Becoming an Expert in Cigar Smoking: Your Comprehensive Guide

cigar smoking man

The process of preparing, smoking, and all the associated elements of a cigar constitute a ritual. Many cigar enthusiasts, myself included, find solace and relaxation in this ritual. Achieving the ideal cut, a flawless light, and a satisfying draw requires practice, but the journey is as rewarding as the destination.

The Cigar

The world boasts a diverse array of cigars, varying in shapes and sizes. In this discussion, the focus will be on premium cigars, particularly those that are handmade. While machine-made cigars are an option, it’s akin to choosing your dad’s favorite light beer over a craft small-batch IPA.


The outer layer of the cigar, known as the wrapper, is what you see, and it often gives a hint of the cigar’s smoking characteristics. While color isn’t always a decisive factor, the type of wrapper leaf can be a preference, especially for novice smokers.

  • For a light and mild experience, look for wrappers like Connecticut, Sungrown, or those with shade or creme in the name.
  • If you prefer middle-of-the-road and medium-bodied cigars, consider options like Habano, Colorado, Claro, or San Andres.
  • For a heavy, full-bodied experience, opt for cigars with a dark, almost black wrapper, bearing names such as Maduro, Oscuro, or Corojo.

Sizes & Shapes

Cigars are gauged by their widths and lengths (typically in inches) and are often associated with a vitola, which is the general term for the size and shape of the cigar. As you gain more experience, you’ll discover your preferred size for different occasions.

A good starting size is the Robusto, a medium to small cigar ideal for 1-2 hour smokes. A typical Robusto is around five inches long with a ring gauge size of 50. Another well-known vitola is the Churchill, named after the famed British Prime Minister. Churchills are usually about seven inches long with a ring gauge of around 56, suitable for longer smokes lasting 2-4 hours. Read more about the Churchill here.

Beyond the traditional cylindrical cigar shape, there are varieties that provide a different mouth-feel or handheld experience. Popular alternative shapes include box-pressed, torpedo, and pyramid.

The Cut

The majority of handmade cigars are equipped with a cap at the end, requiring removal or cutting before smoking. The cap serves multiple purposes, such as preserving the cigar’s structural integrity during handling and preventing the unraveling of the wrapper leaf. To fully savor a quality cigar, the end must be modified to facilitate proper airflow. There are various methods to achieve this adjustment.

parts of a cigar
Parts of a cigar
  • Straight cut
    Utilizing specialized cigar scissors or a straight cutter involves slicing the cap with a single moving blade. In a pinch, a knife can also be used to remove the end of the cigar. The straight cut is the simplest type of cut.
  • Wedge or “V” cut
    Inserting a V-shaped sharp blade through the side of the cigar forms a wedge-shaped cutout, allowing air to be drawn in. This cut is unusual or unique, typically chosen for a change of pace or when encountering significant draw issues as it removes a substantial portion of the cigar.
  • Punch
    Using a circular metal piece, you can punch a hole into the cap, similar to perforating a piece of paper. This method is a suitable choice for cigars with larger ring gauges or those that are box-pressed.
  • Guillotine
    Like the straight cut, a guillotine is a type of cutter where two blades converge to make a clean slice. It is the most efficient and commonly used method for cutting a cigar before smoking.
  • Peel
    Depending on the cigar and the circumstances, it’s possible to remove the cap by peeling the end of the cigar and exposing the innards. This method is preferred when a cutter isn’t available or if you wish to maintain a more natural approach.

Regardless of the method you select to begin your cigar, remember a couple of key points. On the top of the cigar, you can observe the line where the cap overlaps the wrapper. Be sure not to remove more than below that line. Cutting a cigar too low may result in the wrapper unraveling, leading to problems with the draw and structural integrity of the cigar.

The Light

Following the cut, the next step is lighting. This essential process ignites the tobacco leaves, allowing the smoke to be drawn through the cigar for enjoyment. While the proper light is part of the ritual, it’s crucial to start the burn correctly. A well-executed light ensures the cigar burns evenly and can be fully appreciated. There are three commonly accepted methods for lighting a cigar, recommended for proper cigar etiquette.

  • Butane torch
    A butane-powered torch lighter, designed for clean burning, produces optimal heat, eliminating the need to hold a flame to the foot of the cigar for an extended period. These butane torches are widely preferred for lighting cigars, as they avoid fuel taste and deliver a high temperature for an efficient light.
  • Match
    In certain situations, you might resort to using matches. Although not the most efficient method for lighting a cigar, it serves as a viable option when a torch is unavailable. Be ready to use nearly a whole book of matches when smoking a cigar from start to finish, especially outdoors. Keep in mind that matches are not ideal in windy conditions, so plan accordingly.
  • Cedar spills
    Cedar sheets, occasionally provided with cigars, offer a traditional method for lighting. Transform the sheet into small strips, ignite one end with a lighter or match, and use the lit cedar piece to light your cigar. This elegant approach not only imparts a subtle cedar flavor but also adds a touch of sophistication. If executed correctly, it enhances the experience and adds a cool factor to your cigar ritual.

If you choose to use a conventional (Bic) lighter for lighting your cigar, ensure it operates on butane fuel and be mindful of the prolonged ignition times. Using a Zippo lighter with Zippo lighter fluid is not advisable, as it imparts a disagreeable taste to your entire cigar and may pose additional health risks. Alternatively, you can purchase a butane torch insert for your preferred Zippo lighter, providing a proper solution for cigar lighting while educating your friends on the suitable fuels.

The Smoke

Now that you’ve successfully prepared and lit your cigar, let me share some valuable tips to enhance your smoking experience and derive the utmost pleasure from your well-cut and lit cigar.

  • Go slow
    Take your time; this isn’t a quick five-minute smoke break with a Pall Mall in the cold. A cigar is meant to be savored for hours (depending on its size), offering a leisurely and paced experience. Excessive puffing and drawing too much heat into the body of the cigar can make it uncomfortably hot in your mouth and, more importantly, compromise the carefully crafted flavors intended by the cigar maker. Relax, pace yourself, and allow the cigar to unfold its nuances gradually.
  • Don’t inhale
    Unlike with cigarettes, it’s crucial to take it slow and avoid inhaling cigar smoke into your lungs. The tobacco in cigars provides a more intense experience and can make you feel unwell, especially if you’re not accustomed to it. Cigar smoking is focused on the mouthfeel and taste, emphasizing the sensory aspects rather than seeking a rapid nicotine fix in your bloodstream. Enjoy the rich flavors without the need to inhale deeply.
  • Enjoy
    Above all, relish the cigar and appreciate the diverse flavors and notes revealed during the burn. It’s an excellent means of relaxation, whether in solitude, good company, or paired with a drink. For a heightened smoking experience, consider trying a retrohale.
    If you ever feel dizzy or start coughing, take a break. Combating nicotine sickness can be aided by consuming sugar, either through eating or drinking. Prioritize your well-being and enjoy your cigar responsibly.

The End

The amount you choose to smoke is a personal preference, but a good guideline is to enjoy the cigar down to at least the band. Removing the band can be tricky, as excess glue may cause tearing and damage to the wrapper. Smoking the cigar down to the band allows the heat to melt the glue, making it easier to gently remove the band without harming the wrapper. Once removed, feel free to continue smoking until you’ve finished.

After completing your cigar, simply let it sit. Extinguishing a cigar prematurely creates a mess and an unpleasant smell. The cigar will naturally go out within 15 minutes and be cool to the touch. Once cool, dispose of it properly. Like cigarette butts, cigar remnants can be unpleasant, so part of being a responsible cigar smoker is cleaning up after yourself.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do use butane to toast and light your cigar
  • Do offer a friend or acquaintance a spare cigar
  • Do make your torch lighter available for others to use
  • Do cleanup after yourself by removing ash or burnt cigars properly
  • Do support your local brick and mortar cigar store
  • Do puff a cigar nice and slow
  • Do wait at least 15 minutes between cigars

  • Don’t lick/moisten your cigar cap before cutting with a friends or shop cutter, save that for your own
  • Don’t snuff out your cigar in the ashtray or on the ground
  • Don’t inhale the smoke into your lungs, you’ll have a bad time
  • Don’t bring your own cigars to a cigar lounge, buy from the shop
  • Don’t offer or buy cigars for kids under 21
  • Don’t cut the cigar too far down
  • Don’t rush through smoking a cigar, take it slow

The Why

Many ask, “Why cigars?” Some recoil at the notion of smoking, given its negative reputation and health concerns. However, for me and many enthusiasts, it’s a source of great enjoyment. I liken it to having a beer after work—a moment to unwind and relax. Smoking a cigar, for me, is a ritual that commands my attention during the session. Despite the winter limiting my cigar enjoyment to one or two a month, I compensate during the warmer months. It’s not just a hobby; it’s a passion that extends to the thrill of hunting, collecting, and curating my cigar collection. Call it a collector’s disposition, not an illness.

This simple guide is my attempt to share the joy of cigar smoking with newcomers and those curious about the hobby. I hope it serves as a helpful introduction for anyone looking to unlock the world of cigars.

Head on over to BeardStix and see what I’ve been smoking lately.