Robb Report Vices

Burn, Baby, Burn

  • Richard Carleton Hacker

Just like decanting a bold Cabernet or a 20-year port, lighting a cigar takes time. It’s an art that requires patience, but the end result—a perfectly lit cigar—is worth the wait.

There are four key steps to properly lighting a cigar, but there are also four egregious mistakes that many novice cigar smokers make (or at least consider making). Let’s start with those faux pas:

1) Don’t bite the cap off of the cigar and spit it across the room, à la John Wayne. Not only will this method leave bits of tobacco clinging to your teeth, it will also rag up the end of your cigar.

2) Avoid using paper matches. These book matches are impregnated with chemicals, which help them burn, but those chemicals will impart an unnatural taste (think phosphorus and gelatin) to the otherwise pure tobacco flavors of the cigar.

3) Don’t plunge the end of the cigar into the flame. Doing so will burn the wrapper—the most expensive leaf of the cigar and also the one that imparts the most flavor to the smoke.

4) Resist the urge to snuff out your cigar in the ashtray. This only spreads the ash and produces an unpleasant aroma punctuated by stale smoke.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are four things that you should do:

1) Use a proper cigar cutter to clip the head of your smoke. We recommend a guillotine cutter, but most cutters will do, provided the blades are sharp. Just don’t cut too far down on the cigar or you’ll let in too much air. This could make you hyperventilate while smoking the cigar—and trust us, if you want to look cool while smoking a cigar, hyperventilating is not the way to go. To make the perfect cut, place your clippers on the cigar’s shoulder, just below where the cap and head meet or where it starts to curve.

2) Use only cedar matches, a cedar spill (a long thin strip of cedar that is first lit with a match), a butane flame, or a torch lighter. Hold the tip of the flame—the hottest part—near, but not touching, the foot of the cigar. Now slowly rotate the cigar so that you gradually toast all of the end tobaccos. If you do this long enough, the cigar will light itself. If you can’t wait that long, take slow deliberate puffs (while continuing to rotate the cigar) and make sure the fire comes to you. Finally, make sure the entire diameter of the foot is lit; you’ll get a nice even burn that way.

3) A cigar isn’t like a cigarette; it’s intended to be enjoyed slowly. Sip the smoke like you would a carefully crafted cocktail.

4) When you’re done smoking, lay the cigar down in an ashtray. Because there are no chemicals in a cigar, it will slowly extinguish itself, without producing an acrid odor.

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