Two months ago I made a homemade sous vide cooker and I've had great luck so far. Last night I started a batch of 72 hour ribs and I'm really looking forward to eating them in a few days. Until I realized a problem:

When I've made sous vide ribs before I've used a kitchen torch or a plumbing blow torch to start the Maillard reaction on the ribs after removing them from the water bath. This works great. However, because of work I've got two apartments 1000 miles apart and the sous vide cooker and the ribs are in the apartment without either of my torches right now.

If I had a gas stove I could turn on the burners and use a pair of tongs to take the ribs over the flame and start the reaction that way, however the stove here is a glass top stove. I'm hesitant to do the reaction in a pan because the shape of the ribs makes it difficult to get all portions of the ribs up to the temperature for the reaction to occur.

So, given that I've got a bunch of candles (unscented, thankfully), some matches, aluminum foil, access to an outdoor grill (but no charcoal), lots of paper, and assorted other things you might find in a moderately, but not well, stocked kitchen, what's the best way for me to go MacGyver on this and get that tasty reaction on Thursday night?

  • I would like to see your sous vide set up. Do you have a build writeup or pictures that you can share? Jan 10, 2012 at 14:57
  • Visit your local home improvement store and buy another torch? Or at least buy some charcoal. Charcoal in the chimney is very, very hot—in excess of 1000°F.
    – derobert
    Jan 10, 2012 at 17:15
  • 1
    Do you have an oven with a broiler? Not nearly as good as a charcoal chimney for sure, but it's better than a skillet over an electric burner. Jan 10, 2012 at 21:57

1 Answer 1


You need high, direct heat.

Option 1 (The practical): Don't think about the candles. Even if you lit enough candles in a pile to get it hot enough- candle soot tastes terrible. Of all the tools listed among your assets only the grill shows potential. Buy some charcoal for it, get it rocket hot, and sear your ribs to perfection.

The charcoal will also add a little flavor. Not much since they won't be there long but more than a torch would.

Option 2 (The MacGyver as requested): Use your paper to make a large (3-5' diameter) paper-mache parabolic dish. Line the inside of the dish with your foil with the shiny side out. Experiment with a sheet of paper to find the focal point of your dish. Move the paper toward the dish until the focused light is a couple inches across. Take your dish outside in the sun and wave your ribs in front of it. Solar blow torch.

  • 2
    If you're using a chimney starter for the grill, don't even bother to dump the coals - sear over the chimney starter, its scorching hot and very directed normally.
    – rfusca
    Jan 10, 2012 at 16:28
  • I very much doubt you'll be able to get the heat you need from your home-built parabolic reflector (after all, Myth Busters couldn't set the ship on fire). And if you could, beware of blinding yourself.
    – derobert
    Jan 10, 2012 at 17:17
  • @derobert- there are videos online of people with similar reflectors melting aluminum. Larger parabolas can easily melt steel. youtube.com/… Jan 10, 2012 at 17:24
  • @Sobachatina: Well, that's not aluminum foil or papier-mâché. Still amazing, though. Definitely watch out for blindness with that thing! (Though, 5000x sunlight over 1cm is only 680W, so probably less than the torch...)
    – derobert
    Jan 10, 2012 at 18:11
  • @derobert- fair enough. :) Frankly I'm surprised anyone took that part of the answer seriously at all. Jan 10, 2012 at 19:05

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