Nobody really knows who invented the Margarita, but there are many stories about its origin and just as many people who claim to have invented it (more on that below). One of the oldest stories regarding the creation of the Margarita surrounds a customer’s allergy to most spirits, except for tequila. The bartender essentially turned a tequila shot into cocktail recipe, using these three essential ingredients: tequila, cointreau/triple sec, and lime.
Since then, the Margarita has taken on a life of its own, becoming the iconic, canonical drink that it is today. It's served as a source of inspiration for bartenders, songwriters, good times, and debauchery alike. There are countless variations, ranging from spicy riffs to mezcal-driven spinoffs, but nothing hits quite like the original recipe.
The Best Margarita Ingredients:
- Need the right tequila? See our picks for the best tequilas for Margaritas!
- Need the right liqueur? See our picks for the best triple secs and orange liqueurs for Margaritas!
- Short on time? See our picks for the best Margarita mixes!
Looking to get creative? See our most popular Margarita riffs below.
Table Of Contents
- 1 ¾ oz Blanco tequila
- 1 oz Lime juice
- ¾ oz Triple Sec
- Combine all ingredients in shaker tin.
- Add ice to small shaker tin.
- Shake vigorously.
- Strain into chilled rocks glass with a salt rim over fresh ice
- Garnish with lime and enjoy.
Rate This Recipe:
Yield: 1 Cocktail
Margarita Recipe Video
What is a classic Margarita made of?
A classic Margarita is made of Blanco tequila, lime juice, and triple sec, shaken with ice, and then served in a rocks glass on the rocks with a salt rim and a lime wedge for garnish.
How much alcohol is in a Margarita?
Tequila typically has an ABV of around 40 percent while triple sec’s ABV can range anywhere from 15 to 30 percent. Depending on your tequila and triple sec of choice, the alcohol content of a Margarita will range anywhere from 27.5 percent to 35 percent.
Can you use store bought lime juice for Margaritas?
When making a classic Margarita, it’s always best to use freshly squeezed lime juice for optimal flavor. Oftentimes, bottled lime juice only contains a certain percentage of fresh juice with the remainder consisting of lime juice substitutes, like lime oil, to give additional flavor. Store bought lime juice can also contain added sugars and artificial flavors, which may impact the true taste of a Margarita. However, if you’re running low on time or don’t have any limes in the house, store bought juice will do in a pinch!
What’s the secret to a good Margarita?
According to Ivy Mix, esteemed bartender and co-owner of Brooklyn-based FIASCO! Wine and Spirits, the secret to a good Margarita lies in the caliber of the ingredients used. Mix emphasizes that the tequila used should always be 100 percent Blue Weber agave, and says that there is absolutely no substitute for freshly squeezed lime juice. Lastly, to really make the perfect Margarita, Mix recommends salting the drink by rubbing lime on the outside of the glass and then rolling it in salt. Twisting the glass in salt can cause some of it to fall into the glass, altering the flavor profile of the cocktail.
Where The Margarita Was Invented & How It Got Its Name
Carlos "Danny" Herrera, owner of Tijuana restaurant Rancho La Gloria, claims he invented the drink in 1938. What inspired him? A picky dancer, it seems. Restaurant goer Marjorie King declared she was allergic to all spirits except tequila, but didn't like to drink the spirit straight. So Herrera worked around the prototypical tequila shot (which is taken with salt and lime) and threw together the margarita. While all bartenders can relate to the situation of an annoying customer, it was Herrera who claims to have whipped up the instant classic - or so says his obituary. By the way, he lived until 90, once again proving that alcohol is probably really good for you.
But Herrera isn't even close to the only person to try and take credit for one of America's most popular drinks. Another famed contender for the title of OG margarita maker has claims to the throne based on her name along, because that name is... Margarita. Dallas socialite Margarita Sames insisted that she concocted the drink for a group of her friends while vacationing in Acapulco in 1948. Her buddy Tommy Hilton (yes, of those Hiltons), put the cocktail on the bar menu at the Hilton hotel chain. However, by 1945, tequila brand Jose Cuervo had already been running an ad campaign pushing the drink, stating: "Margarita: It's more than a girl's name." So it wouldn't seem likely Margarita can take credit for the creation of the drink, though having the same name does help build a believable case.
But there are lots of women whom the drink can be named after. Many tales of the margarita claim to be named after women with the namesake, not just our friend Margarita Sames. For example, in 1941, bartender Don Carlos Orozco was tending bar in Ensenada, Mexico. While, he was futzing around making cocktails, Margarita Henkel, daughter of a German ambassador, walked into his bar. He allowed her to taste his experiment and coined the drink in her honor.
Meanwhile, Danny Negrete is also named as inventor of the drink. Apparently, the cocktail was a wedding gift for his sister-in-law, yep another Margarita, bestowed upon her at the Garci Crespo Hotel. Interestingly enough, Negrete worked at Agua Cliente Race Track, where starlet Margarita Cansino (you might know her as Rita Hayworth) would often perform.
A Mexican Daisy By A Different Name
However the margarita may not be named after a beautiful woman at all, but instead may just be a variation of another cocktail that was popular during Prohibition: the Daisy. In fact, margarita means "daisy" in Spanish. The only difference between the Daisy and the margarita is that the former was made with brandy and the latter with tequila. However, it's remarkable to see what a simple swap of spirits does for a cocktail. How many people today have heard of the Daisy? The tequila-filled margarita, however, is famous in epic proportions.
And while it is tequila that gives the margarita its Mexican flair, doubt has been expressed over whether it would be likely for such a cocktail to emerge out of Mexico in the 30's or 40's. Imbibe Magazine writes, "[it's] difficult to believe that a Mexican invented this drink although it is completely possible that it was invented on Mexican soil. This is because Mexico has never had a cocktail culture, and to this day margaritas are never consumed by the locals."
Best Practices: The Key to Mastering Margaritas Is Attention to Detail
Ask 10 people of legal drinking age if they like Margaritas and expect to get a shiny dime in return.
Margaritas have been the most popular cocktail in the U.S. for two consecutive years, according to Nielsen data. Tequila sales across the United States are up 9.9 percent. And the 1971 invention of frozen Margs most certainly laid the groundwork for today’s Frosé and Pinot Freezio; it also transformed a fledgling Texas family dining restaurant, Chili’s, into a national chain raking in $3.42 billion a year.
A classic Margarita requires just three ingredients: tequila, lime juice, and triple sec. The simplicity of that rubric leaves little room for error, yet ample space for innovation. Thus, the proliferation of alternatively strange and sublime Margarita variations in prepackaged mixers or creative bars.
The key to making praise-worthy Margaritas at home is attention to detail.
“As a three-ingredient cocktail, each component plays a central role,” Jim Kearns, bar director and managing partner, The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley in NYC, says. “With so few ingredients, any attempt to cut corners will stand out.”
We asked Kearns and other bartenders across the country for their tips. Here are six dos and don’ts for mastering Margaritas.
What To Do When Making Margaritas
1. Juice Your Own Limes.
We spoke to seven bartenders about making great Margaritas, and every one stressed the importance of freshly squeezed lime juice.
“I’d much rather drink a Margarita made with cheap tequila and fresh lime juice, than one made with premium liquor and store-bought sour mix,” Aren Bellendo, lead bartender at SideDoor and Lawry’s in Chicago, says.
Pre-made mixes and bottled juices have varying amounts of sugar that will throw off your cocktail’s sweet-sour balance. Stick with natural ingredients like homemade juice, however, and you will know exactly how much sweetness you need to add to offset the tart citrus.
2. Use the Best Tequila You Can Afford.
You might have a cheap bottle of tequila lying around, or see one on triple-markdown at your local package store. It’s tempting to throw that into a cocktail and hope that the other ingredients will hide its flaws.
Resist this urge. Because there are so few components in a Margarita, each one matters. If you use low-quality tequila with off flavors or a boozy aftertaste, your cocktail will have those exact same flaws.
“Only 100 percent Weber blue agave tequila should be used, ever, for anything,” Kearns says. His favorite tequilas for making Margaritas include Siete Leguas, Siembra Azul, Cabeza, and Pueblo Viejo Blanco. We also like Casa Noble Crystal and these six others.
(If you don't have the time or budget for a new bottle of tequila, remember the previous tip about the merit of freshly squeezed limes. Whole fruit is typically less expensive than prepared juices or mixers, too.)
3. Know Your Ratios.
One common Margarita mistake is over-sweetening the cocktail, according to Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer of Public House Collective, a hospitality group in NYC. “You want the lime to come through and have a subtle bite to it, not to feel like you are drinking a Slurpee from 7-Eleven,” he says.
The best way to make a perfectly sweet-sour Margarita is to know your ratios.
“The ratios are everything,” Amanda Swanson, agave sommelier at Añejo in NYC, says. “From there you can adjust to your own personal taste.”
Our classic Margarita recipe calls for 1 ¾ parts tequila to 1 part lime juice to ¾ part orange liqueur. If you prefer a sweeter drink, swap out half the liqueur for agave nectar. Still too tart? Continue adding agave and reducing other ingredients until you’ve hit your perfect balance.
Bartenders often prefer agave nectar over simple syrup for this purpose, saying it provides a smoother, subtler sweetness.
4. Orange You Glad You Bought Liqueur?
The easiest ingredient to overlook is the orange liqueur. Triple sec seems like a weird thing to buy for just one cocktail, right? Can’t you just add a splash of orange juice or something?
Not if you want a well-balanced drink. Triple sec, a term used interchangeably with curaçao, is a type of orange liqueur that provides fruity flavors as well as sweet and bitter notes — all of which are essential for a well-made Margarita. Popular labels include Cointreau, Combier, Pierre Ferrand Curaçao, and Grand Marnier.
Swanson likes to use Cointreau in her Margaritas because it’s made with bitter orange peels, so she finds it “drier than many brands of triple sec, and considerably less sweet than brandy-based Grand Marnier,” she says.
Kearns opts for Cointreau or Combier, the 1834 orange liqueur that purports to be the world’s first triple sec. David Mor, beverage manager at Cindy’s in Chicago, prefers Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao in his Margaritas.
“The most important thing there is to avoid anything that is simply called ‘Triple Sec,’” Kearns says. “This was a marketing statement devised by Cointreau at one point in its long history, and knock-off brands latched onto it.” Consider yourself warned.
What to Avoid When Making Margaritas
1. Don’t Salt the Entire Rim.
Like your Margaritas with salt? Season away, but take care when rimming the glass. Excess flakes will inevitably fall into your cocktail, throwing off its flavors and balance.
Cocktailers like industry legend Dale DeGroff advise salting a segment of the glass rim instead of its entirety. It prevents your drink from ever getting too saline, and gives you the option of taking a sip with or without a mouthful of salt.
“Generally speaking, if we do a rim we do half a rim,” Don Lee, partner, Existing Conditions in NYC, says. “That way everyone has the option.” Make sure you are only salting the outside of the rim of the glass, too, Lee says.
2. Skip the Lime Garnish.
You probably have one or two extra limes lying around after making all that lovely fresh juice. Don’t slice them into wedges to use as garnishes, no matter how natural that seems.
Why? Because your drink is perfectly balanced at this point. By adding a lime wedge, you are inviting someone to squeeze it into their drink. That will “throw off the citric balance of the cocktail,” Mor says. Instead, he suggests expressing an orange peel on top, giving the drink a citrusy aroma without the threat of more acid. Margaritas, like most things in life, are all about balance.
Margarita Variations To Try:
- The Mezcal Margarita - Mezcal imparts this cocktail with a smokiness that tempers the citrusy and tart elements in a traditional Marg.
- The Spicy Margarita - While the classic Margarita is the world’s favorite tequila cocktail, there’s no harm in adding a spicy twist to the tangy drink with bird's eye chili.
- The Tommy’s Margarita - This simple alteration of the classic Margarita swaps out orange liqueur for agave nectar, adding just enough sweetness to balance the drink.
- Watermelon & Basil Margarita - There's nothing quite like fresh, ripe watermelons in the summer, and if you didn't know they make for a killer margarita recipe ingredient.
- Spicy Blackberry Margarita - This Blackberry Margarita gets a nice kick from fresh Jalapeños, giving it a nice balance of sweetness and spice.