Are you one of those grillers who want to know how long does a small propane tank last? Unfortunately, there isn’t just one answer to this question, so let’s calculate your propane usage, and perhaps even your grilling costs.
About small Propane Tanks
Propane tanks generally aren’t measured in their shape or type of propane but in the weight of the filled propane container, which includes the tank and the gas. A “small” propane tank can refer to any tank smaller than the standard 20 lb propane tank. Common sizes are 11 lb, which looks like a standard propane tank except for half the height, 5 lb, which is the same height as the 11 lb except skinnier, and the 1 lb tank which is a hand-held size and sometimes called a cylinder, instead.
What size exactly is the “small” propane tank?
Generally, when people mean a “small” propane tank, they are referring to the 1 lb camping cylinder. These tanks aren’t the kind that is exchanged for a fully refilled one, but some building and construction stores will refill them for a small fee. More commonly, they are thrown away when they get empty, even though they are designed to be refilled.
How long a small propane tank will last is actually a mathematical formula dependent on your individual grill. Let’s go over the formula:
A small, 1 lb propane tank holds 0.236 gallons of fuel. We know that 1 gallon of propane produces 92,000 BTU of heat, so that means that our small 1 lb propane tank produces 21,712 BTU of heat.
Now let’s take a look on your grill. Let’s say that you have a camping propane grill and stove that uses 20,000 BTUs of heat. This would mean that your tank would last 21,712 / 20,000 hours, or 1.09 hours, which is 1 hour and 5 minutes. You would alter the 20,000 BTU part for the BTUs of your grill.
But 1 hour of cooking on a camping propane grill isn’t very realistic. It may be easier to think about the frequency and longevity of grilling. If your average cooking time is 20 minutes for the grill above, you’d get about three meals from a single 1 lb propane tank.
What if my grill has multiple burners?
Sometimes you won’t know the total output of the entire grill but you would know the output of each burner individually. Your calculation should be for burners that you plan to use, all summed up together. For example, if your grill has two individually controlled burners at 10,000 BTU and you’d use both burners, you’d use the 20,000 BTU figure in your calculation. If your grill has one burner at 10,000 BTU and one side burner at 12,000 BTU but you’d only cook with the main burner, you’d use the 10,000 BTU figure.
What if I cook on the lowest setting, will this make my tank last longer?
A common idea for grillers is to slow their propane usage down to help the tank last longer by cooking food on a slower setting. But this may or may not help you. The temperature of the grill may be fixed by the air flow, design of the grill, gas regulatory issues, and other limitations on the gas regulator itself.
Grilling at a lower heat means that it takes more time to cook the food, which would result in the same amount of propane used, except taking a longer time.
What kind of grill should I look for to make my small propane tank last?
It’s tempting to look at grills by how long your propane tank will last, but this is an erroneous way of viewing grills. If a grill burner outputs 12,000 BTU, on a burner, this means that your food will cook at a higher temperature and cooking rate than a burner that cooks at 8,000 BTU, but the 12,000 BTU grill will use more propane doing so.
Instead, consider grills that generally match your cooking lifestyle. For example, if you frequently grill foods fast and on hot temperature, a grill with 12,000 burners would be a better fit for you than a grill that has 8,000 BTUs.
What if I modify the gas regulator on my grill, will this make my propane tank last longer?
There are some online websites that give step by step instructions for modifying the propane regulators on your grill with lower rated ones for the purpose of using less of the fuel. While the logic makes sense, the surrounding situation doesn’t.
These regulators are specifically made and tuned for that grill and for its individual burners, taking into account the pressure of the tank and what is needed for the grill burners. Don’t forget that you are also working with a highly combustible gas, and the liability of your grill or your surroundings, such as the probability of setting your house on fire, may not be worth such a pet project.
How to measure the Propane Level in your Tank?
The small 1 lb propane tank doesn’t come with a gauge, so without one, you’ll have to resort to the traditional hot water trick. Simply take some hot water in a cup and pour it onto the (closed) tank, so that the water drips down the tank. Using your fingers, feel from the top downwards for a cold spot on the surface of the tank. The top of the cold spot is the level of your fuel.
But if you want to check your propane often, you should probably get yourself a propane gauge. They can be re-used from tank to tank and will display the levels at a glance.
Now that you have the math and surrounding mechanics down, you can calculate how long your propane tank will last for your individual grill and your cooking style! Have fun grilling out there, and remember to refill your tanks instead of tossing them – the tank itself is the biggest part of the price tag, and they do not biodegrade in the landfill.