How to Make a Margarita
And what's the difference between Cointreau and triple sec, anyway?
By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.
Margaritas are a classic cocktail for a reason, and like the best cocktails, they’re made with just a few ingredients. Margaritas are also easy to make, so instead of reaching for a mix, follow our primer for making bartender-worthy margaritas at home.
A margarita is made with tequila, orange liqueur and fresh lime juice. Sometimes simple syrup or agave nectar is added for sweetness. A classic margarita is typically shaken and served over ice in a rocks glass with a salt rim and a lime wedge garnish. In place of salt on the rim, sugar, or a combination of sugar and salt, can also be used.
Cointreau vs Triple Sec
Triple sec is a category of orange liqueurs made from dried orange peels. Cointreau is a type of triple sec—in fact, when the first bottle was produced in 1885 it was labelled Triple Sec Cointreau (the manufacturer later dropped “triple sec” from the name). There are many brands that manufacture triple sec which range from 15 to 40 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). Broadly, these triple secs tend to taste sweeter and have a syrupier consistency than Cointreau. Cointreau is made only in Angers, France and has a 40 percent ABV. Cointreau is generally more expensive than triple sec and is regarded as being of higher quality, but there are some high-end triple sec brands on the market.
Whereas most triple sec is made from only dried orange peels, Cointreau is made from a blend of dried and fresh sweet and bitter orange peels. This gives Cointreau a bright, crisp and nuanced orange flavor that makes it a go-to margarita ingredient among bartenders—it balances the bite of tequila, offers a contrasting citrus note to the fresh lime juice, and imparts sweetness and a nuanced fruit flavor and aroma.
How to Make a Margarita
For a fool-proof rendition of a classic, follow these steps to make a Margarita. Our recipe calls for making a homemade lime-salt-sugar mixture to rim the glass, but you can also opt for coarse salt or sugar instead. You can also play with ingredient proportions to suit your preference. This recipe, for instance, favors a boozier profile with a 3-2-1 ratio: 3 ounces tequila, 2 ounces fresh lime juice, 1 ounce simple syrup, and 1/2 to 1 tsp orange liqueur.
A good rule of thumb is to follow a 2-2-1 ratio: 2 parts tequila, 2 parts fresh lime juice, 1 part sweetener (divided between a sweetener, such as simple syrup or agave nectar, and orange liqueur).
1. Make the Simple Syrup
Put 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. It will make about 1 1/2 cups; store leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
2. Make the Lime-Salt-Sugar
In a small blender or mini food processor, blend together lime, salt and sugar until it forms a coarse salt mixture. Transfer the mixture to a plate and set aside.
3. Shake Up the Margarita
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Add 3 ounces tequila, 2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice, 1 ounce simple syrup and 1/2 to 1 tsp orange liqueur. Cover the shaker and shake until mixed and chilled, about 30 seconds. (The shaker should mist up and feel cold to the touch.)
4. Rim the Glass
Rub a lime wedge along the edge of a chilled rocks or wine glass to moisten. Press the rim of the glass into the lime-salt-sugar mixture to rim the edge.
5. Serve the Margarita
Strain margarita into the prepared glass. Serves one.
How to Make a Frozen Margarita
If your preference skews toward frozen margaritas, there are a few things to keep in mind to achieve an ideal consistency and balanced flavor. First, check out our complete guide, How to Make a Frozen Margarita. Once you master the basic steps, you can put your own flavor twist on them, like adding fruit or flavored simple syrups.
For best results, use a high-speed blender to make frozen margaritas. And to achieve a frothy texture, opt for crushed ice rather than ice cubes (this will also keep your blender blades from becoming dull). You’ll need the same classic margarita ingredients—tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice, orange liqueur and sweetener of your choice (simple syrup, agave, superfine sugar or confectioners’ sugar)—but you’ll need to bump up the lime juice (about an extra 1/4 ounce) and sweetener (to taste) since the drink’s extremely cold temperature can dull the overall taste. To determine how much tequila you’ll need, a good rule of thumb to follow is 1 cup of tequila serves 4 people (2 ounces of tequila per drink). Rather than blitzing ingredients on high all at once, start the blender speed on medium-low to crush the ice without diluting the drink, then increase speed to medium-high and blend until the mixture is smooth. To keep your margaritas colder for longer, put glassware in the freezer at least 30 minutes before serving. Don’t forget the salt rim and lime wedge garnish!
Classic Margarita Recipes
The key to a mixologist-worthy margarita is freshly squeezed lime juice and it’s worth the extra step. Fresh lime juice balances the sweet-and-sour nature of a margarita, lending a hit of acidity to counteract tequila’s spiciness and complementing the orange liqueur with a punch of zesty citrus.
Making classic margaritas for a crowd is tricky. So for his big batch margarita recipe, Geoffrey Zakarian dispenses with the cocktail shaker, calling for ingredients to be vigorously stirred in a large pitcher before being poured over ice in salt-rimmed glasses.
For her take on the classic, Ina Garten employs two margarita making techniques. First, she blends margarita ingredients with ice in a blender. Then, she shakes the pureed mix in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and strains it into prepared glasses.
When the mood for a pitcher of margaritas strikes, turn to this recipe. Simply mix tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur and a touch of superfine sugar to a pitcher and add ice just before serving. Try switching up the salt rim with one of the homemade flavored salts, such as smoky orange or tangy hibiscus.