Rechargeable, USB plug-in lighters have been around for a while; just over a year ago I reviewed such a device, and it failed the task of lighting a cigar quite miserably.
Yet it was clear the idea and time for a butane-free lighter was there, it seemed viable, and it was only a matter of time before a company figured out how to apply it to premium cigars. While the USB-chargable battery may be new, the technology itself feels like a throwback to the days of car cigarette lighters. Instead of using the eye-catching Tesla coil approach with its purple beams of electricity, the team behind the Fuego Robusto USB Lighter turned to a fairly pedestrian internal heating element that warms a metal grate and in turn heats a cigar enough to achieve combustion. In an era of quad-flame lighters and single torches that can reach over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s safe to call the Fuego USB Lighter one of the more understated approaches to lighting a cigar on the market, other than that the company promises “the perfect light, every time.”
The Fuego is compact yet big enough to be not-quite-pocket friendly, measuring just over four inches long and about 1 1/8 inches in diameter at is widest point, big enough to make me work a bit harder to close my five-count travel humidor. It’s also heavier than other lighters.
While it’s called the Fuego Robusto, the lighter can accommodate up to a gordo, specifically a 62 ring gauge cigar, which is more than enough for my preferences but if you smoke cigar bigger than that, you’ll most likely want to look for a traditional lighter. With a 60 or 62 ring gauge, there are a few millimeters of space between the cigar and the rim of the lighter, a snug fit but enough to get the job done.
There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using the Fuego Robusto USB lighter, starting with how to turn the lighter on. Since you don’t want this to warm up in your pocket accidentally, you need to first push the branded button five times, fairly quickly, to get the lighter to turn on, which I’m told is a functionality similar to vape pens and similar devices. The light behind the logo will blink a few times to confirm that the lighter has been turned on, and from there, holding the button down will heat the element up so that you can light your cigar. Once powered on, you’re ready to light your cigar as there is minimal time for the metal grate to warm.
With the button pressed down, you’ll notice that the metal grate silently changes from a familiar gray to a bright, glowing orange. While your first thought may be to push the button and watch the metal grate begun to turn orange with heat and then touch your cigar to the metal, that would be an inefficient approach. With each push of the button only providing about 12 seconds of heat before the element shuts off, it makes sense to make the most of each one of them. To do that, I found it best to touch the foot of the cigar to the metal grate and then press the button, take a few puffs, inspect the bottom of the foot, and then repeat if necessary, something I found to the case more often than not in order to ensure as even of a toasting as possible. There’s plenty of visual confirmation that the cigar is being toasted, as smoke flows out of a pair of three side vents and the foot of the cigar itself, while the orange color amplifies on the grate, a good bit of which seems to be a reflection from the foot of the cigar itself.
This is where the lighting process gets a bit interesting. There’s seemingly no harm done to the Fuego Robusto by way of the smoke, and while the metal grate that touches your cigar gets a bit more charred with each use, it doesn’t lose much in the way of shape or function. Any residual debris can be blown out or scrubbed off with a gentle brushing to get it looking and functioning better. When the time comes that the grate is either too dirty, bent, or otherwise used to light up as well as it did when new, the top portion of the lighter unscrews and a new heating unit and grate ($39.95 for two) can replace the original one.
From the cigar side, however, the experience differs from using a flame in an immediately noticeable way. For lack of a more elegant explanation, the cigar seems to stick to the grate after its first light and occasionally in its second, sort of equivalent to pulling a piece of meat off the grill before it has completely seared.
I’m stuck in trying to determine just how—if at all—this affects the flavor of the first puffs of the cigar you’re smoking. In some cases it seems to make the cigar much rougher out of the gate, though lighting up another sample with a traditional torch lighter doesn’t provide enough confirmation to make a definitive statement. Sometimes it seems like a torch-lit cigar tastes better, other times the difference is barely noticeable.
The Fuego Robusto doesn’t seem to struggle with cigars of different sizes or shapes, providing an even toasting with impressive consistency after two rounds of button pushing, and only occasionally needing a third for cigars made with thicker, heavier tobaccos. In the case of cigars with a tapered, nipple-style foot, one incredibly positive aspect of the Fuego Robusto USB lighter is that it does zero damage to the sides of the cigar, something that I find quite common with both soft flame and torch lighters when using anything less than the utmost of precision and concern.
Once your cigar is lit, you’ll want to turn the Fuego Robusto off; to do so you’ll again press the button five times, and the blinking logo confirms that the lighter has been turned off. If anything, this is the one part of the process I forgot to do most often. While leaving the lighter on doesn’t seem to affect battery life, it does leave you vulnerable to turning the lighter on accidentally.
The company promises 15-20 lights on a full charge, which is in line with what I got though I never completely drained the battery during the several weeks of regular usage I gave it. Instead, I’d just plug it back in every couple of days to top up the battery, which is easily done overnight in order to get a full charge. I used the lighter with a group of four or five friends on a couple of occasions, encouraging them to use it as much as possible during the evening and it had no problem keeping up with the increased usage.
The recharging speed can be a bit of a drawback, as you can’t just fill it up and be ready to go with the same speed of a butane-based lighter. Yet I never found it to be an inconvenience since the lighter holds enough of a charge to light upwards of 20 cigars, and in a worst case scenario, you just need to be near an outlet to give the Fuego Robusto some incremental charging while you’re not using it.
One of the concerns I had when I initially saw and started using the Fuego USB Lighter was how well it would handle the inevitable touch-up or relighting of a cigar, and it remains a point I have not quite resolved. While there is no issue lighting a cigar for the first time, touching up a partially smoked cigar is a bit more interesting, depending on the state of the cigar when you feel the need to touch it up. If you have a cigar with a good amount of flat surface area, the relights are pretty straight forward, though you are likely to get a good bit of ash knocked off into the heating element, which doesn’t drastically affect performance but will likely make you want to blow out the ash and brush off the grate sooner than later.
A shoveling or canoeing cigar is where it gets a bit more tricky, as the combination of low heat, the need for surface area, and the requirement to touch the cigar to the metal grate makes the touch-up process a bit slower but not that much less effective; rather, it’s just different. I’m not a fan of cleaning things unnecessarily, which is probably the biggest detriment to using the Fuego Robusto as opposed to a traditional lighter, but it still works.
From a cosmetic perspective, the Fuego Robusto has had a bit of its black paint chip off, particularly at the spot where the base and the heating element screw together. It’s not horrible, but it certainly looks used without much in the way of abuse or intentionally trying to scratch it up.
After being so disappointed with my first experience of a non-flame lighter—albeit with the full knowledge that it wasn’t designed for cigars—I’m quite impressed by the cigar-oriented Fuego Robusto. The biggest thing about this lighter is that it is markedly different from how you have likely lit almost every cigar you’ve smoked, whether that be with a soft flame, jet torch, cedar spill, or some other flame-based method. It’s certainly a bit slower, which can feel like a contradiction to the speed of a torch lighter, but it’s something I’ve come to appreciate, especially when mindful of the ritual and process that have long been associated with spending some time with a cigar.
It also looks quite different to those who might see you using it, and you’ll undoubtedly be questioned by friends and fellow cigar smokers the first few times they see it. I have a hard time calling it an elegant process, as you are holding a fairly sizable black device up to the foot of a cigar while smoking on it, but whether or not you are trying to exude elegance is ultimately up to you.
Given that I am almost always testing new lighters for upcoming reviews, I rarely use a lighter that isn’t the next one to be reviewed, which makes my future usage of the Fuego Robusto questionable. However, if this wasn’t the case, I’d certainly be intrigued by the lighter and willing to give it strong consideration as an everyday accessory. I can’t say that it is compelling enough to make me want to throw out all my other lighters, but it’s compelling enough to keep close by. Having it fit better in my five-count travel humidor would also help its case, though that’s fairly minor in the bigger discussion.
One of the biggest potential advantages to a USB lighter, or so some thought, would be the ability to bring it as a carry-on when traveling via plane, something you cannot do with a torch lighter.
I sent a Facebook message to the Ask TSA account and was told:
This lighter is not allowed in carry-on bags. While the item isn’t specifically prohibited in checked bags, we recommend not traveling with this item. Our officers have the discretion to prohibit an item if they deem it a potential threat.
Given that response, when forced to pick a travel lighter, I’ll continue to go with the Cigar Traveller CT30.
The Fuego Robusto USB Lighter retails for $65 and is currently available at retailers in its all-black body. You can also order it directly from the company, though be prepared to pay a good bit for shipping, as the company exclusively uses FedEx. As an example, it cost us about $15 to ship a pair of replacement burner plates, and that’s with the package weighing just under a pound. The same goes for the lighter itself, even though it weighs a bit more.
The Fuego Robusto USB Lighter is distributed by Alpha Cigar Co.