Ask a Chef: Cooking With a Blowtorch

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The Sydney Morning Herald / Getty Images

Let's not beat around the bush here: blowtorches are cool. You want one, and it's probably something we inherited from our caveman ancestors that makes us feel that way; wielding flame registering as the primal and macho job of our "providers" somewhere deep in our brains, but whatever–fire! You get to shoot fire out of your hands! And for the sake of food, too! There seriously seems like no downside to blowtorches, as long as you make sure you take the requisite safety precautions and don’t burn your house down. But we’re sure you do that no matter what you’re cooking.

"Blowtorches play a crucial role in certain recipes, especially if you're a home baker," says Chef Michael Ferraro of Delicatessen and macbar. "Also, believe it or not, you'll find it useful for other tasks, such as lighting range and oven pilots, or your outdoor grill. Plus, at your next dinner party, your guests will be pretty impressed when you whip out a large propane torch!"

A propane torch is exactly what he suggests you invest in, rather than one of those dinky butane torches you can buy at kitchen specialty stores, which often "have an unreliable ignition and run out of gas very quickly." Instead, hit up your local hardware store or plumbing store for something more serious. "A propane Bernzomatic is a great option. Depending on your kitchen, it might be a cool addition to your counter top." Very industrial-chic, and with a heavy-duty tool like that you can go right from browning the top of a meringue pie to soldering some copper pipes. 

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Once you have your blowtorch, of course you can use it to caramelize the tops of crème brûlées, but the uses don't stop there. You can also use it to unmold anything "containing high fat content, gelatin, or chocolate. It applies just the right amount of heat, quickly, to loosen the item, then it immediately cools." The thing is, though, that you don't actually cook with it, just using it to apply a lot of direct heat for a short period of time. Try it in place of your broiler to quickly crisp the top of glazed fish, blacken vegetables, or even making sure the top of your mac and cheese is good and bubbly-brown. You could also make some quick s'mores by blasting a marshmallow, either for a campfire-without-the-campfire dinner party, or maybe just alone in your apartment at 1am. There’s no wrong way to do this, really.

Whatever you do, don’t try to make Bananas Foster with your blowtorch. "Keep it away from all flammable cooking liquids you're cooking with around your kitchen." For that you can use a regular lighter, but be careful when flambeing in general, because, you know, it’s fire. Maybe while youre at the hardware store you can also invest in a new fire extinguisher.

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