How to Light a Cigar and Relight It If It Goes Out

Despite what you see in the movies, you don’t just strike a match, stick a cigar in the flame and puff like crazy. That’s not how to light a cigar. You actually toast the end before it even comes close to your pie hole, my friend. 

Whether you’re a beginner or an aficionado, you should master this integral cigar step. We’ll show you how, talk a little about how to properly cut a cigar, and share the most popular ways to light a cigar. Then you can decide what cigar accessory is right for you—matches, a disposable lighter or a torch lighter. (Hint: it depends on where you’re lighting up.)

Watch How to Light a Cigar

Cigar podcast host, Rob Gagner shows you how to light a cigar with different kinds of cigar lighters and covers the challenges of lighting a cigar with matches and cedar spills. Check out more cigar how-tos here in episodes of Box Press.

How NOT to Light a Cigar

Don’t Use a Flame That Could Leave an Aftertaste in Your Cigar 

The best way to light a cigar is with an odorless and tasteless flame source, such as a cigar lighter fueled by BUTANE AND NOT LIGHTER FLUID. Grabbing a candle sounds like an easy way to light your cigar when you don’t have a lighter, but don’t. Both unscented and scented candles can leave an odd taste in your mouth. No one wants Romeo y Julieta tinged with Pink Sands™, whatever that is! 

 Don’t Light a Cigar While It’s In Your Mouth

Holding the cigar in your mouth and puffing while you light it can ignite easier-to-burn tobacco deep inside the stick. When these fillers burn faster than the wrapper tobacco, it creates a tunnel in the center of the cigar. Tunneling makes for a fast-burning unpleasant smoke.

So be patient—hold off your first puff of a cigar until AFTER you’ve toasted the foot. (To learn how to toast a cigar, and find more cigar how-tos here.)

Don’t Stick a Cigar Directly in the Flame

You shouldn’t light a cigar like a cigarette, or a candle, or a sparkler. Keep the end of your cigar ABOVE THE DIRECT FLAME.

The best way to light a cigar is to slowly toast it—think marshmallow on a stick at a campfire. Patience is key while toasting a cigar. Just like with a marshmallow, you’re heating up good things inside while you toast. For a cigar, the flavor comes from the oils and sugars in the tobacco. Do it right and your cigar will burn so well, you’ll want to smoke s’more.

Don’t Light the Wrong End

First things first, if it has one, remove the cellophane wrapper from the cigar.

Next, distinguish between the cigar’s foot and its head. (This can be tricky with some cigar shapes, like perfectos and figurados, which have tapered ends.)  HINT: The head is capped in tobacco. This cap is the part you cut off before you light your cigar. Ideally, you’ll use a cigar cutter for this part, or have a match ready for a clean punch cut—both readily available at any tobacco shop . If you need a primer, watch how to properly cut a cigar.

Once you cut the cap, turn your attention to the opposite end—the open-ended foot of the cigar is what you’ll toast and light with a flame. 

Learn how to cut a cigar, this Boveda graphic shows the parts of a cigar: foot, body, head, shoulder and cap
How to cut and light a cigar, which step comes first? Cut the cap from the head before toasting the foot of a cigar.

How to Toast and Light a Cigar in 3 Steps:

  1. Hold the flame approximately ½ to 1 inch away from the foot of the cigar. Do NOT let the flame directly touch the foot.
  2. Slowly rotate the cigar over the flame until the entire circumference of the foot looks lightly charred.
  3. Once the foot of the cigar is toasted:
    – Take it away from the flame
    – Gently blow on the foot to disperse any remaining heat
    – Take slow, long draws from the head of the cigar

Why Toast a Cigar:

  • Prevents a bitter, tar taste 
  • Brings out the best flavor from the oils and sugars of the tobacco
  • Achieves an even, consistent burn

Should You Light a Cigar with a Lighter or a Match? 

Some smokers prefer matches, some prefer lighters. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of these cigar accessories. 

Don't put the foot directly in the flame while you light a cigar.
Should the flame touch the end of a cigar when you light it? NO!!! A properly lit cigar means toasting the foot, which prevents overheating the tobacco and an uneven burn. Two no-nos that can ruin the flavor for you.

Wood Matches

Pros of Using a Match to Light a Cigar: 

  • Many tobacco shops give away FREE boxes of matches
  • Easy way to light a cigar if you don’t have a lighter handy
  • If you don’t have a cigar cutter, you can use the tail end of a wooden match to punch cut the cap of a round-capped cigar

Cons of Using a Match to Light a Cigar:

  • Hard to use outdoors—especially if it’s windy
  • It can take more than one match (and more time) to toast a cigar since it produces a “cooler” flame
  • A sulfur flavor can transfer to your cigar, so before holding a cigar above the flame, wait a moment to let the sulfur burn off
Tupelo Rose's handmade cedar matches are excellent for lighting cigars and an affordable gift for cigar smokers.
Instead of using short freebie matches to light your cigar, spring for a box of long cedar matches, like these handsome 4” handmade cigar matches from Tupelo Rose, a family-owned small business. Shop for cedar matches here. Image courtesy of Tupelo Rose.

Types of Cigar Lighters

Soft Flame

Pros of Using a Soft Flame Lighter, Like a Bic® or Zippo® for Cigars:

  • Portable and inexpensive
  • Filled with odorless and tasteless butane fuel
  • TSA approved* for a carry-on bag
  • A Zippo® lighter is refillable

Cons of Using a Soft Flame Lighter for Cigars:

  • Hard to use outdoors—especially if it’s windy
  • It can take more time to light a cigar with a soft flame lighter since it produces a “cooler” flame
  • A disposable Bic lighter is not refillable
  • NOT TSA approved* for checked luggage 

Torch Flame

Pros of Using a Butane Torch Lighter for Cigars: 

  • Very hot, strong flame–one of the easiest, best ways to light a cigar
  • Accurate—adjust the height of the flame to concentrate on specific parts of the foot that need retouching 
  • Refillable with odorless and tasteless butane 

Cons of Using a Torch Lighter to Light a Cigar: 

  • More expensive
  • Not TSA approved for your carry-on* 
  • Gets really hot—you can overburn the cigar wrapper or char the tobacco, which can leave a bitter off-flavor

*The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint. Check out what flammables you can fly with here. 

3 types of cigar lighters
Really getting into a cigar hobby? There’s a place for all these cigar accessories in your life, from soft flame and torch lighters to cedar spills and cedar matches.

Should You Relight a Cigar (AKA Can You Save a Half-Smoked Cigar for Later)?

YES!  If your cigar goes out while you’re actively smoking it, relighting that cigar is fine. In fact, since the cigar is still warm, it will be easier to toast than a fresh stick.

How to Relight a Cigar:

  1. Knock off the ash and scrape off any loose bits of char to prevent a stale and charred flavor. 
  2. Toast the clean foot of the cigar.
  3. Once the foot is fully toasted, take a long, steady draw.

When NOT to Relight a Cigar:

Should you put a cigar down for several hours (or a day!) and then relight the foot? NO!!! “If a cigar’s been sitting for more than 30 minutes, I don’t relight it,” Rob Gagner, host of the cigar how-to podcast, Box Press said.

“As the tobacco cools, the tar hardens and the flavors get bitter, so I don’t bother. It’s better to light a new stick,” he explained. 

Trouble Toasting or Lighting a Cigar?

If the foot is hard to toast or your cigar keeps going out, it could be over-humidified. It’s important to store premium cigars from 60 to 72% RH (relative humidity).

The easy way to maintain the right humidity in a humidor is with Boveda cigar humidity packs—particularly the Boveda 69%RH. At the right RH, the natural oils and sugars in the tobacco are carried by the smoke onto your palate. A cigar that’s too dry will burn too hot, incinerating the oils and sugar before you have a chance to enjoy their flavor. And a wet, spongy cigar is hard to light.

When you hit that humidity sweet spot using the Boveda 69%RH, with your favorite stick, it’s magically delicious. Once you achieve the proper toast, coupled with slow, steady draws, you’re in for one satisfying smoke experience.

Looking for more cigar info, but don’t want to run to your local tobacco shop for answers? Click over to our blog, and find more cigar how-tos here.