Credit: Liz West
We speculate that most seasoned grillers have experienced the frustration of running out of propane in the middle of cooking a delicious meal. Without a spare propane tank handy, the common options are to deal with the hassle of filling/exchanging the tank or hauling the food inside in an attempt to make the food taste just as good on the stove as it would have on the grill.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to find out the level of propane in a tank. While not all of these methods are perfect, they do provide a solid estimate on where you stand with your tank level.
How to Check Your Propane Gas Level
The most common way to measure propane is by using an inline pressure gauge. This type of gauge connects between the propane tank and the regulator (hose). The face of the gauge reads either green for gas, yellow for low gas, or red for refill based on the amount of pressure measured in the tank by the gauge.
The grill pressure gauges below are examples of popular products used on grills around America.
The below video explains how a pressure gauge is connected to a grill. One important tip discussed in the video is to refill the tank when arrow moves into the yellow low gas level. We can confirm from using these type of gauges is that the fuel is extremely limited once it reaches the yellow. This something we wished we knew when we bought our first gauge for a small gas grill propane tank.
Propane Tank with Built-In Float Gauge
Some propane tanks are now being manufactured with built-in gauges. This Flame King 20 lb. Propane Tank found on HomeDepot.com is an example of this type of tank. Look for one with a float gauge. This type of gauge is often cited as being more accurate than the pressure gauges discussed above.
A scale gauge such as The Original Grill Gauge hooks to the propane tank as shown in the picture below. The tank is then lifted up by the gauge to register its weight to determine the propane level. The tank only needs to be lifted slight off the ground since the gauge will lock in the measurement. There is no need to muscle the tank to eye level to read the gauge.
This method involves using a home scale, which some people may already have in their homes.
The first step is to closely look at your propane tank for the letters “TW” with a number printed after these letters. It is typically printed at the top of the tank. The “TW” stands for tare weight and this represents the weight of the propane tank when it is empty. Write the tare weight on a piece of paper.
Now take the tank with propane in it and weigh it. Write this weight on the same piece of paper as the tare weight.
It is time to do some math. Take the weight of the tank and subtract out the tare weight. This will indicate how many pounds of propane remain in the tank.
For example, say your propane tank has a tare weight of 15 pounds as indicated on the propane cylinder. You then place your tank on the scale and it weighs 20 pounds. To figure out how much propane is left in the tank, take the 20 pounds of tank weight minus the 15 pounds tare weight. This equals 5 pounds of remaining propane.
If you have a reliable indoor body weight scale, you can use it for this purpose. However, given that the propane tank is heavy and made of metal, there is the potential to damage an indoor scale if you are not careful. You may wish to purchase a scale dedicated to weighing your propane tank such as this Kingon Digital Hanging Scale from Amazon.
Pouring hot water over a propane tank will help you determine the propane level. This one might seem like an old wives’ table but it truly does work.
You simply pour hot water down one side of the tank. Then run your hand down the side of the tank from top to bottom. Make a note of where you feel the transition from hot to cold on the tank’s surface. The hot area is the empty portion of the tank whereas the cold area contains propane. Heat is absorbed by propane, which makes the tank feel colder where propane is located.
Check out the video from “Chowhound” below that demonstrates how to tell how much propane is left in a tank using hot water. This isn’t a precise method, but it can provide a decent estimate of where you stand.