Many of us have probably had the time to become more acquainted with our own cooking over the past year or so. And of course, we’ve thought about ways to make it even better. Modern technology has given us two great tools to do just that: sous vide cooking and the kitchen butane torch.
When you use a torch to sear food that has been cooked sous vide, you use the high heat and flame intensity of the torch to impart perfect sears on sous vide steak.
Beyond that, it’s possible to use a torch to finish beautiful desserts and even sear delicate foods like fruits that you never thought could be seared! From melting cheese to searing meat of all shapes and sizes, and everything in between, a sous vide circulator and a culinary butane torch can help you make beautiful and delicious food.
Here, we’ll explain why you should use a sous vide torch and how to pick the Best Sous Vide Torch for all your cooking needs.
The 3 Best Torches for Sous Vide
What is a Sous Vide?
Over the last few years, sous vide machines have become a key cooking tool for everyone from home cooks to top tier restaurants that pride themselves on their high quality.
“Sous vide” means “under vacuum” in French. This is a reference to the cooking process itself. Using vacuum sealers, food is placed in an airtight bag and all the air is sucked out from inside the bag. Finally the bag is sealed, usually with a vacuum sealer. Hence, the food is under vacuum.
The vacuum sealed bag of food is put into a water bath, heated to a precise temperature by a water circulation device. This circulation device is usually referred to as a sous vide.
The sous vide machine both heats the water to a precise temperature and evenly circulates it throughout the container or pot. The whole time keeping the temperature constant.
Sous vide machines cook food in a very specific way. Unlike other cooking methods, sous vide machines cook food to an equilibrium temperature.
This means that after a certain period of time, whatever food is sealed inside the bag is cooked to exactly the same doneness throughout. After reaching the equilibrium temperature the sous vide is set to, the food remains at exactly that temperature and continues to cook extremely consistently.
The final product will be cooked completely evenly, never dry out and be perfectly cooked. Both the inside and outside will be cooked to the exact same doneness, which is something other traditional cooking techniques cannot manage. Sous vides machines also ensure that the food will not lose any moisture as it is cooking, since it is sealed in a vacuum sealed bag.
This makes a sous vide machine the perfect way to cook a steak for example. With sous vide cooking you can cook steak, or any other cut of meat for that matter, to exactly the doneness you desire.
You just set the temperature to the doneness you prefer, say 135F for medium rare, and wait until the meat is fully cooked through to a perfect, tender medium rare. Sous vide cooking offers a level of precision unmatched by any other cooking technique.
Whatever you cook with a sous vide machine will come out exactly the way you want it. There’s no better way to cook high quality meat.
This all being said, there is one thing a sous vide cannot do. It can’t sear your food. Since the food is under vacuum, there’s no oxygen available for the famous Maillard browning reaction to occur.
The food will be perfectly cooked, yes, but it’ll be missing one of the best parts of a well cooked meal. There won’t be a crispy sear at the end of the cooking process.
That’s where a sous vide torch comes into play! With a torch, you can put picture-perfect sears on anything you cook in a sous vide.
Why a Torch? Why not just the usual way?
If you’re not familiar with all the uses of sous vide torches, you might be asking yourself, why on earth should I get one? Why not just sear in a pan or under a broiler?
There’s a number of key reasons why they’re one of the most versatile tools in the kitchen.
As mentioned above, they are an excellent way to put sears on meat that you’ve cooked with a sous vide machine. The sous vide won’t put a sear on your steaks, but with the excellent heat control of a torch you can create exactly the level of sear you want once it comes out of the vacuum sealed bag.
Not only that, but with a sous vide torch you can be sure that by putting a sear on your meat, you’re not overcooking the rest of the cut. There isn’t a better method for sous vide searing available. A torch for sous vide gives you the highest level of control possible while cooking.
Beyond Searing Meat
Culinary butane torches are well-known for their role in creating crispy caramelized sugar on the top of crème brûlées. That is their original use, and probably their most famous function, as well.
In fine dining, you may even find that some chefs use torches to sear delicate and small fruits that would otherwise be overcooked with traditional cooking methods like broiling.
Coat grapefruit segments with sugar and sear them with a sous vide torch until the sugar is brown and bubbly to add some sweetness to the otherwise tart citrus. You can even torch grapes to lightly caramelize their skins for a beautiful and delicious twist on a favorite snack.
You can also sear the outside of raw fish for sushi to add a layer of complexity while still keeping the interior fully raw. The uses of a torch in the kitchen are nearly endless, and there are few other kitchen tools that offer the same level of heat control while cooking.
Butane or Propane?
While researching sous vide torches, you may have come across some different fuel options. Sous vide torches will usually require either butane fuel or propane.
From a purely culinary standpoint, don’t worry, it doesn’t much matter which fuel option you choose. Just make sure it matches up with what the manufacturer says the sous vide torch is designed for.
Butane torches will usually be refilled through a disposable butane fuel canister that looks much like a spray paint can, while propane torches will have screw in tanks more like the fuel tanks used for camping stoves. Both propane and butane canisters are widely available and easy to get.
Both propane and butane are naturally odorless, though they almost always contain odorizer chemicals to alert people to otherwise undetectable leaks. However, this doesn’t actually affect the cooking process on its own.
In reality, the reason “torch taste” is a problem is due solely to simple mistakes while using a torch, whether it be a butane or propane torch.
Torch taste is usually described as the unpleasant taste of fuel and burning that is a result of using a sous vide torch or other culinary butane torch, though it is more often associated with the use of a propane torch.
Torch taste becomes an issue when the sous vide torch flame isn’t properly dialed in. The flame needs to be completely blue all the way through. It’s necessary to always use the adjustable flame control knob to dial in the flame and to minimize the orange you see in the flame.
Orange indicates that the flame is not burning at a high enough temperature, and that the gas, whether it be butane, propane or MAPP gas, isn’t properly combusting. This leaves the taste of ignited fuel on the dish.
Pro Tip from the chef
The second mistake that leads to torch taste is very similar. The problem occurs when a torch is ignited while close to the food. Even with a properly tuned blue flame, if it is ignited in close proximity to food some of the flavor of unignited gas will be imparted to the food being seared.
Always make sure to ignite your torch while it is facing away from the food, and only then bring it over the dish you are searing.
If you just remember these two key things, you’ll never have to worry about torch taste again.
What do professional chefs use?
Of course, the question about what do professional chefs prefer will come up at some point. It might not be what you expect. Almost all professional kitchens use propane torches. While there are important reasons professional chefs prefer the propane torches with large fuel tanks and screw on torch head, for most home cooks it is a nonissue. Propane torches are quite large and you may not have space for one in your kitchen. This also means that they tend to be on the heavier side. While butane is slightly cheaper than propane, unless you find yourself searing three hundred steaks or two hundred crème brûlées a night, you should probably consider buying a smaller and easier-to-handle kitchen butane torch. In the end, you should just pick whatever you feel more comfortable with.
Our Favorite Blow Torches for Sous Vide
Sondiko refillable Butane Torch
The Sondiko Butane Torch is a good place to start when you’re buying your first torch. It runs on butane gas and it has an adjustable flame. It’s nice and small for the home cook, so it won’t take up much space in your cabinet.
The Sondiko torch produces high heat flames and can be refilled with any commercial butane. Like most torches, it features a s lock button to prevent gas from running when it’s not on.
The main down sides are that it needs to be ignited with a lighter or match. It needs to be refilled, instead of just replacing the cartridge like on the Iwatani. Also the grip is a little awkward. I don’t like pushing down on the button with my thumb, I prefer a gun trigger style blow torch.
Don’t expect it to be the greatest torch of all time, but if you’re looking for an entry point, this torch is it.
Iwatani Pro2 2700F
This is a commercial kitchen tested, truly professional grade butane torch that you will absolutely love.
If you want the best tool for the job, and you’re willing to spend a little extra, then this is the one. It’s more than capable of glazing ham for Christmas, crisping fish, charring veggies, browning dessert toppings, melting cheese to perfection.
Points of Performance
• Automatically turns gas on and off when you’re using it
• Adjustable flame strength and shape
• Stabilizing Base
• Click start ignition, aka “One Touch Piezo Ignition”
• Extremely durable and well made product
The Iwatani Pro2 2700F is so good that it’s actually used in commercial kitchens too. Why? Because it’s reliable and easy to use.
Chef’s in a fast moving kitchen, or in a household with little children, often get distracted while preparing plates. Iwatani built this torch with that in mind. That’s why the gas automatically shuts off when it’s not in use, and it automatically turns it on when you ignite the flame.
I mean look at this one from my favorite local Sushi restaurant. It’s three years old. And this place has a 45 minute minimum wait list every night of the week. If you’re looking for something a cut above the rest, then you should get this one.
Sure, it’s not as pretty and styled as the other torches on here, but maybe that means more of your money is going to the part that actually matters in a blow torch: the materials and the craftsmanship of the mechanism.
Spicy Dew Trigger Blow Torch
If you’re like me and you prefer a trigger start torch with some standard safety features, the Spicy Dew Blow Torch is where it’s at.
Unlike the Sondiko Butane Torch, this torch uses a trigger mechanism to ignite the flame. No need for a lighter or match to ignite it. It’s small and refillable, like the Sondiko, which is great for people with small hands in tight kitchens. But refilling butane is also another smelly step to take. I genuinely prefer the quick switching of cartridges.
This is the most affordable option on our list with all of the main features you want. Simple to use too.
Commercial Grade Kitchen Torches
Bernzomatic TS8000 Propane Torch
The Bernzomatic TS High Intensity Trigger Start Torch series has been a sous vide mainstay for a long time. This is the go-to sous vide torch for professionals. It is a trigger-started screw-on torch head that must be put on a tank to function. The TS8000 is simply an updated version of the older TS4000 model, and works in much the same way.
If for some reason you prefer propane or already have propane fuel in your house, this is the way to go. It should be noted, though, that it is somewhat more expensive than most culinary butane torches and has a very large fuel tank you must buy separately. It works great, is extremely well made with an all stainless steel construction, and the fuel tank lasts a long time, but make sure you’re alright with having this relatively large piece of equipment in your house.
Booker & Dax Torch Attachment
If you do opt for a propane torch, you might be interested in purchasing a Booker & Dax Torch Attachment. The attachment is attached to the end of a propane torch head and creates a different kind of flame that’s perfect for a myriad of culinary applications. The attachment consists of two lightweight but high resistant metal screens that disperse the heat.
It takes the extremely focused high heat of the torch flame and converts it into radiant heat. Basically, it spreads the heat out so that you can sear food in an extremely consistent way and in a way that imparts a beautiful color to whatever it is that you are searing.
It makes the torch flame particularly suitable for both searing meat and working with more delicate foods. If you’re looking for a professional upgrade in your home kitchen, look no further. The attachment is a bit expensive, but it adds a priceless element to all your cooking that you can’t get with any other method.
Keep in mind these really work great. Just probably not for the best choice for commercial kitchens. They do the job as advertised but when used at volume it can blow out its mesh as shown in the image. This is still great for home cooks! But in the words of a local sous chef, “It’s basically planned obsolesce when it comes to commercial cooking applications. And they’re not cheap either.”