Learn how to flambé without burning down the house.
Crème Brûlée
Credit: Meredith

Burning your food is not usually a #CookingGoal, but sometimes you've just got to set stuff on fire to bring out its best.

The French call this culinary technique flambé (flahm-BAY), which, no surprise, shares the same origin as the word flamboyant. A hallmark of old-school fine dining, a dish prepared en flambé was traditionally done tableside by waiters sporting tuxedos and superior attitudes. But in this day of DIY, there's practically no restaurant trick we can't do at home — with the proper precautions, of course.

So, here's how to get your flame on without burning down the house. Please assume I'm giving you all the requisite safety warnings when I say this kind of high-drama cooking means you're literally playing with fire. Proceed with caution.

How to Flambé

Watch as our own Chef John gives you a crash course on the safe way to flambé this classic steak recipe with a cognac-laced pan sauce.

To recap the flambé steps:

  1. Turn off the heat under the pan.
  2. Pour in the brandy or cognac from a small cup, not from the bottle, and let it heat up.
  3. Light the brandy using a fireplace lighter or a very long match.

Flambé Q & A

What's burning?

Although it looks like your food's on fire, it's really just the added alcohol burning off, leaving nothing behind but pure flavor without the sharp bite of the booze.

Will setting fire to my food overcook it?

No. Although the fire is undeniably hot and will affect the surface temperature of the dish, the small amount of alcohol used to set the dish aflame burns off so quickly that it has a minimal effect on the core temperature of the food.

Can any booze be used?

Your best choices for flambé are brandy, cognac, rum, or any high-alcohol spirit. Beer and wine are lower in alcohol and will not ignite properly.

Why can't I just pour from the bottle instead of using a separate bowl?

A flash of fire in your pan is a just cause for oohs and aahs. An exploding bottle of booze in your hand, not so much.

Sweets with Heat

Here's Chef John again, showing you how to make a favorite New Orleans dessert that rocks a fiery finish. A pinch of cinnamon thrown in at the end makes for a extra colorful, sparkly inferno.

More Food to Light on Fire

Old-Fashioned Swedish Glogg
Old-Fashioned Swedish Glogg | Photo by elise
| Credit: elise

Literally translated as burnt cream, this popular baked custard dessert gets its signature crackly, caramelized finish when the sugar topping is melted and crisped by the intense flame of a kitchen torch instead of a fireball of alcohol.

Crème Brûlée
Crème Brûlée | Photo by Meredith
| Credit: Meredith

I have to give a final shout-out to Flaming Burritos, a traditional Girl Scouts® campfire recipe that involves foil-wrapped burritos, empty milk cartons, and open flame. Always a winning combination.

Flame on!

You might also like...

• Find more French recipes to make at home like a boss.

• If you've got a taste for fancy fare, check out our collection of gourmet recipes.