If you’ve got a grill parked in the backyard, or you’re the kind of camper who prefers a cooked dinner over beef jerky – you probably know about propane already (but keep an eye out later in this story, when we answer the question: “How much propane do you need to deep fry eight turkeys?” Coming below.).
That’s because propane is what fires up a lot of our grills and camp stoves. But propane does much more than cook (in fact, about 48 million households in the U.S. have something that runs on propane).
Brief detour, especially if you’re not already a member of Propane Nation: What IS propane?
The simple answer is, propane is a fuel made from natural gas or petroleum (either one works). Propane is a gas in its natural state, but we usually see it as a liquid, in a tank or a canister, because it’s easier to store (a little liquified propane equals a lot of propane gas fuel).
So what CAN you do with propane? Let’s take a look.
Yes, you can fire up a backyard grill. That’ll cook all sorts of things – from hot dogs and steaks burgers, to grilling corn or eggplant or kebobs. And if deep-frying eight turkeys is on your mind, our expert suggests three 5-gallon propane tanks (two might do it, but just in case. And you can always use that third tank next time.). He walks you through it here: “Let’s deep fry a turkey.”
You can eat a home (well, camp)-cooked meal, out in the woods. The Coleman stove is a long-time classic. Hook that up to your propane canister and you’ve got everything from coffee in the morning to, well, just about anything for dinner (Red wine-marinated hanger steaks with flatbreads. Yes, you could.)
Back home from that camping trip? So maybe you didn’t do that much cooking out in the wilderness and now, you are hungry. Maybe even hangry. If home is in a city, chances are, there’s something good cooking in a food truck near you. And food trucks do their cooking on – propane stoves. A pork slider on a Hawaiian roll? Some fried plantains and pupusas? Barbeque? A sisig burrito? Thanks, propane.
But propane isn’t just about the kitchen. If there’s a pool (along with that grill) in your backyard, a propane heater can keep that pool just the temperature you’d like. Propane also powers portable patio heaters if you’re sitting out at night. And there are propane fire pits too, if you like that look.
And speaking of heat, come wintertime, you might live in one of the 10 million or so households that uses propane to heat the inside of the house. Demographically speaking, that’s more likely to be true if you live away from a city or in a mobile home – though propane heat is a feature of many new homes now in the Northeast. A propane generator can be handy too if your power goes out (you can be back in the light, or online in as little as 10 seconds).
You might also be using propane at work. About 40 percent of American farmers use it for something – and “something” runs the gamut from powering irrigation engines, operating forklifts, running heaters to dry grains like corn and wheat, keeping the barn or the greenhouse warm – along with the same uses we non-farmers have for propane, like cooking. All told, American agriculture is using more than a billion gallons of propane every year.
But the single-biggest use of propane, about 80 percent, is at work is for industrial uses. If you’ve ever seen somebody with a visor and a blowtorch, for instance – metal cutting or soldering, that blue flame is propane on the job. Propane is also the fuel of choice for vulcanizing (which is the fancy name for the heating process that turns the ingredients of a tire, into a tire).
Propane even fixes potholes. Sort of. Or more precisely, propane is used to heat up the asphalt that’s used to fix potholes. So keep an eye out for those highway maintenance workers when you’re driving, and if they are doing road repairs, you can give a tip ‘o the hat to propane as you pass. In fact, you might even be driving on propane. There are some 200,000 cars, trucks and vans out on the road, using propane as fuel. (The most common uses are for police cars, school buses and shuttle vans).
There are even propane-fueled mosquito traps.