OK cigar lovers, experts and noobs…

How do you light your cigar? Are you a traditionalist and prefer to use a match? Maybe you even go as far as using cedar matches or the ever so fancy cedar chip.

Most of us limit ourselves to two forms of combustion.

The regular Bic style lighter or the more potent jet style lighter. Now the question is, what is the best lighting option for your cigar?

My vote is soft flame and here is why.

Let’s start with overkill. Tobacco needs temperatures of about 450° Fahrenheit to combust and once the cherry forms, then temperatures reach about 1600° Fahrenheit.

Now let’s look at how hot different lighters burn.

  • Soft Flame Lighter – 829 degrees Celsius or 1500 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Torch Lighter – 1,600 degrees Celsius or 2900 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Propane Torches – 1,995 degrees Celsius or 3,620 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Plasma Lighter – 1100 degrees Celsius or 2,012 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Electric Lighters – 400 degrees Celsius or 750 degrees Fahrenheit (source)
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In the spirit of Tim the Tool Man Taylor, many of us simply use the biggest and baddest torch we own to light our cigars.  But is a quad-jet torch lighter with four flames each producing about 2900° F for a total heat output of 11,600° F when you only need 5% of that energy to light your cigar?

That is about 6300 Kelvin, more than enough heat to melt every element on the Periodic Table. (source)

What are the consequences of such high heat? Let’s first understand there is a difference between lighting your cigar and burning it. Lighting it is when you get enough combustion going to actually enjoy your cigar. Burning it is when you are basically turning it into coal.

Tobacco being organic, has a naturally low heat requirment to combust as mentioned above. Meaning it can and will burn if too much heat is applied or any amount of heat is applied for a long enough period of time.

If you’ve ever overcooked anything, then you know too much heat can certainly alter the flavor of your food. Not enough heat has an equally disruptive effect, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Charring, which is the result of too much heat on a cigar, significantly alters the flavor of the cigar and I’d argue not in a good way. A fine cigar’s true nature is to reveal its nuances you with each draw. This can only be done under the most optimal conditions of appropriate humidity, aging and combustion.

Granted, some tobacco blends used in cigars combust slower or faster than others, but there isn’t a blend on Earth that needs the amount of heat a torch lighter generates to be enjoyed properly.

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Practicality and utility aside, a jet torch poses too much risk to the true nature of the cigar via overcooking than the novelty of quickly lighting it. Not to mention the amount of headache torch lighters create by sporadically igniting, running out of butane, getting air pockets, etc…

For the initiated among us, we know that even if you use a jet lighter, you don’t jam it right against your cigar. You simply kiss your cigar with the very top end of the flame and let it heat up gradually. This is called the roast, which done correctly produces a nice aroma during the prelight phase.

But how many people have you seen just blast their cigars with the same amount of heat needed to melt aluminum or copper?

Many years ago I was smoking a cigar with Jorge Padron at Lone Star Tobacco in Houston, TX. That was the first time I was introduced to the novel idea of not needing a torch. At the time I had ‘The Torch’ made by Blazer that I picked up at The Big Smoke or IPCPR, I can’t remember, but I was damn proud of it.

When Jorge went to light his cigar, I offered to light it with my fancy Japanese engineered torch. He declined and went about his business with his Bic style lighter. From that point forward, I always wondered why. To my luck, a couple of years later a friend of mine tried to open his beer bottle with my Blazer lighter and broke it.

That forced me to start using soft flames because I couldn’t find another torch as reliable as The Torch and I never got around to buying another one from Blazer.

For the last 2 – 3 years from today, I’ve exclusively used soft flame lighters. On the spare occasion I may have some trouble lighting due to heavy wind, but in Houston that’s not often the case nor is it something a cupped hand can’t resolve.

What I never have is a burnt cigar with a terrible aftertaste.

Does that mean you too should switch to a soft flame? Not necessarily, but I do recommend auditing how you light your cigar. Are you burning it to a crisp or gently using the heat of the flame until you have combustion? The ‘how to’ enjoy a cigar is a very subjective experience, if you like charred tobacco, then by all means burn away, but if this is a new concept to you the way it was for me several years ago, then I highly recommend trying to light your cigar with the least amount of heat and let me know what you think.

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