How to Make Sure You Have Enough Gas to Grill

Know how much fuel you have BEFORE you start cooking.

It’s time for the big holiday cookout. You’ve fired up the gas grill and just laid the first round of food onto it, when all the sudden the flames disappear. Whoops! The best way to make sure that that doesn’t happen to you at your next backyard barbecue is to check the propane tank to see how much fuel you have.

If you’re regularly use your gas grill, or other propane outdoor appliances like a fire pit or pizza oven, it’s worth having an extra fuel tank on hand. But in case you don’t, or if you forgot to refill the backup, this is a handy tip to know … unless you enjoy barely cooked food.

How Long Does a Propane Tank Last?

Propane is a popular grilling fuel because of its ease of use, but it requires a separate tank that attaches to the grill itself. The standard 20-pound propane tank, which are commonly referred to as grill cylinders, contains a little less than five gallons of fuel. One of those tanks will give you 18-20 hours of cooking time on your grill. By comparison, the 16-ounce containers, the kind most commonly used for camping stoves, will last from 90 minutes to two hours.

As for the tank itself, it will last for decades. They’re made of galvanized steel, which is made to stand up to the elements. Because the containers are so durable, that’s why you can just switch them out at the hardware store.

HH propane tank bathroom scaleFamily Handyman

How to Tell How Much Propane Is Left in the Tank

All propane tanks have two weights stamped onto the collar.  One represents the tank’s empty weight (tare weight). The other represents its full weight (water capacity). A full 5-gallon propane tank weighs about 37 pounds.

To figure out how full your propane tank is, weigh the tank on a bathroom scale and subtract the tare weight. For example, if a tank weighs 20.6 pounds and the tare weight stamped on the collar is 17 pounds, 20.6 – 17 = 3.6 pounds of propane. (20 pounds is considered maximum regulation full.) At a rough estimate, a pound of propane lasts about an hour. In the example, 3.6 pounds is 18% full (3.6 ÷ 20 = .18).  Now that you know you have enough gas left to grill, it’s time to start up your BBQ!

Where to Buy Propane Tanks

You can buy 20-pound propane tanks at most home centers, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, as well as other retailers like Walmart, Amazon, etc. You can also usually find them at your local gas companies.

How Much Does a Propane Tank Cost?

A brand new grill cylinder typically sells for around $60, but if you price out different retailers, you might be able to save a few dollars.

Where to Refill a Propane Tank

While you can buy a tank from the big box home centers, you typically cannot get them filled there. However, you can find local gas companies that do refill tanks of all sizes. Farm and ranch supply stores, like Tractor Supply, also fill propane tanks, and U-Haul maintains a network of propane refilling stations around the country.

Where to Exchange Propane Tanks

Lots of big box stores have a propane tank exchange, so it’s really just a matter of what’s most convenient for you. Some grocery stores offer that service as well. And U-Haul is another national chain that exchanges propane tanks.

Ryan Van Bibber
Ryan Van Bibber, the executive editor for Family Handyman, is a career journalist with more than two decades of experience in the industry. He's been DIY'ing since he was a kid, learning from his father who was a carpenter and general contractor. Ryan has a natural curiousity to learn how things work and how to make them work better. That spirit has guided his career his own DIY journey as a homeowner. He specializes in the areas of painting, sustainability, and basic home maintenance. Through his career, Ryan covered the NFL for more than a decade, edited award-winning features, worked as a senior editor at Outside magazine as well as writing and editing buying guides and product reviews for national publications.