When it comes to a combination of utility and cost, I can’t think of many kitchen gadgets to rival the blowtorch. And it feels darn good to buy one. I find that the manly satisfaction of a few minutes in the plumbing aisle looking over propane tanks and igniters offsets months of trips to the candy supply store picking out pastry tips.
When it comes to selecting a model, I highly recommend paying up a bit for a trigger-style igniter that doesn’t need a separate spark-making striker to start. Though the bare bones “pencil flame” variety may make you feel like an iron worker from an Empire State Building construction documentary, take it from me they’re a pain in the neck (and a little dangerous for a preoccupied cook). Simply head to your local hardware store and pick out a model that suits you. A decent igniter head will cost you about $35, a tank of propane about $3 (yes, they are disposable once they’re empty).
Whatever you do, don’t buy one of these silly little things from the cooking store. Fire may come out of them, but they have nowhere near the flame necessary to crisp the top of a crème brûlée. Where blowtorches are concerned, BTU output is everything, and more heat output means the job gets done quickly and effciently. A low flame from a cute little kitchen torch may eventually caramelize your sugar, but likely not before you’ve curdled and broken some of the custard beneath it. Nope, when it comes to buying a blowtorch, walk like a man.
Oh, and if you don’t feel comforatble with an assembled-and-ready blowtorch in your kitchen (and I don’t, since I have young children around), just unscrew the head from the tank after you’re done using it (ignoring the little shoop sound of a small amount of escaping gas) and store the two pieces in separate places. I put the head in one of my kitchen cabinets and the tank on a shelf in the pantry. Well away from the stove, of course.