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Food for Thought: Torchin' it up in the kitchen

The L&T Cheryl DeGroot
Harnessing the power of butane to finish the ribs.

I wouldn’t say I’ve always hated my broiler. Only when I have to use it. 

Which is why I dread the recipe that ends with "Finish under the broiler."

It’s been the same for every broiler in every range I’ve ever owned, electric or gas. It’s hard to see to align things under it and it’s never wide enough to cover that which is to be broiled. I’ve yet to have one with much power, either.

I slide stuff under it and then must constantly open the door, bend down and slide it out for a peek, move it to one side or the other, slide it back, rinse and repeat. It's a pain in the neck. Sometimes literally.

So when on a recent trip to the restaurant supply, I saw a butane kitchen torch for sale I fell upon it from a great height.

I was making the Smitten Kitchen oven ribs that day. It’s a wonderful recipe calling for baking the rubbed and foil-wrapped rack at 200 degrees for four hours, followed by another two at 175. But it ends with “Finish under the broiler.” Not for me. Instead I finished those ribs under the torch, and it worked great as you can see in the picture above.

I tried torching a little char onto my homemade pizza and it did the trick there, too.

Credit The L&T Cheryl DeGroot / KNKX
The champ of char.

Checking around, I found myriad uses for a kitchen torch. You can char the skin from peppers, glaze a ham, brown a meringue. It’s just the thing for melting the cheese on crouton-topped onion soup, too. No more sliding and sloshing to “finish under the broiler." A torch will glaze a ham, crisp an au gratin, and put a crème Brulee finish on your oatmeal. Just sprinkle some sugar on top and give it a blast. It'll weld plastic and light your cigar!

Strangely,Nancy Leson, who usually goes in for any kind of kitchen gadget, remains luke warm on torch heat. She’s in wait-and-see mode for my report a month down the road.

Credit Mac McCarthy / KNKX
Nance and the only torch she'll ever carry -- husband Mac's workshop job.

“I feel like it’s my job to carry the torch.” – Joan Jett

Dick Stein joined KNKX in January 1992. He retired in 2020 after three decades on air. During his storied radio career, he hosted the morning jazz show, co-hosted and produced "Food for Thought" with Nancy Leson and wrote and directed the Jimmy Jazzoid live radio musical comedies and 100 episodes of Jazz Kitchen.