Classic Margarita

The Margarita is a classic for a reason! Just three ingredients—tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. Salted rim optional.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

The classic margarita has a nobility that’s expressed by its simplicity—tequila, orange liqueur for sweetness, and tart lime juice.

Just three ingredients, harmoniously combined and perfectly balanced.

This is a cocktail recipe that you should memorize since it’s so easy to whip up at impromptu dinner parties, summer BBQs, or when you need a reminder of sunshine in the middle of winter.

I highly recommend using only good-quality tequila to make your margaritas. With only three ingredients in the cocktail, a bad tequila will result in an equally bad margarita.

Classic Margarita

Look for bottles with labels that say “100% de agave,” which means the tequila is distilled only from Mexican blue agave plants. Cheap tequilas are often cut with alcohol made from corn or sugar cane, resulting in a tequila that tastes flat and burns on the way down.

In addition, good-quality tequila is aged in oak barrels for 2 to 12 months, which gives it nuanced flavors. Blanco tequila (also called plato or silver) is aged for 2 months, reposado for 2 to 11 months, and añejo for 12 or more months.

Classic Margarita

You can serve this cocktail with salt, or not. Straight, or over the rocks. That part is up to you!

Classic Margarita Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cocktail

Buy tequila marked "100% de agave and that has been aged for at least 2 months.

Try any of these variations on the basic margarita:

  • Reposado or Añejo Margarita – Having aged longer in oak barrels these tequilas are darker in color and display more complex flavors and aromas. Using them in a margarita can be an eye-opening experience.
  • Mezcal Margarita – Swap out tequila for mezcal, tequila’s smokier, wilder-in-flavor cousin.
  • Spicy Margarita – Add a few slices of jalapeno to the cocktail shaker to add a bit of heat.
  • Pineapple Margarita – Swap out the orange liqueur for pineapple juice.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounce (3 Tbsp) blanco tequila (also called plato or silver tequila)
  • 1 ounce (2 Tbsp) orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand-Marnier
  • 1/2 ounce (1 Tbsp) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Plenty of kosher or flake salt for glass, optional (do not use iodized salt)
  • Ice cubes, optional
  • Lime wedges for garnish, optional

Special equipment:

Method

1 Salt your glass (optional): Pour some kosher salt into a wide bowl or small dish. Take a wedge of lime and generously rub it around the rim of your glass. Dip the rim into the salt.

Fill the glass with some fresh ice and set aside. (Skip the ice if you like your margarita straight up.)

2 Make the cocktail: Place the tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake for 10 seconds, and then strain into a prepared cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge if desired.

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Garrett McCord

Garrett McCord is a professional writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in many print and online publications such as Gourmet Live, Saveur, Huffington Post, Smithsonian, and NPR. Past clients also include numerous food companies, wineries, and distilleries. Garrett writes about cocktails on his website, Coupe de Grace.

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Classic Margarita

6 Comments

  1. chris

    as a bartender, i whole-heartedly agree that margaritas, like most cocktails, are best kept simple. this is also one of the few cocktails in which i absolutely require that the rim is garnished – the salt is important to this drink. something else i’d never tell you if you were sitting at my bar: don’t try to take this drink upscale. while i don’t recommend rail liquor, there is no need to go with cointreau and it’s super-premium price, either. stick with “regular” tequila and triple sec, your head won’t mind and your pocket will thank you.

    there is a great variation called the sidecar which subs brandy for tequila, which gives a wonderful smoky taste (sub sugar for the salt on the rim, though i usually pass because of the messiness, but the cherry is delicious)

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Chris, I couldn’t agree with you more about the salt rim! There’s something about tequila, lime, and salt. Years ago I met a self-described “communist” (American) who had been living in South America for years. He taught me the way to drink tequila straight was to make a fist, sprinkle lime juice on the skin between the first knuckle and your thumb, sprinkle with salt, drink some tequila, then lick the salt off your hand. It’s the best.

  2. Sonja

    I use a 3:2:1 ratio as well! I love it, but so many people I’ve made it for really don’t care for it, it’s very different from that limeade slushee flavor that a lot of people associate with a margarita.

  3. Mary K. Furness

    This is almost exactly how my husband makes his. Sometimes I like the rim salted, sometimes not. He has spoiled me completely for margaritas made and served in restaurants–I won’t order them anymore!
    Thanks for your recipes–I believe I’ll have one now!

  4. Steve

    My favorite proportions:
    1 ½ ounces tequila, (recommended: high quality blanco)
    1 ½ ounces Triple Sec, (recommended: Cointreau)
    1 ounce lime juice

  5. Dawn

    I will have to try your recipe soon. Mine is similar, but I use 1oz of lime juice (juice of one Persian lime) and a scant 1/2oz of Agave Syrup to sweeten it just a little more, as the extra lime in mine makes it very tart without.

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