Boiling Point: For a fine-food finish, torch it

Jim Hillibish

So how do they get those hams and turkeys so perfectly browned without overcooking? The secret is the chef’s flambeau, a gas torch that cosmetically sears food after cooking.

The torches run on butane fuel for tobacco lighters. They melt cheese, brown brulee custard, caramelize meringue, blacken vegetables and on and on, all in seconds. They feature a controllable, intense flame and child-proof lock.

Julia Child is credited with discovering the first chef torch. She noticed her plumber cooking his lunch with one.

She was never a fan of the later wimpy models and stuck with propane with a fan nozzle.

Torching is hardly something that chefs brag about. Usually it’s applied in the privacy of the kitchen. Beautifully golden food then is rolled out. Guests marvel at the baking skill displayed. It does require practice to get it to look right.

Of course, you could do a Julia and borrow dad’s propane blowtorch. That seems so macho. The kitchen torches are smaller, more precise and much safer.

Expect to find a lot of work for yours. The classic application is to crackle sugar atop creme brulee.

It’s hard to perfectly blacken seafood without overcooking. Not with a torch. A steak grilled rare can be blackened in a few seconds. Appetizers and casseroles can be browned and peppers blackened to make peeling easier.

Butane has no flavor, so the browning will taste natural even though it is forced in an artificial manner.

Most torches come with trigger locks to keep them safe around kids.

Two years ago, some were released with gas leaks around the nozzles. You can check for this with soapy water there. If it bubbles, you have a leak, so return to place of purchase.

Chef’s torches once were the costly gifts in upscale gourmet shops. Many fetched nearly $100.

Their popularity has eased that. Good ones now cost $20 to $30. Few come with the butane lighter gas. That’s another $1 to $2 per can.

A popular model is the Orka Chef’s Torch on It includes electronic ignition and safety features at $20 with free shipping. A similar model is marketed by Typhoon. Other makers include Oggi, Sterno and BernzOmatic Micro Torch.

At the top of the list is the steel Cheflamme at $56. Hybrid models screw into the top of special gas cans, including the Holowick at $26.99.

If you’re thinking Christmas gift, this beats an apron and spatula. Just expect everything at your Christmas supper to be a delicious brown.

Jim Hillibish writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at