How to smoke

Lighting a cigar for the first time can be rather confusing.

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 beginner when everyone else starts lighting up.

To help you 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, but you’ll also get a more enjoyable smoking experience. Here’s everything you need to know.

Five Luxury Cigar Lounges from Around the World Dylan Goldby at WelkinLight Photography/Getty Images

Choosing Your Cigar

Before you start, 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, as well as a better idea of what type you might enjoy.

Common Types of Cigars:

  • Robusto
  • Belicoso
  • Corona
  • Lonsdale
  • Panetela
  • Churchill

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.

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Cutting Your Cigar

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.

lighting a cigar with match

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 damn 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.

Tips, Tricks, and 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.

Smoking Your Cigar

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.

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After you’re done, you may notice a certain … scent … hanging around. Here’s how to get rid of cigar stink.

Your First Cigars

Welcome to your new hobby. As you’re looking to pick out your first cigars, we’re happy to provide a few recommendations to get the ball — or cigar — rolling. While we will offer the names of a few mild smokes, it’s also important to break away from the recommendations of others to experiment with a variety of cigars and develop your own opinions and tastes. The first dozen cigars you try, good or bad, will likely be the most fun as you start to differentiate between different cigar types and which ones appeal to you. Here are some you might consider before venturing out on your own:

  • Macanudo Hyde Park
  • Romeo y Julieta Romeo No. 2
  • Gispert
  • Cao Gold

If you are looking for additional recommendations, the best ten cigars of 2017 are worth a try. We also asked an expert for his top recommendations. In our opinion, the only thing that’s better than a cigar is a perfectly paired drink to go along with it.

Article originally published July 19, 2016.

Editors' Recommendations

A personal story

tips to quit smokingI timed my quit with a rather major (painful) event — oral surgery. I decided that smoking certainly wasn’t helping my oral health, and since I had to invest a lot of money on my teeth, I decided I’d quit the day of the surgery. I admit that I was very motivated — I’d determined I was no longer a smoker. But I think it helped to be in pain/not wanting to do much of anything for several days following the surgery! So, I’m thinking that perhaps if you have something planned that takes you out of your daily “routine”, it might be helpful to plan to quit when that occurs. Doesn’t have to be a surgery … maybe a vacation … just something that gets you out of the daily routine for a bit.

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I was willing to give myself every possible advantage. I’d read that the nicotine patches aren’t necessarily helpful to all, and while I knew that I was done with smoking, I thought they might be helpful to me. So, I bought the 1st month’s supply. (I ended up using them for about 2.5 weeks, and never got the 2nd and 3rd month supply. Seems that I had more of a struggle with missing the emotional attachment to smoking vs. the actual nicotine.)

Moral of the story? Do anything/everything that you believe may be helpful to you, regardless of whether it worked for me or anyone else!

Even at 50++ years old, I indulge in bubble gum and can again pop and snap as good as the most talented 9 year olds I’ve ever known. And I keep a stash of brush-tooth-picks always at hand (I recommend Doctor’s brand if they’re available. They’re relatively inexpensive compared to other products out there.) to satisfy that hand-to-mouth habit, with the extra added bonus of being good to my teeth and gums after so many years of abusive smoking.

When an urge strikes, the important thing is to think/do something else until the urge leaves. As bad as urges get, they will subside.

Go brush your teeth. Once you spend the time to thoroughly brush, you won’t want to mess up that fresh mouth with a nasty smoke, would you?

Read your CBA. It will contain reason why you are doing this, which should reinforce your resolve to not smoke this time.

Or you can just white knuckle through it. Sooner or later you will just have to tell the urge to go away, that you are in control and you choose not to smoke this time.

Remember, only you get to decide if you smoke again. No one else has that power over you, especially a simple little urge.

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