook.

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