Don't get too schmancy with your margarita
May 5th, 2011
11:30 AM ET
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Resist the urge to bust out the blender or get all wackypants with with add-ins. The simple, unadulterated margarita is a symphony of tart, salt and kick - with nary a drop of sour mix in sight.

Here's what you need:

1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz triple sec
2 oz tequila
Kosher salt

First – a note on ingredients. If you're making up a big batch of margaritas, you may not care to bust the bank, but if you're just shaking up a few, elevating the elements just a bit can transform your whole drinking experience.

For triple sec, plain ol' Bols, Hiram Walker or Llord are fine, but I'll bust out Cointreau or Gran Gala if my bank account is feeling fine and the drinks are the star - not just a means by which to wash down nachos.

Tequila purchasing can be intimidating. There are hundreds of brands on the market, at wildly varying prices. Don't get flustered. Save the spendy stuff for sipping straight (yup – sipping, not shooting) and learn to look for these terms:

Gold – This is generally "mixto" or adulterated tequila, where colors, sugars and flavors have been added to the fermented, distilled agave juice before bottling. It's unaged, sometimes called "joven" or "oro" and tends to be on the less expensive side, so it's what's often used at high-volume bars and restaurants. There's a good chance you can credit at least one of your youthful tequila hangovers to this free-flowing stuff, so while it's not necessarily bad, you can certainly do better.

Silver – This clear tequila is un-aged and may also be a mixto, so look for the words "100% Agave" on the label. It plays nicely with other ingredients, and tends to make for a bold, but smooth margarita. Silver tequila may also be labeled "blanco."

Reposado – A nap sounds good, right? This one has been "rested" in a wood barrel or cask for at least two months but less than a full year in order to age, and possibly pick up characteristics from a barrel's previous occupant - cognac, wine or bourbon. It may be mixto or 100% agave, but it's almost guaranteed to be a bit more complex than a younger tequila.

Añejo – Tack on a bit more time. An añejo must be stored for at least one year in a vessel that doesn't exceed 600 liters, and generally mellows to a deeper amber color, with an even richer flavor. Extra añejo or "ultra-aged" tequila hangs out in the container for three years minimum and can often hold its own against other aged spirits like bourbon, scotch and cognac.

In all cases, if someone presents you with a bottle populated by a worm - make a polite exit. Tequila should never have a worm present, and while some mezcals (they're an agave-based cousin of tequila) may boast a little hitchhiker from the agave plant's leaves, it's never the good brands. The worm isn't harmful - just a tad tacky.

Got all that? I'll make it easy. My personal go-to margarita tequilas - and please share your own in the comments below - are Don Julio Reposado, Milagro Silver and Don Nacho Blanco.

Here's how you shake it up:

Roll the lime against the counter with your palm to soften it and release the oils. Slice it in half and use a juicer, or prick the flesh of each half with a fork a few times, then twisting the fork into the flesh over a bowl or glass, release the juice. Work from the center out to the rind. Save one half of the spent rind, and cut that in half.

Pour kosher salt into a bowl with deep sides. Wipe the rind quarter around the rim of the glass, then rotate the rim through the salt, against the side of the bowl until it has an even coating. Set the glass aside.

Measure 1 1/2 ounces of the lime juice into a cocktail shaker, add 1 ounce triple sec or the orange liqueur of your choice, and 2 ounces of tequila. Add ice and shake.

Fill the salt-rimmed glass with ice and strain the margarita over it. Add a garnish of a lime wedge if you care to, but that's just wasting precious drinking time.

The recipe can be doubled, triple or quadrupled, and the ratio of lime and orange liqueur can be adjusted to your tastes.


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soundoff (87 Responses)
  1. TxKarateDude

    Jose Queervo is right, the agave nectar is the difference. I found that recipe in Maxim. most excellent!

    May 6, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  2. Justin_Credible

    Of course, you could always just get Freshies All Natural Gluten Free Margarita Mix made in Denver, CO. Amazing Stuff!

    May 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  3. Samantha

    Cheerztender Samantha's Ultimate Cinco de Margarita recipe –

    May 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  4. zingiberk

    Thanks for the recipe! Why would anybody use a mix when it's this simple?!!? It was also one of the best and freshest margaritas we ever tasted – obviously restaurants have been slipping us margarita mix too.

    May 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  5. chgn66

    I understand this recipe is a true margarita but I need to have a splash of margarita mix in there. If you've ever made one with just alcohol and lime juice it isn't very tasty at all.

    May 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  6. lorne

    I ordered a Margarita at an upscale restaurant and nearly gagged on it. Upscale price too @ $9.00.
    I refused it after 1 sip and the waiter was actually embarassed because he knew the restaurant was pulling a fast one.
    It used a powder mixture instead of real lime juice.

    May 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  7. Robert of London

    Almost the right recipe, but I'd suggest Chinaco Reposado over the tequilas mentioned...very flavourful...

    May 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  8. The Half Baked Lunatic

    Ok, I know that I'm not supposed to promote my own blog here .... but my perfect margarita mix is at the end of this article:

    May 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  9. Mongo

    Great call on Milagro Silver. One of my favorites and an absolute amazing tequila for the price.

    May 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • TroubleNC

      I so agree about Milagro!! Wish more bars carried it instead of the typical Jose crap! I get tired of hearing...but we have 1800...well, good for you...but give me something better, please!!!

      May 19, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  10. Hugh Jarce

    Tequila is disgusting stuff regardless of the brand or "agave content", personally I'd rather drink from a Mexican urinal, actually that's where Cuervo Gold comes from – hence the color.

    May 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • The Half Baked Lunatic

      Cuervo is the "Budweiser" of tequilas. Completely undrinkable. Try some Patron or Don Juilio and I think you'll change your mind.

      May 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  11. TheMostInterestingManintheWorld

    Stay thirsty my friends.

    May 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  12. Jose Queervo

    I love margaritas...but my fav is even simpler than the one posted here. Why mask the tequila with an orange flavored liquor such as Cointreau or Triple Sec? Best marg is this – courtesy of Casa Noble website (they produce amazing tequilas as well):

    2 parts silver tequila (Casa Noble Crystal is perfect)
    1 part lime juice (or you can do blends of limes and lemons with larger quantities)
    3/4 part agave nectar

    shake over ice and serve over ice
    no salt needed

    Voila. The BEST margarita you'll ever drink and you still appreciate the tequila.

    May 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  13. Scott

    There is one thing I would add to that recipe. One carona beer per pitcher. I'm not even kidding how much better it is.

    May 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  14. Vinny

    Always drink mine as a purist – just the good tequila, salt, lime and cointreu/grand marnier.

    However, I will take those same ingredients, on occasion, throw them in the blender with some fresh mango and ice. Pour that in your margarita glass and add a pinch or 2 of chili powder or cayenne on top with a slice of lime on the rim – orange, red and green – and good for you too!!

    May 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  15. seth A

    Mexicans don't celebrate May 5? Ever been to Denver on Cinco de Mayo? PARTY big time!!!! Patrone Blanco or El Jimador but currently STUCK in Pittsburgh and they dont know tequila from dirt. Jose and (yeeech) Montezuma is about it

    May 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  16. tintala

    Condoning alcohol consumption on cnn, they should be ashamed, how about giving us a recipe for something safer , how about a HASHISH recipe cnn????????

    May 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Eberhard Anheuser

      Geez. You're a regular Carrie Nation.

      May 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  17. Joe in Colorado

    The word is "rub", not "wipe". Talk about tacky !

    May 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  18. Lou

    I like the Tequila drink with the bird feather in it .. .. .. It's called . . a Tequila Mockingbird. Gregory Peck's favorite too.

    May 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  19. Adam A.

    Sorry, I just have to have my cadillac margaritas!!!

    For tequila, use a decent añejo tequila... and add 1 part grand marnier or 1/2 grand marnier 1/2 cointreau.

    Best. Margarita. Ever.

    May 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  20. COCO

    CABO WABO!!!

    May 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  21. Pumbaa

    The cheap stuff tastes to me like the cheap moonshine that used to be made here in Mississippi. I might try some of an expensive brand sometimes and find I like it.

    May 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Moonshine is top-notch !

      May 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  22. Brent

    I agree, too much lime in that recipe. Just remember "1,2,3" One part fresh squeezed lime juice, two parts triple sec or Cointreau, and three parts silver tequila. Some relatively inexpensive 100% agave silver tequilas available in 1.75 liter bottles are: El Jimador, Hornitos, Camarena, Milagro.

    May 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  23. paul

    You must use simple syrup or another sweetener in order to make this recipe palatable.

    May 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  24. Susan

    I like a real margarita; no frozen for me, please. And forget about the lemon, salt and shot - I didn't puke for three hours, I just watched the room spin for a few. hahaha

    May 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  25. PAPilot

    EPIC margarita fail. This is the worst recipe I have seen in a long time. This is going to be a very sour margarita with all of that lime juice in it.

    May 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Warren Bobrow

      nothing wrong with a sour margarita. after all you're eating chips, salsa, guac. all salty things.. a sour drink balances the food. If you want to have something sweet, eat some ice cream.

      May 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  26. Daemon

    Horrible recipe – DO NOT use that much lime. Every basic bartending school out there (like ABC, ever heard of it?) says to use 1/4 oz max per 1 oz "standard pour" of tequila. CNN, you fail; why are you trying to be like MSNBC?

    May 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  27. IceManSon

    I wish the author had stressed the importance of 100% agave, and encouraged us to avoid "mixto".

    Sausa Hornitos (a.k.a. Horny Toes) is reasonable choice for everyday after work kick back and relax type of margarita. ('bout the same category as El Jimador, IMO) And there's 1800 – good value. Don Julio is awesome, but I have to save it for $pecial occasions.

    That guy who puked for 3 hours was likely drinking Jose Cuervo Gold – nasty awful stuff.

    May 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  28. Jack

    Another less popular method to shooting tequila (regardless of what the author says, it's still okay to shoot) is replacing the salt/lemon combination with cinnamon and orange. It makes the experience so much more pleasurable.

    May 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Reading Comprehension Nazi@Jack

      "spendy stuff for sipping straight (yup – sipping, not shooting)"

      She didn't say don't ever shoot – she said sip the expensive stuff.

      May 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
      • Jack

        My apologies – It's still okay to shoot the expensive stuff.

        May 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • conradshull

      As for quality straight spirits, the only one to knock down neat (shooters, if you will) if your not interested in wasting the actual taste (pretty important in straight up spirits) is high quality vodka from the freezer. All others should be sipped. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

      May 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • SuperAZ

      I didn't know Cinnabon had a bar.

      May 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  29. JayKayTee

    Try adding a bit of vanilla extract for a extra depth of flavor.

    May 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • SuperAZ

      Don't do that.

      May 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  30. Achmed Fubar

    2 shots Cabo Wabo Anejo tequila, 3 fresh limes, 1 shot Damiana NEVER triple sec. repeat!

    May 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  31. Arthur Fonzarelli

    Cabo Wabo Reposado, Cointreau, Fresh squeezed key lime juice, & a splash of OJ... that's it!

    May 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  32. Jimmy the Bartender

    That is an absolutely righteous margarita recipe!

    May 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  33. Jose

    Well, can I say that Herradura "White" or "Reposado" are the best?
    You only need to drink a little to love it.

    May 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  34. son-in-law

    We use a little less lime juice, but all-in-all, this is the same recipe my father-in-law passed down to me thirty years ago. Here's a tip we like: try popcorn salt. The finer grains allow an even coating, and make it less likely that you will get too much or two little with each taste.

    May 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • father-in-law

      Well said. For "Don't get too schmancy with your margarita" readers, Hiram Walker has a 48 Proof triple sec that adds a little kick. Also we use the cheapest tequila money can buy (Tortilla Silver). Its surprising how good they.

      May 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  35. Fnarf

    I like to sip el tequila blanco con un cubito de hielo (just one ice cube) myself, but if I'm making margaritas, I like to skip the triple sec altogether and use about half that much agave nectar instead. And skip the salt.

    May 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  36. Snowbunny

    Frozen strawberry magarita's are my absolute favorite!!!

    May 5, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  37. Mildred

    One tequila, Two tequila, Three tequila, Floor!

    May 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • @Mildred

      5 tequila, 6 tequila, 7 tequila, SCORE!

      May 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
      • Subparboy

        @Mildred...had a rough day at the office...but you made me laugh with this one!!!

        May 5, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  38. Lana

    I have done LOADS of margarita "sampling" at home (trying to replicate margs from some of my favorite places). I've found that I can taste the woody flavor of a reposado. For high end, best ingredients seem to be Don Julio Anejo + Cointreau (makes for a super smooth marg). I always use Cointreau over Triple Sec...ALWAYS. Big flavor difference (IMHO). If lime juice proves to be too tart, add a splash of OJ...or you may even want to squeeze a little fresh juice from an orange in there.
    QUICK MIXER THAT TASTES GREAT TOO – Trader Joe's Fruit Floes (lime popsicles). Blend and mix with a little lime juice + alcohol. Tasty & quick.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Bob

      Lana knows her Margaritas! Try it her way and you'll never use triple sec again.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Brad

      Great advice Lana, I can second that. Although, if I had to make a sacrafice, I'd splurge for a better tequila before a better orange liqueor. I've found the quality of tequila makes a bigger difference than french orange over triple sec. I also substitute the salted rim, for just a dash of salt in the shaker.

      May 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  39. Tim

    Tequila – you wake up with tattoo's

    May 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • @Tim

      ... and hickey's

      May 5, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  40. Mark L

    Cannot drink tequila since college, puked for 3 straight hours from the stuff

    May 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • @Mark L

      Sorry 'bout ur luck!

      May 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • jtru

      That's cause it was probably cheap tequila, one with a worm in probably.

      May 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  41. Soleada

    .... Cinco de mayo isnt even really celebrated by Mexicans ... It's mostly just an excuse for white ppl to get hammered.. Mexican Independance day (which is in September) on the other hand. Anywho. The fiancee and I drink Cien Anos reposado with Squirt soda or do shots. Yum.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Mildred

      At least where I live that is how it works out. And the Mexican places get a bunch of money off the gringos.

      And because of the prevalence of drunk people on May 5 is why I don't get to Mexican restaurants or any bar on my birthday.

      May 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
      • Luke

        Happy birthday, Mildred! :)

        May 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  42. Kris

    Our tequila (Don Julio or 1921) is always in the freezer. Never shots, always sipped!

    May 5, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  43. Bob

    Kosher salt? Come on. If I'm going to have a Margarita I'm going to use Heathen salt.

    May 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  44. Evil Grin

    Mostly when I drink tequila, I just drink it straight. Not much of a fan of mixed drinks.

    May 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  45. Christopher

    El Jimador Blanco makes a good 'house' tequila. I avoid ordering margaritas out in a bar/restaurant unless I know they are made with lime juice. The mixers are nasty, they hide the true flavors of the drink and add tons of sugar. My fave recipe is 4 ounces good-quality Tequila, 1 1/2 ounces Triple Sec, 3 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice, 2 to 3 ounces Agave syrup, Lots of ice(about 1 to 2 cups ice cubes), Coarse salt, for rimming the glass, Lime slices, garnish.


    May 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Jay

      El Jimador is my go-to choice as well. I feel like it makes the best tasting margarita for the price.

      May 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Virago

      El Jimador reposado is my favorite tequila for pretty much everything. I've tried much more expensive "artisan" tequilas (think signed and numbered handmade ceramic bottles), but I just really, really love the flavor of El Jimador.

      May 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  46. AleeD, Thread Dominatrix

    My vote is solo & in mixed drinks. Sippin the good stuff, shooting the not-so-good stuff. :) I like the way you roll, Kat.

    My fave marg is your recipe (nothing worse than powdered sour mix tossed with a great tequila), but I do prefer them frozen.

    May 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Snowbunny@AleeD

      MMM, that's exactly how I like them too!!!! Sounds like a girls night out to a mexican restaurant!

      May 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • AleeD, Thread Dominatrix@Snowbunny

      Love Mexican food! Chasing it with a good tequila is awesome, too. Ladies nite sounds great. Got any good Mexican restaurants where you live?

      May 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
      • Snowbunny@AleeD

        We have El Azteca, El Bravo, Boca Chica and Alcapulco! How about you? Where do you live, again?? I'm in Minnesota.

        May 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
      • AleeD, Thread Dominatrix@Snowbunny

        I'm in W.Ctrl FL and am way out of touch with Mexican restaurants around here. However there was a little hole-in-the-wall place in NYC I went to last year. I would go again in a heartbeat. It was near the Pod Hotel and the food was incredible. The guac & salsa were delicious and served it in tiny molacajetes.

        Also, I had some kind of mango 'Rita that sounds kinda foo-foo – but it would have knocked any respectable trucker on his drivin' bee-hind. ;) Yum.

        Are you near the Mall of America (sorry, I don't know much about MN.

        May 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
      • Teep

        One of the best Mexican restaurants in the area is Agave in the beach in Clearwater. It's just north of the Tradewinds resort and is on the beach side of the road. Easy to miss if you're not looking. Great authentic food and the best house margaritas I've ever had. Love that place.

        May 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  47. Taquilizzy

    Apply to your girls kitty rub in & apply a little salt then go to town

    May 5, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Achmed Fubar

      WOW! POOR KITTY! PETA will be all over this animal abuse!

      May 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Salty


      May 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  48. carinne

    salt! salt! salt! salt!

    May 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  49. Gaby

    it's all about the margs on cinco de mayo!!

    May 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
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