A culinary torch is a small, handheld butane torch typically used to caramelize crème brûlée, to brown baked meringues, roast small peppers, or even to melt cheese. Used anywhere a quick toast is needed or melt, they are sometimes called chef’s torches or cooking torches.
You may have seen these mini butane torches being used by other professionals, a smaller version of the tool commonly called a blowtorch. They are used for plumbing, soldering, lab work, jewelry making, or any other situation where a torch is needed but a large gas torch is too big and unwieldy, or simply undesirable. Culinary torch, then, is a misnomer as they are used for much more than just cooking. They are commonly called mini-butane torches, brazing torches, and soldering torches. Due to their ease of use and multiple applications, they have become a popular addition to the chef’s arsenal.
Due to this popularity, many manufacturers market mini torches to home or professional cooks. The culinary torches are typically around half the price of traditional products. They operate on the same principles and have similar safety features to traditional models and produce a similar level of heat, up to 2300 degrees F. For constant use, these models may not last as long as those marketed to professionals, but for the home cook and occasional use, they are a good choice. They can even be used to put a sear on a steak.
Keep in mind that a culinary torch will not come filled with butane, although some units might have a very small amount of fuel left over from testing the appliance, so you must purchase a canister of butane separately. The gas will run out quickly, so if you use your torch often you must have extra fuel on hand. The filling process can be daunting so read the instructions carefully before trying to refill the torch. A simpler solution, instead of a torch unit, is a high-output torch-head for fitting on butane canisters, such as the Iwatani PRO2 Culinary Butane Torch. When the can is empty, the torch head is easily removed and placed onto a new can.
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