Unlike cigarettes, lighting a cigar can be particularly difficult if you’re unaccustomed to the practice. However, once you’ve learned how to properly light a cigar, you’ll be able to enjoy the smoking experience stress-free.
Lighting a cigar is a ritual often shrouded in mystique and etiquette. Although most of the steps to follow are relatively intuitive once you’ve learned about them, they’re not self-evident. Furthermore, you may occasionally encounter burning issues, which we also troubleshoot in this guide.
The following guide features an easy step-by-step guide to properly lighting a cigar. Furthermore, it also includes a few tips to avoid common pitfalls as well as advice on the right tools to use.
Even if you’re a seasoned enthusiast who’s smoked many cigars in his lifetime, it’s always worth reading up on the correct lighting method. You may be experiencing some minor annoyances such as uneven burning or a dying cherry.
Sometimes these can be due to back luck with a faulty cigar. However, it may be actually caused by an oversight or incomplete technique. This is nothing to worry about as even the experts are learning everyday.
If you’re a newcomer to cigars and don’t yet know how to light yours, you’ve come to the right place. The following guide will be an easy tutorial to follow.
Lighting a cigar consists of the following 6 steps and considerations:
- Choosing The Right Flame
- Toasting The Foot
- Igniting The Filler
- Releasing The Draw
- Blowing On The Cherry
- Troubleshooting & Burning Issues
If you just want to read up on a particular section, click on it above to jump straight there. Otherwise, keep scrolling to read more!
1. Choosing The Right Flame
In case you haven’t yet read our introduction to lighting and the correct instruments to consider using, let’s cover it briefly here. When it comes to lighting a cigar, no two flames are the same.
Firstly, combustion is a chemical reaction. Therefore, whatever chemical is used to ignite the flame may release certain odours and traces of by-products.
For this reason, certain products aren’t recommended for lighting a cigar as it may taint the flavour.
Cardboard matches, candles and oil-fuelled lighters including Zippos are the worst offenders. So they’re generally best avoided if possible. Each of these contain chemicals such as paraffin, which risk altering the taste of your cigar.
Instead, consider choosing from one of the following options:
You can read more about each of these and their various benefits by clicking on their links above.
If you’re not yet equipped with a proper cigar lighter, check out our guide to the best ones available online. However, let’s presume that you’re already properly equipped and ready to light up your favourite stick!
2. Toasting The Foot
Once your choice of flame is ready, you’ll want to start by what is known as “toasting” the cigar. This process primes the tobacco for lighting by charring the foot and gives the outer portions a head start.
- Holding the flame steady and approach the cigar at a 45° angle.
- Stop at about 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) and no closer.
- Rotate the cigar slowly for an even exposure.
- Stop when there’s a glowing ring around the edge and the edges are blackened.
Although you could keep the cigar stationary and bring the flame to it, you’ll find that you have more control by moving the cigar only.
Compare the rotating action like that of a marshmallow over a fire. The aim is to blacken the tobacco so it’s drier for setting alight.
Never let the flame touch the cigar itself as this risks damaging the wrapper. Instead, keep it at a distance and let the heat climb up.
3. Igniting The Filler
When the edges have been toasting, you can start burning the filler, which is the centre of the cigar’s foot. This is a little harder and may require a smaller flame since you’ll want to be getting closer.
- Reduce the cigar’s angle to be more horizontal.
- Approach it slightly closer to the flame but no less than an inch (2.5 cm).
- While rotating the cigar, move the flame around the filler for an even burn.
- Stop when the centre is beginning to smoulder.
You start to see glowing embers around the centre at this point. If only parts of the cherry have ignited, expose the blackened areas to a little more flame while taking care not to burn the edges even more.
Consider blowing on stubborn areas rather than using too much direct flame. Remember to keep rotating the cigar whilst keeping the flame itself away from the foot.
4. Releasing The Draw
If your cigar is starting to look ready with an even burn, prepare for the final step, which involves puffing on the cigar.
- Bring the cigar to your lips.
- Hold the flame half an inch below the cigar’s foot.
- Draw in air and rotate the cigar.
- Release the pressure of sucking and repeat twice.
- Stop when a surge of flame billows from the cigar’s foot.
Check the foot of the cigar to see whether the ember is more or less consistent. Depending on its initial state, use either small puffs for an already glowing cherry or larger draws for a stubborn cigar.
5. Blowing On The Cherry
The final step in lighting a cigar ensures and pure and consistent cherry, which is sometimes overlooked. You can do this throughout the lighting process but you should always follow releasing the draw with a final blow.
Much like heating a coal barbecue, you want to blow from the embers towards the charred areas. By blowing on the embers, you disperse the heat without exposing the head to a direct flame.
Once your cigar is ready with a consistently glowing cherry, let it sit for a few seconds before enjoying it. This will give the cigar’s foot a moment to stabilise.
Not every smoke is perfect and it’s not uncommon to face a few issues when enjoying a cigar. However, there are a few solutions at hand before you consider discarding it.
You can occasionally come across a cigar that burns unevenly. Sometimes, this is caused by uneven lighting, overzealous puffing or even an inconsistently rolled cigar. After all, cigars are handmade and mistakes can be made during the rolling process.
Sometimes, cigars can suffer from one of the following:
- Canoeing: One side of the cigar burns fast that the other.
- Tunnels: The centre of the cigar burns faster that the outside.
- Runners: Small parts of the wrapper burn down unevenly.
- Splitting Ash: The ash stack begins to split rather than staying together.
- Mousehole Burn: A burning hole appears on the wrapper underneath the ember.
Although tunnels are harder to fix, there are a number of ways that you can try to rectify canoeing or runners as you smoke.
Store Your Cigars Properly
It may be surprising but most burning issues may be due to the way the cigars have been stored as opposed to their construction. Indeed, most of the time, it’s because the cigars were improperly stored in an environment that was either too dry or too humid.
If you frequently encounter burning issues, it may be worth revising your current setup. Over the many years that we have been collecting and storing cigars, we’ve tried a multitude of storage solutions. In most cases, it was based upon a combination of educated guesswork and trial and error.
Fortunately, we discovered Boveda some time ago, which greatly helped in reducing the various issues that we faced. These convenient humidity packs require no setting up or preparation. In fact, they’re the ideal “set-it-and-forget-it” approach.
Most people are familiar with Boveda as their small packs are occasionally supplied with a cigar purchase. Nevertheless, they’re an excellent long-term humidity device too!
Thanks to their two-way moisture control, the packs will ensure a consistent relative humidity level in your humidor by absorbing excess moisture and releasing it when there isn’t enough.
Having used Boveda for a while, we’ve even created a dedicated guide on how to use their products correctly. Head to our Boveda guide to learn more.
Stay Out Of The Wind
A strong breeze can play havoc with the way your cigar burns. Gusts from different directions can ignite the wrapper unevenly causing it to burn sporadically or down one side.
For instance, if you like to smoke a cigar while driving with the window open, it will likely burn very quickly on one side. Uneven burning is also a typical complaint among golfers and dog walkers who enjoy the odd cigar on occasion.
Rotate The Cigar
If the cigar is canoeing on one side, consider rotating the cigar. Typically, canoes form on the bottom as this area burns faster unless you’re in a windy environment. Alternatively, the way you draw may be stronger on one side than the other.
If you rotate the cigar, it will expose the other side to the same treatment and may begin to even out as you continue smoking. Avoid puffing too hard to bring it down as this may actually make it worse.
Moistening The Cigar
If your cigar has small, sharp runs down the wrapper, it may be because the roller used small filler to even out inconsistencies. As this burns faster, it can become uneven.
Simply applying a bit of moisture such as saliva to the fast-burning areas with your finger. This should die the embers down enough for the rest of the cigar to catch up.
Avoid touching the embers directly so not to burn yourself. Just a little bit of saliva or water should just be enough to humidify the fast-burning areas.
Burning Uneven Areas
If the uneven burn is quite severe, consider a final drastic measure by applying a flame to the slow-burning sections. Unfortunately, this will reduce the length of your cigar but it may balance out the overall burn.
Holding the cigar over an ashtray, expose a flame to the longer areas to scorch them off. Take care not to go below the lowest burning point as it may make that burn faster instead.
Hopefully, you cigar shall burn more evenly once more or at least reduce the discrepancy.
Relighting A Cigar
Don’t worry if your cigar goes out. Unlike cigarettes, cigars are only made from natural tobacco leaf. This means that they haven’t been treated to keep burning. Therefore, the cigar may go out if you leave it too long between puffs.
However, don’t leave it too long before relighting your cigar as it may affect the taste. A cigar that has gone completely cold will contain deposits of tar and ammonia, which can be quite unpleasant.
When relighting, just remove any leftover ash and scratch away any blackened leaf or “char” using a pen knife. Alternatively, use a cutter to remove the burned areas.
Once you’re ready, relight the cigar by holding it between your fingertips and turning it over a flame.
The flavour may be quite strong at first but after a few puffs, it may regain its original flavours. Normally, a cigar after relighting features more intense and pronounced flavours.
If the cigar hasn’t been out for very long, it should relight with little effort. However, if the cigar keeps going out, it might be worth disposing of it as it may have been either badly rolled or stored in an environment that’s too humid.
Now that you have learned how to light a cigar, make sure that you’ve read our other guides too. If you haven’t yet, make sure that you’ve learned how to properly cut a cigar! Alternatively, check out the best cigar lighters to buy online!
Otherwise, check out our other cigar resources:
Wow this is really informative. Lighting a cigar is part of the whole cigar experience and every cigar smoker should know these details. Will definitely share this article on our Instagram page.
Thanks for sharing
Jane @ NewportButane.com
Thanks for your comment.
I hope that you liked how we stressed what gas to use with your lighter too!
I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to light my cigars. I’m a pipe smoker but when I do enjoy a cigar I like to enjoy the experience. Your articles and how to’s helped me along the way during the beginning trial and error. Thanks.
Delighted that our articles helped! Most people struggle to light a pipe after being used to cigars. It’s quite interesting to see that it occasionally happens the other way around too!
All the best,
Any off putting flavors coming from a zippo are negligible if at all noticeable. If you use the fire properly, it’s not an issue anyways.
Some are more sensitive than others to this, which is why we’ve presented some alternatives here.