It's good for so much more than just creme bruleé
A kitchen torch probably isn't on your list of kitchen essentials, and listen, I understand. It's nowhere near as useful as a good knife or a mixing bowl, and you probably aren't going to break it out as often as you would, say, your stand mixer or whisk. It might seem like a frivolous tool that you'd only use when you happened to make creme brulée. I certainly didn't own one, or think I needed one, before I went through my culinary program. But in the course of my classes, among the many feverish late night purchases I made, I bought a kitchen torch.
Why? Because at home, finding a heat source with the intensity of a torch is really difficult. In professional kitchens, there's a tool chefs use called a salamander broiler or, more commonly, just called a salamander. It's kind of like a super-broiler, one that's much easier to use and more intense than the one located in your oven. The concentrated heat makes it easy to make the distinct brown crust on a bowl of French onion soup, for example, or to finish a gratin. At home, it's really hard to get a crust with that kind of precision. I'm surely not the only one who's waited 30 seconds too long to pull something from the broiler only to find it scorched beyond all hopes of eating it.
What a kitchen torch allows for is a concentrated, intense source of heat that you can manipulate much more easily. You can see the browning happen and stop it when it gets to the point of doneness you're hoping for. That classic browned cheesy crust on French onion soup I talked about? A kitchen torch does that with ease, and you don't have to worry about taking a bowl of piping hot soup in and out of the broiler. You can get a nice char on peppers with a torch. You can also sprinkle a layer of sugar on a grapefruit and torch is for a quick-but-fancy grapefruit brulée. If you're making a lemon meringue pie and want to get that browned meringue on top, use the torch. Want that browned cheese on potatoes gratin? Torch. You'd love to make s'mores but no campfire is available? Torch those marshmallows.
It might not be your everyday kitchen tool, but a torch is wildly handy when you're in need of it, and many options clock in at less than $20. So maybe you don't need one. But don't you kind of want one now?