How to Smoke a Cigar

Man smoking a cigar

In the four years I spent as a tobacconist, one of the most commonly asked questions I received was simply: "How do I smoke a cigar?" It's a simple question, though the answer can get a bit complicated, as the process of smoking is beholden not only to proper methods but to the personal preferences of the individual smoking the cigar. There are, however, a few clearly defined steps that must be followed in order to smoke your cigar: the cut, the light, and the smoking itself. Much of the pleasure of cigar smoking is in the ritual, and these steps outline that ritual, so think less of this as a guide on how to consume a product and more as a brief manual on a very special, sensorially engaging kind of meditation. I mean this in the truest sense of the word as well, because the smoking of a cigar is an event experienced by all of the senses: your fingers caressing the wrapper, eyes attuned to the glow of the cherry, and the smell of the smoke accompanied by the gentle sound of burning tobacco, all as the sumptuous flavors of your cigar of choice grace the palate.

As I've mentioned, much of the cigar-smoking process and experience is subject to one's preferences, so much of what I say here can be tweaked or altered according to your whims, but the order of the steps one must take is a bit more concrete.

Cutting the Cigar

It's difficult to say just what the most important step of this process is, as each has different effects depending on how far along you are while smoking or whether there's been a mistake made somewhere. The cut is a step that generally shows its effects early on, with cuts that are too shallow not providing enough airflow, and those that are too deep potentially leading to issues with unraveling. Mistakes made at this stage can still have ramifications as the cigar starts to burn toward the end, though generally only when cut too deeply, as the heat from the combustion of the tobacco can negatively affect the structural integrity of the wrapper, causing loosening, unraveling, or even cracks. For these reasons, it's vital to cut your cigar properly.

Types of Cigar Cuts

Types of cuts

Generally, there are three different methods of cutting a cigar. The first is the straight cut, the most commonly utilized of the three, which involves the use of a flat, bladed implement known as a guillotine cutter. Such tools can come in a variety of shapes and sizes and possess multiple blades, but all serve the same purpose: slicing the cap completely off of the cigar.

The second type of cut is the punch cut, which involves creating a circular, recessed hollow in the middle of the cap rather than slicing it off, achieved with a sharpened circular blade.

The third goes by several names, with notch-cut or V-cut being the most widespread, and uses a sharpened, V-shaped blade to cut a channel from one end of the cap to the other. Ultimately, deciding which of these cuts is best for you is a matter of personal preference, and a good deal of the evidence otherwise is anecdotal, though I have cataloged a few characteristics of each in my time smoking, both from my own experience and that of others.

Straight Cut

Cutters & Accessories: Xikar Xi2 Cigar Cutter- Granite Silver

The straight cut generally provides a more open airflow when drawing from the cigar, as the extra wrapper material being removed prevents constriction from the surrounding tobacco. In addition, this cutting method provides more of that "ritual" feeling, as it's the most intensive skill-wise and places the most emphasis on your personal interaction with the cigar. Drawbacks exist, of course, as this is the most difficult method of cutting and can potentially lead to the issues mentioned earlier if not performed correctly, and, depending on either the quality of or type of cigar, can cause the airflow to open too much and lead to overly swift burning.

To cut with a straight cutter, it's best to first examine your cigar, determining how many caps it has — usually from one to three — and finding where the curve of said cap becomes steepest, feeding into the shoulder and head. It's best to make your cut just before this slope falls into that area, as it has the least likelihood of nicking the shoulder and causing problems with unraveling, though still provides the open draw for which this method is valued. Orient your cutter so that it's in this sweet spot and make sure you're holding it level — again, to forego problems with clipping the shoulder — then in a single, swift motion, close the blades of the cutter. If you're too slow, it can potentially crack the cap, though too much unintentional violence of action can lead to uneven cuts. It's truly a process, and will take a fair few tries to master, though once you understand it, it becomes easier.

If you're too slow, it can potentially crack the cap, though too much unintentional violence of action can lead to uneven cuts

Punch Cut

Cutters & Accessories: Xikar 009 Pull-Out Cigar Punch

The punch cut is one of the easier methods of opening up your cigar for smoking, and its relatively small diameter leads to a more restrictive draw compared to the other styles, all while removing the least amount of tobacco from the cap. I have heard from many of my past customers that the hole left by this method offers more control over the smoke's flow onto the palate, though this is for you to decide. The restrictive draw can sometimes be too limiting, especially if the cigar has any kind of internal blockage or plug, and I have found that the cutters themselves can dull quite quickly, as the circular blade must be rotated several times for each cut to fully bore into the cap.

Cutting with a punch involves finding your center. I mean this in the most literal sense possible, as the best punch cuts are centered on the cap of the cigar, rather than placed around the center. Once you've found the center, place your punch against the cap (checking again to make sure it's centered) and rotate slowly back and forth, working the blade into the tobacco gradually until it is fully embedded. Now remove the blade in the same manner and ensure that the depth is to your liking, and the recess is free of excess tobacco, and you're ready to start smoking. On larger ring-gauge cigars, additional punches can be performed in a Venn-diagram-like pattern, with some of the cuts intersecting portions of others and leading to a more open draw.

V-cut

Cutters & Accessories: Xikar VX V-Cut Cigar Cutter

The V-cut is also rather easy to accomplish, as its depth is set by the cutting implement, making it difficult to go too far into the cap and clip the shoulder. Its unique shape provides an airflow that's something between a punch and straight cut. Personally, I find this style wonderfully suited to clipping tapered cigars such as Torpedos, Salomones, and Belicosos, because the dipped nature of the cut provides more surface area to pull smoke from and can offer better airflow than a straight cut of a similar depth. V-cuts can suffer from some of the same drawbacks as their small, circular brethren, though to a lesser degree.

As with the punch cut, first find the center, orienting the cutter as you prefer (horizontally or vertically) over the middle of the cap and making sure that the base of the cutter is pressed firmly over it. At this point, all that's left is to snip swiftly, and you're left with a lovely channel right through your cap. It's also worth noting that some people enjoy what's called a cross-cut, which is where two V-cuts are made, one horizontally and one vertically, a technique that further opens the draw and would likely be beneficial for larger ring-gauge cigars, though this can potentially damage the cap if not executed properly or if the cigar is too dry.

... some people enjoy what's called a cross-cut, which is where two V-cuts are made, one horizontally and one vertically

The Draw and the Cold Draw

As a rule, immediately after I cut my cigar I perform a cold draw. The cold draw is essentially a sneak preview of what's to come once you light up properly, giving you flavor notes and aromas that are soft on the palate, allowing you to better understand the complexity of a given blend. In addition, the cold draw can act as a tell for any potential problems you may incur in two major ways: If the draw is extremely tight and you aren't getting enough airflow through your cut, the cigar could be plugged, or if your draw is too airy with hardly any resistance, that may signify a void somewhere in the barrel that could lead to tunneling. The former can potentially be remedied by cutting the cap again or gently massaging the head, shoulders, and upper body of the barrel, though not enough to crack or damage the wrapper, as many of these blockages can occur near the head and cap. The latter of these is much more difficult to correct, but knowing that the possibility is there can prepare you for potentially needing to adjust how you smoke in the future. My process begins with a gentle puff of air across the fresh cut, because blowing over the newly opened cap loosens and dislodges bits of stray tobacco, and, when followed by a gentle few sweeps of the finger, makes for an initial draw that's free from a mouth (or throat potentially) full of annoying debris. From there I perform a standard draw, paying close attention to airflow before pulling in air more slowly with a focus on flavor and aroma.

How to Smoke a Cigar

At this point, you now have an excellent opportunity to practice your proper draw technique, something that, should you not know the right method, will greatly impact your smoking experience for the worse. Unless you've already done so habitually in cigars you've previously smoked, then whatever you do, absolutely do not full-lung inhale a cigar. This applies even to the most seasoned pipe or cigarette smoker, as the smoke you take in from a cigar is generally a bit hotter and a good deal more voluminous than either of the other two, and if that hits your lungs, directly or indirectly, you are going to have a bad time.

A proper draw comes entirely from the cheeks, taking the smoke into your mouth without using your lungs whatsoever, and spreads the smoke around the mouth before releasing it. In essence, this technique is similar to drinking through a straw, though rather than swallowing or inhaling as you would a cigarette, keep the smoke in your mouth, rolling it around so that it can suffuse your taste buds and palate with flavor. The exhale is as you would expect, but it's ideal to release the trapped smoke slowly, allowing it to roll over the tongue and palate to enhance the flavors and to better allow for your own quiet contemplation.

... release the trapped smoke slowly, allowing it to roll over the tongue and palate to enhance the flavors

Lighting the Cigar

Lighting a Cigar

Lighting a cigar is a rather deceptive process, one that takes time to perform properly and involving a fair bit of technique, because a great deal of care must be taken to avoid scorching the tobacco as you light, this scorching presenting with a charred, black appearance across the leaf. In addition, there are two varieties of flame for lighting — soft flame and torch flame — with their own sets of features to consider before buying and using a lighter.

The Question of Bands

There's a bit of contention surrounding the removal of cigar bands. In my opinion, the only bands you should immediately remove from a cigar are those that will readily impact your smoking experience, such as those that enclose the foot or the lower body of the cigar. While it is good etiquette not to boast about how much your cigar costs or about the quality you consider it to have, removing bands can pose an imminent threat to the structural integrity of the wrapper, something you want to be as perfect as possible for the smoking process. The majority of cigar bands are paper that's been secured with food-grade vegetable glue, though there are metal bands and cloth bands as well. Since cigars are handmade products and the bands are applied by hand as well, imperfections can occur in their application, usually in the form of excess glue or a slightly off-center corner.

These may seem like minor annoyances, but that excess glue isn't always visible and can actually be under the band, and that corner that's off-center may still be glued down. If you try to remove a band before starting to smoke your cigar, you run the risk of tearing the wrapper, cracking it, or creating a hole. None of these are ideal, especially when you just start smoking, as these issues can all evolve into larger problems fairly quickly depending on the construction of the cigar, your smoking patterns, the humidity of your tobacco, and the thinness of that cigar's own wrapper. As such, I highly recommend that you wait to remove any bands that you don't have to until it's absolutely necessary. Doing this will allow the heat generated by your burn to suffuse through the barrel as much as possible, getting the band warmer and warmer as the line makes its way toward it. This heat will loosen the hold of the glue by a good bit, not only making it easier to take your band off, but reducing the possibility of disaster. Even if the glue loosens, it's still important to take your time when removing the band, as it can still be stuck and a gentle touch can prevent mishaps.

Soft Flame vs. Torch Flame

Lighting a Cigar: Soft Flame vs Torch Flame

There's some debate over what type of flame is best suited for lighting a cigar, but with proper technique, both are excellent candidates. One of the other most impactful aspects of lighting a cigar is the fuel that feeds the flame, as technique cannot offset the properties of the fuel itself. A large portion of refillable lighters utilize butane, a gas that, when properly filtered and purified, is almost odorless, burns consistently, and is stable inside your lighter, meaning that it won't evaporate or become unviable if it is left unused. Since cigars engage both your gustatory and olfactory receptors, butane's nearly odorless quality is ideal for a lighter fuel, as it doesn't impact any initial aromas or flavors that you take in during your smoke.

Since cigars engage both your gustatory and olfactory receptors, butane's nearly odorless quality is ideal

Lighters: Xikar Trezo Triple Torch Silver

Notable exceptions among refillable lighters are those fueled by naphtha or petroleum distillates. These lighters are quite widespread and fuel is readily available almost anywhere, providing a strong, wind-resistant flame, though it burns with a distinct scent and evaporates when left unattended for too long. The scent that this burning fuel emanates can potentially impact the first several puffs of a cigar, mainly in its aroma, though it is still perfectly fine to use when lighting up. Butane can fuel either a soft or a torch flame lighter, whereas naphtha fuels almost exclusively soft flames, so butane is a bit more adaptive but slightly harder to find in its more purified form.

The difference between flame styles depends on two factors: temperature and wind resistance. Torch lighters burn extremely hot at around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and create precise, pointed flames (though certain lighters, such as the S.T. Dupont Slim 7, create a fan-like wall), whereas soft flames hover nearer to 1,400 and provide a candle-like flame. This softer burn leads to a more gradual light that can be more easily adjusted, and the lower temperature makes it more difficult to scorch your tobacco. The precision nature of torches makes them excellent for touching up an uneven burn line and can quickly light a cigar with a limited application of fire, but the high temperature can lead to scorched tobacco if you're not careful or hold it too close to the foot. Scorching the foot is one of the worst things you can do to a freshly cut cigar, manifesting as a black char along the tobacco that makes the first half inch or so taste and smell burnt or acrid and can lead to an uneven burn later in the smoke.

Lighters: Zippo Vintage Brushed Chrome

Excepting those lighters that use naphtha, such as Zippos, soft-flame lighters are usually quite a bit less resistant to wind, and can go out or change trajectory due to even minor changes in the air, such as an errant breath. Thus, these are not recommended for smoking outside if it's breezy or if you have a fan going indoors, but are especially ill-suited to being used in a car unless you're stopped with the windows up and the air conditioning off. Torches, however, are more robust in the face of gusts, and you would be hard pressed to blow one out with lung power, especially if it features more than one flame, as the pressurized butane released is extremely stable and can even relight other burners should they go out.

There are other mediums by which you can achieve fire, however, such as matches: A smoke starter that a great many people swear by fervently and that carries with it a plethora of legends. Most prominent among these is the idea that matches have no scent whatsoever and will give you a purer smoking experience than other flames. This assertion is simply untrue. Any match that isn't sulfur-free will let off a distinct smell that may or may not go away once it's burned for a bit and, though sulfur-free matches don't have this issue, all matches release some kind of aroma that originates from their wood. As such, my favorite alternative lighting medium is cedar.

... all matches release some kind of aroma that originates from their wood

Cigars may already have a bit of a cedar-y taste and aroma about them, and lighting them with strips of cedar, usually broken off from the flat liners in between layers of cigars in a box, only serves to enhance this characteristic or add a touch of it in smokes that don't feature that tasting note. Practically speaking, both of these methods are more cumbersome than lighters, as matches have to be struck on their box and burn out quickly while cedar strips must be lit by a secondary source. Between the two of these, cedar is more difficult to control outside of deciding the size of your strip, as larger pieces will let off more flame and engulf more of the foot of your cigar, all while releasing more smoke and posing a bit of a fire hazard to some degree. Neither of these are recommended for smoking in the car, and neither are very robust in the wind, though cedar is a bit more difficult to put out due to the size of the flame itself, and they make toasting the foot quite challenging.

Toasting the Foot

Toasting the cigar foot

Toasting the foot of a cigar isn't a necessary step in lighting, just as the charring light for a pipe isn't a necessary step in smoking one, but it is one that can make the true light a bit easier, and it has been said that this step opens up the cigar for a fuller flavor, but there's no way to confirm this. It certainly does lead to a more even true light, however, by drying out the foot and starting some of the burn process early.

To toast the foot, first remove the foot band if your cigar has one; the toast will certainly be impacted by the additional aroma of smoking paper or cloth, as will your smoke as a whole. Then, take your cigar in one hand and your lighter in the other, strike your flame, and hold the tip of the flame itself underneath the tobacco without touching it. For torch lighters, I recommend keeping the flame a bit further away from the foot simply because of the heat that they produce, as the intensity of it can easily scorch your cigar. As you do this, rotate your cigar (slowly with a soft flame and a bit more swiftly with a torch) back and forth between your fingers while paying close attention to the color of the tobacco, making sure not to let any of it char or scorch, and stopping when you've achieved a color a few shades darker or have accumulated a bit of grey ash. At this point, your cigar is primed for its true light.

The True Light

Your initial true light will determine the course of your cigar for at least the first few inches, if not longer, as the quality of that first light (hopefully the only one you'll need) dictates your initial burn path, burn pattern, and hot spots. If you hold your lighter too close you can get your cigar too hot; if you hold it the wrong way you can alter your burn line;, and if you don't get an even light you may have to overcorrect as the tobacco burns unevenly. The correct method to light a cigar is very similar to that of toasting the foot, though the true light involves drawing air through the barrel, making the actual lighting a bit more difficult by keeping you from seeing the foot during the process.

As with the toast, keep the tip of the flame away from the foot, but close enough that the heat can combust your leaf. Try to keep the flame below the bottom or even top-half of the foot, but not the center. If you center the flame exactly, especially with a single-burner torch lighter, you focus all of the heat directly in that spot, making the internal tobacco burn faster than the external, leading to issues as the structural integrity of your cigar deteriorates.

While holding the flame in the correct position, slowly (once again, faster if you have a torch) rotate the cigar and puff at the same time, focusing on keeping everything as still as possible outside of the rotation of the cigar itself, as stability here leads to a better light. After a few of these rotations and puffs, look at the foot and blow on it softly, illuminating the embers of the lit leaf, also known as the cherry, and make sure all of the tobacco there is glowing an even, vibrant orange. If things look a bit wonky then do a few more puffs and rotations, check the cherry again, and, if things still aren't quite even, take the cigar in one hand, lighter in the other, and focus your flame underneath any spots that don't want to light. At this point, you should have a well-lit cigar and are ready to move on to the best step of the process: smoking your cigar.

Smoking the Cigar

Man smoking a cigar

Smoking a cigar is equal parts art, meditation, and leisurely passtime, as your average cigar takes around an hour or more to smoke, depending on how quickly you smoke, and full appreciation takes a quiet contemplation and gradual consideration of flavors and aroma. In the time you take to smoke, it's fully acceptable to watch television, make conversation, or otherwise occupy yourself, as long as you still pay attention to your cigar, taking time to break away from other distractions and engross yourself in all the subtleties that a great smoke can offer.

Smoking a cigar is equal parts art, meditation, and leisurely passtime

Cadence

Much like pipes, cigars benefit from being smoked in an even rhythm, ensuring that the cherry is intensified steadily, something that will prevent encountering unnecessary problems with your burn line. Generally speaking, the accepted cadence for a cigar is around one puff every 30 seconds to a minute. This rhythm will both prevent the cigar from going out and possibly circumvent burn issues.

It can be difficult to maintain cadence with a cigar, I find, as you can become completely enraptured with a blend and immediately want more of it, but taking your time and sticking to a pattern of draws will make your general cigar smoking experience better. If you find it difficult to get the timing down, I recommend smoking with a watch or a timer for a little while and puffing at an exact time between 30 seconds to a minute, as this should give you a better feel for what a minute is, and also allow you to make micro-adjustments to your smoking pattern to fit your specific cigar, something you can carry with you as you continue to smoke in the future. This is also the best way to keep your cigar lit, as consistently drawing through the cherry reignites the burn, so if you want to smoke your cigar all the way through without relights, a proper cadence is the way to do it.

The Retrohale

To many burgeoning cigar smokers, the retrohale is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in terms of physical difficulty. It's by no means necessary for a pleasurable experience, but performing this technique opens up an entirely new set of flavors and aromas to explore, and is widely considered to be something that allows you to fully experience all that a cigar has to offer. A retrohale is essentially just forcing smoke out of your mouth, across your palate, and through your nasal passages, exhaling through your nose. The easiest way to do this is by taking in a mouthful of smoke, closing your mouth securely, and pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth while breathing out through your nose. If you've never done this before and have just followed my advice, you're probably doubled over in an intense coughing fit and feel like your nose hair has been singed to the roots.

A retrohale is essentially just forcing smoke out of your mouth, across your palate, and through your nasal passages, exhaling through your nose

If you've never done this before, do not attempt a full retrohale before acclimating yourself to the process first. The first thing you should do if this technique interests you is to practice cooling your smoke. Draw on your cigar until you've about half a mouthful of smoke, then fill the rest of that space with air, rolling it around in your mouth a bit to allow the hot smoke and cool air to mingle before fully exhaling. Once this becomes easy, practice retrohaling bit by bit. Take in and cool the smoke, then exhale around 75 percent of it and after that attempt a retrohale with what is left. This may still sting a bit, but not nearly as bad as a full-force attempt with fresh smoke, and it allows your nasal passages to adjust slowly but surely to the smoke and heat. Over the course of several weeks to a few months, gradually increase the volume of smoke in comparison to the air and ease up on trying to cool the smoke. After dedicating this time, you should be able to fully or partially retrohale, absorbing yourself in the cigar smoking experience even further.

Purging

Purging is an extremely simple technique that can greatly benefit the smoking experience, and is as simple as blowing through the barrel. It is not a full-force exhale through the barrel, which could potentially damage the internal structure of the tobacco, but instead a gentle push of air through it. Purging releases the hot smoke that's trapped inside of your cigar, and stokes the cherry. If you smoke quickly and your cigar is burning too hot along the body, purging should help cool off the unlit tobacco, and allowing the cherry to rest before puffing again should give it time to cool a bit as well. Purging can be repeated several times as necessary, but be sure not to overdo it, as getting the cherry too hot can inadvertently introduce burn problems.

If your cigar is already having trouble burning, especially if you're experiencing canoeing, intentionally overheating the cherry can get the tobacco hot enough to correct the burn line. A cigar that is canoeing has a portion of the wrapper, binder, and filler that is unlit or refuses to stay lit, so heating up the surrounding tobacco can cause this unlit portion to ignite and align with the greater burn line. This can sometimes result in a chunk of intact wrapper or other tobacco attached to the ash, but is preferable to a cigar that isn't burning properly.

A cigar that is canoeing has a portion of the wrapper, binder, and filler that is unlit or refuses to stay lit

Cigar Etiquette

When it comes to smoking cigars in a lounge setting, there are certain generally-accepted guidelines which should improve your experience and that of others. While certain lounges may have specific, lesser-known rules of etiquette, those that follow are almost universal.

  1. Don't lick your cigar: This can make people a bit uncomfortable and doesn't really achieve anything. If your cigar is starting to unravel and you don't have any vegetable glue handy, the best thing to do is to lick a finger and smooth over the affected area, hopefully getting it to stick until it burns through. If the problem is more severe and isn't the result of your own misdeeds, then consult your tobacconist about a refund or replacement.
  2. How to Smoke a Cigar
  3. Don't boast about how expensive your cigar is: This is a rule that prevents you from looking snotty or pompous, and is one that, if not followed, can get you excommunicated by your lounge or shunned by your fellow smokers depending on how severe your offense is.
  4. Don't moisten your cigar by sticking it into your mouth: Much like the first one, this can make people a bit uncomfortable, but mostly it introduces a higher chance for encountering burn problems, as the excess moisture from saliva across the entire cigar can hinder an even burn. This was something that was an accepted practice when cigars were of a lower general quality than they are now, and was done not only to rehydrate the tobacco, but to slightly loosen excess glue across the wrapper, leading to a better smoke. This is now a relic of a practice that can ruin your good time smoking.
  5. Don't grind your cigar out in an ashtray: It is always better to allow a cigar to go out on its own than to smash it into an ashtray and twist until the embers stop burning. Just because the embers are out doesn't mean that it will stop producing smoke, as a bit of smoke is almost always trapped in the remnants of the barrel, and the smoke that putting a cigar out this way produces is odious and will fill the room with an acrid, lingering scent sure to invite disgruntled looks
  6. Don't blow smoke into someone else's face: This should be self explanatory.
  7. Don't judge other people for the cigars they're smoking: Doing this immediately makes people not want to be around you. Unless you know the regulars at your lounge very well and would consider them friends, do not do this. If you do consider them friends and know them well, this can be part and parcel of good-natured banter, though I wouldn't indulge unless it's a generally accepted practice.
  8. Don't use a lounge cutter if you've already put the cigar in your mouth: This is an excellent way to spread diseases and is just generally gross, so definitely don't do this.
  9. Don't ask to try someone's cigar: Another fantastically gross way to spread disease, this has the added effect of trying to violate the sovereignty of an individual's cigar smoking experience, something that is deeply personal.
  10. Clean up after yourself and ash in the ashtray: It's extremely rude to leave a dusting of ash all over a seat, and even ruder to leave a pile of ash on the floor, both of which a lounge worker will have to clean up.
  11. Smoke only cigars that you buy at the lounge you're visiting: There's no lounge or cigar shop in existence that won't adhere to this rule, and it's one that can easily get you ejected from the premises should the staff inform you and you not follow it. Smoking cigars from your own personal collection or, especially, from another shop, not only takes away revenue from the lounge you're inhabiting, but is almost wholly considered an extremely rude gesture.

Saving a Cigar for Later — Should You?

Cigars

I've often been asked the best way to save an unfinished cigar for later smoking, or how to relight a recently extinguished cigar. During my time as a tobacconist, I've had to put down a cigar mid-smoke countless times to attend to customers or our humidor, and only seldomly would it remain lit until I could attend to it again. Usually, I could come back to these within five or so minutes, sometimes even less, but even that short time being left unlit has an enormous impact on the flavor profile of the rest of your cigar. Relit cigars will almost always have a distinct acridness to them, and the overall flavors you get outside of this will be muted, and this is especially true of cigars that have been kept partially smoked for an extended period of time. If at all possible, don't let your cigar go out, and smoke all of it at one time.

Relit cigars will almost always have a distinct acridness to them

Relighting from an already burnt foot is not recommended, as taking flame to carbonized tobacco will produce burnt flavors, so at the very least scrape off as much ash and burnt leaf as possible while still being careful not to damage the cigar's structure. If you're relighting after leaving your smoke alone for just a bit too long, this is really all you need to do. After that, you should purge the barrel, ensuring that you expel any and all leftover smoke from the tobacco, then light as you normally would, taking in a few short puffs before purging again to expand the cherry without taking in any of the smoke, something that will keep you from tasting too many acrid flavors. Alternate multiple purges and shallow puffs until the cigar is fully lit, then take a half-puff to sample the flavors. If you're perceiving only sour smoke, then keep your cadence, but purge instead of draw, and repeat until your burn line fully passes the tobacco discolored from your past burn and all of your ash is fresh.

Saving a cigar for later, however, is something that should be done only in the most desperate situations, and only for a day or two at the very most (if that) unless you want all of the tobacco that's left to taste like stale ash. The first thing you should do with a smoked cigar you plan to light again in the future is get rid of any and all burnt tobacco. Gently knock off all the ash that you can, and then pay close attention to how deeply the tobacco has burned, seeing if any wrapper near the burn line has crinkled, indicating leaf that has been touched by fire but not lit. You want to get rid of all of the tobacco present above the bottom of this wrinkle, so take your sharpest guillotine cutter and situate it here. Make sure you're holding it steadily and evenly, and then swiftly snip your cigar here. After this, purge your freshly re-cut cigar several times, and for a long time with each repetition, ensuring that leftover smoke or smoke flavor is eradicated from the rest of your smoke. Ideally, you would start this process before your cigar goes out, letting the cherry get slightly cold, purging, waiting, purging again, and letting it go out fully before purging once more. You'll never completely get rid of that old smoke flavor, but this is the best method I know of to reduce its impact.

When storing this pre-smoke cigar, I recommend using a zippable bag, and strongly encourage you to store it by itself, away from your other cigars, and out of any humidor. Doing this ensures that: 1. Your unsmoked cigars aren't affected by the smell of leftover smoke and, 2. Your humidor isn't seasoned by this same smell, affecting future smokes. At this point, the lighting process is much the same as a freshly cut, unsmoked cigar, though I highly recommend adding a few purges between puffs for the same reasons as a relit cigar.

Find What Fits Best for You

Lighting a Cigar

Despite all cautions, warnings, tidbits of advice, and recommendations, ultimately, the cigar smoking experience is deeply personal and involves steps that are entirely pliable to one's own whims. I have presented here what I have personally found to be true and what I personally do with my own smokes. Though the steps to smoking a cigar may be somewhat concrete in order, the performance of those steps is a subjective, individual experience that's unique to each individual. For that reason, I encourage you to explore combinations of cutting styles, lighting styles, and even smoking styles to find what best suits you, as you may find a better personal combination. In fact, that's one of the great beautiful things about cigar smoking: That deeply personal, meditative practice that pairs human and leaf for a few fleeting, delicious moments.

Category:   Cigar Certified
Tagged in:   Cigar Basics Cigars Lighters

Comments

    • Bob on August 14, 2022
    • One of the most comprehensive articles I have read on the subject! I wish I could have read this 50 years ago when I was a newbie!

    • Joe on August 14, 2022
    • Great instruction for the non-expert who doesn’t like asking rookie questions in situ. One question I don’t see addressed here, and sorry if I missed it somehow, but what’s the proper way to approach ash mid-smoke? Do you let it accumulate until it collapses on itself, or keep tapping it off little by little? Or does it even matter?

    • John McElheny on August 14, 2022
    • I'm glad you enjoyed the article! In response to your question about ashing mid-smoke, I would say that it's generally a good idea to let your ash build as you smoke until it reaches around a half inch to an inch in length, then knock it off gently into an ashtray. This makes sure the cigar isn't being jostled around too much and it's around this length that ash wants to come off by itself, so a gentle tap into an ashtray should prevent spillage into the lap. Hope this helps!

    • Ken Seguin on August 14, 2022
    • "a very special, sensorially engaging kind of meditation. "Well said!Thank you.

    • Ken Seguin on August 14, 2022
    • "a very special, sensorially engaging kind of meditation. "Well said!Thank you.

    • Astrocomical on August 15, 2022
    • Smoking cigars on and off for years. All what you encountered I have also. I saw a movie once and the guy said the only way to get a light on a cigar without affecting its flavor was to use a cowboy type match and not those butane type.

    • Vick Chambers on August 16, 2022
    • Good information, If this article was presented with every first time cigar purchase there would be a lot more cigar smokers among us.

    • Robert Hatfield on June 15, 2023
    • Lots of helpful information here. I’d like to stress the importance of what you referred to as the toasting light. I’d go so far as to state that an extended toasting light is a superior way of lighting the cigar. And, as to the etiquette of smoking a cigar in a lounge that wasn’t bought in said establishment, I’ve found that it’s generally acceptable so long as you’ve bought a cigar (or equivalent purchase) during that visit. Of course, I haven’t been a regular at a lounge in well over a decade. Customs obviously vary from location to location. Always ask first.

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