Food & Drink

Food for Thought: A Better Way to Choose the Right Cigar for You

Can The Foods You Eat Help Decide Which Cigar You Should Smoke?

With contributions from Paul Lukens and Jared Gulick Finding the best cigar for your palate as a new smoker can be a challenge. Conventional wisdom is to start with mellow cigars with natural Connecticut wrappers. Their smoothness and lack of bite allows you to dip your toes in slowly and work your way up to fuller-bodied cigars, rather than being shoved straight into the deep end. This formula works for some. For others, the cigar they start with is too bland for their preferences and they walk away before they’ve even begun.

Humberto Gonzalez, Senior Purchaser at Famous Smoke Shop, thinks he’s got a better way of choosing your first cigar…and I’m inclined to agree.

– Jared Gulick

Savor the flavor, my brothers and sisters of the leaf…

A few years back, I embarked on a personal mission to abolish the words “mellow”, “medium”, and “full” from the cigar dictionary. I discovered that they really have no bearing on how cigar smokers should choose their preferred puro. Instead, I found that one should consult their culinary palate.

cigar advisor food for thought: using food to choose the best cigar for you - a plate filled with cigars

You read that right. Base your smoking decisions on what you like to eat. If you crave BBQ ribs, steak, or hearty casseroles, you may want to fire up a Camacho, Tatuaje, Padron or something beefy and filling. Full-bodied cigars will leave you feeling…well…full. Just like those aforementioned dishes.

Conversely, if you prefer milder foods like noodles, mashed potatoes, and grilled chicken, your comfort zone may be better complemented by mellower cigars like Macanudo Café or Baccarat.

What it’s like buying your first cigar:

Do you remember your first premium cigar? Even if you haven’t smoked a cigar yet, keep reading. There’s a good lesson here. I’m gonna guess it was something less than medium to full bodied. Right? I’ll even go so far as to say it was probably a Macanudo, Baccarat or something similarly mellow that was recommended to you.

cigar advisor food for thought: using food to choose the best cigar for you - woman lighting man's cigar
Are you going to be happy with what someone else recommended…or should you trust your gut?

Problem is that very first recommendation may have been bullshit. Not because those are bad cigars, but because the person who recommended it to you thought you needed to dip your toes. Ease in slowly. You can’t even blame them for the recommendation—we’re all conditioned by the ‘start with mellow’ mentality. Here’s a typical example of how that first conversation might have gone down for you that day.

Newbie: “Hi. I’m new to this and don’t really know what I should be looking for.”

Sales Guy: “Here. Smoke this Macanudo. It’s mellow enough for beginners and you can work your way up from there.”

Newbie: “Awesome!! Thanks.”

Once the newbie lights the cigar up, one of three things are going to happen. They’re going to love it, hate it, or be indifferent. A one in three chance might be good for getting a free soda under a bottle cap, but I don’t like those odds for finding a smoke I’ll love.

Sad to say that I fell into that same trap as a new cigar smoker back in ‘96. My very first cigar, after adhering to the same advice, was a small Corona with a sweet tip. I just didn’t jive with my taste buds. It wasn’t a bad cigar. It just wasn’t the cigar for me.

Using Food as a Guide to Choose a Cigar You’ll Love—the First Time

Several years and many, many, many, MANY cigars later, I found myself moonlighting from my day job working private events with a cigar roller, while meeting people from all walks of life at weddings, conventions, corporate events, golf outings, etc. When uninitiated future smokers walked shyly up to the table, the dialogue was also rather typical. Except…this time, I had an idea.

cigar advisor food for thought: using food to choose the best cigar fo you - set up shot of a plate of food with a cigar nearby
Select a cigar to match your culinary preference.

Newbie #2: “I’m not an aficionado or anything.”

Me: *snicker*

Newbie #2: “Are these cigars mellow?

Me: “Why do you ask?”

Newbie #2: “Well…cause I don’t really smoke very often and I’m afraid of smoking stronger cigars. Besides, my wife will kill me.”

Me: (Having epiphany) “Let’s try this another way. What’s your favorite meal? If you had to pick one thing that you’d eat every day of your life, what would it be?”

Newbie #2: “Um…well…buffalo wings with blue cheese, jalapeno poppers and Cajun fries?”

Me: “You’re telling me that a big, burly dude like you who would eat a bucket of spicy chicken wings for the rest of your life can’t handle a full-bodied cigar? Here, do yourself a favor and smoke one of these.” (Handing him a Ligero bomb with the roughest, toothiest wrapper I could find.) “Give this a chance. Forget about strength and focus on flavor. Then get back to me.”

cigar advisor food for thought: using food to choose the best cigar for you - setup shot of meat on a cutting board with whisky and burning cigar in the background

It quickly dawned on me that I was actually giving him what he never knew he was craving – a cigar to match his culinary preference. When he came back to me a half hour later to thank me for it, I knew I was on to something. And it’s worked for just about everyone I’ve used it on since.

Food and Cigar Recommendations:

Paul Lukens has examples of cigars to try based on common favorite foods.

The smooth and rich Romeo y Julieta Capulet is an ideal cigar to try if you enjoy chicken, Italian pastas, and seafood. You’ll discover that the spicy, sweet, and oh-so-smooth profile of the RYJ Capulet, with a core of Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a Connecticut Shade wrapper, has a lot in common with mellower cuisine.

If you prefer heartier fare like barbecue—or if Taco Tuesday is a weekly ritual—then you’ll definitely enjoy a cigar with a little more meat on its bones. You won’t find a better analog than the H. Upmann 1844 Anejo. Using a variety of premium aged tobaccos (anejo is Spanish for mature) from Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, the H. Upmann 1844 Anejo – loaded with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, leather, and earth – shares many similarities with more substantial dishes.

When you eat a filling steak like Ron Swanson, you need a cigar that’s up to the task (or at least the mustache). One word – Padron. And while the 1964 or 1926 Anniversary Series are among the most coveted and highly regarded cigars on the planet, it’s the Padron 2000 Maduro workhorse that wins this prize. The full-bodied Padron Maduro is a Nicaraguan puro with flavors of earth, cocoa, coffee bean, leather, and pepper that practically scream porterhouse, medium-rare. Please, and thank you.

Follow Your Taste Buds

The moral of this story and what should have been accentuated in the Fall of 1992 (in some other publication I can’t talk about here) and beyond is this:

Cigar smoking is not a learning exercise. It’s also not a challenge. It’s simply a taste experience. No one should be groomed into smoking ‘stronger’ cigars because the cigar shop guru thinks you’re a pansy. Follow your taste buds and not necessarily the guy behind the counter. If you’re a steak and potatoes sort of person, find the cigar that fits that profile. If your favorite culinary memory includes PB&J, there’s a cigar in the humidor that suit you, too. If you’re anything like me and will savor just about anything they put on your plate, the sky’s the limit. Free your mind. Appease your palate.