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How to Smoke a Cigar, Explained by an Expert

A pro's tips on how to cut, light, and puff.

handsome bearded man smoking cigar
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At some point in your life, you will probably have the opportunity to smoke a cigar. Whether it's at a bachelor party, a sporting event, a poker night or the birth of your child, cigars are widely associated with good times and celebrations. But smoking a cigar can be intimidating and downright unpleasant if you don't know what you're doing. So to ensure you don't make any faux pas when puffing away on your next stogie, we contacted cigar expert Jack Ambriz, co-founder of premium cigar subscription service Unicorn Hunters Club, to learn the proper way to smoke a cigar.

How to Choose the Right Cigar

Before you even think about lighting your stogie, you should find a stick that fits what you're looking for and is within your budget. "There are many different types of cigars with varying flavors, strengths and sizes, so take your time to find the one that's right for you," Ambriz says.

"If you are new to cigar smoking, choose a bigger format cigar."

And if you're new to smoking, Ambriz essentially says to go big or go home. "If you are new to cigar smoking, you want to make sure you choose a bigger format cigar," he says. "The strength of the cigar does have a lot to do with its blend, but the intensity also has a lot to do with the format. If you choose a smaller style like a Corona, you will feel the heat of the burning cherry more, which will intensify the flavors much more than a larger Toro.

How to Cut a Cigar

After you choose your ideal cigar, the first thing you will do is cut off the cap, which is the closed end of the cigar. Doing so properly will ensure that your draw will be as smooth as can be. "You always want to aim cutting just above the cap line, where the cigar wrapper ends, to avoid unraveling the cigar," Ambriz says. "If you want to avoid the risk of unraveling, you can alway use a punch — it ensures a nice clean draw without having to cut off the entire cap."

How to Light a Cigar

When it comes to sparking up your cigar, Ambriz advises to limit yourself to one of two lighting methods: "Use a butane torch lighter or wooden matches to light your cigar. Avoid using anything else, as they can affect the taste," says Ambriz.

man smoking cigar
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"Hold the cigar at a 45-degree angle and toast the foot (the open end) evenly while rotating the cigar in a circular motion without letting the flame touch the tobacco directly," Ambriz continues. "I want to emphasize to never let the flame touch the foot of the cigar, it will char your cigar and give it an unpleasant taste."

How to Smoke a Cigar

OK, your cigar has been cut and lit. Now comes the most important part: actually smoking the thing. The main thing to remember here is that you don't inhale with cigars — this isn't a joint. "Once the foot of the cigar is evenly lit, place the cut end of the cigar in your mouth, and draw air through it gently. You should not inhale the smoke, as cigars are meant for savoring the flavors in your mouth," Ambriz says.

Then once you get it going, it's all about finding the right balance in your smoking. "Take slow and gentle puffs every 30 to 60 seconds to keep the cigar burning evenly and at a pleasant temperature. Savor the flavors of the cigar and pay attention to the complexity and transitions in taste," Ambriz says.

cigar in an ashtray
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How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Cigar?

"If you smoke your cigar too fast, the cherry will become too hot and alter the flavors of the blend, and you'll risk burning the inside of your mouth," Ambriz says. "If you smoke your cigar too slowly, you risk having it go out, and having to relight — which is an awful experience that will alter the taste of your cigar if relit incorrectly."

Ultimately, the time it takes to smoke a cigar depends on the size of your stogie. "Cigars are meant to be enjoyed slow and steady," says Ambriz. "It’s safe to say you will need anywhere from 30 minutes to smoke something smaller like a Corona and somewhere around 2 hours for a large Salomone."

How to Ash a Cigar

Once you settle into a nice balanced rhythm of smoking your cigar, you need get rid of the excess ash that builds up as your cigar burns. "Allow the ash to build up for about an inch or so before gently tapping it off into an ashtray," Ambriz says. "This helps the cherry stay cool and at a constant temperature, allowing you to smoke the blend of the cigar as intended."

"Allow the ash to build up for about an inch or so."

But don't get over-agressive when ashing — keep things gentle. "Do not forcefully flick the ash, as this may cause the cigar to burn unevenly or go out. Simply roll the edge of the ash against your ashtray and watch it effortlessly shed off," says Ambriz.

How to Put Out a Cigar

All right, your half-hour to two-hour smoking session is up, and it's time to put out your cigar. "Once you reach the final third of the cigar and it becomes too warm or the flavors start to diminish, it's time to let it go," Ambriz says. "Place the cigar in the ashtray and let it extinguish naturally. Avoid crushing or snuffing it out, as this can create an unpleasant odor."

"Don't crush or snuff it out, which can create an unpleasant odor."

And what if you want to put out half a cigar and save it for later? Ideally, this should be avoided, since cigars are best enjoyed in their entirety during one smoking session. But if you absolutely must cut your smoke short, here's what Ambriz says to do:

"Set the cigar down and let it go out naturally, which should take a few minutes. Once it’s out, you want to get a straight and clean cut from the ash line. Having a fresh foot is important when you want to relight — you don’t want the taste of char in your mouth when you continue your experience. Once you have a clean cut, blow into the cigar a few times to make sure no leftover smoke was trapped inside. Then gently place in a zip lock bag, with a small Boveda humidity pack."

Once you do all that, the clock starts ticking. "I only recommend doing this if you plan on smoking your cigar later that same day," says Ambriz.

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