These Are the Essential Ingredients for a Good Margarita
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Wondering what ingredients you need for a margarita? We’ll outline the basics, plus a couple of extra add-ins.
Whether you’re setting up a home bar or want to re-create your favorite bar cocktail, knowing what ingredients you need for a margarita is crucial. From tequila and orange liqueur, citrus juice and mix-ins, we’ll break down the basic margarita ingredients you should have on hand.
While you’re at it, these are the classic cocktail recipes you need to know.
The Basic Ingredients for a Margarita
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A classic margarita is made with tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice, in a 3-2-1 proportion. For a single serving, that means 1 ½ ounces of tequila, ½ ounce of orange liqueur and ¼ ounce of lime juice.
This ratio can also be used to make a pitcher of margaritas for your next party. Simply combine 2 cups of tequila with 1 cup of orange liqueur and ½ cup of lime juice in a pitcher, top with ice and split evenly between 16 festive glasses. If you’re in need of a new set, these are our picks for the best margarita glasses.
As the main ingredient of a margarita, the tequila you use is incredibly important. For those who are less familiar, tequila is a spirit made from blue agave grown in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Piñas, or the agave heart, is harvested, baked, fermented, distilled and then either aged or bottled to be shipped around the world. Here’s more on how tequila is made.
When it comes to margaritas, you’ll typically want to go with a Blanco tequila. This type of tequila is unaged, resulting in a clear final product that’s bold, peppery and has a touch of sweetness. The bright, spirit-forward flavor of this tequila type pairs incredibly well with the citrus of the orange liqueur and lime juice.
Some of the blanco tequilas that we reach for when making a margarita include Hornitos Plata, Espolòn Blanco, Casamigos Blanco and Patrón Silver, which range from about $25-50 for a 750 ml bottle. Check out more of our picks for the best tequila for margaritas.
Though Blanco tequila is the usual choice for margaritas, it isn’t the only type of tequila you can use. Here are some other types of tequila you should know:
Reposado tequilas are aged in oak barrels for up to a year, giving them a golden color. It has a slightly more mellow flavor than blanco tequila. Reposado tequila tastes great in any margarita, but especial ones spiced with jalapeno or chile.
Anejo, which means “aged” in Spanish, is tequila that has been aged in oak barrels for 1-3 years. In that time, the tequila develops an amber color, smooth texture and a complex flavor profile that includes vanilla and floral notes. Because of its complexity, anejo tequila is considered a sipping tequila and isn’t usually mixed into a margarita.
As the name implies, extra anejo is tequila that has been aged in oak barrels for more than 3 years. This extra aging time further develops those flavors of the anejo tequila and overall complexity. This high-quality tequila is for savoring on its own, and shouldn’t be used for a margarita.
Unlike other types of tequila, gold tequila (sometimes known as joven tequila) does not have to contain 100% agave. This golden spirit gets its color and flavor by being a mix of blanco and reposado tequila, or by mixing additives into blanco tequila. These tequilas are usually the least expensive and can tend to have a bit of a harsh flavor. Gold tequila can certainly be used in a margarita, but we’d suggest using a higher quality tequila instead.
Technically, mezcal is not a tequila, but it should be on your margarita radar. This spirit is also made with agave, but has the pina roasted in underground ovens before being mashed, fermented and distilled. This roasting technique gives the spirit a rich, smoky flavor. Traditionally, mezcal is enjoyed on its own, but it’s not unusual in the US for it to be mixed into a cocktail, like the margarita.
It may seem obvious, but when choosing which tequila you go with, the main thing is that you actually like the tequila you’re using. There are some brands of tequila that can be harsh or too strong for your palette, which will in turn throw off your margarita. Some great ways to figure out which tequila brands you like include getting a flight of tequila at your local tequileria or Mexican restaurant, or asking a bartender what they like or would suggest.
Bright, citrusy and zesty, orange liqueur is a standard in most home bars and a must-have ingredient for margaritas. These liqueurs are made with a wide-range of base alcohols, orange types and sweetness levels, making each brand of orange liqueur taste a bit different. These are some of the most common types and brands:
Largely considered the original orange liqueur, curaçao is traditionally made with the dried peels of laraha oranges, which are native to Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean. The peels are soaked in sugar cane- or sugar beet-based alcohol, sometimes along with other spices, to infuse the alcohol. Then they are strained and sweetened. Curaçao is available in clear, orange and blue hues, the former being the most common for margaritas. Nowadays, the majority of curaçaos will have a sweet orange flavor, have a syrupy texture and be around 15% alcohol. This type of orange liqueur is incredibly affordable, with most bottles costing less than $10.
Thought to have been developed in France sometime in the 1800’s, triple sec is now a more general term for orange liqueur than a standard recipe or brand. Because of that, triple secs can vary greatly in sweetness and complexity. That said, most inexpensive triple secs (under $15) will be very sweet, clear, have a standard orange flavor and be between 15-25% ABV. Higher end triple sec brands, on the other hand, can be up to 80% ABV, be clear or a light amber color if brandy or cognac is used and are made of a blend of orange peels for a stronger orange flavor. These triple secs are still sweet, but not as sweet as the cheaper triple secs.
This French triple sec is made with sweet and bitter orange peels for a balanced flavor that’s zesty and has a hint of floral. Cointreau uses a sugar beet-based alcohol, giving the liqueur a clear appearance. This high quality triple sec, which has an ABV of 40%, is usually around $35 for 750 ml.
As a blend of bitter orange liqueur and cognac, Grand Marnier has an amber color and rich flavor. Mostly sweet, but with a touch of bitterness, Grand Marnier has notes of vanilla, oak and orange zest. Similar to a high quality triple sec, Grand Marnier has a 40% ABV and is about $35 for 750 ml.
Since orange liqueur is in a lot of classic cocktails (like a cosmo and Long Island iced tea) it’s worth investing in a high quality orange liqueur. The liqueurs will have a more complex, and better tasting, orange flavor, which will lead to a better-tasting margarita!
When it comes to margaritas, fresh lime juice is the only way to go! Bottled lime juices will give your margarita a sour, artificial taste that won’t be very appealing.
To get the most out of your lime, roll the fruit against your counter or cutting board to loosen the juices a bit. Then, cut the lime in half and juice it with a citrus juicer or your hand. A standard lime will yield 2-3 tablespoons of juice, more than enough for a single margarita. If you find yourself making a lot of margaritas, or big batches of margaritas, definitely get yourself a citrus juicer.
While lime juice is the traditional citrus choice for a margarita, feel free to experiment with other citruses. Grapefruit, orange, pineapple, key lime and tangerine would taste great in addition to, or replacing the lime juice in a margarita. Since citrus fruits vary in their acidity, you might have to add a touch of simple syrup or agave nectar, or reduce the amount of orange liqueur in the cocktail to balance it out.
Other Margarita Ingredients
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While tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice make up a traditional margarita, there are plenty of other ingredients that can be added to switch up the flavor. Here are some of the most common:
- Fruit: Margaritas are no stranger to fruity additions. While fresh or frozen fruit pieces can be used in a blended margarita, fruit purees are the better choice when it comes to margaritas on the rocks. Some of our favorite fruits to add are strawberries, mango, raspberry and prickly pear.
- Ice: Okay, most people won’t consider ice an ingredient, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a margarita without some sort of ice! Margaritas are usually served on the rocks, but they can also be blended with ice cubes for a slushy, frozen treat. We can show you how to make a frozen margarita at home.
- Salt: Though it’s usually only added to the rim, salt is a great addition to the margarita. It will intensify the flavors of the orange liqueur and lime juice, plus it will mellow out any bitterness for a delicious marg.
- Beer: Cerveza margaritas are essentially a standard margarita that’s topped with a beer. Mexican lagers like Modelo, Corona and Tecate are some of the common beers used.
When it comes to margaritas, you can add just about anything to make it your own. Check out these margarita variations for some more ideas.
Now that you know what ingredients you need for a margarita, put them together for one of these amazing margarita recipes.