Many people across the world use propane to fuel grills for their convenience and ease of use. They are also an affordable and eco-friendly alternative to charcoal grills, and the tanks aren’t challenging to switch and connect to a grill.
Having a clear idea of how long a propane tank lasts on your grill is critical. It can help you avoid running out of propane during a cookout. In general, a 20 lb. propane tank lasts between 18 and 20 hours on most grills.
Smaller tanks, such as a 16-ounce tank, will last for about 2 hours. You should always have an extra tank prepared in case you run out of propane.
How Long Do Propane Tanks Last?
The most common type of tank used for gas grills is a 20 lb. propane tank. Smaller tanks are great for camping or small gatherings.
A 20 lb. propane tank will last for about 18 to 20 hours on continuous use on an average-sized grill. Therefore, if you are grilling every day during the summer on a modest-sized grill, a propane tank should last for about 8-10 days if every grilling session lasts around 2 hours.
However, on larger grills, a 20lb propane tank can only last you for about 10 hours. Larger grills require more energy, so they consume a propane tank much quicker than smaller grills.
It also depends on your cooking style. For example, smoking foods requires a lot less energy since only 1 or 2 burners are needed for indirect heat. If you tend to smoke foods a lot on your gas grill, a single 20 lb. tank might last a bit longer. It’s easy to smoke foods on your gas grill with a smoker box.
Measuring How Long a Propane Tank Lasts on Your Grill
There’s a simple method of measuring the exact amount of time a propane tank will last on your grill. For this, you need to know how much energy your grill uses in an hour on maximum heat.
- Understanding BTUs
British thermal units (BTUs) are the standard way of measuring how much energy a unit of fuel stores. To be more precise, 1 BTU is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 lb. of water by 1°F. When it comes to grills or other home appliances, the number of BTUs tells you how much energy the machine consumes in an hour.
- How many BTUs does your grill use?
Looking through your grill’s manual, you’ll find the total amount of BTUs per hour it uses. This number will be in the thousands. For example, it could be about 60,000 BTUs.
Often, grill manufacturers will provide the number as BTUs per in2. This is considered a more reliable way of assessing the grill’s energy since it gives the exact amount of energy produced by every in2 of the actual cooking area. This number is usually between 75 and 100 BTUs per in2 for most modern gas grills.
If you find this number but can’t find the total amount of BTUs produced by the grill, measure your grill’s total cooking area, and use it to estimate the total BTUs your grill uses every hour.
- How long will a propane tank last on your grill?
Now that you know how many BTUs your grill uses in an hour, you can estimate the amount of time a propane tank will last you.
In general, a 20 lb. tank contains 43,2804 BTUs. Divide this number by the BTUs burning rate of your grill, and you have an estimate of how long a propane tank lasts on your specific grill. For example, if your grill has a total rating of 4,000 BTUs/hour, it should take about 10 hours to run through a 20 lb. propane tank. This is a pretty powerful grill.
How to Check the Amount of Propane Left Inside a Tank
In addition to estimating how long a propane tank lasts on your grill, it’s helpful to know how to check the propane level inside your tank. Doing a quick check every time you grill is the easiest way of knowing how much propane you have left.
- The Water Test
There’s a simple way of checking the amount of propane inside a tank without any special tools. Pour some hot water down the side of your propane tank. Make sure the whole side gets wet. Run your hand down the side of the tank from top to bottom, and try to feel the temperature. As soon as you feel a cold spot, that’s the current level of propane.
The propane stored inside a tank is in liquid form. A characteristic of propane is that it quickly absorbs heat. Therefore, wherever your hand notices a change in temperature from hot to cold, it means there’s propane inside the tank that absorbs the heat of the water.
- Using a Pressure Gauge
The most reliable way of checking the amount of propane inside a tank is by using a pressure gauge. These are simple to use. First, you need to disconnect your propane tank from your gas grill.
Make sure to turn off the gas valve. Using proper threading, connect the pressure gauge to the gas tank. Then, connect the metal regulator to the pressure gauge. Remember, propane is sensitive to temperature, and it expands when it’s hot outside. In very hot weather, the gauge reads higher than it is.
Safety Tips When Handling Propane Tanks
When using a propane tank, you should never fill it up to full capacity. Propane is sensitive to thermal expansion, so you should refill a propane tank up to 80% of the total capacity.
If you choose to reuse and refill the same tank, make sure you keep it in good condition. There should be no rust or signs of external damage, and you should perform a quick gas leak test before using the tank on your gas grill.
Final Tips on Propane Tank Usage
Make sure you always have an extra tank around in case you run out of propane. Keep propane tanks outside your home under all circumstances, and make sure they are placed in an upright position. With all these tips, you’ll ensure a safe outdoor cooking environment and avoid the inconvenience of running out of propane during a cookout.