Patent Pending: the Searzall

by Paul Adams

[UPDATE: Now on Kickstarter!]

Finishing a dish by convecting the hell out of it with a blowtorch is so primally satisfying — thousands of degrees, high-velocity open flame, instant gratification as the food transforms in seconds before your eyes. Raw power!

But, apart from the thrill, a torch is kind of limited in what it’s actually good for. All that power makes it hard to get any but the most quick, unsubtle effects. Not to mention the issue of “torch taste,” the sort of not-quite-right aroma that can cling to torch-cooked meat. The interesting story of torch taste will be addressed in just a minute.

A little while back, Dave had the idea to hold a chinois over his torch and fire the flame through the metal mesh, to tame it down a bit and limit the torchiness.

Propane torches create off-flavors. To stop that I fired the torch through a chinois.  No more torch taste.

Just a weird one-off, right? It turns out that it was a really good idea. Presenting: the best new way to finish meat.

Presenting: the best new way to finish meat.
The best new way to finish meat.


Brazed Meat

For a few weeks I’ve been testing out the new Dave solution. He and lab associate Piper have welded together a conical rig that mounts snugly on the end of a torch and shapes the flame into something more gentle and more useful. The interior of the metal cone — lined with nichrome tougher-than-nichrome alloy mesh and insulation — provides a little pre-zone where the flame can reflect and spread out a bit. At the end of the cone, the flame passes through a double thickness of mesh. It emerges as a — I can’t say “gentle,” because I have blisters that say otherwise, but gentler — flame, that doesn’t gust forth at high speed and scatter your brulee sugar all over the counter. The output is a superheated area, a couple-inch-diameter breath of heat rather than a focused burst of flame. The mesh glows and radiates heat, which is something a torch never does.

The device makes short work of a chicken skin, a French onion soup, a steak. If the steak is thin, you don’t even need to precook it — torch it directly from raw to medium rare.

I didn’t even quite realize how unhelpful an unadorned blowtorch was until I tried using it for all the things I was doing with Dave’s gizmo. Crisping a loose piece of chicken skin with a classic torch, it shrivels up — you can’t get the center golden and crunchy before the edges char black. I got the same uneven result on fish skin and grilled cheese: black blotches on raw surfaces.

Slip the attachment (which doesn’t have a proper name yet, annoyingly UPDATE: it is the Searzall!) onto the end of a torch and it becomes a tool that’s less finicky and more useful. It’s gentle enough to bake dough like a handheld tandoor, but strong enough to do a steak in a minute or to give a beautiful golden crust to a plate full of raw scallops.

I started pointing it at other unsuspecting items in my kitchen. Trying to peel hard-cooked eggs? Waft the cone over the eggs and the shell becomes brittle and unfrustrating. I used it to give an even char to oak chips, for flavoring young whiskey, and even to soften up some buttercream from a safe distance.

This maneuver is called "the Wylie."
The kitchen was smelling really good by this point.

It also does away with torch taste. In side-by-side tests, chicken skin, one of the most torch-taste-prone surfaces in my experience, came out perfectly clean-tasting again and again with the mesh in place. Without the mesh, I perceived varying hints of nastiness, regardless of variation in fuel choice and searing style.

What Is Torch Taste?

The theory about torch taste has always been: Sometimes a blowtorch doesn’t combust all the fuel it’s blowing out, so traces of propane wind up on the food and impart a nasty flavor. Propane and butane and natural gas are all impregnated with sulfury odorants such as ethyl mercaptan, as a safety measure so you can smell a gas leak. Those odorants are another possible culprit for the taste.

Modernist Cuisine makes the claim that butane and propane torches are more liable to cause torch taste, “because the low-power flame can’t burn off the gas fast enough,” and recommends using MAPP gas or even oxyacetylene. I picked up a cylinder of MAPP gas on this advice when the giant book first came out, and at first I thought I was noticing an improvement, but then my dishes, especially ones with low surface moisture to start with, like fatty meats or plain toast, began tasting torchy again. (MAPP is a trade name for a now-discontinued fuel gas that was basically a mixture of methylacetylene and propadiene, which burned at 2926°C in air. The MAPP-compatible torch you bought can now take cylinders of a product called MAP/Pro, which according to the internet is largely propylene and burns at 2054°C, compared to propane’s retro 1980°C. According to the cylinder’s label though MAP/Pro offers “3x faster heat transfer than propane.” Coincidentally, the price of a canister of MAP/Pro is just about 3x that of a canister of propane.)

Arielle Johnson, friend of this blog, has a gas chromatograph. (She’d be our friend regardless, I’m sure.) She ran some preliminary comparisons of beef cooked a) with a torch and attachment b) with a torch with no attachment and c) in a pan. Take a look.

Clockwise from top: cooked in a pan, cooked with a torch, cooked with the torch attachment.
Clockwise from top: cooked in a pan, cooked with a torch, cooked with the torch attachment.

The results want a post of their own, but what’s on the bare-torch-cooked meat is compounds — like phenol and methoxyphenol oxime — that may be more the result of too-high heat than anything coming out of the fuel canister.

Also interestingly, the meat cooked with the Improved Torch had big spikes in acetoin and hexenal, both of which are associated with pleasant, desirable flavors.

Coming soon: your opportunity to buy a torch gizmo!

UPDATE: This is gonna happen. There will be a Kickstarter. Before the end of November.

Front View

91 thoughts on “Patent Pending: the Searzall

  1. Fabulous Dave. Glad to see the blog back up and runnning smoothly as well. Email me about one of these cones. I would love one!

  2. Hell yes. Sign me up for one please. The sheer usefulness across many applications is just astounding.

  3. It reminds me of those propane powered heaters for camping and stuff. I wonder how your device compares to using one of those for a purpose they were never intended for.

    1. This device already has a name, at least when it’s used w/ a hair dryer: it’s a diffuser.

  4. That sounds like a brilliant idea. I just picked up a propane blowtorch for finishing SV dishes on the advice of the big books and even with a fully combusted flame there is definitely a little torch taste.

    Where do I sign for one of these?

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Are you only making these for the hardware store propane torches or will there be a version for the Japanese/Korean style butane heads as well? Do you have a preference for one style of torch vs. the other?

    1. I’ve tested the prototype gadget with an Iwatani butane torch as well as Bernz-O-Matic propane. It’s really a matter of taste. Iwatani has a more adjustable flame shape but the auto-igniter is much fussier.

  6. i have some photographs from the time we worked with the nichrome and the torch( more like flame thrower) incase you guys want them.

  7. Good stuff! My money is on what happens to the drops of fat a liquid that jumps of the surface, not on the taste of the fuel. Especially for chicken skin you will have drops of fat jumping of the surface and turned into creosote as it approaches the flame. Your gadget creates a more linear pattern of heat radiation.

  8. Hi Dave
    cool stuff, I was wainting for this!
    At that time I pointed out that you probably burn less fuel rather than more with a mesh in betwenn. So prolly the taste ain´t so much from fuel but from chemical reactions of the fat itself.

    Now i am super interested in the analytics you have on the burn products. Being a chemist Id love to get as much original data as possible to try to hypothesize what is coming from the meat and what from the fuel.

    Being an amateur cook I´d love to have one of your devices!
    Do you ship to Germany?

    Or can you post instructions how to build this?


  9. Glad the blog is back! This is very interesting and exciting. It looks like it might be tricky to stand the torch up now?

    1. With the tall-skinny kind of cylinder, yes, you’re right. There’s an elegant solution for that, which will be made available when the attachment is.

  10. Great idea. Thinking that a platinum coated mesh would work to help to make a more complete combustion – like a catalytic converter in cars. Kickstart(er) that thing!

    1. I was thinking catalytic heater as well. has a handheld product for drying paint, but at a pitiful 160 degrees F.

  11. I wonder how that would work with some kind of ceramic instead of metal… for some reason i seem to remember something like this, perhaps relating to the roofing industry…

  12. I am very interested in this! I bought a Looftlighter (an electric torch that’s supposed to be used to start coals) and though it eliminates torch taste, i’ve been disappointed with its heat output. This seems like the perfect solution!

  13. Count me in as well. I haven’t used a torch in a while because torchtaste could never be fully eliminated.

  14. Seems like, of all the compounds, I’d definitely prefer something called “nonanal” to its opposite.

    Sounds like a cool device regardless.

  15. I want one too! has written about using a heat gun/paint stripper in the kitchen. It tops out at 1000°, which is not torch-hot, but still useful.

  16. Hi all,

    I´m longing to see more data on the GCs!

    BTW: Have you done controls like trying to “fry” a block of ice and collect the drippings to analyze the condensed combustion products? In this case all the carbon would have to come from the propane.
    Would be interesting to see a comparison open flame vs. “King Sear”!

  17. This looks really cool and its convenience as a permanent torch attachment is undeniable. But why not simply cut a square piece of fine steel wire mesh purchased from Home depot and held with tongs in front of the torch? That would probably cost an extra buck, get red hot, and serve the same function?

    1. That would do part of the job — try it! — but the attachment isn’t just a barrier; the patented Coneâ„¢ shape of the tool, which is all lined with insulation and mesh, creates a little chamber that contains and shapes the flame, and also its walls radiate heat — you can even continue to sear after the flame is off. Also you’ll find that regular steel becomes brittle after a few heatings and then starts to shed iron filings into your food. Even two spaced-out layers of nichrome mesh (which is like $80/sq. ft.) wasn’t holding up to the high heats as well as could be desired, so additional research into fancy alloys was necessary.

  18. This looks awesome! I definitely want one once you’re in mass production. Do you already have a source to make these? If not, let me know, I might be able to source a good factory.

  19. I’m from Russia, and I want to buy your cooking flame divider. Please sell it with world-wide shipping.

    1. Why are not you using for this purpose industrial heat gun with a minimum pressure of the air?

  20. Hi guys, I would love to purchase a “torch gizmo” when they become available. Amazing idea, well done! Cheers

  21. I would definitely buy at least one of these. If you put this on Kickstarter, I’m sure you’d be enormously successful.

  22. I use an Iwatani, only easily available at vast expense from the US. It uses only butane, which has negligible taste compared to propane. I don’t think you can get a butane-only torch in the UK, but would be pleased if I were wrong.

  23. Ok, here’s the gizmo’s name: The Sous-Dragon.

    If it sticks, all I ask in return is, um, a Sous-Dragon.

  24. Well? Where’s the Kickstarter? Ever since you’ve written this all I taste (real or imagined, I’m not sure) is butane flavor every time I use my torch… So I am ready to go! Need a beta tester??

  25. Great execution on an even better idea! I’ve messed around with the the torch and screen but it was pretty clumsy. Sign me up for a King Sear Sous Dragon…Supreme!!

  26. Looks like a heat defuser. Kinda like the already patented MSR reactor stove head. Just a thought to perhaps look at that.

  27. This is exactly what we need! Thanks for all the great work. Count me in on any future Kickstarter action. Cant help but add names to the list: TorchTamer? VulCone? DraCone? Also have to give props to Mark for “The Miarnold”. Very clever.

  28. Also, maybe for temperatures just a notch below what you get with your device, I found that a heat gun can find all kinds of uses in the kitchen, most of which go up to 550C.

  29. Had a hangar steak last night and used the Iwatani torch on it. Tasted of butane. Any news on this?

  30. Hi, Love your blog!!
    Any expected release date?
    How long does it take to brown the targeted area?


  31. I would like to purchase the attachment. Would you please instruct how I can get in touch with you to buy one?


  32. Super stoked that this is coming to kickstarter, saw a post over on chefsteps saying that the kickstarter is coming black Friday. Take my money please.

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