Propane Barbecue Tank Pressure Explained

The gas or propane barbecue has replaced the charcoal burner as the most popular BBQ device in the US. Although a propane barbecue cannot give the smoky flavor familiar to users of charcoal, it has many advantages, including the lack of ash and clean up required by charcoal barbecues. It is also ‘on tap’, so the heat is more easily regulated than with a charcoal burner system.

Propane Barbecue Pressure

Propane is kept in a tank under a great deal of pressure. This arrangement is often referred to as a “barbecue tank”. These are cylindrical tanks that have a narrow bottom rim (which sometimes causes the tank to ‘roll over’ from time to time). As the barbecue uses the propane gas, the pressure dissipates within the tank, sometimes resulting in the flame taking a longer time to light as the pressure lessens.

Not all propane tanks come with a fuel gauge, but there is one handy tip to finding out how much pressure is left in the tank. Before turning the gas on, pour boiling water over one edge of the tank (not the hose end). As the hot water touches the side, it will get chilled and may even produce a frost on the outside of the tank where propane is. You can then reach down and examine the difference in temperature, being careful not to burn yourself on the hot metal.

It is possible to buy pressure gauges, so that you can tell how much the pressure is in the tank before use. The pressure in a propane tank is measured using PSI. A high pressure reading is nearer to 1psi. The lower the psi number, the higher the pressure in the tank. High pressure PSI tanks require a small nozzle in order to limit the amount of gas released at one point, while low pressure PSI tanks can handle a larger nozzle, although care should still be taken.

Pressure Regulators

hand twisting a propane tank valve

The propane barbecue can use a high-pressure propane delivery system, which requires a high-pressure regulator. This can vary from between 10 and 60 psi (the pressure measurement). Or, you can have a low-pressure delivery system (for propane barbecues up to 50,000 btu). The latter should be used only with natural gas or propane that is piped in through house pipes or which has been set up to be used in an RV.

Most propane barbecue sets require a high-pressure regulator. The highest are most suited for outdoor cookers where a greater flow of gas is needed than normal (these regulators are adjustable between 0-60 psi).

Testing for Leaks

It is important to test the propane tank regularly for leakage. Gas under pressure can quickly turn a small hole into an explosion.

1. Firstly, put all burner controls into the ‘off’ position.

2. Then connect the gas supply before opening the gas valve.

3. Spray a solution of soap and water on to all connection points, and look for bubbles – these indicate leaks in the system.

4. If any are found, immediately turn off all gas valves. Then, either tighten the leaking points or replace the propane tank fittings.