The classic Margarita is one of the most popular cocktails in the world – and for good reason! Tequila (or mezcal), fresh lime juice, and triple sec come together to form a delicious classic cocktail trifecta.
There are a million variations on the Margarita, but sometimes you just want the classic. Let’s dive into the ingredients and history of the cocktail, as well as some pro tips to make sure it’s perfect every time you shake one up.
What ingredients are in a classic Margarita?
If you’re like most folks, your first experience with a Margarita might have been in the form of a bucket of green mix that you fill with Jose Cuervo and freeze.
Sadly, those college-era drinking experiences have sworn many a would-be agave cocktail lover off of tequila for life. But honestly, was it really tequila’s fault?
Maybe it was a bit of youthful poor judgment mixed with that super sweet green mystery mix. Let’s just blame the mystery mix.
Margarita mixes are still so abundant, but why? Of all of the popular cocktails today, the Margarita is one of the easiest to make, with just three simple ingredients! Believe it or not, anyone can mix up classic Margs at home that rival the best cocktail bars in the world.
A classic Margarita is made with:
- Tequila (or mezcal)
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
- Triple sec (orange liqueur)
Fresh lime and sweet orange liqueur perfectly balance sour and sweet citrus flavors, while complementing the earthiness of agave-based tequila or mezcal. A little salt adds an extra punch of flavor, but it’s not a requirement.
Use freshly squeezed lime juice
If you’re not accustomed to buying or squeezing fresh citrus, it might be pretty tempting to pick up bottled lime juice or a big jug of Marg mix. Don’t do it! I can’t emphasize this point enough: there is no comparison between bottled lime juice and freshly squeezed juice. Fresh is best! And it doesn’t have to require a lot more effort.
Try a classic Margarita with fresh lime and you’ll see what a massive difference it makes. For about $6, you can pick up a nice elbow-style lemon/lime squeezer that takes all the work out of Margarita-making. All you have to do is slice your lime in half and squeeze away!
What tequila should I use in a Margarita?
This is completely up to you! If you’re new to agave spirits, start with a nice mid-price blanco tequila. Blanco tequilas (also called silver tequilas) are unaged and have a light, mildly earthy, and somewhat vegetal flavor characteristic of the agave plant.
Some great blanco tequilas for a classic Margarita include:
- El Tesoro
- Patron Silver
- Tres Agaves
Fun fact: although often referred to as such, agaves are not actually a type of cactus. Some tequilas are a bit herbaceous, some are a little fruity, some are citrusy. Reposado tequilas are aged briefly, and anejo tequilas are aged longer. These aged tequilas tend to be much smoother, with surprisingly dessert-like flavors like vanilla, honey, or caramel.
Can I use mezcal instead of tequila?
Always. Mezcal is always a great Margarita option, especially if you generally prefer bolder, more flavorful spirits. Mezcal is similar to tequila, but instead of being made only with a specific type of agave (Weber blue agave), and being made only in certain geographical areas, mezcal can be made all over Mexico with any variety of agave. So technically, tequila is a type of mezcal.
The process for making mezcal is also a bit different from tequila, lending a smokiness and deeper flavor. Artisanal mezcals have an incredibly wide range of possible flavors, but most have a characteristic smoky richness in common. If you enjoy Islay Scotch whiskies, such as Laphroaig or Lagavulin, you may really enjoy mezcal as well!
Who invented the Margarita?
Good question. Like so many other classic cocktails, it’s not really clear who first invented it. There are many, many stories though. The Margarita has been around in one form or another since the 1930s or ’40s. Here’s an interesting quick read on the subject from Smithsonian Magazine.
Salt or no salt?
This is all about personal preference. Like I discuss in Creating Cocktails: What Are The 8 Tastes, we know that a little salt can enhance sweet as well as sour flavors. It’s only natural then to add a salted rim to your Margarita glass to amplify all of the delicious contrasting flavors, making you want to keep going back for sip after sip.
You can even skip the salted rim and just add a small pinch of sea salt right to your cocktail shaker when making the drink. Full disclosure: I’m lazy and this is my personal preference. If you do opt for a salted rim, you might want to salt just half of the glass, so that not every sip is a salty one. Also take care to keep the salt on the exterior of the glass only, so that your drink doesn’t become a seawater marg over time.
Can I make a Margarita without triple sec?
What you’re looking for is a Tommy’s Margarita recipe. Tommy’s Margarita is made with tequila, lime, and agave syrup. You can also get creative with other sweetener alternatives by using different syrups or liqueurs. Learn all about cocktail syrups in my Ultimate Guide to Cocktail Syrups!
How do I make frozen classic Margaritas?
Get my recipe for Perfect Frozen Margaritas with options for with and without triple sec!
You may also enjoy these other Margarita variations:
Classic Margarita Recipe
- 2 oz tequila (or mezcal)
- 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 oz triple sec (orange liqueur)
- 1/4 oz agave or simple syrup See notes below
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill 3/4 with ice.
- Shake until chilled, about 12 seconds. Strain into a margarita glass, coupe glass, or rocks glass (over ice). Garnish with a lime wheel or wedge.
- Optional: Prior to pouring the Margarita, salt half of the rim of glass by rubbing a lime wedge along half of the outside lip of the glass. Dip the edge in a shallow dish of coarse salt, taking care to not get any salt on the inside of the glass.