Saturday, March 29, 2014

Exploding Kamados, Propane Tank Exchanges, and BTU's...Oh My

Spring is officially here.  That means plants are blooming, birds are singing, and all the animals are out establishing their homes.   Us humans?  We are planting, fertilizing, and watering to grow grass that we will turn around and cut down because it grows.  That and we head to hardware stores, patio & pool places, and other grill dealers to refurbish or buy new grills.

Exploding Kamados
I picked up a new kamado grill to use for the photo shoot of the book cover.  It's a Vision Grill's kamado that we bought at a warehouse club.

The Vision Grill is available at a bargain price loaded with a ton of extra features, about half the price of some similarly featured kamados.  My neighbor and fellow Egghead, John, is putting the Vision through testing and I'll have a full review post in the next few weeks.  It looks promising.  

But one of the hazards of buying a ceramic grill from a retailer other than a dealer is product handling.  I literally mentioned that we should check it before we left the store....

...Just an inconvenience.  The warehouse club handled the exchange very well and yes, I did open it up before we left the store a second time.

On another note, I was trying to induce a back flash for a picture.  I think all kamado grill owners have lost a few eyebrows and singed plenty of arm hairs by creating a back flash.  That is when you have lots of fuel (VOC's) and heat inside a kamado but restricted air, then open the grill.  The sudden available oxygen lets all of the VOC's ignite at once creating a superheated fireball.  That's why you are supposed to "burp" the kamado by slightly opening the lid first to let a little air in. 

This time I tried doing it on purpose and had something happen that I've never seen before.  First, we made the conditions TOO perfect, here's the shot just as the lid was opening.  

I missed the fireball from sheer shock because it was the biggest I've seen.  We immediately shut the grill to extinguish the engulfing flames, the thermometer shot around the dial (excess of 1,000°f) and about 30 seconds later, we heard a super loud crack.  

The tile under the Egg exploded with such force that John heard it from 40 feet away and the pieces of the tile shifted 2 inches.  Two inches might not sound like a lot until you consider 200 pounds is sitting on top of those pieces....

Granted, the tiles we have used for 6 years should have been a thick paver tile but we have had no issues until now.  When we compared our grills with these tiles to John's Egg with a thick paver, ours were always noticeably cooler underneath even with these skinny tiles.  But lesson learned, we went with the thicker pavers.

Propane Tank Exchanges - What To Look For
The majority of people with gas grills utilize the standard 20 lb liquid propane tank.  People with plumbed LP or natural gas are lucky enough to never have to worry about refilling grill tanks.   

In the past 15 years or so, propane tank exchanges have become popular.   These are the cages that you see at convenience, hardware, and other stores where you bring in your empty tank and exchange it for a full one.  The only problem with that is the quality and safety of the physical tank that you get in exchange may be questionable.  I had someone else pick up an exchange for me two weeks ago and the tank I got is the perfect example of what to avoid.

The retail sales folks we have talked to don't care because "it is the exchange company's job to do the inspections".   The exchange companies may do a thorough inspection or they might just paint over obvious damage.  Protect yourself by visually inspecting the tank you are getting for these things before accepting it. Don't just accept the next tank in line, be choosy like a kid at a pet store picking a single goldfish out of an aquarium of a hundred. 

Physical damage
This tank's collar around the valve has obviously been struck and damaged in handling.  There are cracks in the welds and there is a lot of potential for this tank to be compromised.   Sadly, this damage was "inspected" and deemed okay enough to paint over and send back out to customers.

I believe all exchanges repaint their tanks, that doesn't mean they are hiding anything.  But avoid tanks that have buckled paint, or even worse, rust pitting though the paint.   

Look at the tank's welds for damage like dents and cracks.   This tank was dented right on a welded seam, creating the potential for leaks.

Not only was this tank in bad shape, the valve leaked when securely connected to two different fittings.  One you could audibly hear leaking and the other failed the bubble test.  Apply a solution of 1 Tbsp dish soap and 3 Tbsp water to all joints and look for bubbles as evidence of leaking. 

Here is the replacement from the same selection of tanks - no damage, no pits, and no dents.  It's just a matter of paying attention and choosing wisely.

So remember, choosy mom's choose Jif.  Wait, what?  Only you can prevent forest fires?  No that's not it.  Oh yeah, "Don't be glib, check your tank before it wrecks your crib!"

BTU Ratings
If you are in the market for a gas grill this Spring, you will see BTU ratings thrown around a lot.  There is a misconception that BTU ratings are a rating of the grill's power when actually it is about consumption. 

Now I'm off to go grill some wings for the basketball games tonight.  Happy Grilling!