There are many different tricks and theories on how to light a cigar. I wanted to share one of my favorite tips that will help you get the most from your smoke. When toasting your cigars, etiquette dictates that you’re not supposed to let the flame touch the tobacco at the foot. Rather, the flame should be held close enough to the tobacco to get the foot glowing without it catching fire. Once you see red (so to speak), gently blow on the foot until the entire surface is glowing all the way out to the last ring.
When you light-up a cigar you probably don't think very much about how you light it. Well, as a "professional cigar smoker," this is one of the things I do think about, so I thought it might be fun to look at the different techniques people use to light their cigars.
Before I get into them, here are a couple of things to keep in mind with regard to flame. The blue portion of the flame is the hottest. This is why torch lighters are so effective for lighting cigars. Moreover, this uber-hot flame permits you to "toast" and light your cigars without scorching them. As described below, if you can help it, you really don't want the flame touching the tobacco. That's especially important in this case, because the blue flame is so hot, you can hold the torch several inches from the foot of the cigar and still get a really good light.
That brings us to the white part of the flame. This part of the flame is pretty damn hot, too. Want to find out? Hold your open hand palm down about 6 inches above the tip of a "soft" butane flame, or a match. You'll feel the heat almost instantly. This is also why you needn't touch the tobacco when using a regular butane lighter or match. If it can burn your skin from that distance, imagine what it can do to a razor thin wrapper leaf at close range.
And speaking of matches, if you prefer to use them over a lighter, use a long cedar wood match rather than book matches. They offer a nice aroma when lit, and give you more time to get the job done.
I think the reason so many cigar smokers just "go for it" is that they don't have the patience to light a cigar in the traditional method, which I've summarized below.
Without repeating the whole sequence here, basically it's a two-step process: Toast the foot entirely, blow on it until it glows all red, then holding the cigar in your mouth at about a 45-degree angle, apply the flame without actually touching the tobacco and puff, drawing the smoke slowly through the head.
The "Flame Thrower"
This is where the cigar smoker clips the cigar, puts flame right to the foot and puffs away. No toasting, just flick the ignition switch and go, usually with fire emanating from the foot like a dragster doing the quarter-mile.
The "Roll, Puff and Blow"
A little closer to the traditional method. The cigar is toasted, then the smoker rotates the cigar while applying flame to the foot and puffing. Once the smoke takes, turn the foot toward you and blow on it. This helps ensure that the entire foot gets lit evenly.
The "Overkill" method
This is similar to the above method except during the toasting process you blow on the foot to see how you're doing. You notice some black, unlit areas still left on the foot. Normally, you would gently blow on the foot while rotating the cigar to allow these areas to catch. But 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.
The "Torch/Match Switch-A-Roo"
I kind of like this one, though it involves a little extra work. The cigar is first toasted with a torch lighter, followed by a cedar match (or a soft butane flame) to complete the process. The advantage of this is you get the best of both worlds. A cooler flame to toast the cigar followed by a white-hot flame to ensure the tobacco takes completely.
The "Three Matches" method
This is very cool. I saw Gordon Mott do this in a video a while back titled Three Matches. You need three long cedar matches for this one, and it takes a lot of patience.
Important: Do not clip the cigar first! I'll explain why later.
Light the first match, hold it in close to and in front of the cigar and rotate the cigar as you toast it. Eventually the match will burn down. Be sure to knock-off the ash of the match as you go to keep it burning properly. Put it out and immediately move on to the second match, concentrating on the center portion of the foot as you continue to rotate the cigar. Again, this must be done very slowly. By the end of the third match, the foot should be pretty well lit and emanating a good amount of smoke. At this point, clip the head and draw on the cigar. That's it!
The reason for not clipping the cigar first is, the gentleman who showed Mott how to do this felt that aromas and flavors coming from the flame source could pass through the cigar and affect the flavor of the tobacco. Personally, I don't buy it, especially when torch lighters burn so clean. Moreover, Mott admits that he hardly ever uses this technique due to time constraints, but it's fun to try when you do have the time.
Regardless of how they were taught to light a premium handmade, most cigar smokers eventually develop their own personal method for getting the job done. Sometimes I see someone lighting-up and I want to cringe, but in the end it's really a matter of to each his own. Or, to look at it another way, when was the last time you corrected someone on how to light their cigar?
Finally, your own personal cigar lighting methods are welcome in the comments field.
Editor's Note: This post was updated on June 5, 2012.
Tonight, after dinner, I enjoyed the Famous 70th anniversary Private Selection Rocky Patel cigar. I am a big fan of Rocky Patel and frequently enjoy the Vintage 1992. I was excited to try this particular smoke because it is a new one to me. I went through the rating’s categories to give a final rating for this stick. Here is how I rated the cigar.
Before I lit the cigar I examined the look and feel of it. It was generally smooth with tiny veins from the wrapper. There was not any bumps or lumps, and did not have big chunk veins which most likely means it was rolled with a top quality leaf. The manufacturer probably took the time to remove the big veins from the leaf. The stick was kept in my humidor that had a humidity reading of 69% and 74 degrees Fahrenheit. The stick was spongy feeling and not at all hard.
After examining the cigar, I then cut and lit it. I used a guillotine cigar cutter to make a straight cut. It was very easy to cut. When I was lighting the stick, I used a butane torch lighter. I do admit that I coughed a few time while lighting it because the first few puffs were a bit strong. Most cigars seem strong at first when they are being lit. I did not assume the rest of the smoke would be as strong after it was initially lit.
I could tell the burn of the cigar was going to be good because it was easy to light. Indeed, I was right. The burn of this stick was very even and consistent. The draw was not tight at all. The ash stuck together which also backed up the evidence of a good burn.
The flavor of this cigar was strong. It was a stronger than what I usually smoke, but well nonetheless. The flavor of it lingered on the tip of my tongue and stayed on my lips. It was mildly spicy too. There were hints of leather and oak in the flavor. The aroma was pleasant and not overbearing. The character of the cigar changed as I smoked it. It was more robust in the beginning and became smoother later on. I also did not notice the taste of tar buildup as I got further down the stick.
I should also mention that I smoked this in the evening after I had eaten dinner. This could have affected how I rated the flavor and aroma of this one. I was drinking water and did not pair it with scotch, brandy, or wine. A lot of smokers pair their cigars with a good scotch.
I would give this cigar a final rating of 88 out of 100. It was an above average cigar that I thoroughly enjoyed.