Charcoal Starters hold the Secret to Perfect Grill Marks on your Steak

To the uninitiated, this unusual device resembles a curling iron more so than a tool meant for manning a grill. However, barbecue aficionados everywhere seek out electric charcoal starters to eliminate the use of lighter fluid in their cooking. What most people don’t realize is that the little heat machine can do more than improve the taste of food. In the right hands, it can make your food look better, too.

That’s right – food styling with charcoal starters can impact the flavor and the appearance of your favorite grilled subjects. But how, exactly, is a charcoal starter able to accomplish this?

To be clear, we’re not referring to commonplace chimney charcoal starters. Instead, aspiring stylists will want to find a handheld electric wand, preferably with thin coil tips rather than a wide cylindrical end-piece. These smaller models are easier to maneuver, yielding more controlled results. What’s more, they don’t require the user to ignite a fire. Instead, the coils can quickly reach scolding temperatures that in turn cause the charcoal to smolder.

The magic wand of an electric charcoal starter is a must tool for every serious food stylist

When applied to a slab of meat or some fresh vegetables, the evenly spaced, perfectly straight hot coils can leave behind some char. With a little bit of creativity and patience, it’s possible to achieve an end result resembling grill marks – without ever having to lug an actual grill into the studio. Aside from being a safer option in the context of a photoshoot, food styling with charcoal starters is about as convenient as it gets.

On the surface, this tool may not seem to offer much outside of superficial details. However, some char can provide context for a viewer that can’t taste, smell, or feel what they’re seeing. Food styling with charcoal starters can instantly evoke the pleasantness of a summer’s day spent grilling on a poolside deck. It suggests the smell of roaring flames and invites viewers to fantasize about the juicy insides of the food that they’re admiring. The marks left behind add depth and texture while hinting at flavor and mouthfeel. Those lines don’t just convey that the subject in question is cooked. They convey that someone behind the scenes cared enough to cook it to perfection.

charcoal starter food styling phoode

Besides charring and “grilling” meats, a charcoal starter is also an excellent precision tool for ice styling. Like a magic wand, it melts ice almost instantly in a controlled manner. Curving, cutting and shaping ice is a piece of cake if you have it in you food stylist tool kit. If you’ve ever had to incorporate ice into a shoot, you’ll appreciate just how easy a charcoal starter can make the otherwise difficult task.

Best of all? You don’t need to break the bank to get results. Many charcoal starters are sold for under $20 USD at major hardware chains. While you could get a similar effect by painting with a bit of Kitchen Bouquet or molasses, a charcoal starter can produce a more convincing effect at a quarter of the time and effort.

A food stylists job can be a difficult one. It can take hours to get a subject looking picture-perfect. In order to keep up, it’s important to take advantage of every shortcut available. You may not use a charcoal starter on every set. However, you’ll be happy to have one on hand to provide the perfect finishing touch in certain scenarios.

Inside the Food Stylist’s Tool Kit

Have you ever looked at a food editorial or advertisement and wondered how they’re able to get subjects as unruly as spaghetti sauce or ice cream looking absolutely pristine? As it turns out, the art food styling is a precise one that requires quite a bit of patience, precision, and improvisation. In the Inside the Food Stylist’s Tool Kit segment Phoode examines the unexpected tactics stylists employ by digging through the tools they use on set.