100 Techniques

Technique #89: Tame the Flame of Flambé

We can’t think of too many things that will give you more kitchen cred in the eyes of your guests than successfully (and intentionally) lighting food on fire.

Published Aug. 4, 2023.

This is Technique #89 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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As dramatic as it looks, flambéing is more than just flashy theatrics. It performs a crucial role in flavor development.

Adding alcohol to a dish and lighting it generates significant amounts of heat and helps develop a more intense, complex-tasting sauce through Maillard reactions and caramelization. (Technically, flambéing is the ignition of the alcohol vapor that lies above the pan.)

Accomplishing this feat at home might feel daunting but with our step-by-step technique you'll be fantastically flambéing in no time.

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How to Flambé Safely

To flambé successfully and safely, turn off the stove’s exhaust fan and any other lit burners, tie back long hair, and have a pot lid ready nearby to smother any flare-ups.

Use a long, wooden fireplace match or a wooden skewer, and light the alcohol with your arm extended to full length.

Sometimes, if using a larger amount of alcohol in a recipe, we flambé in two stages to keep the height of the flames and their burning time to a minimum.

For the Tamest Flames, Add Alcohol Off Heat

We found that heating alcohol to 100 degrees (best achieved by adding it to a pan off the heat and then letting it heat for about 5 seconds) produces the most moderate yet long-burning flames.

If the alcohol gets too hot, the vapors can rise to dangerous heights, causing flare-ups. But if the alcohol is too cold, there won’t be enough vapors to light at all.

If a flare-up should occur, simply slide the lid over the top of the pan, coming in from the side of, rather than over, the flames to squelch them. Let the alcohol cool down before starting again.

The potency of the alcohol can be diminished as it becomes incorporated into other ingredients. If you have trouble getting the liquor to ignite, you could ignite it in a separate small skillet; once the flame has burned off, add the reduced alcohol to the remaining ingredients.

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Step by Step: How to Flambé

With these steps you'll be able to safely and successfully flambé to impress your guests and improve the taste of your food.

Step 1: Add Liquor Off Heat

 When ready to flambé, remove saucepan or skillet from heat, add liquor, and let liquor warm for a few seconds.

Step 2: Light Long Skewer and Wave

Using long fireplace match or wooden skewer, fully extend your arm and gently wave flame over pan until liquor ignites.

Step 3: Shake Pan

Shake pan gently to distribute flames; keep shaking until flames subside.

Step 4: Let Burn Then Cover

Let burn until flames subside on their own. Cover skillet for 15 seconds to ensure flame is extinguished.

Step 5: In Case of Flare Up

If a flare-up should occur, slide lid over top of pan (coming in from side of, rather than over, flames) to put out fire quickly. Let alcohol cool down before starting again.

Watch Lan Lam demonstrate flambéing (at 3:20) and other fire-related cooking methods in this episode of Techniquely.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Ready to try this technique for yourself? Give one of these foolproof recipes a try.


French-Style Pork Chops with Apples and Calvados

Classic French versions call for lighting the sauce on fire. Does this technique really make a difference—or is it just kitchen theatrics?
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Bananas Foster

This New Orleans classic may look dramatic, but it's both easy and quick to make.
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Flambeed Pan-Roasted Lobster

An alternative to the usual boiled or steamed lobster that doesn't take much longer to prepare and delivers tastier results.
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Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine

We get the best of the devil by flambéing the shrimp hot and fast and sautéing the garlic long and slow.
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