In my cooking life—both as a professional chef and as a home cook—I have frequently used a small kitchen torch. They're useful for really delicate work, like caramelizing the top of a crème brûlée and...well, not much else.
For real flaming help in the kitchen, though, I much prefer a full-size blowtorch. Of course, it, too, can caramelize sugar. But it's also good for many, many other tasks that a cute little kitchen torch can't really accomplish. And once you get accustomed to how it feels in your hand, I find it's actually easier to wield than the little guy too.
A full sized torch makes quicker work of those fancy sugar crusts—as well as toasted meringues. (The brilliant part: You can darken those meringue peaks without warming the rest of your nice, chilly lime or lemon pie.) You can use a big torch to warm the stainless-steel bowl of a stand-mixer as it beats cold butter that's destined to be room-temperature butter for cake. But you're really not limited to the realm of desserts.
A full-size torch is an excellent tool for savory cooking, and not just for sous vide bros who cook their steaks in bags and need a way to add some char on the outside. A big torch is especially handy if you don't have a gas stove at home. Allow me to explain:
The Best Way to Char Peppers for Peeling
Have you tried to balance a red pepper on your gas stovetop to blacken it before peeling, or tried to watch your broiler unevenly blackening a tray of peppers? Charring and peeling peppers, whether they're sweet or spicy, can be accomplished much more efficiently by brandishing a blowtorch.
I learned about torch-roasted red peppers from chef Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted, who uses a similar technique to remove the skin from fresh plums. It's clever for a few reasons: I find that using a stove's eye (or a broiler) to char or warm anything requires quite a bit of monitoring—and even when you're watching carefully, it's hard to get all the sides of every pepper evenly blackened.
I've also found that torch-blackened peppers retain a more sturdy texture than broiled peppers or peppers roasted on a stovetop, which is especially useful if you plan on stuffing them.
Here's how you do it: Just pierce the stem end of the pepper with a fork. Hold the fork handle with one hand and turn on the blowtorch. Wave the torch's flame back and forth against the surface of the pepper—you may have to play with distance a bit depending on the output of the torch you're using. Once you figure out the proper distance, you'll notice the skin will begin to crackle and blacken quickly. Work your way all around the pepper, turning the fork as necessary, until the crackling has stopped and the pepper is totally blackened.
Place the pepper in a bowl and repeat with any other peppers. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate and set aside for several minutes to let the peppers steam. After about 5 minutes, use a towel to wipe the surface of the peppers. You'll notice the black skin wipes easily away, leaving behind a glistening "roasted" red pepper.
The Best Way to Warm Tortillas
Have you ever warmed a tortilla directly on your stovetop burner to give it a little char? It works, but if you're heating up a lot of tortillas for a dinner party and you only have four burners, you'll be standing alone over the oven heating up round after round while your friends enjoy their tacos. A blowtorch makes it easier to warm so many tortillas all at once, improving the texture and adding just a touch of toasty flavor.
And it's simple to do: Lay out corn or flour tortillas in a single layer on a baking sheet. Turn on your blowtorch and wave it over the tortillas until they're lightly, evenly charred and just beginning to puff. Use tongs to turn each tortilla over—if you're daring, you can do this with your hands, but the torch will have made the sheet pan hot, so be careful. Repeat the charring on the other side.
To warm even more tortillas, you can simply put a new layer on top of the first layer, then blast away, repeating as needed. The process is so quick that you can wait until the last minute to do it, but if you need to keep the tortillas warm, wrap the top of the baking sheet in foil and place in an oven turned to a low temperature (about 170°F).
Ok, So, What Do I Need?
To start using a torch in your kitchen, you'll need to invest in a torch head (which you can buy and reuse) and a propane cylinder (which you'll dispose of once it's empty—check here for you local cylinder disposal guidelines). And one other thing you might want for when torching your foods? A fire extinguisher. Because if you're going to be playing with fire you don't want to get...well, you know.
BUY IT: Bernzomatic Trigger-Start Torch Head, $38 at Home Depot; Bernzomatic Propane Gas Cylinder, $4 at Home Depot
All products featured on Epicurious are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious