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How to Know How Much Gas is Left in Your Propane BBQ Cylinder

Checking BBQ propane

Everyone knows that the grilling season in North Carolina doesn’t end with summer. So of course, you always want to make sure you have enough propane left in your grill’s tank for your next fall cookout.

Since most propane barbecue cylinders don’t come with a built-in gauge, you may need another way to figure out how much fuel is left in your tank. You obviously don’t want to wait until your grill shuts down to tell you that your propane tank is empty.

Simple ways for you to try

1. Use water. You can determine the approximate level of propane in a tank by using a little bit of water. Here’s how:

  • Fill a small bucket with 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 is absorbing the heat from the water, which makes the metal wall of the tank cool to the touch.

2. Weigh the tank. 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. To measure 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.

3. Use an external gauge. External propane tank gauges come in several different forms

  • inline pressure gauges install between the gas line from the grill and the cut-off valve on the tank, measuring pressures to determine how full the tank is.
  • analog propane scales look like luggage scales and are pre-set to take your tank’s TW into account.
  • digital propane tank scales provide a digital readout of remaining cook time and gas fill percentage. Some even come with smart phone apps.

Pick the device that you’re most comfortable with and give it a try!

Propane cylinder safety in the aftermath of a storm

While we’re on the topic of portable propane cylinders, this is a topical time of year to share recommended practices for the safe handling of propane cylinders that have been potentially damaged.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods can result in the exposure of cylinders to a variety of hazardous conditions. This includes submersion in floodwaters, impact from flying debris, damage from falls, and exposure to foreign contaminants like mud, sewage, oil and grease.

Obviously, any damage can affect their integrity and safe operation of cylinders and related equipment. Keep in mind that the cylinder contents are stored under pressure, which can cause the contents to leak if the container or related equipment is damaged.

Cylinders that are damaged or leaking can pose serious hazards and must be addressed only by trained emergency responders with HAZMAT training or the cylinder supplier. You should never attempt to vent or even handle cylinders that you suspect have been damaged.

Contact information for the cylinder supplier is listed on the cylinder label. If a label is not present, the cylinder neck ring can be used to identify the cylinder supplier.

More safety tips for propane cylinders

Even if your propane cylinders have escaped storm damage, there are a number of safety tips you should follow year-round.

  • ALWAYS store or place a propane cylinder outdoors and in an open area, and not in a basement, garage, shed or tent.
  • ALWAYS be mindful of the company your cylinder keeps. You don’t want to have it near a stove, fireplace, or other heat source. This is also why you should not store a spare cylinder under or near your barbecue grill.
  • ALWAYS stay aware when you are handling cylinders. You don’t want anyone smoking near it—they should not smoke anyway!—and make sure your cylinder does not come into contact with ignition sources such as flames or spark-producing electrical tools.
  • ALWAYS leave the care and repair of a cylinder in the hands of a skilled propane professional. You should not make any attempt to modify or repair valves, regulators, or other cylinder or appliance parts.

Remember: propane cylinders incorporate special components such as valves, connectors, and other parts to keep them safe for use with grills and other propane appliances. Damage to any component can cause a gas leak. Don’t risk it!

Contact your propane retailer or a qualified service technician for assistance.

We want to make sure you know how to approach propane safety in and around your home or business, no matter how you’re using propane. We encourage you to go here to review propane safety and operation tips, courtesy of the Propane Education and Research Council.