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butane or propane torch

Torch Tastes

MCFebruary 18, 2011

In response to my recent post on “doneness,” reader Rusty Shackleford posted the following question: “When using my blow torch, sometimes I notice unpleasant propane tastes. Anything you can tell me about general blow torch cooking?”

This brought to mind a similar question that I was recently asked about the use of other flammable gases in cooking. As is often the case at The Cooking Lab, one question leads to another and before I knew it, my short answer had grown beyond the scope of the original question. We cover the topic more extensively in the book, but here is a brief description of how the use of a blow torch and the type of gas therein can affect the flavor.

Natural gas (methane) is a common fuel for ranges and stovetops, but most torches used for cooking are fueled by propane or butane. Fuels like oxyacetylene and MAPP gas, however, typically burn hotter and thus can impart a larger amount of heat to the food for a faster sear.

The type of gas that you choose isn’t as important as the completeness of its combustion. Propane, butane, MAPP, and acetylene are all great so long as you adjust the flame of the torch so that it is a fully oxidizing flame. This is a flame that is produced with an excess of oxygen, either from the surrounding air or supplemented with compressed oxygen. You can tell that you have an oxidizing flame when the torch is burning dark blue, is relatively short in length, and hisses and roars. Frequently, people have too large of a flame that is burning yellow at the tip. This is a reducing flame, also referred to as a carburizing flame because there are uncombusted hydrocarbons from the fuel in the flame that will end up in the food, imparting an unpleasant taste. In my experience, butane torches are especially prone to this, but it can happen with any torch that hasn’t been properly adjusted before aiming it at the food.

Too often, people aim the blow torch at the food before they have it appropriately adjusted. Not only do they often end up torching the food with a dirty flame, but there is also some raw fuel being blown onto the food before it ignites. Like an old, carbureted car (and for the same reason), it is best to light the torch and adjust the fuel-to-oxidizer ratio before getting underway.

Long story short, always light your torch facing away from the food. Then adjust the torch to produce a short, hissing dark blue flame and you won’t have a problem.

Torch Tastes MCFebruary 18, 2011 In response to my recent post on “doneness,” reader Rusty Shackleford posted the following question: “When using my blow torch, sometimes I notice unpleasant

Which torch to buy for finishing sous vide meat? Butane or propane?

I have started cooking sous vide and am thinking of buying a torch to finish off the meat. I have seen stores selling little butane torches for creme brulees, but some have claimed they are not hot enough and I should use propane.

On the other hand, some have claimed that propane leaves a flavour in the meat that should be avoided.

Anyone tried both? Anyone uses the little butane torches? What kind of flavour does the propane impart?

6 Answers 6

I use Propane all the time. There are several factors as to why:

  1. It is cheap, about 1/4 the price of butane.
  2. It’s more readily available. You can buy a propane torch at many different stores for very cheap.
  3. The torches typically put out a lot more heat. I’ve used both propane and butane, mostly for crème brulee, but other food as well. The butane torches put out such a focused small area of heat, that it would get uneven burning. Whereas with Propane, they often put out a much larger area of heat, making it easier to caramelize across the surface evenly.

As for the concern of it imparting propane flavor, I have had that happen, once, but I’ve also had that happen with butane. It’s all about flow control. If you have the dial turned up too high and it’s spewing out massive amounts of propane, plus hold the flame too close to the food, you MIGHT get then hint of propane. But if you have the torched dialed in to the proper settings, you really can’t beat the ease and convenience of “energy-efficient clean-burning propane gas”

Which torch to buy for finishing sous vide meat? Butane or propane? I have started cooking sous vide and am thinking of buying a torch to finish off the meat. I have seen stores selling little ]]>