Thank you to Cigar Aficionado for this great video on how to light a cigar.
Believe it or not, learning how to properly light a cigar can help save a lot of frustrations for your cigar smoking experiences. This video does a great job of explaining how to light your cigar properly without getting overly pretentious or picky about it.
Is there a wrong way to light a cigar? … Yes… yes there is. Burning or charring your cigar will ensure the entire smoke has that extra little bit of charcoal taste to it as your first draws will carry charred ash down the length of the cigar with them. Lighting your cigar on one side more than the other will all but guarantee your cigar will burn unevenly to the end (no matter how many times you try to correct it). Or my personal favorite, using sulfur-based matches so you taste the wonderful hint of hard-boiled eggs while you smoke. Who doesn’t love a hearty breakfast with their cigar?
The goal of “properly” lighting your cigar is to toast the tobacco just enough to get the oils coming out of the leaves (where all the flavor is) without burning those oils and tainting the remainder of your smoking experience. It may take a few more seconds to get a full light, but since you’re going to be sitting there with that cigar for the next hour anyway, why not use those few seconds at the beginning to make sure your next hour is actually enjoyable.
Ways to light: Torch flame, Soft flame, Matches
- A butane torch lighter is the most popular method to light a cigar because it’s quick and efficient and requires the least skill.
- A soft flame lighter has the benefit of bringing the tobacco up to temperature more slowly. The downside is it takes more work to fully ignite the foot. It’s also less precise if you need to touch up the cigar.
- Matches are the preferred method of cigar purists because there is no fuel to taint the flavor of the cigar. That said, today’s butane burns very clean. The downside to matches is they are the slowest to light and the least windproof. In addition, matches can break causing an accident.
- Once you light a cigar there is no going back. It is important to inspect your cigar before enjoyment to ensure the best experience.
- Squeeze test
- Put the cigar next to your ear and give it a gentle squeeze. If you hear the tobacco cracking loudly the cigar is too dry.
- If you hear nothing and the cigar feel soft the cigar is too wet.
- If you hear a faint crackle and the cigar springs back when you squeeze it, then it’s perfectly humidified and ready to be enjoyed.
- Pre-light aroma
- Remove your cigar from the cellophane and smell the foot. If the tobacco smells good, it usually will taste good.
- If there is a bitter or ammonia-like smell the cigar needs more time to age in your humidor. Don’t fret, ammonia is a natural byproduct of cigar fermentation.
- Cold draw- After passing the first two tests, cut off the cap and take a draw. This serves two purposes:
- It ensures a proper cut and an even draw.
- You can taste the tobacco before you light the cigar. A cigar that tastes unpleasant should return to your humidor to further age.
Toasting the foot
Taking your time to light a cigar will save you a whole lot of hassle. Start by toasting the foot by keeping the flame near but not touching the tobacco. You want to gradually ignite the foot. It’s a lot like cooking a fine roast. You can cook a roast quickly at a high temperature, but it won’t taste as good as a slow cooked roast that has ample time to reach its final temperature.
Draw and roll
After the foot has a gentle char, insert the cigar in your mouth and draw. The flame from the lighter will pull towards the foot. With each draw roll the cigar a ¼ turn with your index finger and thumb. Repeat 4-6 turns. Remember to draw the flame to the cigar and not the cigar to the flame. This will prevent scorching the wrapper.
Check your work
This is the most overlooked step. After 4-6 draws, turn the foot of your cigar towards you gently blow on it. If the entire foot lights up orange, you have completed a perfect light. If not, take note of the unlit area and repeat the draw and roll. A good burn requires a good light. If all your cigars are burning crooked, it likely has more to do with the light than the construction of the cigar.
- Even the best light can be susceptible to an uneven burn for a multitude of reasons. If the imperfection is minimal I recommend allowing the cigar to correct itself first.
- If it interferes with your enjoyment, correct the burn by removing the ash and lighting the unlit area.
- Using a cedar to light
- If you want to show off or like a challenge, light your cigar with a cedar spill. A cedar spill is a thin piece of cedar designed to light cigars. You can make your own by looking inside a box of cigars for a thin piece of cedar. Break off a ½” slice and ignite it with your lighter.
- The taste of burning cedar complements the tobacco and ensures the sulfur fumes of matches or a slight hint of butane from your lighter never get near your cigar.
For clarity on some of the terms used in this article, visit our Terms Glossary.