No discovery in human history has been so advancing as that of fire. No discovery has been so entrancing, either. Keep both in mind when considering the humble blowtorch for your kitchen.
The most important thing to understand is that the best kitchen blowtorch is no different than your average soldering torch — this means those small, plasticky ones that look like glue guns are not the play. Instead, buy the Bernzomatic’s TS8000 torch ($42), which excels thanks to a cast-aluminum body (it’s the good kind of heavy), tactile trigger action, a safety knob and efficient propane use.
The blowtorch found its way into the kitchen thanks to pastry chefs. It’s excellent at rapidly caramelizing sugar — think of crème brûlée, Baked Alaska or a meringue. But a surge in popularity for the sous-vide circulator, which gave rise to the popularity of the sous-vide steak, has given everyday cooks a reason to buy a blowtorch for reasons beyond the dessert menu. And when it comes to steak, you need a more serious torch than those peddled by most traditional cookware outfits.
Browning the exterior of a steak, or any meat, is elemental to the blowtorch. It’s a balancing act — keep the flame on your medium-rare cut too long and you’ll wind up eating a medium-well steak. The less powerful torches require the user to keep the flame on the steak for longer than torches like the TS8000, which leads to the ruining (or at least over-cooking) of the steak.
Virtually every task you’d put a torch to is better served by more power — blackening the skin of peppers (or tomatoes) for salsa, crisping the edges of roasted Brussels, caramelizing the edges of a plate of grapefruit wedges or just making a pot of water boil faster. The quicker you can achieve browning or charring, the more likely the integrity of the food remains intact.
The point is this: get a blowtorch for your kitchen but absolutely do not get one that’s meant for the kitchen. Those made for hard work will last longer and perform better. The Bernzomatic costs about $15 more than entry-level blowtorches — that’s a small price to pay for crispier potatoes, steakhouse-worthy sears and the quickest char in the world.