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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?

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Related (but not duplicate): Blowtorch - hardware store vs kitchen store. Is there a difference –  stephennmcdonald Nov 9 '10 at 3:57
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3 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

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”

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+1 for a great answer and, if I could, +1 more for a king of the hill reference worked in! :) –  stephennmcdonald Nov 9 '10 at 7:23
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What you describe regarding propane flavor is letting the torch run too "rich" - too much fuel compared to the oxygen, so it can't all burn off. –  GalacticCowboy Nov 9 '10 at 15:49
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I agree with Nick's answer and also use a propane torch. I'll add, don't get a "cooking" torch (i.e. one designed specifically for the kitchen). They're expensive, have a smaller flame, and use a small gas container. It would be a huge pain to try and use for something large (like flank steak, a sous vide favorite). Instead, get a plumbers torch at Home Depot. I use a Bernzomatic which just screws a nozzle on to a blue gas cylinder. Much better and way cheaper than anything you'd get at Williams Sonoma.

All that said, I don't think that the propane torch does nearly as good a job as a screaming hot grill or pan (screaming be the operative word in either case as you want to sear the outside without cooking the inside). But a grill takes time and a pan that's hot enough kicks up a ton of splatter. The torch is definitely the most convenient, but unfortunately, it's not a silver bullet.

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Here is a video showing uneven flame from a cheap tip. Video author also recommends Bernzomatic youtube.com/watch?v=z2Yb_0Qke4o –  event_jr Nov 24 '13 at 18:22
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Check out this discussion here: http://forum.chefsteps.com/discussion/13/mapp-gas-vs-propane-torches#latest

For sous-vide cooking your going to want the hottest flame you can get (and are comfortable with). Those tiny creme brulee torches are cute but your food will be cold by the time you put a decent sear on it (trust me i've tried). Most people go with a torch adapter that can be screwed on to butane canisters such as this http://amzn.com/B0027HO3XO

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