Cheap Shot | Tanks Very Much: It’s a gas, gas, gas at Camp VIP 

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Insane with the propane, insane in the brain, I’m cooking with fire now, and it’s a gas. Really, it is a gas. It’s propane. For my birthday, I got a four-burner 60,000 BTU grill and now I am like a backyard Emeril. Bam! Give me meat, butter and tinfoil, and I’ll serve you dinner.

Proud of my new culinary skills, I called Kristen and invited her over for an old-fashioned barbecue. She said, “Will that dinner come with a side of Lipitor or Zocor?”

“If those taste good with butter,” I said, “I’ll make whatever vegetables you’d like to eat.”

With a friend coming over for ribs and pork chops, I went outside and gave my propane tank a quick shake. With my left hand, the shake seemed to say there was propane in the tank, but with my right hand, the tank seemed empty. Empty with the right, full with left. Empty-full-empty-full. Until I was left feeling empty, and this wasn’t right.

Unfortunately, I don’t care enough about how much I weigh to own a scale, because if I did, I could have weighed my propane tank. Stamped in the collar on all propane tanks is their listed “tare weight.” Or, how much the tank weighs when it’s empty. For instance, my tank says, “TW 17.” This means my Mary-Kate Olsen tank weighs 17 pounds when it’s empty. Now, let’s say I wanted to cook a large barbecue and needed a full-size Kirstie Alley tank. Each gallon of propane weighs 4.25 pounds, so a full five-gallon tank would weigh 38.25 pounds. If I could have weighed the tank and done a little subtraction, I would have seen how much weight the Kirstie Alley tank had lost or how much propane was left in the tank. Math is fun. Cheers.

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Without a scale, I figured it would be better to run to Home Depot than to run out of gas. Like a lot of convenient grocery and home-improvement stores, Home Depot exchanges empty propane tanks for full ones. In their case, the exchange cost $19.97.

It wasn’t their fault, but I couldn’t help but feel ripped off. Most likely, I gave them at least a gallon of propane in my “empty” tank, in exchange for five-gallons of propane. At $19.97 for the exchange, this comes out to losing $4 a gallon.

These tank exchange programs seem to work like my cell phone company. I may pay for 1,000 minutes a month, but if I only use 600, I don’t receive a 400-minute refund. However, if I go over my minutes (or run out of gas), then I’m left with a raw deal (or raw meat). With my propane tank, I don’t want to run out of gas, so I have always returned a semi-empty tank.

Not anymore. Now I get what I pay for and I prefer to pay less. Propane prices can vary wildly around Salt Lake City. Imagine if gas prices for your auto varied from $2.80 to $5 a gallon. Well, propane is a gas, and that’s how much it does vary.

The least expensive propane I could find was at Camp VIP—a KOA campground on 1400 W. North Temple. Cesar Echeverria said he’s been filling up propane for customers at the KOA for a couple of years. When I asked him how he knew when a tank was full, he said, “The machine turns off or gas comes out of the nozzle.” For some reason, I thought getting a tank filled would be more complicated. The tank I brought to Cesar felt like it was nearly empty. It felt like the one I had taken to Home Depot. As it turns out, I’m a poor judge of weight. For $2.80 a gallon, Cesar filled mine with 3.1 gallons of gas. It took less time, money and trouble than a trip to any convenient store, plus I had a full tank of propane for less than $10.

I called Kristen and told her I could cook her another meal because I had gas. She said, “With all that meat you’re eating, I’m surprised you ran out.”

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Phil Jacobsen

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