The Proper Way to Smolder A Cigar

Posted on July 07 2020

The Proper Way to Smolder A Cigar

To a cigar enthusiast, smoking a cigar can be rather intimate. Believe it or not, there are six stages to the mastery of this experience, and smoking the cigar is the final stage.

It all begins with choosing a cigar, unwrapping, appreciating, cutting, lighting and smoking. There is also an optional step of pairing for those who like to find that perfect beverage to accompany the cigar with. Today, we will focus on lighting a cigar, because if I was to write about the whole experience, then the length of this post would be more of a college level thesis than a blog.


The Tools

There are two components to a lighter: the vessel, and the chemical component that is used to start the fire.

One of the greatest discoveries of mankind is fire. It became the gateway for civilization and was the stepping stone for numerous technological advancements from the dark ages to the modern world.  Most of the time when someone talks about a lighter, they only mention the vessel. For cigars, it is quite important to know and understand the chemical that should be used to light a cigar. Some are odorless while others aren’t, and it can very well influence the flavors in a cigar, or in the worst case ruin it entirely. For example:

  • Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) used by most stove tops, contains methanethiol. This compound is used for its putrid smell to detect any leaks. Therefore, it is best not to use a stove as a lighter unless you like the taste of sweaty gym socks.
  • Kerosene, also known as paraffin, is another type of gas that is widely used, and powers everything from jet engines to lighting up an oil lamp. Most smokers use kerosene to fuel their zippo lighters. However, this type of fuel will also tarnish the cigar by leaving an undesirable taste.
  • Butane, on the other hand, is odorless just like any natural gas. It is highly flammable and can easily set off when exposed to air. What sets butane apart is that it doesn’t affect the cigar flavor in any way.

When lighting a cigar in a conventional way, you have four options: a regular lighter, a torch lighter, matches and cedar spills.

The lighter used by the majority is the torch. By utilizing the concept of piezo ignition, a torch lighter produces a higher temperature flame, approximately 2,610 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, resulting a stream of blue flame. Due to its high intensity and pressurized output, the torch lighter is wind resistant and can light a cigar much quicker than all the other options. The price for these types of lighters can range from $5.00 USD to hundreds, depending on the brand, material, etc.

Unlike the torch, a regular butane lighter, often known as the soft flame lighter or Bic lighter, produces a flame at a much lower temperature of approximately 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. These lighters produce a soft orange flame, much like a candle’s flame, which is extremely fragile. Any little breeze can affect the direction the flame points or puts it out before you can successfully light your cigar. Many can attest that you will burn your thumb on the metal hood before your cigar is lit.

Most traditionalists favor matches or cedar spills to light their cigars. Both methods are highly recommended to use indoor since they produce a soft orange flame like the Bic lighter. Unlike the torch flame, the fragile soft flame can toast (please see below) the foot of the cigar and gradually light the cigar evenly without risking burning the tobacco to charcoal. Cedar spills are long strips of Spanish cedar wood. They are preferred over matches since they’re longer, giving more time to properly light the cigar. The cedar also imparts hints of cedar flavor to the cigars.


The Ritual

To properly light a cigar, you do not want the cigar to physically encounter the actual flame. You should only use the heat that is produced from the fire to light the cigar. This is the answer as to why I used the word “smolder” instead of “light” in the title. Here are a few easy steps you should take to properly light a cigar without tarnishing its integrity:

The first part of the lighting is called “Toasting the Foot”.  Hold the lighter of your choice at a 45-degree angle with one hand while holding the cigar at a 45-degree angle with the other. Bring the cigar towards the flame about ½ to 1 inch away from the fire. You will start seeing smoke produce from the tobacco. In a slow circular motion with the lighter, warm up the outer rim of the foot of the cigar first. Once the rim blackens, move the lighter towards the center of the foot. Remove the cigar from the heat once you see the blackened foot transform into a bright red cherry.

The next step is called “Releasing the Draw”. Place the cigar in your lips and take a few small puffs while bringing the lighter towards the foot of the cigar without touching the flame. As you puff, you will see a stream of flames bursting from the cigars foot.

After those initial puffs, you are ready to move on to the final step of lighting a cigar: “Blowing on the Cherry”. Inspect the foot of the cigar, and gently blow at the ember. Identify any dark spots that are unlit on the foot of the cigar. You can then repeat either the first or second step by introducing more heat for an even burn. You know you are ready to enjoy your cigar once the foot has a consistent cherry.

Lighting a cigar truly is a ritual. Everyone has their own methodical way; some may be vastly different from one another. Through years of trial, error and practice, I finally discovered the best way to light my cigar.



-Kevin Sun

1 comment

  • Eli Richardson: May 23, 2023

    It’s interesting to learn how to properly light a cigar and the importance of avoiding physical encounters with the actual flame. Recently, my brother and I became interested in cigars and want to try them out soon, so I think your guide will help us out. I appreciate your advice on smoldering a cigar without tarnishing its integrity.

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