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The proper way to smoke a cigar - Cigars 101

Christina Ablahad

Posted by Christina A.



The Proper Way To Smoke A Cigar - Cigars 101

You’ve been a man for a while. Typically, you like to think that you’re pretty good at it. Despite that, we all run into knowledge gaps here and there, and a lot of guys these days do not know the proper way to smoke a cigar. If that sounds like you, then this will be your complete guide. We’ll show you how to find a good cigar. Then, we’ll teach you how to enjoy it.

Find your cigar

Cigars come in as much variety as any vice. You’ll find some you love, and you’ll find some you hate. That’s part of the game. You can’t have a good experience until you find a good cigar. So, before you even think about reaching for a lighter, here are some tips on how to choose a great cigar that you can truly enjoy.

Get recommendations

You can get cigars in several places, but if you go to a cigar shop, you can get recommendations from an expert who can help you explore your tastes. It’s like having a wine sommelier. There’s a lot of knowledge out there, and it’s easier to get started when you have some help.

Your cigar guide will ask you questions about other things you like to make informed recommendations for you. They’ll introduce you to concepts like body (how mellow or dark the flavor is), strength, size, and shape. Some of these things affect flavor more than others, but they all matter.

Give it a squeeze

Cigars are kind of like fresh fruit in that you can determine their quality from touch. A gentle (emphasis on the gentle) squeeze can let you see if the cigar is overly dry. It should give without crinkling, but you shouldn’t be squeezing the moisture out of it. If it’s too dry, it’ll probably burn hot and not taste very good.

When you squeeze, you can also discern a few things with your eyes. The cigar should have a single, uniform color. The wrapper should be clean and untorn. It should look appealing.

happy man smoking cigar

Sniff it

Ultimately, your nose is your guide. You are going to smoke the cigar, not eat it. That means that most of the flavor will come through your nose. Sniffing an unlit cigar gives you strong indications of the flavors hiding within. If you don’t like the sniff, you probably won’t like the smoke. If you do like the sniff, then you might have found yourself a winner.

Once you pick your cigar, you can smoke it when you’re ready. The rest of this guide will teach you how to do that without being a tool.

Start with a clean cut

Cigars are not ready to smoke as soon as you get your hands on them. You have to cut them. Now, cigar caps will depend on the manufacturer, but high-end cigars usually have three caps. Your goal is to cut the first cap to prepare the cigar for lighting. You can usually see thin marks where the caps end and begin. That tells you where to aim your blade.

If you’re going to smoke stogies, you want to invest in a real cigar cutter. They should be sharp and made from strong steel. They’ll make your cutting more precise, and that’s a good thing. If you cut too deeply, you’ll end up with tobacco in your mouth. It’s unpleasant. If you cut too shallow, you won’t be able to draw the smoke. So, the safe thing to remember is that you can always cut a little more off the end. You can’t put it back once it’s snipped.

If you don’t use a good blade, you can get a jagged cut; this can leak tobacco, and it can even cause the entire cigar to unravel. So, you don’t want to bite off the end. You don’t want to hack saw your way through the cigar. You want a firm, clean, decisive cut.

Light it

Once your cigar is cut, it’s ready for the fire. Before you jump into this, keep in mind that you aren’t lighting a cigarette or a pipe. You don’t need to have the cigar in your mouth when you’re toasting the foot. When you’re new to the experience, it helps to see the cigar's foot while you toast it; this will help you do it the right way.

Toasting the cigar is the term used to describe the first light. You can use any heat source, but butane lighters (often called torches) are the easiest to manage, and they make great stocking stuffer gifts for guys. When you’re toasting, your goal is to get an even burn across the foot of the cigar. This includes the edges of the wrapper.

To get that even burn, you want to hold the lighter at an angle to the foot of the cigar. You don’t have to jam the cigar into the flame. Keeping it at the edge will give you more control over this burn. You also want to hold the cigar at an angle to the flame for the same reason. When it looks like you have an even burn started, your cigar is properly toasted.

You may need to apply more heat later to make sure the burn is consistent and creates smoke, but we’ll discuss that in a minute.

man lighting cigar

Blow out the smoke

This tip is hotly debated among cigar lovers. Some say it’s unnecessary. Others say it’s the key to a great smoke. The idea is that you can gently blow on the cigar and push out a little smoke. Anything that gets too much heat from the toasting can create a bitter flavor. You’re avoiding that by giving the cigar a single, gentle outward puff to clear the bitter flavors.

You don’t have to huff and puff like a fairy tale wolf; this is a calm, easy experience. You’re gently pushing a little flavor out of the cigar.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you think this makes much difference in your cigar smoking quality. You know the technique; you can use it as you see fit.

Start smoking

Your cigar is toasted. You cleared the bitter flavors. It’s ready for you to start toking. Your first few drags should be long and controlled; this helps move the burn into the flavor-filled parts of the cigar. Short puffs can cause the cigar to burn hotter (as you pull more oxygen into the mix), and that can singe the tobacco. So your first few drags should be long.

When you smoke a cigar, you are not trying to fill your lungs. A lot of people make that mistake once and never again. It’s brutal. Cigar smoke is not about filling the lungs. It’s about filling your mouth with flavor. That means you draw on a cigar the same way you would a straw. You want the flavors in your mouth and not down your throat. 

In case you’re worried, you can get quite a strong tobacco buzz with this technique. You never need smoke in your lungs.

When you’re taking your first draws, you might find that the cigar needs a little more heat to get going. You can add that heat while you draw. It will ensure that you have a sustained burn, and it’s not going to ruin your cigar. Once you’re getting good smoke, you know your cigar is lit, and it should last until you’re done.

While you’re smoking, you’ll need to manage your ash. This isn’t a cigarette. You want to avoid tapping the ash as long as reasonably possible. You’ll see veterans with very long ash on the end of their piece; this isn’t just a show-off maneuver. The ash helps keep the cigar from overheating, which protects the flavor. When you do need to ash, an incredibly gentle tap is enough.

As you smoke, you want to remember that this is about pleasure. You never need to rush. Cigar smoking should be leisurely and relaxed.

Stop when it’s time to stop

pile of cigars

Cigars can be very strong — especially if you’re new to the experience. As long as you’re enjoying the feeling, keep on smoking. As soon as it doesn’t feel so good, it’s time to stop. It’s easy to get sick (or at least feel gross) after taking in too much smoke. You don’t have to smoke it until your fingers burn. No one else should be telling you how much of a cigar you enjoy. That’s subjective and entirely up to you. 

Cigars are about pleasure, and you’ll find that you enjoy some more than others. While you’re enjoying it, that’s awesome. If you happen to smoke one to the nub, that should mean you had a great experience. But, never be afraid to stop when you feel like you’re done.

Here’s a bonus tip. Don’t put your cigar out like a cigarette. Simply put it in the ashtray and let it burn. If you rub it out, it’ll release a strong and awful smell throughout the room. You won’t enjoy it. Neither will anyone else. A cigar can safely burn itself out in an ashtray. That won’t stink up the room, so it’s a nice bit of etiquette to remember.

With this, you have a firm grasp on cigar smoking. You can add it to your list of accomplished social skills, like throwing a dinner party.



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