Flambe Tips and Cooking Hints

Molecular Gastronomy: Banana Flambe
Malcolm Ainsworth / Getty Images
  • Use a flambé pan with rounded, deep sides and a long handle.
  • Heat liquor slowly over a low flame in a pot with high sides to avoid the chance of it igniting prematurely. (The boiling point of alcohol is 175 F., much lower than water.)
  • The alcohol can be warmed in the microwave for about 15 seconds at 100% power until it is just warm to the touch.
  • Use long fireplace matches or a long barbecue lighter to light the fumes of the alcohol at the edge of the pan, not the liquor itself.
  • Be prepared for a whoosh of potentially far-reaching flames and stand back accordingly, making sure to avert your face.
  • The fumes can also be lit by tilting the far side of the pan (opposite the handle) toward the heat source.
  • Do not pour liquor straight from the bottle to the hot pan. The lit fumes can follow the liquor stream back to the bottle and cause an explosion. Pour the needed amount into a different container, warm it, and then add.
  • Once you add the liquor to the pan, do not delay lighting. You do not want the food to absorb the raw alcohol and retain a harsh flavor.
  • Be sure to let it burn long enough or the flavor of the alcohol will overpower the food. Stir to combine flavors before serving.
  • Choose liquors or liqueurs that are complimentary to the food being cooked, such as fruit flavored brandies for and and whiskey or cognac for meats.
  • An asbestos cooking mitt can also help insure a burnless flambé experience.
  • If the dish doesn't light, it's probably not hot enough.
  • If you are planning the flambé as a performance for your guests, do not light the dish until it is at the table, far away from guests and any centerpieces or flammable objects.
  • Do not carry a lighted dish to the table. The liquid could splash out of the pan, resulting in burn or fire hazard.
  • The food to be flamed must also be warm. Cold foods may cool down the warm liquor to a point where it will not light.
  • Meats will require 1 ounce of liquor or liqueur per serving.
  • If you don't want to spring for a full bottle of liquor, most purveyors sell single serving sizes like those sold on airplanes.
  • For desserts and fruits, sprinkle with granulated sugar before adding the warmed liquor and lighting.
  • If you want the flames, but do not want the liquor in a dessert, soak sugar cubes in a flavored extract (not imitation). Place the cubes around the perimeter of the dish and light.
  • Perform your flambé in a darkened room for a more theatric effect, but be sure you have enough light to see what you're doing.

More About Flambé: