Classic Margarita

DrinkCocktailMargaritaTequila

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

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.

Classic Margarita

What’s the best tequila for margaritas?

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.

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.

Want to learn more about tequila? Check out our comprehensive Tequila Guide!

Classic Margarita

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

Margarita Variations

Want to change it up? 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.

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.

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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Classic Margarita

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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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11 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • vvas

    I don’t know, this is a personal preference of course, but I find the 3:2 Tequila:Cointreau proportion a bit much. I want to taste the tequila dammit, not the orange! Over at Serious Eats they have a 2:1 recipe (2 oz tequila, 1 oz Cointreau, ¾ oz lime), and even that I find a bit borderline. In fact, they suggest a different set of proportions for budget tequilas (2 oz tequila, 1 oz lime, ¾ oz Cointreau, ¼ oz simple syrup), and I find that I tend to prefer that one even with my relatively high-quality bottle of Tapatío. Perhaps it’s time for me to give Tommy’s Margarita a second chance…

    Also, regarding the salt: you know how most people (most bartenders too in fact) just turn the glass upside down and dip the entire rim into the salt at the same time? Please don’t do that. This results in salt on both the outside *and* the inside of the rim, as in the photos above, and then the salt that’s on the inside starts to dissolve into the drink every time you take a sip, and soon you have a salty margarita. Ewww. I actually stopped asking for salt in bars because of this, even though I like the combination.

    What I recommend doing instead is tilting the glass at an almost horizontal angle and rotating the rim into the salt so that only the outside gets coated. And if you do it that way consider salting only half the rim, to give your guest the option to drink their margarita either with or without the salt.

  • Carlos

    A perfect combination. I use Tajín instead of salt for the rimming, it looks and tastes even better!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Lisa B

    I was craving a straight up margarita and this recipe was spot on. Thanks Garrett!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • 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)

  • 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.

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