I’ve wanted one of these tools for a couple of years. So I was thrilled when Wahine Santa brought me one of these for Kalikimaka (Christmas) 2016, and now that I’ve been using it awhile, I thought I’d give a review.
The Searzall is the brainchild of cooking and cooking science guru Dave Arnold. Dave is the head of the International Culinary Center, its blog Cooking Issues, and the Booker & Dax Lab and bar. Tired of the pinpoint scorching and “torch taste” imparted by existing culinary torches, Dave tried shooting a torch flame through the fine mesh of a Chinoise. This was an improvement in broadening the flame, and inspired him to invent a torch head expressly for culinary use. When prototypes of this showed promise, in 2013, Dave Kickstarted the commercialization of the product. See, http://www.cookingissues.com/index.html%3Fp=6031.html It is now produced in China and sold through Booker & Dax, either directly http://www.bookeranddax.com/searzall/ at $75, or on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Searzall-Torch-Attachment-Small-Stainless/dp/B00L2P0KNO at $65 and free shipping.
Searzall is basically a 21st Century, self-heating salamander iron, which diffuses the pinpoint flame of a plumber’s propane torch into a wider and more gentle flame. It also oxidizes the gas more completely, the better to eliminate the taste left behind by other culinary torches. It does this by forcing the flame through 3 layers of palladium-coated screen, and out an insulated cone.
The last photo above is a bit misleading–what is not pictured there is the considerable flame that actually makes it through the mesh. This is more realistic, and a caution to Nervous Nellies who may be concerned about accidental misuse:
This is basically how the unit works all the time–a combination of radiant heat from the screen and projected flame. If anything, this photo still under-represents the extent of the flame. See, my cautions below!
Obviously, a cookware geek or chef can get so excited by all the potential uses of this tool that s/he can forget that this is just the torch HEAD–you still need the torch. And only two specific model torches will do. There are several reasons for this which, are not explained very well anywhere. First, Searzall mounts to the torch by semi-permanently attaching a “sleeve adapter” to the torch nozzle with an Allen-head set screw:
The Searzall main body then mounts on and off the sleeve adapter as needed, and is held onto the adapter by a thumbscrew:
As the instructions make clear, the sleeve adapter must be precisely positioned before being bolted down. You do this by putting the adapter and main body together, and positioning the supplied 1/8" matchstick between the extreme torch’s tip and the back edge of the main body.
The second reason only two torches are approved for Searzall is that they are high-output trigger-actuated. True high output is necessary to proper functioning (or any functioning at all), and the trigger is a convenience/safety feature. The two “approved” torches are the BerzOmatic TS-4000 and the BernzOmatic TS-8000
You MUST have a BernzOmatic TS-8000
Since I already had a TS-4000, I was excited to get all the versatility of the Searzall for $65 delivered. Unfortunately, while Searzall is compatible with (meaning it will attach to) the TS-4000, that torch is disappointingly underpowered. Only AFTER you purchase are you informed that the TS-4000 is only 6,732 Btu/hr output, whereas the TS-8000 is over twice as powerful (14,282 Btu/hr). This is a fair representation of the difference:
So, if you want a Searzall, want it to function, and don’t already have a TS-8000, you gotta buy this torch; that’s another $60. See, https://www.amazon.com/Bernzomatic-TS8000-Intensity-Trigger-Start/dp/B0019CQL60/ref=pd_lpo_79_tr_t_3?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=SABWC8NT44YTK9HK0MEV So everyone should know this is effectively a $125 purchase/gift, not a $65 one.
My gift arrived without the Allen-head set screw necessary to attach the sleeve adapter. Booker & Dax either cannot or will not send out this screw, so the only alternatives are: (a) go to a hardware store to try to find one of the correct size; or (b) return the entire Searzall for an exchange–and the uncertainty the screw will not be there the second time. After a long delay, Booker & Dax simply sent me a second (complete this time) Searzall.
Fat Cylinders Only
The next thing shoppers need to know is that Searzall is approved for use only with the fatter 16.4 ounce “camping” propane cylinders, NOT the skinnier 14.1 ounce cylinders. This is because the Searzall is heavy enough to make the assembled torch tippy. In use, the Searzall stays extremely hot for several minutes after it’s shut down–it could easily ignite flammable material if it tipped over. The skinnier cylinders would be downright dangerous! Even a full, squat 16.4 ounce is hazardous if bumped; everyone should therefore also buy one of these: https://www.fleetfarm.com/checkout/cart.jsp?_requestid=378503 Cost to date: $136.
Once it’s all properly assembled, you need to “Preseason” the Palladium screens. You do this by firing the torch and holding the rim of the Searzall parallel to the floor for 2 full minutes:
Once it’s seasoned, care must be taken not to touch the screens. Searzall is fitted with welded wire guards to help avoid this in storage, but they are only around the periphery. In use, irregularly-shaped or small chunks of food could easily contact the screens, in which case you’re looking at… wait for it… another $30 set of screens
Use–Distance is Critical
As should be obvious, even with the prodigious output of a TS-8000–it’s a little scary–foods will brown faster the closer the Searzall front screen is placed over it. Conversely, if you don’t get as close as necessary, the Searzall is VERY slow. This is somewhat surprising, as the flames project quite far, and envelop the food in flame from several inches away. What Arnold recommends is almost touching for meat, and about 4" or toasting bread.
The Searzall should be preheated. Arnold says 5-10 seconds is enough, but my eyes tell me about a minute is better. A full minute is a long time to hold this thing, and it is spewing flame (there is the reason they say 4 FEET from the floor while Pre-seasoning). Be careful.
While you’re standing there, you wonder: What can I sear in or on or even near? The answer is nothing that will: (a) melt; (b) crack; © catch fire; (d) be touched barehanded; (e) contact anything flammable; and (f) be a PITA to clean polymerized spatter from. I made the mistake of top-searing a steak on my Demeyere plancha (with easy-to-clean Silvinox surface), and it later took 5 soakings in oven cleaner to remove what the Searzall had fused to it. The only indoor method I think works well is: (a) a cooling rack or screen (b) in a sheetpan or bare CI skillet and © with it all set on top of a larger, non-flammable cook- or countertop. I would not risk cracking a glass cooktop even using a sheetpan. Obviously, a barbecue or grille would be a great choice.
Again, the Searzall is tippy under the best of circumstances, so do not set it down anywhere there are flammable materials it could tip over onto. It stands >21" tall, so have a completely safe area at least that distance all around.
And again, it stays hot for several minutes after shutting down.
I would keep this out of the reach of all children!!! At all times!!! As in under lock and key!!!
Actual Cooking Use and Applications
The Searzall is a real advance over other torches. It really does seem to eliminate torch taste, and it spreads the heat quite well, relatively speaking. It is great for finishing sous-vide proteins, and for reverse sous-vide searing. It is also good for toasting, melting and caramelizing small portions of food. I find I use it mostly to finish foods that need a touch-up before plating, and have found it a real boon to finishing fried eggs. I have yet to use it to finish pizza toppings or melt open-faced sandwiches with it, but it should work well for those things.
Dave started a user’s form, but it has stopped allowing posts. http://searzallforum.freeforums.net/ Still, there are some good tips and applications there. And since Dave was once active on eGullet, there are several useful threads there.
I think its major limitation is that, as powerful as it is, the effective area being seared is still very small. As a result, it is slow for large areas and multiple portions. For example, a cook would have disappointed guests eating seriatim if the cook expected to sear more than two steaks using the Searzall immediately before plating. For another, browning a pan of lasagna would be slow going. So it’s not a replacement for a broiler or modern salamander.
In a childless home with plenty of nonflammable workspace, I’m comfortable having and using this tool, inside and at the BBQ pit. It’s probably worth the total of $136 we’ve spent to make it work safely, although I would not have asked Santa for it had I known the ultimate cost or the hassle of replacing the missing screw… I take the main body off the torch for storage, just in case…
I hope this review is useful to people considering a Searzall.