Homebrew Question: How Many Boils Per Tank?

I’m hoping to NOT find this out the hard way.  I homebrew with a standard 20 pound propane tank fueling a Bayou Burner Classic (sexy, I know!) and I’m trying to figure out when I should refill the tank. 

I use extract kits, and have done two 60 minute boils on the current tank, each with a 20 minute steep of specialty grains before cranking up the heat.  I try to be as economical as possible, using just enough propane to keep the boil going, and have been brewing in sub-freezing temps (in the 20’s to 30’s).

I’m hoping to get one (or two?) more boils off of the tank before I refill it, but I’m afraid of running out mid-boil.  Anyone have any idea how long a 20 pounder is good for under these circumstances? Is there a way to weigh the sucker and use math (you know, the adding and subtracting stuff) to figure out if I need to top her off before I brew again?

Please let me know below.

Also, as a big fan of half-measures, I just purchased a Tap-a-Draft system from Northern Brewer and hope to bottle my Two Hearted clone in it this coming weekend.  We’ll see how that goes…

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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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30 Comments on “Homebrew Question: How Many Boils Per Tank?”

  1. February 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    The most economical way is to have two tanks. Let the first flame out then swap in the other, otherwise you are just wasting propane. the worst is to run out hand have to drive around town at 11:30pm on a Thursday night looking for an exchange station. (not that it happened to me…)

    • February 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

      I do have a second tank, and it sounds like I should get it filled before I flame out this weekend!

  2. February 14, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Yep. Get the second tank. Nothing beats having to go searching for gas in the middle of a BBQ when the gas gives out! Except if it happens while boiling your brew. Think of it as a multi-purpose investment if you cook outdoors too!

    • February 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

      That’s just the thing – I have to detach the one currently frozen to the BBQ!!

  3. ronen
    February 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    I sent an email around to a bunch of friends and found 2 that had an old tank sitting under their decks since they switched their grills to natural gas. Now I can run one till its empty with a full one on deck and didn’t cost me anything except some homebrew in exchange for the tank.

    • February 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      Smart thinking. And you’ve just made me dream of having a brewery sculpture hooked up to natural gas – endless brewing!!

  4. David
    February 15, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Ok, i’m sure this is a silly question, but why don’t you brew on your stove top?

    • February 15, 2011 at 7:19 am #

      It’s electric. Plus my brew kettle is huge.

    • February 15, 2011 at 11:21 am #

      Stove top has WAY fewer BTU’s than the propane burner. The brew day would take way too long.

      • February 15, 2011 at 11:58 am #

        Nevermind my wife killing me for stinking up the house!

  5. Trevor B
    February 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    U haul and several other places will fill tanks not replace them, if the tank feels light, I just go fill it before my brew, but I usually get about 8-10 5 gallon batches per tank, using a smaller burner

    • February 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

      I have a mostly empty tank on the grill as well, so maybe I’ll go for it and use the fumes in the other as a back up. I hate filling tanks before they’re empty, as I always feel like I’m wasting $$.

      • TrevorB
        February 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

        Uhaul will top your tank off, so you don’t waste any propane at all

  6. February 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I have gotten 3 full boils out of my set-up(same one as yours). I will say though that I always have a back-up tank close by if I think I might run out. I must be a wuss though because I just brewed a Breakfast Bourbon Stout back in January on my stove top. I didn’t feel like dealing with the teen temps. nor did wish to shovel out my patio brewing area. Actually, I just started to brew outside with the Bayou this past summer & I do enjoy it. But, along with the weather constraints, I wanted to test out the stove(recently converted to gas from electric) to see howlong it would take to crank up my 40 qt. boil pot. & if the pot would even fit under my hood. All went well.

    • February 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

      Glad all went well indoors. My favorite thing about brewing in the winter is being able to cool my wort in a snowbank. Otherwise it’s ice in the bath tub, which is a major PIA. I might get a wort chiller if I keep brewer as often as I have been lately.

      • February 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

        Great piece of equipment! When I went from brewing 2 gal. of wort & cooling with cold water, to a full 6.5 gal. brew, I knew I needed one of these. Fortunately I had most everything hanging(literally) around. leftover copper tubing, old garden hose,just needed some fittings & I was in business. I do believe however, that going to a full wort boil made a dramatic improvement in my beers.

        • February 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

          I usually do 3 gallons and add about 2.5 at the end (lose half a gallon in evaporation, steeping grains, etc). I’d like to do a full boil some time. Maybe for my next beer, a Belgian double from Northern Brewer (extract of course).

  7. Gordon
    February 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Brewing all-grain, I generally get 4 batches out of a tank. Remove the need to heat mash and sparge water, and you should be able to get 6-8 partial mash or extract batches out of a tank.

    Everybody else gave you good advice on having two tanks and topping up rather than swapping. I take mine to the friendly equipment rental shop down the street- they charge me $2.68 a gallon (or about $13 for a fill) versus $19 for the privilege of swapping out for a new tank.

    • February 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

      Sounds like three or four shouldn’t be a problem then.

      I have a refill place near me that charges $20 to fill ‘er up, regardless of how much propane is currently in the tank.

      • Don
        February 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

        That’s a rip off! Find a U-Haul place on your way home from work!

        • February 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

          I’m not carrying a partially filled propane tank for a 70 mile round trip, Don. Besides, there are no U-Haul places that are on the way – they are all a bit off my route.

        • Don
          February 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

          Like Liquor Outlet? Dude, you live in the New York megalopolis. I’m sure you could find one close. And you need to embrace our noble gases. Sweet Lady Propane would never do you wrong! At least that is what Hank Hill told me…

        • February 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

          According to U-Haul’s site, the nearest refill station in 34 miles away from my house in the opposite direction of work.

        • Don
          February 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

          And I’m sure there is no other place that will fill by the gallon anywhere near you. I’m thinking the $20 guy has to be doing something illegal. I can’t imagine that anyone can set any price for a commodity like propane. If you have him top off your tank (and why would you) you will be paying $20 a gallon for the stuff. I gotta think that there is a better place. Plus $4 a gallon even if your tank is empty is a rip off.

        • February 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

          I’ve lived here for 20 years. I know how it works, Don.

        • Don
          February 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

          But you have never needed a reliable and cost effective source of propane before like you do now. I’ll shut up. If you want to pay through the nose for propane you go right ahead…

        • February 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

          I’ve had a gas grill for decades, Don, so I’ve been through this quite a few times.

          Also, I love how you’re a little obsessed with my quest for affordable propane.

  8. February 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Why do I feel this banter between Don and Jim will digress to ‘I know you are but what am I” very soon.

    • February 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

      Because he knows he is and I’m not! 😉


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