Though you might think that using a cooking blow torch is best reserved for professionals, it's actually a great kitchen tool for home cooks of all levels. I finally invested in one recently and quickly realized that it can be used for so much more than the crème brûlée and baked Alaska that it's often associated with. It's great for flame-roasting vegetables like eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, which is otherwise impossible for any folks stuck with an electric stove. It's also the best thing to make s'mores with when there's no campfire in sight, and you can even use it to get your butter to melt just right over the top of your pancakes.
Even though there is something a bit intimidating about wielding an open flame, you definitely don't need to be a culinary expert to use a blow torch. As long as you practice caution while the fire and gas are running, and keep a few tips in mind, you'll be good to go.
Here's what I've learned so far from cooking with my blow torch, where you can get one for yourself, and all the different ways you can use it in your cooking and baking.
Here's what you need to know before buying a cooking blow torch.
I grabbed my blow torch at a kitchen supply store in Berlin for €20 (a little over $ 22), and they're available at even lower prices online. If you're truly a beginner, reach for something small to start, like this $ 11 option, and work your way up to the bigger stuff that pros swear by, like this more expensive option.
Generally, bigger cooking blow torches are better for bigger dishes and smaller torches for smaller ones. For example, if you're making a crème brûlée for one, you can definitely get away with the smaller size, but if you're trying to get a nice char on a 30-ounce steak, you'll definitely need something larger.
One thing to keep in mind: Though pricier torches are often sold with attachable butane tanks, you'll usually have to buy your own fuel for smaller, more affordable torches and refill them yourself. Thankfully it's not difficult to do, and the torches are always sold with instructions that will guide you through the process. (You can usually find butane at your local home improvement store or places like Target and Walmart.)
Using a blow torch gives you the rare opportunity to cook your food with a direct flame. It's definitely a novelty, and adds a special touch to certain dishes. But don't forget to be careful while you're having fun. Don't make any dramatic movements while the torch is running, and keep the fire a medium distance from your food as you cook it. If you put the flame too close, the food will likely burn before it has a chance to cook evenly—too far, and it won't work at all. And don't linger too long on the same spot. Move the flame around consistently so that the heat gets evenly distributed.
You can use a blow torch to caramelize fruits.
For a quick, delicious treat, slice a citrus fruit like a grapefruit in half, sprinkle it with coarse sugar, and blast it with a blow torch till the surface is caramelized, crunchy, and slightly black and brown in spots. Do the same with similarly juicy fruits, like figs and peaches—if it seems like it can be torched, it probably can. Top whatever you cook with yogurt and eat it as a fancy breakfast, or opt for whipped cream or ice cream and call it dessert.
Or you can use it to flame-roast veggies for a smoky flavor.
Ever since a friend of mine introduced me to baingan bharta, an Indian dish made of minced, fire-roasted eggplant, I've been obsessed with the idea of cooking veggies over an open fire. The flavors just become so much more nuanced and smoky when you prepare them this way. I may be stuck with an electric stove, but my cooking blow torch makes it possible to still achieve my smoky-vegetable dreams. If you're in a similar position, the tool can definitely level up your veggie-cooking game, too.
To do it, simply brush the flame evenly across the skin of your chosen vegetable until it's black in most spots—you want it to be charred, because you're not actually going to eat the charred parts. After the whole thing is blackened and softened, remove the skin and use the meat in your recipes. Chop peppers up and cook them into a chili; purée eggplants with yogurt and spices for a babaganoush-style dip; or turn fire-roasted tomatoes into a vibrant marinara sauce.
It's also great for searing meat.
Sometimes your steak or chicken never gets as brown and crispy as you'd like, no matter how long you leave it in the pan. But you can guarantee that your meat has a perfect brown crust with some help from a blowtorch. In fact, a lot of restaurants rely on this trick, too!
It's best to wait until the end of the cooking process to whip your fire out. When the meat is mostly cooked, evenly brush the heat all over both sides to create a brown crust. It'll take you about two to three minutes per side, depending on how large the cut is.
You can also use it for s'mores and other desserts.
Instead of waiting for your next camping trip or an invite to a bonfire to satisfy your s'mores cravings, you can use a blow torch to make the sweat treat whenever you want. Better yet, make a s'mores pie and then torch the whole top for a really impressive-looking dish.
There are a couple different ways to prepare s'mores using a cooking blow torch. You can set the marshmallow directly on the chocolate and graham cracker and melt it from there (this also melts the chocolate a bit, which is a nice bonus). Or, you can pop the marshmallow on a skewer, roast it from there, and then put it all together.
From bananas foster to lemon meringue pie, there are tons of delicious desserts you can whip up with a cooking blow torch. Once you start torching, you won't want to stop. So after you've tired of the basics, let the kitchen tool enable you to realize all your cooking and baking ambitions.
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