What’s the best torch fuel for searing meat?

Today, I want to take a look at three popular choices of torch fuels: butane, propane, and MAPP. All three are used by chefs in the searing process. This question arose after I began learning more about fuel gases being recommended for cooking use.

I first introduce each fuel before providing a summary of its pros and cons. Then, I include a comparison table of flame temperatures. Finally, I close with some thoughts on what I am doing with this gained knowledge.

Butane

Fuel commonly used in disposable cigarette lighters and camping stoves. An alkane, each butane C4H10 molecule is composed of four carbon atoms, saturated with hydrogen.


a butane molecule

Pros: It is widely available and affordable.
Cons: When bottled for sale, it is often mixed with small amounts of hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans, which give the unburned gas an offensive smell. Owing to its longer carbon chain relative to propane, butane is more prone to incomplete combustion.

Propane

Fuel commonly used in gas grills. Also an alkane, each propane C3H8 molecule is composed of three carbon atoms, saturated with hydrogen.


a propane molecule

Pros: It is widely available and affordable. Bernzomatic 16.4 oz cylinder available for $3.50 at your local hardware store. If you already have a gas grill, you don’t need to buy another fuel specially for torching.
Cons: Its flame temperature can’t reach that of a MAPP flame.

Aside: Propane is widely regarded as a terrific fuel gas for cooking use, though it would be wise to devise a method to fill a small bottle from a larger canister.

MAPP (methylacetylene-propadiene propane)

Wikipedia main article on MAPP gas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MAPP_gas
Fuel gas composed of methylacetylene (propyne) and propadiene. MAPP gas is a trademarked name belonging to Linde Group, previously to Dow. True MAPP gas production ended in North America in the spring of 2008, when production was discontinued at the sole plant that continued to make it. Current products labeled MAPP are made using stabilized liquefied petroleum gas with high levels of propylene. MAPP is notable for having higher flame temperatures and energy densities than any flame other than acetylene.

Propylene C3H6 is an alkene composed of three carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms. The double-bonded carbon results in propylene having a lower molecular weight than propane, in spite of their both having three carbon atoms. This allows for more complete combustion relative to propane.


a propylene (propene) molecule

Pros: Propylene-based fuels burn cleanly and avoid tainting food with combustion products
Cons: MAPP is more expensive to produce (I’ve seen it cited as 1.5x the cost of propane), and the increased cost of production is passed along to the consumer. Going off of the list price of a Bernzomatic 14 oz cylinder for $9.95, MAPP is almost seven times the price of propane.

Aside: MAPP fuel came to my attention as I was reading The Cooking Lab’s Modernist Cuisine at Home (List $140, Amazon.com), prompting me to explore the author’s claims

Flame Temperatures of Butane, Propane, and MAPP

Fuel Gas Combustion with Air (deg C)
Butane 1970
Propane 1995
MAPP 2010

Reference: Flame Temperatures for some Common Gases – Engineering Toolbox (http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/flame-temperatures-gases-d_422.html). Note that the flame temperature of propane as reported in this table is different from that found on the source website. This change was made in consideration of the reported maximum adiabatic flame temperature for that fuel gas.

I will personally be investigating solutions for using propane gas in the searing process. It does away with the incomplete combustion issues associated with its heavier alkane cousin, butane, while keeping the cost multiple times lower than MAPP gas.

I wonder what type of propane torches are on the market, specifically targeted for cooking use. Torches like the Iwatani professional cooking torch (~$27, Amazon.com), mentioned in my search for a butane torch for sous vide cooking, have flow control. I’d rather not ape this guy:

… though I do have a Weed Dragon Red Dragon (~$50, Amazon.com) lying unused in the garage…

Ultimately, I decided to purchase a Bernzomatic TS8000 (~$50, Amazon.com). I’ve been running it from a cylinder of propane gas.

Ziploc V151 Vacuum Sealer Has Arrived

The Ziploc V151 Vacuum Sealer (~$50, Amazon) I ordered has arrived, and I am ready to put it to use.

Update: I’ve published a review on the unit after using it for the past two and a half months

A couple of early findings:

  • The registration card makes reference to a V100, V250, and V350 series
    • CTI Industries recently (June 18, 2014) made a press release announcing the V350/V360 series http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/cti-industries-corporation-launches-top-of-the-line-vacuum-sealer-system-nasdaq-ctib-1921999.htm
    • I found the Ziploc ZLV251 Vacuum Sealer (~$80, Amazon), though it took a bit of time to dig it up, and it has only got a single review on Amazon at the time of writing
  • The company that markets the Ziploc system is CTI Industries, and they have a microsite for the Ziploc Vacuum Sealer Systems at http://www.ctiindustries.com/Ziploc/
  • The user manual included with the Ziploc V151 Vacuum Sealer is quite terrible, and I am surprised that it made it to print

Look forward to a complete review of the Ziploc V151 Vacuum Sealer System after I have put it through its paces. The review has been written and is available to view here. Additionally, I intend to produce some useful information on vacuum sealer bags.

Ziploc v151 Vacuum Sealer Review

I purchased the Ziploc v151 Vacuum Sealer (~$60, Amazon.com) in July 2014 – this review is backdated to the time of purchase. It’s seen two and a half months of consistent use, but will soon be retired in favor of a chamber vacuum sealer. The Ziploc v151 vacuum sealer has served its purpose well, and I believe it to be an excellent value amongst entry-level vacuum sealers.

The Ziploc v151 is an edge-sealer. The single best feature on it is the Pulse button, which gives the user control over how much air to evacuate from a bag. Similarly priced units from Foodsaver lack this feature. The Pulse button has proven invaluable when dealing with liquid-rich foods.

The Ziploc v151 also features an accessory port that is compatible with Foodsaver branded canisters and accessories.

I bought the unit because it was remarkably affordable. Prior to this purchase, I was using Ziploc freezer bags, and I was cooking sous vide in constant fear that the bag would spring a leak. The price paid for the Ziploc v151 was worth it – no more dread.

I use my Ziploc v151 with Foodsaver rolls. Buy a multipack (~$50, Amazon.com) and keep them around the house. In addition to sealing vacuum bags, the v151 can also seal Mylar. I use it to seal large bags of chips so that they remain fresher. It works similarly well for my massive bags of oatmeal.

That being said, not all is sunshine in the land of edge-sealing vacuum packagers.

Cons particular to all edge sealers

  • Poor handling of liquids and powdered goods
    • The best solution to this is to pre-freeze liquid-rich goods, and to place powdered goods within a bag prior to vacuum sealing (inception vacuum sealing)
    • If liquid gets into the seal area, it can interfere with the sealing process – wipe the area to be sealed dry in the event that the seal does not form properly before trying again

Cons particular to the Ziploc v151

  • The black foamy material that surrounds the drip basin is porous
    • Remove it and clean it, or live on the edge and ignore this

If you’re looking to add an entry-level edge-sealer to your kitchen, the v151 warrants your consideration.

The only complaints that I have are related to handling of liquids. The edge-sealer simply isn’t going to handle liquid-rich foods well, unless you freeze liquids prior to sealing. But you already know this – if you want to handle liquid-rich foods, you’re going to give serious consideration to chamber vacuum sealers, and the affordable Ziploc v151 isn’t even on your radar.

For everyone else, pre-freeze and use the Pulse button.

Purchases made through this link on Amazon.com support my continued learning and development in the kitchen.

Ziploc V151 vs. FoodSaver for Sous Vide

Every time I find myself using water displacement to prep a Ziploc bag full of food, I fuss over whether the seal is going to hold. I know full well that my luck with conventional Ziploc bags will eventually run out. For instance, the other day, I used a gallon-sized Ziploc Freezer bag to contain pork spareribs that I left in the water bath for 72 hours. By the time that I pulled the bag from the water bath, I found that some of the cooking liquid had found its way past the seal.

This latest incident has led me to search for a suitable vacuum system. So far I’m surprised by the dearth of comparisons involving the Ziploc V151 and FoodSaver branded vacuum sealing systems.

The Ziploc V151 is attractive on paper because it comes in at a lower price point than any comparable FoodSaver model, is built in the USA, and features a manual sealing button, which allows for finer control.

FoodSaver is the reigning king of consumer-oriented vacuum sealers.

I expect that it will be an interesting topic to explore further.