Grill Season Prep–Gas Grill Propane Tank Management

by R.B. Quinn
how to grill chicken

For grill season prep I start with at the beginning — gas grill propane tank management.

A propane gas grill is one of the finer achievements of the western world. Those who look down on them are just drinking the Kool-Aid. Ignore that stuff and grill some of the best chicken you’ll ever make – on the upper shelf of the gas grill.

When my 20-pound liquid propane tank starts feeling light-ish I get agitated. I can’t think why with two extra tanks out there. One of them has got to be full. Running empty while grilling is a drag. It’s like the keg of your chosen brew fizzling out and your pint is only half filled. The bartender’s lips are moving but it’s all mumble-jumble.

Finishing off half-cooked meats and vegetables in the kitchen can kill your party mood. That pitiful whimpering burner sound, the rattle of a dying tank, is a buzzkill. It’s got to happen to lots of us every now and then. The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association estimates that propane powers about 60% of all grills. The HPBA doesn’t research how often we run out of gas (what guy would admit it, anyway).

Gas grills are great convenience home cooking equipment. We’ve cooked piles of fantastic foods on gas grills and surely you have, too. Gas grills can do a great job at the flip of a switch. Which I need to replace again. There are maintenance issues with gas grills, I won’t deny it.

With better grilling weather on the way, a few thoughts about getting tanked and filled up for spring:

The Spare Tank.

No matter how much gas you burn, keep a spare full tank around. Either pay the full freight at the convenient LP tank cages all over town or spend $25 – $30 on a new empty 20-pound tank at the home improvement store or wholesale club. Only tanks with “OPD” (overfill protection device), the triangle-shaped safety valve on top which protects against gas leaks and fires, can be refilled. For another $10 – $20 you can get a little fuel gauge on it. I say spend the money on the fuel. If you pick up the tank periodically you’ll get the feel of near-empty pretty quickly.

Most any grill shop, RV park, U-Haul center, or liquid propane outfit will fill tanks. The standard 20-pound grill tank fills for around $20 these days. Most suppliers charge a flat fee no matter how much you need (not per gallon). Without that second tank in the garage to let you run a tank empty you’ll be spending more than you need.

The LP tank swap-out.

You’ve seen the convenience/hardware/grocery store LP tank cages all over town. You bump into them while checking your email on the way to your car. A new exchange center tank is about $60 and will cost you $20 – $25 when you exchange your empty for a full one.

You don’t have an OPD tank.

Replacement valves are available for about $20. Chances are a tank without the required overfill device has some years on it so pony up for a new one. I don’t know a refill station that will do anything but stack your old tank in their recycle pile.

How long does a 20 pound tank last?

I have no idea. I don’t think anyone does. It’s like asking “how long will this bottle of Jack last”? Another reason to have a spare.

Propane Tank Storage:

The general wisdom is to keep propane tanks outdoors, not in basements or garages, on a flat surface, out of the weather and not near any source of ignition (like parked under the grill, even though the one fueling the grill is pretty close to the grill).

The Emergency, Just-in-case, Remember Y2K Scenario.

Extra fuel could make a big difference during an emergency power outage. Brew your morning pot of coffee. Grill all that stuff thawing in the freezer. Might as well relax and practice grilling, especially if you can’t while away the down time checking your e-mail. Also a good reason to stash a spare bag of charcoal if you have the room and a safe way to burn it.

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