If you have done any camping you have probably used 1-pound disposable “DOT 39” propane cylinders. They are compatible with dozens of products including camping stoves, grills, lanterns, portable heaters, and torches for searing, caramelizing, and even soldering.
The problem is that they are not cheap, they don’t last long, they should not be refilled, and disposing of the spent metal canister is wasteful. But there is a great cost-effective solution. While disposable tanks from Coleman and others cost $6 to $9, refilling a special safe tank costs only $1 to $2.
I’ve used 1-pound tanks for years on camping trips and they have always worked flawlessly. My wife loves cooking breakfast on our Coleman stove as it is quick, easy to use, and saves the hassle of building a fire and waiting for it to be usable. On our two-burner stove, a cylinder lasts 4 to 5 days if we make breakfast every morning for four people. We often take a spare or two so we don’t run out, although you’re not really in trouble if you don’t as the cylinders are available at almost any camping or hardware store.
Unfortunately the stores that sell them do not take empties or recycle them, and I have not found a commercial service that refills them. Since 40 million cylinders are sold each year, according to Waste Advantage Magazine, we’re talking about 3.3 million cubic feet of space in landfills. In many towns and cities it’s illegal to put the cylinders in the trash or recycling.
While you may find some websites that sell products and describe methods for refilling them, the US Department of Transportation cautions the public to never refill the DOT 39 cylinders because they are not designed to withstand the stresses of refilling. “Hazmat incidents involving refilled DOT 39 cylinders have occurred,” they say “including one fatality.” So, is our only option just to keep buying the disposable cylinders and tossing the empties in the trash?
No! The good news is that there are easy to refill 1-pound cylinders available from Flame King and they even sell a safe DIY kit. If you are member of the AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Club, you can find Meathead’s original post on the subject (3/9/22) in the forum by clicking here. Non-members are allowed to see 5 pages in the forum for free, so if you haven’t been poking around in there, you should be able to read his instructions and check out other fun tips and techniques in the forum.
Since I go camping and cook on my boat all the time, I decided to get the kit myself and check it out. The kit comes with a refillable 1-pound cylinder, the E-Z fill adapter, and a stand to hold a 20-pound propane tank used in the process. Flame King says they offer the only legal and lawful method for refilling 1 pound cylinders, which is also DOT compliant.
Flame King does not sell the kit or any of their products directly but it is readily available from Amazon and other suppliers online. The kit comes disassembled in a single box.
If you open the box properly you should see a note right at the top asking you to go the Flame King website to review the instructions on how to properly fill or refill their 1-pound cylinders. Make sure you do this. I’ve embedded their video below.
When you have everything out of the box, assembly takes a few minutes and does not require any tools or special equipment. The kit has everything you need to get started, except the 20-pound propane tank. You can use one from your gas grill or smoker, or obtain a separate tank if you plan on filling a bunch of cylinders all at once. The kit supplies a small hex wrench you’ll need to properly fill their cylinders. The tiny wrench is easy to misplace or lose so make sure to put it in a safe place or you won’t be able to fill the cylinder completely.
Flame King includes one empty cylinder in the kit and additional cylinders can be purchased singly or in pairs. The price of the empty cylinders varies online, but should be less than $20 each. Be forewarned, I found some sites trying to sell single cylinders for $49 or more.
The kit includes a stand to hold a 20 pound propane tank, their EZ-Fill valve, and a 1 pound cylinder. The first step is to assemble the two legs of the stand with one bolt and a wingnut. Then, you attach the plastic base with four more bolts.
The only hard part in the whole process is attaching the EZ-Fill valve to the empty cylinder. If you examine the top of the cylinder closely you will notice a groove cut into the inside of the aperture. This matches a semi-circle metal tab in the valve adapter. When you fit the cylinder to the valve make sure the groove aligns with the tab otherwise you won’t be able to get the threads on the cylinder aligned with the coupler. Turn the coupler clockwise until it is hand-tight.
When you are ready to start filling a cylinder select a place outside that is open and well ventilated. Make sure there are no open flames or sources of sparks. Put out your cigar. Put the stand on a solid, stable surface and invert a 20-pound tank on it. Make sure the valve on the tank is placed between two of the legs so you can access it easily. Flame King warns that the tank should not be left inverted for more than 10 minutes. That should give you plenty of time to fill two to three cylinders, if desired.
Take the EZ-Fill-valve and cylinder combo and attach them to the valve on the 20-pound tank and tighten the coupler hand tight. Once everything is connected, the cylinder will be suspended slightly off the ground. Everything is ready to start filling a cylinder. Open the valve on the 20-pound tank and listen for leaks. If you hear gas leaking try to find the source and tighten the couplers as needed.
Now it’s time for the hex wrench. The wrench fits in the nipple of the cylinder and operates a small vent. You should be aware that propane tanks are filled with liquid propane under pressure. When you use the propane the liquid turns to gas which is then burned in your grill, stove, or lantern. By inverting the 20-pound tank, you are literally pouring liquid propane into the 1-pound cylinder. As the cylinder fills with liquid propane, residual gas or air can create a back pressure that will prevent the cylinder from filling completely. By venting the smaller tank the liquid can top off the cylinder.
Flame King recommends you wear a pair of gloves. The EZ-Fill valve can get pretty cold when filling the cylinder. Press the handle on the EZ-Fill valve and slowly open the vent using the hex wrench. As you fill the cylinder with liquid propane, you will hear gas escaping from the vent, but it will be mostly invisible. Keep holding the handle until you see liquid propane emit from the relief vent, it will look like a jet of steam. Release the filling handle and close the vent. Your cylinder should now be filled.
Embossed in the bottom of the cylinder you will see some writing. Among other things, it displays the empty and full weight of the cylinder. Empty, the cylinder should weigh 1.4 lbs and full about 2.5 lbs. If you have a kitchen scale you can check the weight after you fill the cylinder. As you can see mine was exactly 2.5 lbs.
The cylinder also comes with a cap (shown below) that provides convenient carrying handles and prevents gas from leaking while you’re storing or transporting it. The cap adds an ounce to the overall weight. The whole process was fast and easy and the only hitch that I experienced was attaching the empty cylinder to the EZ-Fill valve.
Now that I can fill my own, I’m done buying and wasting single-use cylinders. I plan on getting several Flame King refillable cylinders and using them this summer while camping and boating.
Big Jim is senior vice president of technology and head of our technical team. He is an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) and Adobe Certified Instructor (ACI) with over 30 years of experience working with graphic design and office productivity software. He has written 15 books for Adobe Press and hundreds of articles on graphic design [...]