Classic Margarita

The best margarita recipe! Here’s how to make a classic margarita on the rocks with 3 simple ingredients: lime, Cointreau and tequila (no added sugar!).

Margarita

Stop right there. Here’s the best margarita recipe you’ll find: zingy, clear, and classic. It’s simple and uses only 3 ingredients. Did you know that a classic margarita doesn’t even use added sugar? So many restaurants and pre-made mixes have loads of sugar. You won’t even miss it here! This drink is perfectly tangy and balanced. Make a single drink, or a pitcher of this cocktail for a night with friends. Here’s how to make a classic margarita on the rocks in just 5 minutes! (Want a pitcher instead? Go to Perfect Margarita Pitcher.)

What’s in a margarita? (3 simple ingredients!)

There’s nothing I love more than a basket of chips and salsa and a margarita in my hand. At restaurants and bars, I tend to ask the bartender if they can “make it tart.” Little did I know, a true margarita contains no sugar at all! This popular Mexican cocktail was invented in the 1930s. It’s a classic sour cocktail that’s on the list of International Bartender Association’s IBA official cocktails. This means that there’s an “official” definition of the margarita, which is:

  • Tequila
  • Cointreau
  • Lime juice

Yep, that’s it! No simple syrup at all. You’ll find that this definition makes the very best margarita you’ll find. Why people add all that extra sugar? We’re not sure. (The exact quantities? See the recipe below.)

Best margarita

How to make a margarita on the rocks (3 simple steps!)

Now that we know the ingredients…how to make a margarita? The version we make is “on the rocks,” meaning that it’s served over ice. It’s incredibly easy to make; here’s how!

  1. Rim the glass with salt. A classic margarita has salt on the rim. Why? The salt enhances the sweet and sour flavors in the drink! How to make the perfect salt rim? See below.
  2. Shake in a cocktail shaker. Take that tequila, Cointreau and lime juice and shake it together in a cocktail shaker with 4 ice cubes. This gets it extremely cold. What if you don’t have a cocktail shaker? See below.
  3. Strain into a glass and add ice. Strain the drink into a glass and add ice. What kind of glass to use for a margarita? Well, it’s a very flexible drink. The margarita is often served in a lowball or Old Fashioned glass like you see here, though of course you can use the classic margarita glass too.

What’s the best tequila for margaritas?

Most sources say tequila blanco is best for margaritas. Tequila blanco (or “new” tequila) has only been aged less than 2 months and has a strong flavor. But tequila reposado also works! Tequila reposado is aged longer, at least 2 months. We like how it gives the drink a more nuanced undertone. You can use whatever you prefer! Either way, try to find a mid-price range tequila. You don’t want to be making this drink with the cheap stuff!

How to make a margarita

Do you really need Cointreau?

Yes! The very best margarita recipe has Cointreau. Triple Sec is often used in margaritas, but it just doesn’t do it here. Cointreau has a orange perfume flavor that’s well balanced between bitter and sweet, but Triple Sec can have a more harsh flavor. If you’re not sure whether you want to buy a bottle, there are lots of Cointreau drinks like the Sidecar, Lemon Drop Martini, and Cosmopolitan.

Fun fact: “triple sec” means triple distilled: it’s actually not a brand name! Cointreau is a brand of triple sec: it’s triple distilled.

What cocktail shaker do I need? What if I don’t have one?

Cocktail shakers are inexpensive and absolutely worth having if you find yourself making lots of cocktails. Here’s the cocktail shaker we use: Favorite Cocktail Shaker. A cocktail shaker quickly chills cocktails by shaking them against ice, and it has a perforated lid so you can pour out the cocktail without pouring out the ice.

What if you don’t have a cocktail shaker? Use a glass mason jar and a strainer! Place the cocktail in the jar and fill it with ice. Put on the top (or cover it with your hand) and shake away! When you pour the drink into a glass, pour it through a strainer to strain out the ice.

Margarita salt

How to make a perfect salt rim

Lastly, let’s talk about salting the rim! The best type of salt to use is kosher salt or flaky sea salt: they have a nice chunky texture. Or try our Best Margarita Salt — the orange and lime zest makes the glass look perfectly look festive! Now, you might think that making a margarita salt rim wouldn’t have tips and tricks, but there are a few things to note. (Of course, this makes a circular salt rim: not the half rim that’s shown in the photos!) Here are our tips to making the perfect rim:

  1. Spread the salt on a plate in an even layer.
  2. Take a lime wedge and cut a notch in the middle: then slide it around the rim of the glass. This perfectly moistens the glass rim without having to use your fingers!
  3. To rim the glass, you’ll want the salt on the outside of the glass only, not the inside where it can fall into the drink. To do this, tilt the glass so that only the outside edge goes into the salt.
  4. Shake off any loose salt into the sink.

Another drink with a salt rim? Our Salty Dog.

Simple margarita recipe

Dress it up with clear ice!

How to make a stunning margarita on the rocks like in the shot above? Use clear ice. Clear ice is artisanal ice used in cocktails because of its crystal clear look and beautiful organic shapes. It’s the best way to take your cocktail from good to glamorous! Alex and I try to have a batch ready before we have a cocktail hour because this ice truly steals the show.

You can make clear ice at home and it’s so easy! All you need is a small cooler and 24 hours, and your cocktails will look like you ordered it in a fancy bar. Here’s how to make clear ice.

Margarita variations!

This classic margarita is perfect for sipping anytime, especially as a summer drink. But we drink it in any season! As with any classic drink, there are lots of variations on the theme of margarita. Here are some ideas:

  1. Skinny Margarita Less calories means you can drink more!
  2. Frozen Margarita What’s better than a frozen version of this cocktail?
  3. Margarita Pitcher Homemade mix plus tequila makes a pitcher for a crowd!
  4. Jalapeno Margarita Heat up your cocktail repertoire with this one; it’s got just the right kick.
  5. Italian Margarita Swap amaretto for Cointreau and you’re transported to Italy.
  6. Virgin Margarita Make it as a mocktail!
  7. Cadillac Margarita Use top-shelf tequila and Grand Marnier liqueur to add sophistication.
  8. Mezcal Margarita A smoky spin! It’s tangy with rich depth.
  9. Watermelon, Mango, Peach, Blackberry, and Strawberry Margaritas These fruity spins are sweet tart and refreshing.
  10. Beer Margarita Hops pair perfectly with tart lime and orange perfume.

This margarita recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

Print
Margarita

BEST Classic Margarita (3 Ingredients!)


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (86 votes, average: 4.16 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x

Description

The best margarita recipe! Here’s how to make a classic margarita on the rocks with 3 simple ingredients: lime, Cointreau and tequila (no added sugar!).


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) tequila blanco or reposado*
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt or flaky sea salt, for the rim
  • For the garnish: Lime wedge

Instructions

  1. Cut a notch in a lime wedge, then run the lime around the rim of a glass. Dip the edge of the rim into a plate of salt (or for a festive look, use our Margarita Salt).
  2. Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 4 ice cubes and shake until cold.
  3. Strain the margarita into the glass with the salted rim. Fill the glass with ice and serve.

Notes

*We like the nuanced aged flavor of reposado, but either works.

  • Category: Cocktails
  • Method: Shaken
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Margarita, How to make a margarita, Best margarita, Simple margarita recipe

More classic cocktails

This margarita is a knock-out classic! Here are a few more of our best cocktails and sour cocktails you might also enjoy:

  • Paloma Cocktail Cousin of the classic margarita, this easy tequila cocktail recipe features tequila with grapefruit instead of lime! 
  • Tequila Sunrise This vibrant cocktail layers the colors of a summer sunrise using tequila, orange and grenadine.
  • Classic Mojito It’s perfectly balanced with lime, rum and fresh mint! This iconic Cuban cocktail is refreshing and just sweet enough.
  • Tom Collins Cocktail This popular gin cocktail that’s light and bubbly! Here’s how to make this refreshing drink: and don’t forget the cherry.
  • Lemon Drop Martini A zingy classic cocktail, it’s perfectly balanced and refreshingly tart, served with a sugar rim and a lemon twist.
Subscribe for free weekly recipes & more!

About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.