There's a special kind of sadness that grips you when you toss a big, juicy steak on the grill but can't get the propane to come out of the tank. Unfortunately, there's no magic cure for an empty tank. But you can solve other problems with a little troubleshooting so you can get dinner back on track without tarnishing your Grill Master reputation.
Check the Propane Level
If propane won't come out of your tank, the first step is to make sure that it isn't empty. The best way to do this is to use a tank level gauge. Unfortunately, most propane tanks lack this handy gadget. You'll need to buy one on your own if you wish.
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Until you do, there are a few other ways you can check the propane level in your tank. The simplest is to close the valve on the tank, remove the tank from your grill and give it a gentle shake. If the tank feels quite light and you don't hear any liquid sloshing around, the tank is probably empty.
Another handy trick is to pour a bucket of warm or hot water down the outside of your tank. Next, run your hand down along the side of the tank and feel for a cold spot. Propane absorbs heat very quickly but your tank won't. The cold spot indicates the top of the propane level in the tank.
Try Starting Over
For safety reasons, most propane tanks won't release fuel if the valve on them is opened as far as it will go. To check for this issue, simply close the valve on your propane tank all the way. Now you can start over, turning the valve only once to open the propane tank. Propane should now be flowing.
If you need more gas, you can open the valve further. To do so, turn it very slowly in small increments until you have the amount of gas flow you need and then stop. There's no need to open the valve all the way, and the propane will likely shut off again if you do.
Inspect Your Setup
When using an older grill, it's important to take a look at your propane connector. If it's less than 1 inch long, you'll need to replace it. Propane canisters now include a check valve that gets depressed when you connect the tank to the grill. If your connector is too short, it won't properly depress the valve.
It's also a good idea to check the rest of your setup. Your tank won't release propane unless the hose on your grill is attached to it properly and firmly. If everything is hooked up securely, you may have a faulty gas regulator. Replace it and try again.
Handle a Stuck Valve
Sometimes you can't get propane flowing because the valve on the propane tank is stuck and refuses to budge. First, make sure you're turning the valve in the right direction — counterclockwise to open. It may sound silly to check something this simple, but we all have our moments.
Once you've verified that everything is moving in the right direction, place a rubber band around the valve and try again. The rubber can give you a better grip on the valve and may help you break it loose. If the rubber band trick fails, place a dab of oil on the valve's stem and give it a few minutes to work before trying again.
Still no luck? Take the propane tank back and exchange it for another. Never reach for a pair of pliers or other tools to try and force the valve. Doing so can damage both you and the tank.