The cigar aficionado and experienced smoker make lighting a cigar look easy. Think of Paulie Cicero, played by Paul Sorvino, in “Goodfellas” taking his first draw on a cigar. You probably remember the quintessential glowing ring and the perfectly rounded ash. He may not have known much about the restaurant business, but he knew the business end of a cigar and which cigar lighters to use.
Lighting a cigar is not rocket science, but you need to know what you’re doing to get the best smoking experience. It’s not just about the ritual. Using the wrong tool can soil your cigar with a chemical taste. In fact, the wrong cigar lighter leads to uneven burns and ruins your stick.
Top Choices for Cigar Lighters
Since not every flame is the same, here are some dos and don’ts to remember.
Some purists insist on lighting a cigar with an old fashion wooden match, particularly the sulfur-free variety. They’re not wrong. Traditional cardboard matches are laced with chemicals that cling to your cigar and taint your favorite blend.
If you’re looking for vintage simplicity, then a wooden match is a good bet. Most cigar shops provide stick matches with a purchase. Depending on the ring gauge of your cigar, you may need to use more than match one to get a proper light. Wait for a few seconds for the sulfur smell to dissipate before lighting.
Sulfur-free wooden matches are an option. They may cost a few bucks, but they are thicker and longer than the freebies and allow enough time for an appropriate light.
If you’re skittish on a match, butane lighters and torches are the best choices. Calibri, Xikar, and a slew of other companies make a variety of lighters that provide a steady flame for the perfect light. Why butane? It’s odorless and flavorless and won’t interfere with the natural flavors of your cigar. Plus the triple, double or single torch options in butane lighters are wind resistant and provide a wide flame for proper lighting.
The absolute purist route is using a cedar spill. These thin strips of cedar wood burn slowly, and won’t spoil the flavor of your next Toro. The drawback is they can leave an ashy mess.
Some guys have even used a cedar sleeve from their cigar or a thin strip from a cedar sheet used in cigar boxes. Be careful. They burn faster than the cedar spills. However, it guarantees an uncontaminated smoke.
Which Cigar Lighters to Avoid
Using a Zippo in a pinch can work, but most experienced smokers avoid them. The pungent oil-based fluid leeches into the wrapper. Like the standard match, you can wait a few seconds for the smell to evaporate.
Some of the cheaper plastic lighters like BIC use butane, but it is typically a lower grade fuel. Plus, these lighters are not designed for a consistent flame. So plan on burning your thumb.
Although this should go without saying, newbies have done just about everything. Never light your cigar off an oven range or a candle.
The moral is to use nothing that will overwhelm the natural aromas from a premium cigar. In the end, butane is best.
Pitfalls of Improper Lighting
Now that you know what you should use to light your cigar, let’s review how to light one the right way.
Lighting a cigar is often compared to roasting a marshmallow. At first, you’ll want to provide just enough heat to toast the foot of your cigar. Immersing it directly in the flame will cause it to burn too hot. Think about how a marshmallow catches on fire! Instead, rotate the cigar just above the flame, not directly in it. This will blacken the edges of the foot and prime the cigar for the first draw. When an even ring forms, take a few puffs. Some guys will blow on the lighted end a bit, but once the binder and filler have burned, it’s time to sit back and enjoy.
This is not all for show. You can run into problems if you don’t light your cigar correctly.
Essentially, your cigar will burn unevenly. There are several types of problems that occur from a poorly lit cigar, such as canoeing, tunneling, and mouseholing. Canoeing happens when one side of your cigar burns faster than the other. You’ll get tunneling when the filler burns faster than the binder and exterior wrapper. Finally, mouse holes can form beneath your ash on one side, causing your cigar to burn faster on one side vs. the other.
Cigar smoking is all about ritual, from the first light to the nub. Don’t rush it. Especially with lighting. Use a match or invest in a butane lighter, and unless you want your cigar to look like a hollowed boat or you want to miss the pure essence of the exterior wrapper, learn how to light your cigar the right way and with the right tool.
Photo credit: Cigar Life Guy