Let’s be honest. A truly authentic margarita will always call for the same three ingredients. Tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. And to learn how to make a margarita at home, it’s best to start at the very beginning. Because once you understand the origins of the margarita, you can make your own “best margarita recipe”. And stop scrolling for someone else’s.
The origins of the margarita
As is expected with any history that evolved through inebriation and mottled alertness, several popular stories exist. One theory points to the late 1930’s, showgirl Majorie King, an allergy to all liquor but tequila, and a restaurant in Mexico. Another claims it was actress Rita (Margarita) Hayworth sippin’ a tequila cocktail at a house party in Tijuana during the same decade. The makers of Cointreau say it was Ms. Sames in Acapulco with the Cointreau.
While the woman and the place may differ, what’s important here are the common threads in each story: tequila, orange liqueur and Mexico. And this is where we move on to the good stuff.
The classic margarita recipe
Back to my point about those who play it fast and loose with lines like “best margarita recipe!” Myself included. For an authentic margarita – not a tequila-spiked fruit smoothie or a so-called skinny “margarita” – there is no room for adaptation.
A margarita is three ingredients, served straight up
- 2 ounces blanco tequila
- 1 ounce orange-liqueur
- fresh-squeezed lime juice (not that &$%# in a bottle)
Salt is the legitimate garnish. And while triple-sec may be popular in modern times, Cointreau is perhaps the most historically accurate choice. I’m not getting paid to write this, I just really love Cointreau, since it’s French, like my heritage.
How to make a margarita
Put your blenders away, my tequila-loving friends. If we’re going to keep this legit, reach for your cocktail shaker and a little ice.
Step 1. Salt rim. Pour a thin layer of coarse salt onto a small plate. Run a fresh lime wedge around the rim of an old-fashioned or rocks glass. Dip the top of the glass into the salt, turning and pressing a few times to evenly coat the rim.
Step 2. Shaken, not stirred. In a cocktail shaker (or makeshift version) filled with ice, pour in tequila, orange liqueur and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Seal and shake until it frosts over.
Step 3. Strain and serve. Strain the cocktail into the salted glass.
Making a margarita your own
Authenticity aside, what’s good for the blanco-loving geese may not impress the resposado-sipping gander. I personally can’t handle three shots of liquor in one drink, so I reduce my tequila shot to a single.
And having come of age during the era of frozen margaritas, I rim my glass with sugar. I know, major party foul. To make matters worse, I enjoy a half ounce (one tablespoon) of simple syrup mixed in, which doesn’t harm the true essence, but softens the blow.
The art of simple syrup for cocktails
Catchy heading, eh? There is actually no art in a basic simple syrup. It’s equal parts sugar and water, brought just to a boil. In restaurants, we’d even skip the boiling and dissolve the sugar in hot water from the commercial dispenser (please don’t tell).
How to load up simple syrup with flavor
What I love about simple syrup, is anything goes. Citrus rind, anise seed, juniper berries, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, chili peppers, the options are limitless. Cocktails, mocktails or homemade soda can all enter a new level of excitement with a flavored simple syrup. And all are drinkable times.
Heat and steep any of the above ingredients, or those of your own epiphany. The longer the soak, the stronger the essence. I rarely strain my homemade syrups, with the exception of spicy ones.
Malibu, the rich and famous + my personal best margarita
The recipe below is one I developed while working as a private chef for clients in Los Angeles and Malibu. One particular client was a very kind man with very recognizable amigos. Amigos who sipped their own brand of top-shelf tequila straight outta the shot glass while over-looking the Pacific ocean. (If you’re jealous, you’re not alone.)
When a dinner guest didn’t want their tequila neat, I’d serve up a clean, no-fuss margarita. With a tiny bit of lime-spiked simple syrup. I now shake up a margarita this way for anyone who asks, most often my lovely brother-in-law, who we’ll call Uncle M.
Over the course of a pandemic summer and a lot of backyard cocktail hours, I refined my recipe for his palate. And he named it “possibly the best margarita in the Pacific Northwest.” I’ll take the love, even though as stated above, I don’t buy into such hyperbole regarding recipes.
Tequila to try: Teremana. Super smooth, great price.
Mixing up your own margarita story
The moral of this story is that how to make the best margarita for you, may not be the best version for me, or your brother-from-another-mother. So if I’ve accomplished my goal here, you are now empowered with the knowledge and know-how to start at the very beginning. And shake up YOUR best margarita. What are you waiting for? This is surely how it all began once upon a time in Mexico.
Yours in tequila,
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If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! Here’s the recipe for an authentic margarita that hails from Mexico, and a few fun ideas for how to lime it up with a quick simple syrup. Did someone say, tequila?
- 4 ounces blanco tequila*, I like Teremana or Casa Amigos Blanco
- 2 ounces Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
- 2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice, about the juice of two limes
- 1 scant ounce lime or plain simple syrup, optional
- course salt or sugar
- lime wedges, for rimming glass
Homemade Lime Simple Syrup*
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- several strips of lime peel
- For basic or lime simple syrup. In a small pot, bring water and sugar just to a boil. Turn off heat, and for lime syrup, add several strips of lime peel. Let cool to room temperature, then store chilled.
- Rim glasses with salt or sugar. Sprinkle a layer of either on a small plate. Run the inside of a fresh lime around the rims of the glasses. Press the top of the glass into the salt/sugar, turning and pressing a few times to get a nice coating.
- Mix cocktail. In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup if using.
- Add ice, and shake until it frosts over.
- Strain and serve in garnished glasses. For a margarita that mellows as you sip, serve on the rocks.
Two ounces = double shot = ¼ cup. For a less potent cocktail, stick with one shot of tequila per cocktail.
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