Every juvenile troublemaker wants a flamethrower. The luckiest troublemakers grow up and become professionals who get paid to wield massive oxy acetylene torches.
The rest of us stick with the butane or propane varieties and experiment in our home kitchens, whipping up impressive crème brulees, platters of roasted peppers and ramekins of queso fundido.
I tested one such tool, a $45 Wall Lenk butane kitchen torch from the company’s Bella Tavola line. The polished stainless steel torch has different settings for singeing different epicurean delights — it can throw a 1.5-inch flame on the maximum setting or a short, half-inch flame on low.
The flame measures up to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit when it comes out the nozzle, but the body of the cone-shaped torch remains surprisingly cold to the touch. That’s good, because I needed to use both hands to operate it comfortably and aim it well. Also, learning the correct distance to get a perfect sear takes a bit of practice: too close and you’ll burn a hole through your casserole in a split second; too far, and you won’t even scar it.
There are three switches — a red safety lever, an ignition button and a lock switch. You set the ignition to either pulse on and off when you push and release the firing button, or to click down for a continuous flame. Choose the continuous flame option, and the lock switch on the side must be released to shut it off — the flame continues to blast until you give the switch a nudge with your thumb.
I was a bit confused by the placement of the switches, and that there are two safety switches that do opposing things — one to keep the flame from firing, and one to keep it locked in the on position. When I first found myself fumbling for the correct combination of switches while a searing blue flame shot out the end of this thing, it didn’t exactly stoke my confidence.
Nevertheless, the butane kitchen torch does its singular job well. I was able to produce a slick, caramelized shell on top of crème brulee time and time again. The slightly upward tilt of the heating element on the top adds an ergonomic boost for aiming the flame, and its wide, no-tip base is a nice safety addition.
No doubt, we amateurs don’t use a kitchen torch for everyday cooking. But when one is called for — to caramelize a dessert, scorch a sliver of albacore nigiri, or to dress the skin of some vegetables — the Bella Tavola’s modest price and sturdy construction offers a tidy and cheap solution.
WIRED Lightweight kitchen torch handles caramelizing, browning, and melting chores well. Adjustable flame gets up to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butane fuel burns efficiency and refuels easily.
TIRED Adjusting the three switches and levers should be easier. A trial-by-fire learning curve is required. Adjusting the flame is also tricky, as finding just the right distance between flame and food is essential for success.