A Ladies and Gentlemen’s Guide to Cigar Selection & Common Problems


Cigar selection is somewhat a factor of personal taste; whether you are a neophyte or connoisseur, it can be overwhelming when you walk into a cigar humidor for the first time or access an online cigar store. Here is our shortlist of issues distilled from ten plus years in the business.

Price is overrated when you are selecting a cigar. There are so many great cigars and pipe tobacco products on the market you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get a great product. If a first-time smoker, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting with a less expensive stick, which will let you build up your flavor preferences over time and ensuring you can appreciate a higher-priced cigar later.

You should have a working knowledge of cigar construction as you dive into the selection process. If you are physically testing a cigar, you can gently roll it between two fingers to ascertain if you have any lumps or soft spots in the construction. A well-made cigar should have no imperfections in the structure; the filing should be even and free from any variances.

Look at the wrapper and the tobacco at the end of the stick; wrapping should be tight, smooth, and free of imperfections. You will find some variances in color (that’s normal), but nothing dramatic in appearance. If you see a wide range in color, you are probably assessing a stick that has not used a good quality leaf.

The origin of a cigar is always critical for selecting the right product. Every cigar is only as good as the tobacco varieties used – the location of where the tobacco was grown helps define the taste. Each tobacco blend reflects characteristics from the country of origin of the tobacco; if you like the taste of a Honduran cigar from one manufacturer, you will probably enjoy other cigars that were grown in similar climates.

Time and personal preference trump many other issues. You are probably not going to find your perfect cigar the first time out the chute. Try a different cigar once or twice a week for a couple of months and have realistic expectations about the process. Trial and error are baked into your assessment processes.

Your Guide to Cigar Smoking: Chills and Thrills 

How you light your cigar is really (really!) essential. If done wrong, you will have a burn line that’s not uniform; if it varies over 3/8 of an inch, it may or not self-correct – if the tobacco is good quality, it should not be a problem. But you should also know a perfect burn is hard to come by.

  • A lousy burn is typically caused by trying to light the stick too fast. Be patient and touch your Zippo lighter (the best product to use) to your cigar’s barefoot.
  • As you light the cigar, note the color or your smoke; any discoloration is going to tell you something may be amiss; carefully rotate the cigar over the flame, so you are evenly uniformly darkening the cigar.
  • Stop the process once when your cigar’s foot is uniformly darkened, and you have a thin glowing burn ring around the foot portion of the cigar wrapper.

Burn problems can be expected when lighting cigars. Even if you have carefully and meticulously lit the cigar if you are outdoors, for example, a gentle wind can wreak havoc with the process. As you puff away on your stick, the wind can also cause one side of the cigar to combust faster.

Know some times burn problems may be beyond your control. If your cigar has uneven humidity caused by it being stored “naked” (no wrapper) on a moist surface, it will quickly absorb the moisture, and if the side that has “inhaled’ more moisture will burn much slower than a dryer side.

If a cigar is not rolled properly (the tobacco is too loose), this can cause burn and draw problems. If your draw seems to be erratic (tight to flexible), this can be attributed to a poorly wrapped cigar.

You can address this problem in some cases by “touching up the burn,” which means you are applying the flame to the side that is not burning correctly.

Canoeing can be another common burn problem: one side of the cigar is burning in a “canoe” shaped manner. The burn line gets out of control for several reasons beyond your control, and the burn goes deep into one side of the cigar.

  • You can catch a canoe early in the process by just staying on top of how your cigar is burning (the burn line). A quality burn line should be thin and even around the actual circumference of the cigar.
  • To spot a canoe in progress, look for a burn line that is irregular and wider on one side of the cigar. Burn degradation impacts the cigar; the binder and wrapper will burn away on the hotter side of the cigar, and the other side will burn much more slowly.
  • If you find you are experiencing a canoe, which may be too dramatic, let the cigar go out. Then, use a cigar guillotine to clip the cigar’s foot, so you have an even/symmetrical starting point. Put the stick in your mouth to purge any excess chemicals and then begin the lighting process again.

Tunneling is another Common Burn Problem 

Tunneling happens when the center of your cigar burns faster at the core, while the cigar’s exterior remains intact. The ash in the center of the cigar can, in some cases, fall out, leaving you with a hollowed-out center within the body of your cigar.

  • This problem can be attributed frequently to slow cigar smokers! If you leave the stick in an ashtray or don’t puff on it regularly, the smoldering cigar continues to burn through the center. If you tap this baby on an ashtray, the cigar center will fall out, revealing a “tunnel” or hole in the center of your cigar. Not good.
  • You can fix this problem again by letting your cigar go out and then clipping it properly and relighting it and be mindful of how important it is to puff on your stick regularly.

A Runner is another Frequent Issue you have to deal with

Runners are the absolute worst burn problem to have, and they can destroy a cigar in a few minutes. A classic runner pattern is a dramatic change in the burn line, and you’ll see a dramatic burn down one side of the cigar.

Of all the severe burn problems, “runners” have the most potential to destroy a cigar in a matter of minutes. When a runner occurs, there is a dramatic change in the burn line and generally appears to take off one part of the cigar.

A runner can be the sign of a massive vein in the wrapper, which acts like a fuse, ruining the wrapper as it burns down the length of your cigar. And, in some cases, if the vein burns too profoundly, the wrapper may pull itself apart from the cigar, leaving a hole and letting the binder show

If you have a severe runner, you can moisten the tip of your finger and apply it to the vein of the cigar to offset the burn process, helping to slow down the degradation. But if you have a real vein problem, you may not be able to rescue the cigar; if the vein is consistent in size, you are in trouble with this stick, and you may have to abandon it.

Wrapper blistering is quite common, and in most cases, this is not something you need to worry about. 

As you smoke a cigar, you can naturally expect bubbling or blistering in the burn line, and in most cases (99% of the time), this is not going to be a severe issue.

Blistering can be caused by over humidification too. If you experience this problem consistently, check the humidity in your humidor. What’s happening? As you burn a cigar, the high heat can cause a flash boil as the excess humidity in the cigar turns into vapor, causing the wrapper and binder to swell.

Thank you for visiting our site, and we hope this post about cigars selection and conditions was informative.

Windy City Cigars