Cigar culture has many unique, often unspoken, rules that can seem a bit perplexing to newcomers. One distinctive norm is around the etiquette for lighting a cigar. For something that seems so simple, the process is surprisingly nuanced. Read on to learn more about the formalities and tradition that surround lighting a cigar.
The Difference Between Lighting Cigars and Cigarettes
The avid cigar smoker’s biggest pet peeved is getting lumped together with cigarette smokers. The first thing to know about lighting a cigar is that you don’t light it like a cigarette. The practical and structural differences between cigarettes and cigars call for different lighting approaches.
Cigars, of course, are larger than cigarettes, and have much more ignitable surface area. Cigars are also made of a less flammable material than cigarettes, which are composed primarily of shredded tobacco and paper. A cigar is actually made up of three components, the wrapper, or the leaf the tobacco is wrapped around; the binder, the inner leaf that holds the filler tobacco together; and the filler, the richly flavored tobacco, one of the components that makes each cigar type unique. All three elements need to be evenly lit so that all of their flavors meld together and are experienced in union.
The Pre-lighting Process
Before you light a cigar, you have to cut it. The cut can make or break a cigar’s smokeability, but luckily, the cutting technique is not too difficult to master. All you need is a solid cigar cutter. The most common cigar cutter is a guillotine-style straight cutter, which provides more airflow and an easy draw. You should cut just above the shoulder of the cigar where the head begins to taper. You don’t want to cut too deep as you risk getting loose tobacco in your mouth, or the wrapper leaf may unravel while you’re smoking.
The other crucial step to take prior to lighting up is selecting a proper heat source. It is best to avoid igniting your cigar with a heat source that will intermix unwanted smells and flavors to your cigar. Avoid oil-fueled lighters which could change your cigar’s smell to that of gasoline, wax candles that can disrupt the cigar’s burn, or standard matches which can add the unwanted smell of sulphur to your smoking experience. Instead, try using a lighter designed specifically for cigars. One that burns butane fuel and has a flame wide enough to cover the entire surface of the cigar’s foot is ideal. If available, the best option of all is to light your cigar using a strip of cedar wood, often called a spill, because of its neutral flavor profile.
With those tips in mind, here’s our step-by-step breakdown of how to properly light a cigar.
- Bring the cigar near the flame––hovering about an inch or two above is fine. It’s best not to let the end of the cigar touch the flame directly. If you burn a cigar directly, it becomes too hot and makes some areas burn more quickly and unevenly than others. Melding the cigars flavors as a whole is key. If you do end up touching the cigar directly to the flame, it’s not like it’s the end of the world; just calmly and quickly move your cigar back out of the flame. Essentially, you want to light your cigar like it’s a marshmallow toasting over a campfire, keeping it just outside the flame and spinning it regularly with your fingers so that the heat is equally distributed. You should keep rotating until there’s a glowing ring around the entirety of the tip of the cigar. Patience is the name of the game.
- To see whether your cigar has been lit properly, you can turn it around and gently blow on the heated foot. If there are black spots amidst the otherwise glowing red, the heat has not yet been evenly distributed. A properly lit cigar will have a firm, even ash that should stay intact for a few inches.
- Once your cigar is burning evenly, you can bring it to your mouth and take the first puff. The ember should burn evenly while you're drawing. If it does not, relight it with your lighter, match, or spill again.
- Once your cigar is properly lit, there’s one final step: enjoy. Take pleasure in a slow, relaxing smoking experience and be sure to savor every incredible draw.
If you’re new to cigar smoking, or are smoking with friends for the first time, you might experience a bit of performance anxiety at first—you don’t want to ruin what can sometimes be a pretty significant monetary investment, after all. Worry not, learning to light your cigar the right way is a part of the cigar smoking experience. Lighting your cigar properly is sure to become a pleasurable part of this relaxing hobby over time.