How Long Does a Small Propane Tank Last – Gas Grilling 101

16 oz camping propane cylinder

Do you have a portable camping grill that uses propane cylinders smaller than the standard 20 lb tanks? Ever wondered how much can you cook with one unit?

If you don’t know how long does a small propane tank last, you’re in the right place as I have tried and tested many tanks, grills, and performed lots of calculations on how much juice does one have.

Study the text below carefully – you may even reduce gas consumption and save some money.

About Small Propane Tanks

Propane tanks generally aren’t measured in their shape or type of propane but in the weight, which includes the tank and the gas.

A “small” propane tank can refer to any tank smaller than the standard 20 lb propane tank.

What Are the Different Sizes of Propane Tanks?

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
  • 1 lb (or 16 oz) tank which is a hand-held size and sometimes called a cylinder

What Is the Smallest Propane Tank?

The 1 lb canister.

coleman portable propane tanks

What Size Exactly Is the “Small” Propane Tank?

Generally, when people mean a “small” propane tank, they are referring to the 1 lb or 16 oz camping cylinder.

These tanks aren’t the kind that is exchanged for a fully refilled one.

More commonly, they are thrown away when they get empty, even though they technically can be refilled (and some are designed to be).

How Long Does a Small Propane Tank Last on a Grill

The Math

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.

How Long Does a 1lb Propane Tank Last?

Now let’s take a look at 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 change 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 3 meals from a single 1 lb propane tank.

This is only the math. The real world is different. Expect the tanks to actually last for about twice that (= 2 hours).

How Long Does a Small Coleman Propane Tank Last?

Coleman tanks are 1 lb, so they should last for about two hours.

Let’s take a look at a real life example:

Here, the grill used is the Weber Q 2200 gas grill that has a BTU rating of 12,000. Calculate 21,712 / 12,000 and you get 1.80 hours or 1 hour and 48 minutes.

The person in the video cooked on the grill on medium heat for about the same amount of time, then let the grill burn on its own until the flames died. The total time the canister lasted was about 3 hours and 45 minutes.

That quite a lot more (a bit more than twice) than the calculation. How is this possible?

There are several reasons why:

  • The 12,000 BTU rating is the maximum output. The guy was cooking on medium heat which is much less BTUs than this
  • He stopped cooking in the middle of the experiment. There was no food after this to absorb the heat
  • This particular Weber has a cast-aluminum base which is a better heat retainer than cast iron and stainless steel

You shouldn’t completely rely on the calculation alone. There are many factors that affect how long a propane tank will last, not only the grills BTU rating.

The real way to find out how long your grill will cook using a small propane tank (not just Colemans), is to try it out.

What if My Grill Has Multiple Burners?

gas grill 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 2 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 at a lower temperature.

starting gas grill

But this may or may not help you.

The temperature of the grill may be fixed by the airflow, design of the grill, gas regulator 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 for 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.

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 at a 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 sources that give step by step instructions for modifying the propane regulators on your grill with lower-rated ones for the purpose of using less 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 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 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.:

pouring water on propane tank
  1. Simply take some hot water in a cup and pour it onto the (closed) tank, so that the water drips down the tank
  2. 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.

More Facts About Small Propane Tanks

How Much Is a Small Tank of Propane?

Depending on the brand, a 1 lb cylinder can cost anywhere from $15 to $40 and more. Colemans usually cost $15 – $20.

Can a Small Propane Tank Explode?

Under normal grilling circumstances, no.

Only when there’s a leak in either the valve or the tank itself, there’s a chance of explosion.

Do Small Propane Tanks Expire?

Yes, they do.

Depending on whether the tank was actually opened or not and how it was stored.

How Do You Store Small Propane Tanks?

Leave them outside in a well-ventilated area that’s dry and in the shade.

The safest temperature to store tanks is between -40°F (-40°F) and 120°F (49°C).

Place them in an upright position and away from flammable materials.

How Long Do Small Propane Tanks Last in Storage?

In the best-case scenario (never opened and stored in a dry and cool place), they last for about 7 years.

You should know that gas lasts forever, and the expiration date is tied to the tank itself. Tanks rust over time and valves give out.

The same situation can be seen with bottled water.

How Do You Know if Your Propane Tank Is Out of Date?

The most obvious way to know if your tank has expired is to check the expiration date.

Refilling Small Propane Tanks

Can You Refill Small Propane Canisters?

Yes, you can but you’ll need an adapter that looks like this:

propane tank refill adapter

How Do You Refill a 1 Pound Propane Tank?

The process of refilling your small propane tank is simple:

  1. Screw the larger end (the black one) to the 20 lb propane tank
  2. Screw the cylinder on the other end
  3. Flip the tanks upside down
  4. Open the 20 lb tank valve
  5. Listen to the transfer
  6. Turn off the valve
  7. Remove the tanks from the adapter

Are Coleman 1lb Propane Tanks Refillable?

Yes, they are.

How Much Does It Cost to Refill a Small Propane Tank?

Depending on how much you’ve paid for the 20 lb tank, the price for refilling a small propane tank is about $1, give or take 30 cents.

Is It Legal to Refill 1lb Propane Tanks?

Yes.

Until October 1 1996 this was prohibited under federal law. After this date, only the transportation of refilled canisters is illegal.

Now, the US Department of Transportation only cautions to not refill these types of cylinders.

Is It Safe to Refill 1lb Propane Tanks?

To an extent, yes. You’re working with gas – it’s as safe as you can make it.

Also, some tanks aren’t made to be refilled – they’re for one-time use only. Refilling them could be dangerous as they can lose their durability and performance after each and every refill.

If the tank or the refill adapter aren’t leaking, and you’re not near a flame or something that could cause one or a spark, you should be fine.

Small Propane Tanks Last for About 2 Hours

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.

About Mario 125 Articles
I am the owner of the Kitchen Guru Ideas. I've set up this site so I can share my kitchen tips and hacks that have been passed on to me from my parents and grandparents and show you how a wonderful experience cooking is and not just a way to save money. Even in this hectic lifestyle, there is time to prepare and most important enjoy a home-cooked meal.

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