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Kitchen Torch Recommendations, Please


My 16-year-old niece has made "perfecting creme brulee" a goal for the new year, so I thought I'd put together a sort of a kit for her birthday. I want to get her a culinary torch, but don't know what kind. The torches that come in pre-assembled creme brulee kits look a bit flimsy (which is why I don't want to just buy one of those). I've noticed some posters here recommend a plumber's torch. Can anyone give me brand names and models of torches known to work well? Safety has to be the primary consideration, over and above power, then ease of use and availability of fuel refills. Any advice or suggestions would be most appreciated.

Thank you.

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  1. Any propane torch from a hardware store is fine. They're all basically the same.

    1. A broiler also works well. I have had great results using turbinado sugar under the broiler. I have a propane torch, but it is honestly a little hard to get it to reach into the edges of a ramekin that isn't brim full.

      1. Hi, ninrn:

        $50 at your corner ACE Hardware store buys both the propane bottle and the Benzomatic deluxe torch with regulator, piezio pushbutton starter, and safety lockout. I recommend getting the wider-base bottle (intended for camping lanterns, etc.) rather than the conventional bottle, because then the whole thing is harder to inadvertently tip over. While you're there, ask if they have a flame-spreader tip-otherwise your niece is going to have to pay very close attention with the pencil-tip flame.

        Hope this helps,

        1. I use a small (fits in the palm of my hand) butane torch that takes liquid refills from pressurized containers. Lights by pulling it's trigger, adjustable flame, burns hot enough that there is no smell or fuel taste. Works for everything from creme brûlée to igniting lump charcoal in our smoker unit. Also added crusty char to filet medallions after low temp roasting and flash cooked some marinated bay scallops too small to skewer. Very handy tool.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ThanksVille

            Hi, Thanksville:

            I'm curious about the "takes liquid refills" aspect. Are you talking about filling from the little Ronson cigarette lighter bottles?


          2. We've talked about torches in a thread about roasting peppers (burning the skin to remove it).

            Propane is the high power choice. However some of them might not work well when the flame is aimed down (or more importantly, the canister is aimed down). Also the canisters are heavy.

            I have seen videos of people holding the custard cup up in the air, as they play the flame over the tilted surface. But I wonder what happens when the flame strays beyond the edge of the cup.

            On the other hand butane torches, especially those sold in kitchen stores, may be too wimpy.

            An inbetween option is a butane torch that uses the larger aerosol size cans, the ones that are used in Asian style hot plate burners. But this isn't as widely available.

            The Spanish (or Catalan) approach to creme brulee is to melt the sugar with a hot branding iron.

            2 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              I agree with the larger butane torch suggestion (Iwatani is one brand). The hardware store propane canisters are tall enough to be quite tippy while the smaller butane torches sold for kitchen use just don't have enough heat output. Restaurant supply stores are a good source for both the torch and the canisters.

              Since the OP was interested in safety, I think that probably rules out the red hot irons and the fire to heat them in.

              1. re: Richard L

                This Crema catlana set does not look too dangerous: :) But I have not handled the iron.


            2. http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/s...
              Something like this might fit the bill.
              You want something lightweight, easy to maneuver, easy to refill, and easily available. These refill with a pressurized can plus special nib that fits into the bottom of the torch. Really, really easy, like refilling a bbq lighter.
              These mini torches are pretty good for the home cook who wants to try bruleeing and so on. I'm not sure a heavier propane torch would be necessary as part of a sort of "introduction" kit...

              4 Replies
              1. re: freia

                Hi, freia:

                That's interesting--HD getting into the cookware market. What are the "nibs" you describe?

                I use my "heavier" torch for other things as well as cooking, so it's not overkill for me.


                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Ok I'm replying from my smartpbone so please.excuse the typos! I used the term "nib" for lack of a better one. Wben trying to get the pressurized gas into the torch you fasten a plastic nib thing that fits into the bottom of the torch. Like when you want to focus a spray of say Jiggaloo into a hinge? This nib thing is included. Some pressurized butane containers have a number or different nibs so they can connect to different models of torches. At least thats what we have up here. Now dont laufh but I use my old butane dental lab torch. Its wicked hot and small with a great base for sitting on a counter. Only thing is once you see an item in a dental supply magazine just triple the proce lololol.

                  1. re: freia

                    Hi, Freia:

                    Ah, I think I understand--the nibs are *adapters* included to assure you can refill the torch from differently-configured bottles. Is that it?

                    Not laughing at all. Pressing things into culinary service from outside that market can sometimes be even better. Very inventive of you.


                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      ADAPTORS...dang it THAT'S the word!
                      Its amazing how if you add the word "culinary" or "dental" or whatever specific professional designation in front of an item, you can double or triple the price!
                      ps and thanks for ignoring the spelling errors -- combo of tiny screen and sausage fingers (mmmm SAUSAGE...)

              2. Hey Everybody,

                Thanks for all the responses. I've looked at the Catalan melting tool. It's very cool and I like that it's simple and old-fashioned. I go back and forth wondering if she can do more damage with a torch or with a branding iron. Probably the torch, right? On the other hand, the iron seems like it might require more finesse and control, and I don't think she'd be able to resist just plonking it down in the sugar (or on the laminate countertops). They have them at the Spanish store in Santa Fe and I'll check it out in person. The Tienda.com site is great -- thanks, PaulJ!

                I was looking at the Bonjour torch, too, but read somewhere that it's flame is quite weak and that it takes several minutes to brulee one little custard. That review could have been in referring to the torch included with the Bonjour creme brulee kit, though, which must be weaker given the price. I'll go to Home Depot and check out the one you recommend, Freia. It definitely looks like the safest bet. Has anyone tried that particular Bonjour torch model?

                ThanksVille, if it's not too inconvenient, could you let me know the brand and model of the little butane torch you have? I'm a bit nervous to get anything that clips onto an aerosol can, as I've used gadgets like that for paint and they leak and/or explode sometimes. I suppose the type made for fuel would be better engineered, but in our family, we need to leave a wide berth for user error.

                Thanks again, Chowhounds. All your suggestions have been very helpful.

                2 Replies
                1. re: ninrn

                  The Iwatani style butane canisters are aerosol in size, but not in manner of attachment. The cans have a large rim for securely attaching them to the burner. I am familiar with how they mount in the stoves, and I'm sure the mount for the torch is equally secure.


                2. Basic Bernz-O-Matic torch. You can get them with a swiveling head to negate the tipping of the bottle, spotty flame issue. The kits usually also have the flame spreaders in them for wider application of heat. With one of these the fuel is inexpensive, easy to find all over, and they have lots of uses beyond the kitchen. The same canister will also work in a lantern, stove, or other propane fueled device that takes canisters.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                    I second this suggestion. One of the best things about having one of these is they use the same propane bottles that my campstove uses, so I don't have to worry about running out of gas....I know I always have at least one spare bottle in the garage. Plus, the fuel is comparatively cheap (if you buy it at a hardware store, at least).

                  2. Having recently enjoying the amazing, ridiculousness of sous vide....I had purchased the Iwatani torch, and have been very happy with the purchase. Easy to use, feels safe, more "substantial" feel than some of the flimsy-feeling ones, and reasonably priced. Gas Canisters you can find for as cheap as $1-3.


                    3 Replies
                    1. re: KnowTheIdeal

                      This is what I love about Chowhound...I cannot stand my "bonjour" kitchen torch. It is the worst. Ever. Of all time. It takes longer to torch the creme brulee with this garbage than it does to actually make the brulee. So naturally, I'm on the lookout for a new torch. Luckily I saw this post! Great information! Thank you!

                      1. re: jarona

                        Glad I could help! Just to point out, so you will NOT be disappointed. That link is for the torch burner ONLY, so be sure to add on 1 or more gas canisters. Lots of companies make them if you search nearby rather than online, its a BU-6 canister that attaches.


                        1. re: KnowTheIdeal

                          Thanks for the heads up on the gas canister!