Harold McGhee’s On Food and Cooking is the most exhaustive reference on the chemistry and physics involved in food preparation, but nothing beats a few flashy demonstrations. I still have a vivid memory of Mr. Wizard, the great American science educator, demonstrating on Late Night with David Letterman how much energy was contained in a bowl of breakfast cereal. He sprinkled some powdered aluminum perchlorate over the cereal (which rested in a ceramic crucible), then added a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to the mix. Within seconds the cereal ignited into a white hot flame, leaving behind a few ashes. The peroxide and perchlorate — a mixture used in booster rockets — initiated an exothermic reaction that fed off the cereal as fuel.
That demonstration was fixed in my mind as I watched this video from Popular Science:
I knew bacon was the most miraculous substance in the universe; this demonstration merely confirms it.
Cool as the video is, I have to take issue with the narrator. Firstly, prosciutto is not bacon, it’s cured ham – bacon is made from pork belly, ham is made from pork leg. However, saying “bacon” is much funnier than saying “prosciutto,” so I’ll allow the error in the name of comedy. Secondly, despite the high temperatures reached by the torch, its output is a flame — not a plasma, which has a temperature an order of magnitude greater.
But these are mere quibbles. If I had the equipment (and the courage to work with a bottle of pure oxygen), I’d build one of these torches every time I needed to fire up my smoker.