Fire curing tobacco is one of four processes used to dry tobacco leaves. The process of drying the leaves of tobacco in order to produce cigarettes, pipe tobacco, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff is called curing. Cigars are made with air cured tobacco, whereas cigarettes and pipe tobacco blends are typically fire cured.
Tobacco growers harvest their crop by either cutting the entire plant off at the ground with a curved knife, or by removing the leaves individually. In order to achieve maximum flavor, the tobacco is strung onto tobacco sticks and hung in tiers in the barn to capacity. Curing must be done uniformly so as to prevent over drying, resulting in the loss of crop and revenue when the tobacco crumbles to dust. Conversely, care must be taken to avoid producing leaves that’re still too moist and therefore prone to mold, also resulting in the loss of crop and revenue. Typically the curing process, by whatever method used, will reduce the moisture content from approximately 80% to around 20%, which is in the ideal range.
To produce fire cured tobacco, low burning fires are lit on the floor of the barn where the tobacco is hung so that the tobacco is infused with smoke. The fires must be monitored so they don’t burn out and maintained to give off just the right amount of smoke, without too much heat. This process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and produces tobacco that is darker in color than that produced by other curing methods. The fire cured tobacco is low in sugar and high in nicotine in contrast to tobacco which has been air cured and is lighter in color and with virtually no sugars left in the leaves.
The process of fire curing tobacco produces a leaf that is darker and more aromatic than air curing. The art of fire curing takes anywhere from a few days to possibly a few weeks, as opposed to flue curing, which takes about a month, air curing which can take up to 8 weeks, and sun curing is just up to Mother Nature. Fire curing is more able to be controlled to produce a consistent end product.