Playing With Fire: The Best Uses for a Culinary Blowtorch

To take your food to the next level, bring in the heavy artillery. 
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To take your food to the next level, bring in the heavy artillery. 
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Health- and safety-wise, should we be encouraging you guys to use a 3,000-degree blowtorch inside the house?

Probably not. Are we going to do it anyway? You bet your ass.

We spoke with Chef Michael Ferraro of Delicatessen, a popular restaurant in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood, to learn a little more about what kinds of torches you should use for food, and how a blowtorch can be a useful, if untraditional, tool in the kitchen.

“If you’re in an apartment and space is an issue, I would recommend a small, butane culinary torch,” Chef Ferraro says. The BonJour Chef’s Torch is considered a pretty great value, and many home chefs think it has a little extra control and consistency. But if you’ve got the extra space, you don’t have to get a food-specific torch.

“We use mostly propane here,” Chef Ferraro says. Propane can get a little hotter than butane, and the fuel is also cheaper. “You really can just use the one from your tool shed—that’s what we have here. A classic Benzomatic.”

So if you have an old torch laying around from some abandoned welding project, now’s the time to break it out and bring a smoldering twist to these three menu items.

Cocktails

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You know how campfires make everything smell amazing, from your flannel to your girlfriend’s hair? Well, this technique captures that rich, smoky woodiness inside a glass: this is basically a bonfire that gets you drunk.

Torch a piece of wood on a relatively low temperature with your blowtorch, and capture the smoke in a glass, holding the wood on top. Let it swirl around in there for a minute. Show it off to your friends. Then put a few ice cubes inside while you build your cocktail. Finally, release the smoke as you pour the cocktail in. You’ll be surprised how much of the smoke flavor infuses the drink. This trick is great for a Bloody Mary, but it’ll add a nice hit of wood-smoke to anything—tequila, whiskey, and cognac are solid base liquors for this maneuver (but for the love of God, don’t combine all three).

Experiment with different woods for different flavors—cedar will taste different from olive, for instance. And make sure the wood itself hasn’t been treated with anything. You want to be tasting a little bit of forest-fire, not whatever chemicals they use down at Lowe’s.

Steaks

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“Try different attachments on your blowtorch to get more out of it,” Chef Ferraro tells us. “For instance, working with a Searzall is great,” he says, referring to a cone-shaped device that you can pop onto a regular torch. “It still gets really hot, but the heat is more even—so instead of shooting a thin blue flame, the Searzall gives off an infrared flame, replicating an extremely hot broiler. It’s ideal if you’re cooking a steak and want to crisp up that outside—just brush it with a little butter and hit it with the Searzall, and it will crisp up those little bits of fat on a marbleized cut.”

Plus, you’re cooking a steak with what is effectively a flamethrower wearing a hat, which just feels kind of awesome.

Desserts

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This dessert tactic looks super cool while being impossibly easy and cheap: cut open a stone fruit (peaches are excellent for this), pluck out the pit, and slap some brown sugar on the outside. Then blast those suckers with a blowtorch. The sugar—combined with the fruit’s natural fructose—will caramelize. Once it’s cooled down a touch, dip it into some whipped cream or yogurt for added (but unnecessary) deliciousness.

One more item that’s perfect for the Searzall: urban s’mores. It’ll give you an even heat distribution, if you’re someone who prefers their marshmallows more golden-brown than incinerated. Break this out for date night to automatically win ten points.

Photos by YouTube, Ming Thein/Getty Images, and Moment Catcher/ Flickr