Cigars 101

How to Avoid “Torch Flame Overkill”

You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

– Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) in To Have and Have Not

using cigar torch lighters A while back I blogged about cigar lighting techniques. In the article, I referred to one of the methods as “The ‘Overkill’.” “…using this method, the smoker keeps hitting the blackened areas of the foot with the torch flame until they glow like a branding iron. All this does is cause the tobacco to produce more tars, which may turn the cigar prematurely bitter,” I wrote.

As a cigar smoker, one thing you need to remember when using torch lighters is that the flame is highly concentrated. Moreover, the reason torch lighters are so effective is that the blue inner cone (about 1/16 of an inch inside the flame), is the hottest part of the flame, and therefore, much hotter than the white flame of a match or “soft flame” lighter. That’s also why you should be even more careful when toasting your cigars.*

The secret to properly toasting good premium cigars is to hold the flame from a torch lighter just shy of the tobacco until it turns black. You want to do the same during the lighting stage, until you see the core tobaccos glowing. Note that you may only see a portion of the core glowing. At this point you would normally blow gently on the foot to spread the fire throughout the entire width of the foot.

Here’s where the torch flame overkill usually comes in. If after blowing on the cigar, the remaining core doesn’t catch quickly, many a cigar smoker will hit it again and even hold it until they get the aforementioned “branding iron” effect.

The reason not all of the tobaccos take right away usually has to do with the amount of moisture in the tobaccos, and/or how much ligero is in the mix. Ligero is the oiliest of the leaves and it’s one of the reasons the more combustible binder leaves are part of the blend; they help get your cigars started and keep them burning evenly. Therefore, if you absolutely have to hit it again, you may be better off concentrating on the ring where the binder is, just inside the outer wrapper leaf.

Suffice it to say that, rather than holding the foot to the fire (so to speak),
continue blowing on it. If it’s a well-made cigar, eventually the entire core will take. You don’t need more flame; what you need is more patience.

* Author’s note: When I first published this blog, I incorrectly stated that the white part of the flame from torch lighters was the hottest.