Cigars 101: How to Cut, Light, and Smoke

Once you’ve got a good cigar, you’ve got to know how to take full advantage of it.

This article is part of the Bespoke Guide to Cigars.

Choosing the right cigar is a journey unto itself. But after you've made that key decision, make sure you're cutting, lighting, and smoking the right way. That way, you'll get the most out of the experience so that you can enjoy the cigar exactly as the maker intended.

How to Cut It

Cigars are held together at the top by a cap, below which is the shoulder of the cigar. When you're ready to smoke, cut the cap above the shoulder with a double-bladed cutter. That gives you a wide open surface area for drawing the smoke while still keeping the cigar intact. Aim for about two millimeters; too much more, and you’ll lose the cigar’s structural integrity and it’ll start to unravel as you’re smoking.

There are all kinds of styles of cutters, but the only important thing is that they’re razor sharp. You want to cleanly slice the end off without compacting or tearing through the tobacco.

How to Light It

First things first: you need the right tool. Lighters or sulfur matches can leave a chemical taste, so what you really want is a spill: a long piece of slow-burning cedar. That way, you have ample time to slowly light the tip without overheating the cigar or imparting any flavors that don’t belong.

Once you’ve got the flame, you want to hold the tip of the cigar very near (but not touching) it so that the cigar doesn’t get too hot. Hold the tip just over the flame and rotate it slowly. Once the outer layers are lit, or “toasted” — you’ll see a glowing ring around the circumference of the tip — you can bring the flame closer to the cigar’s center and draw air in as you ignite the filler. Once all of the layers are properly lit, lightly blow on the tip to smooth the embers. Now you’re ready to puff.

How to Smoke It

When it’s properly lit, puff away. Savor the smoke against your palate, but don’t inhale. Take care not to let it go out — wait too long in between puffs and you’ll have to re-do the lighting process, which some purists frown upon.

Take care with the ash that develops, since it’s the sign of a well-made cigar. You want a thick, consistent ash that clings onto the cigar. Let it fall off once it’s ready, rather than tapping it off as you would with a cigarette.

As with most things, practice makes perfect. Get to puffing and you’ll be a regular Churchill in no time.

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