Cooking and fire go back a long, long way, and they're still strong partners even in the modern age. You may or may not cook over gas in your kitchen, but the backyard grill and—increasingly—kitchen torches help keep that connection intact. Even for the most "indoorsy" of cooks, there's something innately satisfying about using an open flame to prepare your meal (or dessert).
While most of us have a pretty good idea of what we like in a grill, buying a kitchen blow torch is unfamiliar territory for many cooks. If you think you'd like one but aren't quite sure, relax ... we've got you covered. Stay tuned and we'll break down what sets the best kitchen torches apart, and how to pick one that's right for you.
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Kitchen Torch Uses
A kitchen torch is admittedly not one of the basic fundamentals that you automatically need in your kitchen, like measuring cups or pots and pans, so it's worth taking a moment to talk about how surprisingly versatile a torch can be. Everyone knows you can use a kitchen torch for creme brûlée, but that's just the starting point.
Once you've got one, you'll use it to roast the skins on peppers and tomatoes for easy removal, for browning meringue on your pies, getting the breadcrumbs or cheese on your casseroles to a perfect golden brown, or even toasting marshmallows at midnight for s'mores without the campfire (we won't judge). We haven't even discussed yet what it can do for meats, or for barbecue and grilling. The glaze on your ham didn't caramelize? Hit it with the torch. The skin on your slow-roasted pork butt didn't bubble and puff? Get some flame on it. Cooked a steak sous-vide and want to get some nice char on it? You bet. Heck, you can even use the torch to light your charcoal in a hurry.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Kitchen Torch
Fuel Type: Kitchen torches invariably run on either butane or propane. Butane comes in two standard forms: The slender cans used for refilling lighters, and the larger cans used in portable stoves. Most torches use the former, but a few use the latter. Torches using propane tend to be larger and heavier-duty. They'll take either the small, stubby tanks you'd use on a portable stove or the longer, slender variety used on a plumber's torch (spoiler: they're not just for plumbing). All of these fuel sources work well, just be aware that most butane-powered torches require frequent refueling.
Size and Design: Some torches are quite large, and others are relatively small. Some are utilitarian, and others are sleek and stylish. The size of your hands, the amount of storage space—for relatively little-used tools—and your own commitment to aesthetics will all factor into your purchase.
Comfort Level: Some of the kitchen torches in our roundup are intended for use by professional cooks (or even tradesmen) and are full-bore kitchen blow torches. They assume you have a degree of existing comfort and experience with using such a potent tool. Others are much smaller and have more in the line of safety features, making them a better option for occasional (or nervous) users.
The Best Overall Kitchen Torch
Iwatani Professional Kitchen Torch
Iwatani is a well-established manufacturer of commercial cooking equipment, and that's exactly what this torch is. It won't dazzle your Instagram followers or color-coordinate with your linens, it's just a really good torch. That's why you'll see them in restaurants all across the continent, and that's why it's our top choice. The torch itself offers excellent control over your flame, dialing down to pencil-point precision for your creme brûlée but still becoming a roaring conflagration when you want to char a steak. The torch lights reliably and, once lit, stays going even when you remove your finger from the trigger (consumer models usually won't).
What you get for your money in this case is the torch mechanism itself, which clips directly onto a stove-style can of butane (sold separately). It's not visually elegant, but it is a deeply pragmatic approach to the design. It also means the torch itself is compact and easy to store when it's not in use.
The Best Value Kitchen Torch
Gibot Butane Torch
There are plenty of highly-capable torches out there, but this one represents something of a sweet spot between low price and functionality. It couldn't be much simpler to operate: Fuel goes into the handle of the torch (it uses the same butane you'd use for refilling a lighter, which is sold separately), a button at the back of the torch ignites the flame and twists to lock or unlock it, and a sliding regulator at the side—like the one on a lighter—controls the flame. It holds enough butane for a few minutes' use per fill, depending on how big of a flame you use, and that's enough to do a batch of creme brûlée once you get the hang of it. This is a really basic unit and others have a lot more features, but at this price, it's an excellent choice for occasional use.
The Best Kitchen Torch for Beginners
Jo Chef Refillable Kitchen Torch
If you're reasonably confident that you'll use your torch a lot, this model from Jo Chef represents a substantial upgrade over the little Gibot, for a relatively modest increase in price. So what's different? Well, the Jo Chef holds more butane per fill, so you can sear or caramelize more food with it. The flame is more precise and adjustable, and the torch won't cut out mid-use like cheaper models often will. The torch stands up on a sturdy base, so you can light it and then set it down in order to work with both hands (that's more a craft thing, but it's sometimes handy for sugar work as well). The Jo Chef also has a safety lock to protect it from inquisitive kids, and it requires both hands to light it (a safety feature for home use; professional torches are made for one-hand ignition). Overall, this is an excellent kitchen tool.
The Best Kitchen Torch for the "Torch Hesitant"
It's great fun to watch professional chefs on TV flambeeing with aplomb or torching a perfect crust onto their beautifully-composed entrees with casual ease. It's quite another thing for a shaky-handed novice to try the same dish, and—let's face it—it's only natural to have qualms about wielding a tool that can operate at a couple of thousand degrees. If your desire to have a torch is tempered by a hesitancy to risk your fingers with one, this model from Eurkitchen is for you. Like the Jo Chef unit, it has a safety lock to prevent accidental ignition, and a fuel gauge so you'll know when it's time to refill. The big difference with this model is that the nozzle directs the flame away from your fingers at a sharper angle, and there's a plastic finger guard to protect you against any snaps and pops from hot sugar or fat.
Is it the best torch for the money, or the easiest to use? No, not really. But if a concern about injuring yourself is what keeps you from buying a torch, the Eurkitchen may be the safe option you need.
The Best Heavy-Duty Kitchen Torch
You might expect to see a Bernzomatic blow torch in your garage, or a tradesman's truck, and you'd be right: They're widely used for soldering, light welding and cutting, and a host of other practical uses. That doesn't mean they can't double as a kitchen torch, though. In fact, if you looked in professional kitchens, you'd find that most of the chefs who aren't using an Iwatani are using one of these. They're powerful but precise, able to go from diamond-like precision (for your delicate desserts) to an imposing blast of flame (for searing meats) at the twist of a dial. The torch head is designed to work at any angle, so it won't cut out as you work (an issue with lesser torches in this style), and it works with a big 14-ounce cylinder of propane (included in the kit) that will fuel you through months of frequent use.
Like the Iwatani, this torch isn't photogenic in the least. But if you're reluctant to buy single-task tools, this one—because of its non-culinary applications—might just be the best all-rounder.
The Best Kitchen Torch for Barbecue
SearPro Gun-Style Cooking Torch
Some people fall into the "less is more" camp, while others gleefully embrace an over-the-top approach to life and kitchen wares. If you fall into the latter camp, the SearPro might just be the torch for you. It's visually distinctive, with its gun-style handgrip and its oversized torch chamber, and its performance backs up its looks. You can adjust the torch to the kind of pencil-point that's ideal for meringues and creme brûlée, but it really shines when you open up the throttle and crank out an absolute gust of flame to sear your meats or start your coals. It's practically a flamethrower, and its potential for "hold my beer" moments is probably its biggest downside. Like the Bernzomatic, this torch runs on large propane cylinders (sold separately) so there's plenty of fuel to keep the fun going.