As with many classic cocktails, the specs for the best margarita recipe depend on whom you ask. Do you prefer sweeter or tangier drinks? Tequila or mezcal? And what about the orange liqueur—is triple sec or Cointreau better for margaritas, or should you scrap the orange and go for broke with blue curaçao?
Fortunately, there are more right than wrong answers.
“It’s delicious in every way possible,” says Ronnie Muñoz, chef-owner of Todos Santos in Los Angeles. He’s partial to Tommy’s margaritas, a riff that swaps the orange liqueur for agave syrup. Muñoz often opts for mezcal rather than traditional tequila, as well.
A margarita can take a lot of forms and please countless palates.
“It’s super accessible and it takes on other flavors well, like fruit purées and other spirits with other flavor profiles,” he says. “To us, to me, it’s just a very fun cocktail to make and to drink. It’s universally loved.”
A margarita can be a practical or sentimental choice.
“They’re familiar, delicious, potent and hard to mess up,” says Kara Newman, spirits reviewer for Wine Enthusiast. “Even a ‘bad’ margarita tends to be pretty good.” She adds that, as many of us have sipped margaritas on vacation or at dinners with friends, we often associate the cocktail with fun, celebratory times.
“It also doesn’t hurt that tequila has become one of the most popular spirits in America, and that margaritas now come in such a wide range of variations,” says Newman.
In a divided world, margaritas offer something for everyone.
What’s Typically in a Margarita?
Margaritas are typically made with tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice. Some may include an additional sweetener like simple syrup or agave nectar.
Within that rubric lies a world of possibility, according to John deBary, author of Drink What You Want.
“You can find a tremendous variation in margaritas simply by switching the kind of tequila and orange liqueur you use,” he writes. “Try one with blanco and Cointreau, and try another with reposado and Grand Marnier, or swap the tequila for mezcal. This drink can take many forms.”
Choose your spirit wisely, deBary adds. “The biggest margarita-related crime is using bad tequila.”
Silver or blanco tequila is usually the base spirit for margaritas, though some prefer to use lightly aged reposado tequila to balance the drink’s citrus notes.
“My preferred margarita is reposado tequila, rocks, no salt,” says Newman. She’ll switch up her order depending on circumstance, though. “Especially on a muggy day, I wouldn’t say no to a frozen marg straight out of the blender.”
Either way, keep your spirit light and flavors bright. “Save the expensive, very old añejo tequila for sipping,” writes Dale DeGroff in The Craft of the Cocktail.
How Much Alcohol is in a Margarita?
In 2014, Great Britain’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) created a digital calculator to help cocktail fans understand how much alcohol is in their favorite drink.
There’s a decent amount of alcohol in a margarita. According to the NIH, three-ounce margaritas contain 33% alcohol. By comparison, the organization clocks a six-ounce vodka tonic at 13% alcohol.
Of course, the actual alcohol content of any cocktail depends on who’s making it and how. If you pour spirits with a lighter touch, or prefer more orange liqueur than tequila, your drink will be less alcoholic than someone who puts lots of tequila in theirs.
What Tools Will You Need to Make Margaritas?
Fortunately, you don’t need a cabinet full of fancy bartending equipment to make margaritas at home. Your most important tool is a cocktail shaker. In it, you’ll combine your ingredients with ice, shake for 10–15 seconds and then pour into a glass.
You’ll also want a jigger to measure out your spirits and juices, though, in a pinch, a measuring cup or tablespoon will also get the job done.
Fresh lime is key. Depending on how dexterous you’re feeling, you can either juice limes with a citrus squeezer or use your bare hands and some elbow grease. If neither of those suits, try holding one half of a lime over a bowl while you dig into it with nonreactive kitchen tongs. Then, rotate the lime over the tongs to mimic a juicer.
Rocks glasses are what many bartenders use to serve margaritas, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with pouring yours into a big, bowl-shaped margarita glass if that’s what you prefer. It’s your happy hour.
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The Best Margarita Recipes (Maybe)
This cocktail collection contains some of our favorite margarita recipes. Whether you want a classic margarita, a spicy iteration or a virgin margarita packed with flavor, there’s a cocktail for every glass.
Still, the best margaritas are the ones you prefer. If this dive into the cocktail inspires you to riff on one of these recipes and create your own house margarita, that’s all the better.