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Let’s be honest, there's a bit of a pyro in all of us.
Fire is primal, captivating. And, honestly, there’s nothing quite like a meal cooked over an open flame. Unfortunately, we’re heading into winter, and summer camping trips feel like they're a lifetime away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cook with an open fire right at home—in your kitchen.
Below we’ll break down every excuse you'll need to grab a lighter, start a fire in your kitchen, and create delicious food and drinks.
Whether you’re working on a savory main course or a sweet dessert, fire has the power to open up new, subtle flavors in a dish. You’ll have to take extra precaution to make sure your dinner—and your kitchen—don’t go up in flames, but trust us, the results will be worth it.
There’s a good reason you’ll see flambéing in any movie that features a scene in a professional kitchen. It’s a particularly flashy cooking technique that’ll impress even your stuffy neighbors from down the block.
In theory, it’s a simple concept. After topping your food with an 80 proof liquor—usually brandy, cognac, or rum—you ignite the vapors in a whoosh of flame and wait while the alcohol slowly burns off, leaving behind a dish that’s subtly flavored by your alcohol of choice.
In practice, it can be a little tricky. If you’re too slow, the vapor won’t ignite and your food will absorb all of that undiluted alcohol. Flambéing also produces a huge gout of open flame, which means there’s a pretty high risk of an errant dish towel catching fire. Take the time to practice and double down on safety, and you'll be sure to get plenty of cheers and applause while you finish prepping dinner.
Most often used to caramelize the sugar atop certain desserts, like crème brûlée, cooking torches are relatively hassle free and easy to use. But while standard cooking torches will be perfect for the final touches on dessert, they won’t be able to reach the high heat needed to, say, sear a steak cooked with sous vide.
In order to get that delicious browned crust you’ll need something closer to a full-on blowtorch. It might seem like overkill at first, but you’ll want to capitalize on that power to quickly sear your steak without overdoing it.
While open flame is captivating, don’t underestimate the benefits of smoke. As anyone who enjoys BBQ will happily tell you, smoking food brings an extra layer of flavor that’s beyond compare. If it works for meat, it’ll work for other food too. Right?
Here's an extreme case: smoked ice cream. You’ll have to make it from scratch, but trapping and infusing the smoke into the cream opens up an entirely new flavor frontier. And if you start from scratch, the flavors of ice cream you can make are endless—like smoked honey mint chip.
Just think of it as one extra ingredient and experiment from there to find your favorite use.
Don't want to put a ton of effort into your flaming dessert? The easiest thing to do is grab a couple of sugar cubes, soak them in extract or high-proof alcohol, and ignite them. The flame won’t last very long without some careful planning, but as an interesting topper on your ice cream or garnish around a cake, the soaked sugar cubes will give everyone a night to remember.
Using fire to cook is all well and good, but don't forget about happy hour. Flame is a great topper for a cocktail, and makes for an unforgettable round of shots. And if that's too gauche for your tastes, you can keep it classy and burn some wood chips to lend a smoky touch to your Old Fashioned (or other drink of choice).
In other words, if you enjoy bartending at home and want to impress and delight your guests, pick up a lighter and get to work.
Much like flambéing your food, lighting your drinks on fire is typically done more for the spectacle than the end result. Still, it’ll impart just enough flavor to give you a new impression of an old favorite.
Before you begin, keep this in mind: Put out the flame before drinking. If you don't, you're probably looking at a visit from the fire department, and possibly a trip to the burn ward. Either way, we're talking a major party killer.
If you’re still feeling up to it, you can use anything higher than 80 proof to top your cocktail. As long as you pour it carefully, the higher proof alcohol should float on top of the actual drink, so when it burns off you haven't lost anything.
But what is it doing other than creating a nice show? Some of the flavors that were previously masked by the alcohol will be more pronounced, and you'll actually be able to enjoy them a little more now that your taste buds aren't being dulled.
We already talked about smoked ice cream, but what about imparting that campfire feeling into your drinks? As long as you do your research first—smoke can easily go from subtle to overpowering—even your favorite drink will take on an entirely new character when it’s been properly smoked.
To start smoking, you’ll want to spend the dough and get a handheld smoking gun. Just insert your combustible in the chamber—wood chips, herbs, hay, or all of the above—turn the gun on, and light your material on fire. Voila! Instant thick smoke that you can direct to your drink of choice.
For the best results, you’ll want to pour your drink into a bottle, fill it with smoke, and seal it. You’ll have to be patient and let the smoke dissipate, at which point your beverage will have absorbed as much of the smoky flavor as it can. Break the seal, pour your newly smoked drink into a glass, and sit back and relax.