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Cigar 101 – Lighting a Cigar

We’ve covered just about everything in our Cigar 101 series—cutting cigars, storing cigars, smoking in the cold, deodorizing your smoky car—but I realized the other day that we’ve never done a Cigar 101 on how to properly light a stogie. This is a fundamental that even some experienced smokers seem to need some coaching on, so without further ado, here’s a step-by-step lesson on how to light a cigar:

Step 1: Choosing a Flame

Figuring out what to light a cigar with is fairly easy. Avoid paper matches, as these are often treated with chemicals that could alter the taste of your cigar. They also burn way too quickly, so you might end up going through a whole book of matches just to light one stogie. Also avoid gas (naphtha) lighters, as the gas has a very strong odor, and can alter a cigar’s flavors significantly.

Those two aside, there are four good ways to light a cigar—the first three are wooden matches, a soft-flame butane lighter (like a Bic), or a torch lighter (Xikar makes great ones). The fourth involves lighting the cedar insert from a cigar box and using that to light the cigar. If you choose this method, make sure you remove any plastic tape that might be on the cedar, and be careful of the ashes—they are thin and fragile and can get extremely messy (and could possibly pose a fire hazard).

Step 2: Toast the foot

After cutting your cigar (see Cigar 101: Cutting Your Cigar or Cigar 101: Top 3 Ways to Cut a Cigar without a Cutter), it’s important to toast or roast the foot. This chars the end of the cigar just enough to ensure an even burn once you light up.

To do this, hold the cigar at a 45-degree angle with the foot pointed down, and hold the flame so that it’s almost touching the foot. Make sure the flame isn’t too close to the foot, or it could scorch more of the cigar than needed. Continue to toast the foot until it’s completely blackened.

Step 3: Lighting Up

After you’ve toasted the foot, start slowly puffing and rotating the cigar while holding the flame to the foot. Don’t puff too quickly, or the cigar can heat up and turn harsh earlier than it would otherwise. To make sure the cigar is lit, lightly blow on the foot and watch for a nice, even glow. Also, once a cigar is lit properly, the blackened foot will turn white or grey with ash.

At this point, the cigar should be delivering a pretty generous amount of smoke. It’s important to let it cool down for a moment between puffs, especially after lighting, because this is generally when the lit end, or “heater,” is hottest.

Step 3.5: Maintenance

While it would be awesome if every cigar burned perfectly, most just simply don’t. If the burn becomes significantly uneven, it may be necessary during the smoke to “touch up” the cigar. To do this, lightly touch the unburned edge with your flame. Again, don’t overdo it, or the burn might end up uneven the other way. Keep in mind, though, that if the burn isn’t horribly uneven, it may correct itself.

Anyway, this concludes Cigar 101: Lighting a Cigar. I hope this helps to clear up any confusion about lighting a cigar that may have existed. If you have any questions, or you think I missed any crucial steps, feel free to post a comment.