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I got a kitchen blowtorch for Christmas.

Frying eggs in vegetable oil for breakfast, it occurred to me that the blowtorch would be an effective way to cook the last few uncooked parts of the white on the top of the eggs, as an alternative to flipping the eggs, or spooning over hot oil.

So I tried it, and it worked.

However, I realised soon after that the flame might have ignited the hot oil, causing a really nasty fire.

  • Is the risk genuine?
  • If so, can it be mitigated?

I was using rapeseed oil.

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Seems a bad habit to get into to me. "It works on eggs, so why not try it with chicken/potato fries/eggplant/stir fry, things with lots of hot oil and not much moisture", boom, an oil fire. I just add a little water and put a lid over the eggs to get them done quickly. –  Wayfaring Stranger Jan 11 at 15:22
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If you want to do it just for bad-ass presentation, you could always take the eggs off the heat and finish them with the torch when you serve them. As for speeding them up for practical purposes, I agree with Wayfaring Stranger, a lid is definitely the most practical way to do it. –  sourd'oh Jan 11 at 15:56
    
@sourd'oh: Or just flipping them. Even if it was safe, it seems like a pointless waste of butane/propane to save maybe 10 seconds of effort. –  Aaronut Jan 11 at 22:02
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1 Answer

Rapeseed oil (aka canola for those across the pond) has a high burning point, but it can still start on fire using a blowtorch. If you are using just a bit of oil in a non-stick pan then there's not much fuel to burn, however if it flames it will probably go quick and the flames will go pretty high. It's unlikely to start your kitchen on fire, but you could get a nasty burn. Also, if you are using non-stick pans and you miss with the torch you could damage the coating.

If you are using lots of oil then the risks of starting a serious fire are higher, if it flames you could get burning oil spattering all over the place. Probably not worth the risks.

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Your first sentence sounds as if you are mistaking the pyrolisis temperature (also called smoking point), the flash point, and the ignition temperature of oils. The first varies between oils a lot, and is relatively high for refined rapeseed/canola. The flash and self-ignition points don't vary that much and are maybe "high" in comparison to kerosene and other fuels, but not when compared to other everyday materials. –  rumtscho Jan 11 at 19:26
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Wikipedia has the flash point of canola oil (which is the same as rapeseed oil) listed at 621° F, which is not a generous safety margin for a naked flame. The auto-ignition point (the point at which it will flame without an ignition source) is almost impossible to reach with typical kitchen equipment, but some butane torches can heat well over 2000° F. The torch specs should mention this temperature. It's almost certainly hot enough to set cooking oil on fire. –  Aaronut Jan 11 at 22:00
    
Not really @Rumtscho, just trying to keep it simple. From a safety point of view saying "starting on fire" makes it perfectly clear whereas saying "flash point" may or may not get the point across. –  GdD Jan 12 at 17:50
    
@Aaronut I have reached the auto-ignition point of canola oil in a pan on the stove. I just found a document which claims that the actual temperature is around 360 Celsius (drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/1903/11333/2/…, look at the bottom of page 11). A torch flame goes into the thousands of celsius, and hardware store torches can heat food a lot. –  rumtscho Jan 12 at 18:36
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