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3 ways to estimate how much propane you have left

There are few things worse than running out of propane in the middle of grilling. Use these three methods of estimating how much propane is left to avoid a cookout faux pas.

Quirky

It's finally summer, which means it's time to break out the grill, slap some patties on it, and have your first backyard cookout of the year. But how do you know how much propane is left in the tank? Most propane tanks don't come with a gauge to let you know how much fuel is remaining. And you definitely don't want to run out and have to make a trip to the store in the middle of cooking.

Fortunately, there are actually a couple ways to quickly check the level of propane before firing up the grill. Here's how it's done.

With water

One of the quickest ways to approximate the fill level of a propane tank comes from the "Fix It Home Improvement Channel" over on YouTube. All you need is a bit of hot water.

  • Fill a cup or a small bucket with hot water from the tap.
  • Pour the water down the side of the tank.
  • Run your hand down the side of the tank and feel for a cool spot.

The top of the cool spot is the fill level of the tank. What's happening here is the liquid propane inside the tank is absorbing the heat from the water, which makes the metal wall of the tank cool to the touch, whereas the tank wall above the fill line will be warm.

This doesn't give you a very accurate measure of how much propane is left, but rather a decent approximation. It's certainly enough to let you know whether or not you should head to the store before starting to cook.

By weight

Of course, if you've been dealing with propane tanks for a long time, you can approximate whether it's time to get it refilled simply by picking it up. But to get a better idea of how much gas is remaining, you will need a scale.

All propane tanks come with a few numbers stamped on the handle -- most commonly the WC (water capacity) and TW (the weight of the tank when it's empty). Most propane tanks for grilling weigh around 17 pounds (8 kilograms) when empty and hold roughly 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of propane.

To measure how many pounds of propane are remaining, weigh the tank and subtract the tare weight. For instance, if you weigh the tank and have 27 pounds (12 kilograms) total and have a tare weight of 17 pounds (8 kilograms), you have 10 pounds of propane -- approximately half a tank -- remaining.

Buy a gauge

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Quirky

That said, if you want to keep track of your propane tank's fill level, you can invest in a gauge. 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. These gauges work on pressure and give a readout letting you know when the tank is full, low or empty.
  • Analog propane scales work much like luggage scales, except they're already tared for the for the weight of the tank. Slip the hook through the handle of the tank, pick up and read the remaining gas level.
  • Digital propane tank scales work by constantly weighing the tank and provide a digital readout of remaining cook time and gas fill percentage. The Quirky Refuel even gives you a readout on your smartphone.

These gauges and scales range from about $10 (£6.81 or AU$13) to $50 (£34.05 or AU$66) and might prove useful if you do a lot of cooking on the grill.