Whether you are brand new to cigars or have smoked them for years, you've likely had an issue with an improper burn or a bad light at some point. Sometimes it's user error, but often it's product malfunction. Cigars are handmade products, after all, and occasionally you will happen across an improper roll or poor humidification. Understanding how to properly light a cigar, however, will give you an advantage and set the stage for the most enjoyable smoke possible. Today we'll be covering some basics on lighting cigars, with a deep dive into two of my favorite methods: lighting with a match and lighting with a lighter. A note before we begin: Much like cutting a cigar, how you light is all about personal preference. Try out many different methods and decide what works best for you. I never judge someone based on how they prefer to light a cigar, because it really is all personal preference. Do what you enjoy.
How To Toast A Cigar
Whether you're using a match or a lighter, the first thing you'll want to do is toast the cigar along the foot, which is the end of the cigar you do not put into your mouth. Cigars are comprised of three distinct parts: the filler, the binder, and the wrapper. Toasting is an important first step, because it ensures a proper burn and evenly heats the outer binder and wrapper, as well as the inner filler, giving them a little extra headstart. To properly toast a cigar, regardless of the method you use, hold the cigar at about a 45-degree angle and apply your heat source toward it, but never directly touch the cigar to the flame. Simply hold the heat source (whether it's as match or a lighter) in front of the cigar and gently rotate it to char or toast the foot evenly. Unlike toasting a marshmallow, you don't want to ignite the cigar and then blow it out; you just want to apply a little heat to it. Now, let's dive into each method.
Lighting A Cigar With A Match
The first method I'm gonna go over is lighting a cigar with a match. You may need two or three matches, depending on how long the process takes or how large your matches are. And, of course, you will want to use sulfur-free varieties, so you don't taint the taste of the cigar. As mentioned above, first you want to toast the foot of the cigar. To toast a cigar with a match, simply light your match and hold it in front of the cigar, making sure the flame doesn't actually make contact with the foot. Keeping the match slightly away, gently rotate the cigar to ensure a nice, even burn across the binder, filler, and wrapper.
Once you've toasted the foot, there should be a little smoke coming off the end, but it should not be on fire. At this point, put the cigar in your mouth and light your second match. Again, keeping the flame slightly away from the foot, gently puff on the cigar, five six times, in an out. As you're puffing, rotate the cigar 90 degrees with each draw. You should see the flame rise up and down and slightly spiral. Once you've applied this second light, turn the cigar back to you and blow that fire out; this step prevents the fire from consuming too much of the cigar and allows you to check the consistency and evenness of your burn. The entire foot, including everything in the middle, should be one color.
After you've applied your second light, it's important to let the cigar rest for a minute, which allows the heat to dissipate and the cigar to cool slightly before smoking. At this point, double check to make sure the foot has a good, even burn all the way around. If it looks wonky or inconsistent, you'll want to repeat the steps listed in the paragraph above. Getting this step right is critical to ensuring your cigar burns properly burn all the way down. Once the light is consistent and you've let the cigar rest for a moment, go ahead and start smoking with a normal cadence. With any luck, that burn will even and consistent the whole way down, with no major touch-ups required.
Lighting A Cigar With A Lighter
The next method we're going to cover is lighting a cigar with a torch or soft-flame lighter. For this demonstration, I've used a single-flame torch lighter. Just like when using a match, the first step is to toast the foot of the cigar. Given that lighters (especially torch lighters) tend to burn hotter than matches, it's paramount that you never touch the flame to the cigar during this process. Simply hold the cigar at a 45 degree angle and ignite your lighter, keeping the flame about an inch away. While applying this heat, gently rotate the cigar to ensure a solid, even char along the entire foot, distributed across the filler, binder, and wrapper.
Once you've toasted the foot, place the other end of the cigar into your mouth and ignite your lighter. While puffing gently, bring the flame closer to the cigar and rotate it in even intervals to keep the light consistent. Once again, you should see the foot of the cigar ignite. At this point, turn the cigar around and blow out the flame, checking to make sure it's fully lit and glowing. Remember to allow your cigar to rest after lighting. As much as you may want to jump in and start to enjoy it, set the cigar down, prepare yourself to smoke, and let some of that heat dissipate for a moment. Then go ahead and enjoy your smoke.
How To Touch Up A Cigar
Whether you're using a match or a lighter, it's important to light a cigar properly the first time. Touching up or relighting a cigar adds excess heat to a cigar, which can alter the flavor and result in a hotter, less pleasurable smoke. Alas, none of us are perfect, and mistakes will occasionally happen. Maybe you forgot to toast the cigar before lighting. Maybe you applied the flame too closely, resulting in an uneven char. Maybe the cigar just isn't burning well due to an improper roll. In either scenario, just know that you've got options. It's actually quite easy to touch up a poorly lit cigar by re-toasting the foot.
To reduce the amount of excess heat applied to the cigar, the best way to touch up an uneven burn is by re-toasting the foot. Using the steps outlined above, gently apply heat (never touching the flame directly to the cigar) to the areas burning unevenly, typically pieces of wrapper or binder that may not be burning as well as the rest of the cigar. Let the cigar rest for a moment to allow that heat to dissipate and continue enjoying your smoke.
It may take some practice, but lighting your cigar correctly the first time allows you to better enjoy the experience. By following these easy steps, you can reduce the risk of an uneven burn, as well as the probability of additional touch ups or relights, keeping the focus on what really matters: enjoying the full flavor and quiet contemplation cigar smoking affords us. Do you have any tips or tricks for lighting your own cigars? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Tell us what works for you!