What if I told you a household tool could be used to sear all kinds of food — including steaks — indoors, with no smoke, and no chemical odors?
From sous vide steak, to chicken skin, to marshmallows, I’ve been using a powerful tool that puts out super-hot air to cook all sorts of foods. And when I say power tool, literally this kitchen gadget was originally designed for industrial purposes.
A heat gun is like a super powerful hair dryer that puts out hot air that can reach temperatures of up to 1300 degrees F / 705 degrees C. A heat gun looks like a lot like a power drill, with some models having a high-tech LCD panel and control interface that you can use to change the temperature and fan speed. Many heat guns even come with attachments that shape the airflow. The model I use is the Wagner Furno 700 / 750, which lets you adjust the temperature in 10 degree increments. Others have said they like the Hitachi RH650V, which offers similar levels of control, but only goes up to 1200 degrees F.
Don’t believe me? Check out the following video of me cooking a sous-vide ribeye with a heat gun.
Searing meat with a heat gun
As you can see from the video, 1300F of hot air can sear an entire steak in short order. And when you use a heat gun, you’re only really browning the surface of a steak, which makes it ideal for a thin sear that some people crave, especially when browning sous-vide meat. Depending on how much browning you want, it can take 5-8 minutes to get a decent sear on a steak, which is approximately how long it would take using cast iron.
As you can see in the photo above, you don’t get a really thick crust with a heat gun, but the inside of the steak goes untouched, which shows that it’s quite hard to overcook a steak using this method. So a heat gun is perfect for sous-vide cooking, when you just want to add a bit of flavor and color to the outside of your steak, without further cooking the inside. I’ve also used the heat gun to add color to sous-vide chicken skins, and that works well too if you use a lower temperature.
Heat guns are also ideal for melting and browning other types of foods as well. In particular, I’ve found it a great tool for roasting marshmallows. With a heat gun, there’s no fire to start, no spontaneously combusting marshmallows, and no weird chemical smells from lighter fluid. And you don’t have to wait until you go camping or partially cook your arm over bonfire!
Since marshmallows are a little more delicate than a steak, a temperature of 650F to 750F is more appropriate. As you can see in the video, marshmallow start to brown almost immediately, but you need to keep the heat on them for a little more than a minute if you want to melt the middle all the way through.
Heat gun vs culinary torch
A heat gun is most similar to a somewhat familiar kitchen gadget, the culinary torch. These torches use butane gas as the fuel source, and put out a blue-hot flame. While handy, I stopped using mine because unburned gas can impart a weird flavor to your food, and it’s hard to vary the temperature when using a torch, which makes it easy to burn things.
Heat gun vs cast iron
When you cook with cast iron, you’ll get a thicker crust, but run the risk of overcooking the inside — for example, leaving you with well done meat when you wanted medium rare. The biggest downside of cast iron or any pan for searing meat is smoking up the house and setting off the fire alarm, in addition to making your house smell like meat for days.
Last words about heat guns
I’ve enjoyed using my heat gun immensely, as it’s really fun to use. I plan to use it often going forward where others might have used a torch before: browning all sorts of meats, cooking marshmallows, and melting sugar on a creme brûlée.
Some have even used it to melt cheese on top of all kinds of foods instead of using a broiler. Sous vide lovers and those without a kitchen fan that vents to the outside should consider this unconventional, but useful kitchen gadget.