The Basics of Cigars

One of the common questions that I hear at The Cigar Shop is, “I’ve never smoked a cigar before. What should I do? I don’t even know where to begin.” If you have ever wondered the same thing, and you are not sure who to ask, or where to go, wonder no longer. We are here to educate, inform, and make the cigar experience, from start to finish, an enjoyable one.

When I have a customer that asks these questions, my first question to them is, “Do you like sweet or flavored things? Do you think you would want a sweet cigar, or a regular one?”, and then we go from there.

That would be the first thing to consider when choosing your first cigar.  It is best to start with a mild or mellow strength cigar, like the Monte Cristo White Series, or, if you choose a sweet cigar, the Fat Bottom Betty from Drew Estates.

Cutting a cigar. Photo courtesy of The Cigar Shop.

Once you have chosen your cigar, the next thing to learn is how to properly cut the head of the cigar. Did you know that cigars have a head, body, and foot? Yes, they do! The head is the end that you put in your mouth, and the foot is the end that you light. There is a cap that is placed on the head to help keep the cigar from unwrapping. It is placed over the wrapper, which is covering the binder, which is surrounding the filler. All of these layers are different cuttings of tobacco leaves.

So, let’s talk about cutting. There are three basic cutters to choose from. The flat or straight cut, the wedge or v-cut, and the punch or hole punch (my personal favorite). The cut variations are all about the draw. The more narrow the cut, like the punch, the more focused or tighter the draw, giving a greater intensity to the smoke. This is personal preference, so try all three to find your favorite!

Correctly cutting a cigar. Photo courtesy of The Cigar Shop.

Once you’ve chosen your cutter, locate the cap on the head of your cigar. This should be fairly easy to locate, as the lines in the cap of the cigar begin to go in a different direction than the wrapper on the rest of the body. If you are using a straight cut, you want to cut only the tip of the cap off of the cigar. One common mistake for beginner smokers is cutting too much off of the head. This will cause your cigar to unwrap. If you are using the punch cut, then center the hole of the cutter in the middle of the cap and press inward toward the body. Then pull straight back out, and you should see a hole in the cap of the cigar.

Now, you are ready to start the lighting process!

Lighting a cigar is very different from lighting a cigarette. You must toast the foot before lighting it. Toasting the foot means that you are sealing the wrapper to the binder tobacco. It keeps the wrapper from peeling back from the binder which produces an even burn and better smoke if done correctly. Hold your cigar in one hand, and the lighter or match in the other.

The proper lighting of a cigar. Photo courtesy of The Cigar Shop.

Do not let the actual flame touch the cigar. You only want to use the heat from the flame to do the work, otherwise, your cigar may have a bitter taste from getting too hot too fast. Rotate the cigar slowly, watching the heat begin to toast the foot. Some people may find it easier to move the lighter or match in a circle around the foot. Again, this is personal preference, so experiment with it to see which is more comfortable for you.

After circling the perimeter of the foot, move the heat along the surface of the foot, slowly toasting the base. You should start to see a red glow form in the foot. Once this is achieved, you are ready to light!

Place the head of the cigar in your mouth and hold the flame just below the foot. Again, you do not want the actual flame to touch the foot, only the heat from the flame. Be careful not to inhale the cigar, only draw in, like sucking on a straw. Draw in on the cigar, rotating and exhaling with each draw, making a complete circle.


Hold the flame below the cigar. Photo courtesy of The Cigar Shop.

Look at the foot of the cigar, and blow gently across the foot to see the embers turn red. If there are any dark areas that aren’t properly lit, repeat the process until the entire foot glows red when you gently blow across it. Now, you are ready to smoke!

Sit back, relax, and enjoy your very first cigar. Welcome to a community of people that share one common thing – the celebration, relaxation, and fellowship that comes with smoking cigars.

Mary Hall is co-owner of The Cigar Shop in Gardendale, Alabama and a contributor to North Jefferson Magazine.