How to Light a Cigar – Techniques, Do’s and Don’ts

How to Light a Cigar – Techniques, Dos and Donts:


So, we have a cut cigar in our hands, and it is time to light it. Even for the most tenured smoker this can be tricky. To start, with there being so many options for how to light a cigar from a match, to a soft flame lighter, to a 4-flame torch lighter with 14,000 BTU’s – that is HOT!! So, what do you use? Well again that depends on you. Personally, I like either a soft flame lighter or a single torch, but I have used them all and each has its own technique to be used properly.

For the most part remember the following, a match or lighter with a soft flame takes longer and requires more time to light a cigar and the 4 flame torch lighter can burn the foot of your cigar to make it taste like char if you do not light it properly. Basically, it boils down to the time it takes to light your cigar.

There are some basic techniques, do’s and don’ts that apply to all cigar lighting. First do not use a candle of any form, car lighters (if your car has one), any lighter that takes oil to work like a classic Zippo, or anything that has a scent or additive for it to create fire. This will cause the cigar to change flavor and for most part not taste correct. Next when using matches, I recommend that you use only wood ones and ideally cigar matches that are long in length. It takes about 3 cigar matches to properly light your cigar, so short matches that are wood it would take 6 to 8. If you use a lighter be aware of what type of flame you have, soft or torch, and how many elements or flames it creates; yes, even soft flames come in 2 and 3 flame options that create more heat.

Now it is time to light the cigar. The key is to get a good even light with a strong red ember at the end. So, depending on the implement you are using to light your cigar it will depend on how you do it.  Let me explain.  I will start with the match technique.  Using a cigar match, a wooden match measuring about 4 inches in length, you want to have 3 of these matches ready.  Light the first match and hold it to the foot of the cigar with the tip of the flame just off and not touching the cigar.  Roll or rotate the cigar around so that the foot gets an even distribution of the heat from the flame.  Keep a careful eye on making sure that the tobacco past the foot, down the side of the cigar, is not turning black.  Do this until you use about 2/3 of the first match up and be careful to not burn your fingers.  Now do the same with the second match but this time hold it at about the same spot and make sure the foot is getting evenly toasted and turning dark or beginning to get a red ember.  The goal with the second match is to set the burn line by making sure the entire foot of the cigar is properly toasted and lit.  Keep rotating the cigar to accomplish this.  Now the last match.  Before you light this match blow slightly on the foot of your cigar and see if you have any red embers or areas that have not been toasted as much as the rest, they will look lighter in color.  If everything looks good take the cigar in your mouth and light the last match.  Get the flame set well on the match so it does not go out and hold it under the foot of the cigar.  Start to puff on your cigar and rotate it with each puff getting the flame to jump up to the foot.  Jump the flame several time to make sure that it is completely lighting the cigar along with rotating the cigar with each puff and jump.  Take the cigar out of your mouth and blow on the foot to see if you have a full red ember that makes up the entire foot of the cigar.  This is the goal no matter what you use to light your cigar, to get a full red ember at the start.  If this has been accomplished blow the match out and sit back and enjoy your cigar.

On the opposite end you have a 4 flame, or more, torch lighter.  Each torch element is about 2900 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is enough to melt most metals if held to it long enough.  Now start to multiply this by 2 or 4 and you can easily see that a 4-flame torch lighter is extremely hot.  So, when you use a torch lighter it is important to understand that you want to use the heat it produces to toast your cigar and not use the flame itself.  The hottest part of the flame is at its very tip where the blue is, and it almost goes to invisible.  You want to be away from that spot and let the heat do the work.  Now remember as a kid, heat rises. So, I suggest that you hold the flame at an angle below the foot and out in front.  Given the properties of your butane that is in the lighter the butane will push the flame out and create the heat to move out in front of the flame no matter what direction you hold the lighter.  I just would not suggest trying upside down.  Depending on the number of torches or elements I suggest you start further away and work the foot into the heat until you find the right point to properly toast the cigar.  Once you have found this spot you do the same as the match technique with the only difference being you do not need to relight matches.  Now a word of warning – the more heat and torch elements the faster the process happens.  So, if you think that the 3-match technique takes about 2 and half minutes a 4-flame torch will light your cigar in less than 15 seconds.  Remember 1 torch is about 2900 degrees Fahrenheit and a single match or single soft flame lighter is about half that at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.  So simple math means a 4-torch lighter is about 8 time hotter than a single match making it do the job much faster of course.

Now I do get asked a lot what about these new plasma and electric lighters?  Can I use a Bic or store-bought soft flame lighter?  Does brand matter?  I like my Zippo and want to use that why not? I do not care that it uses oil.  So, let me answer these one at a time.  I am not a fan of the plasma or electric lighters.  They work and can light a cigar but honestly for me they do not do as good a job as an actual flame.  Now as far as brand and buying a store-bought lighter, Bic, Djeep etc. it does not matter to me as long as it uses butane and not an oil.  I do have my brands of preference, but I have used many types of butane lighters and they all get the job done.  The one question I get the most though is that of the Zippo lighter.  Zippo has done an excellent job over the years to build a loyal group of followers and consumers.  I respect that and as a matter of fact have a few Zippo lighters of my own.  So why do I say do not use a Zippo? Because I do not want you using Zippo oil to create the flame.  You see oil leaves a film on the foot of your cigar and that film has an order and taste that permeates the cigar as you smoke it.  My friends that blend cigars are doing so with a natural thought process in mind and do not want you to taste anything but that thought process, so please no oil fluids or anything that would add odor or taste to the cigar when you light it.  But, I have good news, there are aftermarket inserts that make a soft flame and mimic the Zippo look but the insert takes butane or you can buy inserts that make 1 or 2 torches that also use butane.  Change the insert to a butane one and please be all means use your Zippo.

In the end the key is to be patient, do not jab the torch flame into the foot of your cigar to go faster since it will just char the tobacco and make your cigar taste bad. Take time to get that even light and toast in the beginning. Once you think you have this accomplished finish the process of lighting and put the cigar in your mouth, sit back and enjoy it.  For me the process of selecting, cutting and lighting my cigar is to get here, the part where I sit back and enjoy the cigar allowing it to take over my sense and my body as I fall into its aromas and flavors.  This my friends, is what the cigar lifestyle is all about.

Lighting a cigar takes practice and feel free to ask different cigar smokers their preferences on how to light a cigar or even teach you if you are new to the lifestyle. Proper lighting makes for a much more enjoyable smoking experience. The goal though is to have the absolute best experience possible and to become a master at your own style from selecting to lighting these are all personal preferences and styles.