Maybe you sailed through summer while enjoying margaritas at your favorite local bar. Or maybe a friend has been mastering the mixing arts, and you’ve been lucky enough to enjoy cocktails on their patio. Now, it’s time to return the favor and develop your own home cocktail collection.
You’ll likely be mixing cocktails in smaller batches and on less of an assembly line than they do in an actual bar. But, it still helps to have the best bar tools. To help get you there, I took my expertise and checked it out against the talents of four top-shelf cocktail professionals from around the country. They were all in agreement about the best bar tools, and that starts with a high-quality cocktail shaker.
Our top picks for these essential tools: A Bar Above's two-piece Boston shaker set, because each cup is weighted, with a strong seal for minimal dripping; and OXO's stainless steel cobbler shaker, with its no-slip grip and cap that doubles as a jigger.
All four of our experts—and probably other devoted mixologists you’ll encounter—also believe in the personal touch in cocktails, and that really works at home, too. “A cocktail isn't just a service ticket,” says Lissa Brennan, bartender at Con Alma in Pittsburgh. "It’s for a person who's going to be interested in ... the drink itself and what goes into it," she adds.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the best bar tools so you can get ready, set, and mix!
Best Boston Shaker
A Bar Above Weighted Boston Shaker Set
What We Love: Hands-down the pro's choice, strong seal, weighted bottoms offer stability, can handle heavy-duty dishwashers
What We Don't Love: Unsnapping the two cups can be tricky
As mixologist Matt Schaefer, the owner of Things That Fly in Los Angeles, says, “One tool really isn’t going to get you very far.” Still, everyone agrees that there's one single most important tool for the home bar: a proper, weighted shaker. Shaking a cocktail is both an art and a skill, and it’s not just about the liquor; it’s about the ice. How so? “Shaking it isn't just something you do to chill,” Brennan says, “it's something that you're doing to dilute a little bit of water into a drink.” Her preference is for the classic Boston shaker, like this stainless steel set from A Bar Above.
Each of the Boston cups is weighted on the bottom, which is part of what makes the shaking effective: It helps you throw the weight of the drink back and forth inside. “Definitely got to have a Boston shaker,” says Daniel, which typically comes in the form of “two tins, no built-in strainer.” This shaker stands out for its durability, as well as its strong seal, say several users. This seal, however, can sometimes make the two cups difficult to separate, especially when they get really cold. Luckily, the set comes with a card that details the best method to take them apart.
Price at time of publish: $23
Material: Food-grade, high-quality stainless steel | Capacity: 28 ounces and 18 ounces | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Best Cobbler Shaker
OXO Steel Cocktail Shaker
What We Love: Easy to use, non-slip grip, cap doubles as a jigger
What We Don't Love: Strainer clogs and cups sometimes stick together when very cold
We now bring you to our other best choice in shakers, this cobbler-style shaker by OXO, which has a strainer built into its inner top. The pros shy away from these, because they’re smaller overall, and most bartenders prefer to use a proper bar strainer. But while this cobbler shaker doesn't have the capacity of my previous pick, it can't be beat for those home bartenders who don't entertain often or usually just make a cocktail or two once in a while.
Plus, the OXO looks nice in addition to being easy to use, with several reviewers saying they bought it as a gift. The double-wall steel construction not only helps the temperature of the drink, but also protects users' hands as well. And while some report some leakage, for the cost, you can't go wrong with this shaker's aesthetics and its solid performance.
Really, it’s worth it to get one of each style of cocktail shaker and find your own style of shaking.
Price at time of publish: $33
Material: Double-wall stainless steel | Capacity: 18 ounces | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Related: The Best Cocktail Shakers
OXO Steel Angled Measuring Jigger
What We Love: Handles larger volume of liquid, angled side is easy to read, spout makes it easy to pour from
What We Don't Love: Can’t see through it
You know how you always see bartenders in movies pouring by instinct, artlessly swooping the bottle up and down above the glass? Well, most seasoned bartenders can and sometimes do pour instinctively, but even when they do, most are counting silently as they pour, so it’s still measuring.
For most home bartenders, measuring is even more important. “I believe a jigger is the most important tool to have at the bar,” says serious cocktail enthusiast Kirti Dwivedi of Diya Marketing. “It helps to be as precise as possible, and a good jigger will be your best friend in making perfectly balanced cocktails.”
Mixologist Schaefer always prefers using a jigger. “Not only for accuracy of recipe execution and taste,” he says, “but as consumers move toward moderation, accurate alcohol by volume in cocktails is incredibly important.”
Highlights from users include the jigger's durable stainless steel construction (especially compared with the plastic version), the easy-pour spout, and the easy-to-read measuring lines.
"I like to keep my counts in check, so I pour into this jigger and check my counts.” — Camas Daniel, Bar Co-Manager, TMacs in Walla Walla, Washington
Price at time of publish: $10
Material: Stainless steel | Capacity: 2 ounces | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Koriko 2-Prong Hawthorne Strainer
What We Love: Stands up to heavy use, very tight straining coil, fits both large and standard glasses
What We Don't Love: Pulp can sometimes stick in coil
There are lots of bar strainers that are fancier, but none has the reputation of the classic Hawthorne style, like this one by Koriko. And for good reason: They work. A Hawthorne strainer is flat, making a sort of cap that fits over the shaking tin or mixing glass, allowing the drink to be strained against it past the coiled spring on its edge.
Speaking of straining, bar co-manager Daniel even sometimes double-strains, once with the Hawthorne, then again with a fine-mesh strainer into the glass. “If you don't strain, or even double-strain, you'll get little particles of ice on top of the cocktail.” He does note that some people really love those little crunchy ice bits along the top of the cocktail.
This Hawthorne strainer, in particular, excels at straining and double-straining due to its tight coil, say users. It offers a fine strain, and it fits shaking tins and both large and standard-size mixing glasses snugly. Reviewers also say it makes split pours easy and straining efficient, making it perfect for both the serious home mixologist and bartenders on the job.
“My Hawthorne fits both the Boston shaker and the mixing glass and ensures that no ice or pulp gets into the drink.” — Kirti Dwivedi, Consultant, Diya Marketing
Price at time of publish: $23
Material: 18/8 stainless steel | Size: 6 x 4 inches | Dishwasher-Safe? No
Cocktail Kingdom Bad Ass Muddler
What We Love: Extremely sturdy, wider than other muddlers, substantial weight so you can use less force
What We Don’t Love: May be too big for single drinks
The muddler is one of my go-to bar utensils, in addition to bar spoons. It's true to its name: It mashes things up. A good muddler makes that easy when a cocktail calls for fresh fruit, veggies, or add-ins. “A muddler is ergonomic,” says Schaefer, “and designed with enough surface area at the bottom to properly break down citrus, mint, berries sugar cubes, et cetera.”
Dwivedi adds that while it’s easy to grab a spoon to mash up your ingredients, "you also don’t want to completely destroy them. A muddler gives the user control and makes the drink taste better.”
Cocktail Kingdom's Bad Ass Muddler, popular among bartenders, does just that. Users like it for its wider width and substantial weight, meaning you don't have to put as much force behind the muddling, and fewer ingredients slip out from underneath the tool as you use it. Plus, some say its texture helps prevent the muddler from slipping from your hands when they're wet.
Price at time of publish: $20
Material: Food-grade plastic | Size: 9.75 x 1.25 inches | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Related: The Best Muddlers
Best Bar Spoons
A Bar Above Heavyweight Bar Spoons (Spiral and Smooth)
What We Love: Professional quality, well-balanced, durable, ergonomically designed
What We Don’t Love: Longer than the standard bar spoon
Now to bar spoons for stirring. Bar spoons have exceptionally long, thin handles, and come in two styles: smooth and straight, or turned.
“The preference of one style over the other is really up to an individual bartender and how it feels in their hand,” says Brennan. “I personally prefer a turned spoon rather than a smooth one, just because I feel like I get a better grip on it.” Sometimes, you’ll need to pour liquor down the spoon, and Brennan finds that the turned spoon gives more control there as well, swirling the liquor slowly into the glass down the twirled handle.
That's why we think this combo set will be a good addition to your bar card. Both the smooth and swirled bar spoons are made of durable stainless steel, with a mirror polish to give them an elegant shine. Online reviewers rave about their balanced weight and the smooth, comfortable grip, which makes them easy to maneuver. The smooth-handled spoon has a little more heft, which means less momentum is needed to stir, especially through lots of ice. These spoons are also extra-long, which means you can easily stir ingredients in a tall glass or pitcher. Some also use the weighted, non-spoon end to break apart larger chunks of ice.
Price at time of publish: $18
Material: Stainless steel | Size: 12.6 x 1.2 x 0.8 inches each | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Related: The Best Citrus Juicers
VinoBravo 11-Piece Bartender Kit
What We Love: Everything you need to get started, affordable for a set, lifetime guarantee
What We Don't Love: Not top-shelf manufacture, glossy finish can chip
Now that we know what’s most important, if you want to set yourself up with one stroke (or be the best gift-giver ever), VinoBravo’s Bartender Kit includes the essential Boston shaker, three styles of strainer, a Japanese-style jigger with precise measurements, bar spoons, muddler, two liquid pourers, and even a recipe book. It’s a great place to start experimenting with the barkeep in you.
Don't let its relative affordability fool you: The tools that comprise this set are made of high-quality stainless steel, say many happy users, with some highlighting the Boston shaker tins, which are thick, balanced, and have a snug and leak-free seal. Just note, as some reviewers do, that if you ordered a set with a finished exterior, it can chip a bit after several uses.
All in all, this is a reasonably priced, almost all-inclusive set that's a good entree for the new bartender.
Price at time of publish: $63
Material: Stainless steel | Dishwasher-Safe? No
Best Ice Trays
Samuelworld Jumble Big Cubes and 2.5-Inch Large Sphere Ice Mold Combo
What We Love: Spheres' flexible silicone and hard plastic combo make it easier to transport and use
What We Don't Love: A bit floppy to handle when not frozen
Dwivedi, Schaefer, and Daniel are fans of the giant cubes in some drinks. Want to barkeep like these pros and experiment with bigger cubes? The first thing to note is that the surface area of the ice itself is going to affect how your cocktail is diluting. Bigger cubes have less surface area than loose ice, so with the former you'll get more cooling and less dilution.
Second, you need the right tools—and that's where this Samuelworld set of a jumbo square ice cube tray and 2.5-inch ice sphere molds come in. The sphere molds make four spheres, and the tray makes six cubes, and both are made of flexible, nonstick silicone to make releasing the cubes easier. What makes the sphere mold stand out from other brands is its hard plastic base, so that transporting it becomes a breeze—and it helps you get those perfect spheres once the water is frozen. The funnel at the top is also makes filling those sphere molds less tricky. (Just make sure to leave a little space at the top to give the water room to expand as it freezes, users note.)
Other reviewers have noted white residue or cloudiness on the ice after they freeze, so make sure you use filtered water to get that desired clear ice.
Price at time of publish: $28
Material: Silicone and plastic | Size: 2.5-inch diameter (spheres), 2 square inches (squares) | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Related: The Best Ice Cube Trays
Cocktail Kingdom Seamless Yarai Mixing Glass
What We Love: Beautiful, sturdier than they look
What We Don't Love: Like it or not, glass is breakable
Most experienced mixologists rely on specially designed mixing glasses like these Yarai glasses, which are professional favorites. You could mix from one bar glass into another, but the result won’t be the same.
This one not only has a beautiful exterior design but also a seamless interior, so you can mix more smoothly and quietly. Its elegant design also gets high marks from users because it looks good on any home bar, making it the perfect gift for an aspiring bartender. Many reviewers also like its heavy base so it doesn't shift when you're stirring, and it has a helpful pour spout at the top. Its shape also gives you a lot of room for a solid stir, and the top fits a Hawthorne-style strainer well, others add.
There are users who caution, however, to take care when using this mixing glass, as its sides are fragile and the glass is not tempered.
Price at time of publish: $45
Material: Glass | Capacity: 18.6 ounces (550 mL) | Dishwasher-Safe? Yes
Related: The Best Countertop Ice Makers
If you have to get only one bar tool as an aspiring mixologist, a cocktail shaker is essential, and we recommend buying both a Boston and a cobbler shaker and experimenting with which you like best. For our Boston pick, we recommend A Bar Above's Weighted Cocktail Shaker Set, which many bar pros choose for the tins' durability, their tight seal, and balanced weight. If you don't make cocktails often or are a budding mixologist, the affordable, easy-to-use OXO's cobbler-style Steel Cocktail Shaker is a great choice.
How We Selected
Catherine Russell used her extensive consumer knowledge of spirits and mixology, consumer reviews, available manufacturer information, as well as input from her four expert sources to choose her top picks. Her experts were: Lissa Brennan, bartender at Con Alma, a classic restaurant and jazz bar with two locations in Pittsburgh; Camas Daniel, bar co-manager at TMacs, a second-generation restaurant and bar in Walla Walla, Washington; Kirti Dwivedi, marketing consultant and experienced cocktail enthusiast at Diya Marketing; and Matt Schaefer, owner and mixologist at Things That Fly, a Los Angeles marketing agency focused on creating and executing custom drinks programming for events.
What are the must-have bar accessories?
Start with a Boston shaker and a jigger, and expand from there. You’ll quickly find that the special tools exist for a reason, and that muddler and those bar spoons will become irreplaceable.
What’s the right way to use a cocktail shaker?
For the Boston shaker, simply add ingredients and ice into the larger cup, then nest the smaller cup on top of the larger one. Tap them gently together (they will seal on their own), and shake. Once you get the hang of shaking—which may take time—go wild. When it comes time to open the shaker, if the cups hold together too tightly, either tip the top cup to the side or tap it with the butt of your hand to break the surface tension.
How do I keep bar tools clean?
Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Most stainless steel items can go into a dishwasher, but really, it never hurts to handwash quality tools. If something has joined layers (like the OXO cobbler shaker), always handwash. Otherwise, the heat in the dishwasher could cause the materials to separate. Handwash all glass; it’s just safer.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Catherine Russell is a writer and editor specializing in food and drink, culture, and home and garden. It was her favorite uncle who tended bar, serving up everything from holiday hot toddies to Manhattans to mulled wine. And that’s also where she learned that the right bar tool can make all the difference. Her work has appeared in national publications, such as Bon Appetit and Saveur, and in film and video. She’s also proud to be featured in the pages of smaller regional publications.
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