Not everybody is a cigar aficionado, and unless you’ve smoked a few stogies before, lighting up can actually be a rather confusing activity. Sure, on the most basic level it seems pretty straightforward — you light the end that isn’t in your mouth, and suck on the end that is. But it’s not quite that easy. There are subtle norms and conventions that cigar smokers tend to follow, and while you probably won’t be ridiculed for not knowing them, nobody wants to look like a greenhorn when the humidor comes out and everyone starts lighting up.
Therefore, To help you dive right in and seem like you actually know what you’re doing, we’ve put together this quick-reference guide on how to smoke a cigar properly. Follow these rules, and not only will you look like you’ve done this before; you’ll also get a more enjoyable smoking experience. Here’s everything you need to know:
Choosing Your Cigar
First of all, before you do anything else, we highly recommend you check out our comprehensive Guide to Cigar Varietals. It’ll give you the lowdown on the different types of cigars you’re likely to encounter, and also help you get a better idea of what type you might enjoy.
Second, if you’re in a store and looking to purchase a cigar, don’t just throw down a wad of cash and assume that the most expensive option will be a good one. High price doesn’t always mean high quality, and as a noob, you probably won’t be able to appreciate all the distinguishing elements of a fine cigar anyway. Just go for something mid-tier that looks like a manageable size for you.
Alternatively, if you’re staring down into a friend or colleague’s humidor, ask them if they’d mind you taking a closer look. If they give you the go-ahead, pick up a couple good-looking ones and give each one a gentle roll between your fingers. If you feel any lumps or soft spots, move on. A well-constructed cigar will have a consistently firm texture throughout its body.
Cutting Your Cigar
Before you light up, you need to clip the end of the cigar. The best way to do it is with a purpose-built cigar clipper. Cutting it with a knife is acceptable only if you don’t have a clipper handy, and biting the end off should be avoided at all costs. For best results, snip the end off with a quick, strong motion. This will help you avoid tearing, and ultimately lead to a better smoking experience.
That said, you’ve gotta work with what you’ve got, so if you’re in a pinch and don’t have any tools, just bite the sonofabitch. A poorly-cut cigar beats no cigar at all!
Lighting Your Cigar
You’ve got a lot of options here, but a torch lighter is the best choice. Wooden matches will also work, but they’re harder to keep lit for long periods of time, which makes them a poor choice for beginners. Alternatively, normal cigarette lighters will get the job done, but should be avoided if possible, since many experts claim they can affect the flavor of the tobacco.
No matter what you use, start by holding the cigar in your hands and placing the tip above the flame. Aficionados will tell you that sticking it directly in the flame ruins the flavor, but as a beginner, you probably won’t notice the difference. Just do what you need to do to light the dam thing — but don’t puff on it yet. Before you put it in your mouth, you want to burn the end to sort of “prime” the tobacco. Spin it around as you light to make sure you get an even burn, and once you can see a bit of an orange glow, you’re ready to puff.
Smoking Your Cigar
Once you’ve got the tip primed and ready, put the stogie in your mouth and start puffing. Do not inhale the smoke. If you do, you’ll likely hack and cough and look like a buffoon. Not sure how to puff? Here’s the secret: don’t draw in air with your diaphragm — pretend you’re sucking something through a straw. Just fill your mouth up with smoke and then blow it out. Do this four or five times (maybe more) until your cigar starts producing thick white smoke.
At this point, you can slow down. Your cigar is sufficiently lit, and will burn on its own for a while, so constant puffing is unnecessary. To keep it lit and smoking nice, take a drag or two about once every minute or so. Relax, and enjoy the flavor of the smoke. This isn’t a race! Depending on the size of your stogie, smoking it should take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
Related: The Ultimate Cigar Book
Tips, Tricks, & Conventions
Removing the cigar’s label is a matter of personal preference. Some guys prefer to do it right away, and others like to leave it on for the duration of the smoke session. This is up to you, but if you want to remove it, we suggest leaving it on for a few minutes first. The heat of the cigar will loosen the adhesive, and you’ll be less likely to damage the cigar’s wrap when you take it off.
As you smoke, your cigar will begin to develop a head of ash on the tip. You do not need to tap this off like you would with a cigarette. Feel free to leave it there for a while. A big ash is a sign of a quality cigar — but don’t let it get super long either. Too much ash on the end can hinder airflow, which makes to tobacco burn irregularly, and also affects the flavor. Try not to let it get longer than an inch or so, and when you ash it, don’t tap it off as you would with a cigarette — gently roll it on the ashtray until it breaks off.
To dig a little bit deeper and expand your knowledge, check out our Guide to Cigar Varietals