16 Ways To Upgrade Your Margarita

If you're reading this, we probably don't need to tell you that margaritas are one of life's true joys. Whether you're lounging beachside, enjoying a chips and salsa-fueled happy hour, or having a wild night out on the town, there's a margarita for almost every occasion. That versatility extends to the cocktail itself. Frozen, up, or on the rocks, there are endless ways to prepare this tart and punchy classic. 

As much as we love singing the praises of these delicious libations, we will admit that some margaritas are better than others. There's a huge difference between a fresh, homemade version and a pre-made drink that comes straight from a plastic bottle. We're not ones to judge, but we are here to help nudge you towards opting for a thoughtfully crafted margarita.

Thankfully, it doesn't take much to upgrade a run-of-the-mill marg into something truly memorable. From exploring different variations to switching up your glassware, and even using some chemistry-inspired hacks, there are plenty of ways to take your margarita to the next level.

Use quality tequila

Unless you're talking about a mezcal margarita (more on that later), tequila is the backbone of the cocktail — which means you need to opt for a high-quality spirit. Now, we aren't saying your tequila needs to be top-shelf or particularly expensive, but the general rule of thumb is if you wouldn't drink a brand on its own, you shouldn't drink it in a margarita.

Most of the time, a nice blanco tequila will work just fine as the base of your marg, as long as you opt for a bottle that makes clear it's made from 100% agave. Cheap, big-brand tequilas often add other ingredients to the mix, so it's essential to read the label before you start the margarita-making process.

Trust us, that tequila you probably enjoyed too many shots of early on in your drinking career (you know the one) won't make for an enjoyable cocktail. Even though you're adding other ingredients, the taste of cheap booze is still going to come through. So, if you're drinking a margarita, shell out the extra few bucks for something that's actually delicious.

Ditch the mix

We aren't immune to the allure of using a convenient margarita mix. We're also the first to admit that the market has expanded to include some relatively tasty options in recent years. However, the bottom line is that a (well-made) homemade margarita is always going to taste better.

Thankfully, margaritas aren't difficult to make. A perfectly balanced margarita recipe only features a few ingredients. You won't have to track down any type of hard-to-find components, and if you tend to keep basic cocktail essentials on hand, you probably won't have to make a trip to the store at all.

If you are going to use a mix, just be sure to read the label carefully. Look for brands that only contain a few ingredients, and avoid ones that contain artificial flavors. Keep in mind that some mixes contain tequila, which is an important distinction to keep in mind.

Use fresh lime juice

Do yourself a favor and erase any and all inclinations you may have about using store-bought lime juice. We're not going to sugarcoat this one: store-bought lime juice is bad. It doesn't matter how much quicker it is to use pre-made juice or how cute those little lime-shaped bottles may be. You need to use the fresh stuff.

While the tequila in a margarita is undeniably important, the lime plays an equally important part in terms of making this drink delicious — and there genuinely is no substitute when it comes to fresh juice. Sure, cutting and squeezing the citrus takes a bit of commitment, but it's an investment of time and arm strength that will pay dividends when it comes to flavor. If you're just making a round or two, a handheld juicer will do the trick. However, if you think making pitchers of margaritas is in your future (in which case, props to you), we recommend investing in an electric model.

Measure carefully

Measuring your ingredients means your margaritas will come out correctly every single time. You've probably seen professional bartenders free-pouring drinks, but they are in fact, professionals. They also use devices called speed pourers, which regulate how much liquid comes out of the bottle at a time. Unless you've been trained on how to accurately mix a drink without tools, you're probably better off measuring your ingredients.

While it is possible to eyeball a margarita, using accurate amounts of each ingredient will result in a better drink. Even adding a quarter ounce too much of triple sec or a quarter ounce too little of lime juice can make your drink taste unbalanced.

Using a jigger will make you look and feel like a margarita-making pro, but a liquid measuring cup will also work just fine. Using a shot glass is better than not measuring at all, but just be aware that the volume they hold can range pretty significantly.

Upgrade your orange liqueur

Orange liqueur is an essential ingredient in most margaritas. This sweet, citrusy element usually comes in the form of triple sec since it's both accessible and affordable. Don't get us wrong — you can make a delicious marg with a basic bottle of the orange-flavored liqueur. That being said, there are other options out there that can help upgrade your beverage.

Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao are all great brands to reach for the next time you're buying margarita-making provisions. You can also ask the bartenders at your favorite restaurant to use one of these options in your drink as long as you're willing to pay for an upcharge.

Swapping out triple sec for something a little more luxurious may cost you more, but if you want a top-notch marg, we promise that it's worth it. Plus, these bottles are versatile and can be used for a variety of other cocktails like a classic sidecar recipe or to craft a cosmopolitan.

Use a good recipe

Even though margaritas are widely known and loved, there are scores of margarita recipes out there — and some are better than others. If you asked the bartenders at five different bars how they make their margaritas, you'd probably get five slightly different answers. While the basic template for the drink is pretty standard, most enthusiasts add their own subtle touches.

Generally speaking, recipes that call for fresh ingredients and focus on balance and precision are the way to go. If you think a recipe looks good, the only way to find out if yields the margarita of your dreams is to make a round. It can be hard to decide which recipe you prefer if you don't try a few options on for size, so we recommend experimenting until you find your favorite. After all, acting as the judge for various margarita recipes is a pretty good gig if you're asking us.

Try a few variations

As much as we love a classic marg, there are scores of margarita variations out there that are worth exploring. One of our favorites is called a Tommy's margarita, which is simple, no-frills, and delicious. A Tommy's margarita stands out from the rest because it features just three ingredients (tequila, lime juice, and agave), and it's a great option for people who really want to taste the essence of tequila in their beverage.

Another good example is a Cadillac margarita, which relies on Grand Marnier and reposado tequila to provide a top-shelf tasting experience. You can also branch out by opting for a classic frozen margarita, which is perfect for a hot summer day or a festive party. Don't be scared to try variations that feature things like fresh juices, purees, and syrups. There's plenty of room for exploration when it comes to making margs, and you never know when you'll discover your new go-to variation. After all, margaritas don't have to be traditional in order to be delicious!

Add a creative rim

If you're into margaritas, you probably already know that there are two types of margarita drinkers in the world: people who like their margs with a salted rim and people who don't. While we're of the opinion that a salted rim is one of the best parts of a margarita, we're also here to tell you that salt isn't your only option. In fact, there are a number of unique ingredients for flavorful cocktail rims at your disposal

The purpose of rimming a glass is to add an additional layer of flavor that works to balance out the sweet and tart components in the cocktail — and salt isn't the only ingredient with which you can achieve this goal. For example, a chili-lime seasoning (like Tajin) is perfect for adding a hint of spice. You can even use sugar if you want to tame the bracing acidity of a marg. Toasted coconut flakes are a good option if you like tropical notes, or if you just want to keep your rim mostly traditional, consider purchasing specialty salts that are infused with various flavors.

Spice things up

Another tasty way to spice up your margarita is to (literally) add a little spice. We love spicy margs because they simultaneously hit so many different flavor notes, while still tasting balanced and cohesive. Sweet, sour, and spicy come together beautifully in this variation, and adding some heat is an ideal way to break out of a margarita rut.

There are several easy routes you can take the next time you're craving a spicy cocktail. You can slice up some jalapeños and add them to your shaker, include a few drops of spicy bitters in your recipe, or even use a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. If you really want to go all-out, you can purchase a chili liqueur like Ancho Reyes or use a spice-infused tequila.

The best part about making your own spicy margarita at home is that you can control the level of heat. This means you can choose between a beverage that brings tears to your eyes or a cocktail that just contains a hint of peppery warmth.

Infuse your own tequila

You've probably seen bottles of flavored tequila at the liquor store. If you're like us, you've probably also been intrigued by the idea of buying a tequila that tastes like cucumber, pineapple, coconut, etc. While we totally understand the allure of these unique bottles, we highly recommended skipping the store-bought stuff in favor of infusing your own tequila. Doing so is a lot easier than you might think, and you can ensure your spirit is free of added artificial flavors, preservatives, and chemicals. Not to mention, you can really get creative in terms of concocting one-of-a-kind infused bottles.

To infuse your own tequila, all you need to do is pick a few ingredients like fruits, peppers, or herbs, and put them in a mason jar with your tequila. Seal the jar and let it sit for a few days. Once you've imparted enough flavor, simply strain it and store it in an airtight container. If you need some inspiration, you can start with this easy blueberry-infused tequila recipe.

Swap tequila for mezcal

As much as we love a tequila-based margarita, swapping out mezcal as the base spirit is an excellent way to elevate your drinking experience. Though mezcals range widely in terms of flavor, most feature smokey notes that do wonders in terms of upgrading a basic marg.

Mezcal tends to be more complex than tequila, and it also can be somewhat polarizing. Some people adore the smokey taste, while others think it tastes like the remnants of a fire pit. If you're on the fence about it, you can always do a split base with half tequila and half mezcal in order to ease yourself into the exciting world of smokey, agave-based spirits.

If you're ready to dive all the way in, you can simply swap the tequila in your favorite margarita recipe for an equal measure of the smokey stuff. It's a good idea to experiment with different brands and bottles until you find one you love.

Get muddling

Another useful strategy for making your margarita more interesting is to break out your muddler. There's no need for fancy syrups, unique liqueurs, or flavored ingredients if you have a muddler and some fresh produce. The sky is the limit when it comes to your muddling possibilities. Some of our favorite add-ins include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cucumber, cilantro, and mango.

This technique is also incredibly easy to master. Simply add your ingredients to the bottom of your shaker along with a splash of one of your liquid ingredients (we like to use simple syrup) and then muddle away. The only thing you need to be aware of is that you don't want to over-muddle if you're using herbs, which can become bitter if they're too pulverized. Herbs just need a few quick presses to release their fragrant and flavorful oils. If you're using fruit on the other hand, then feel free to smash away.

Use the right tools

This one is applicable to any cocktail-making endeavor, but trust us when we say that using the right tools will result in a better margarita. Thankfully, it doesn't take much to craft a professional-quality marg. All you need is a shaker, a jigger, and a strainer.

Making your drink in a shaker will allow you to chill your ingredients while adding a little water from the ice (which is an essential element of almost every cocktail). Using a jigger will help you nail the proportions, and a strainer will make sure that you get to enjoy every last drop of your drink without having to worry about ice chips or pulp.

The ice you use in both your final beverage (if you like your margaritas on the rocks, that is) and when shaking your drink also makes a huge difference in the overall quality of your cocktail. Be sure to steer clear of crushed ice, which will add too much water, for this particular cocktail.

Break out the good glassware

If we're being honest, we think margaritas taste great out of just about anything. However, if you're looking for an upgraded experience, breaking out the quality glassware really can make a difference. There's something about treating yourself to the luxury of a well-made cocktail served in a fancy glass that feels wonderfully indulgent.

You don't need to drink out of expensive crystal for your drinking vesicle to make a positive difference, either. The main thing you need to consider when choosing glassware is whether you enjoy your margaritas up or on the rocks. If you're a fan of the former, you should reach for something with a stem, such as a martini glass or a coupe. This is because being able to hold the glass by the stem protects the drink from the heat of your hand. Since there's no ice to keep things frosty, finding ways to keep your drink cold is essential. We also don't think there's anything wrong with a fun, jumbo-sized margarita glass when you want something a little more festive! 

Add saline solution

This tip might sound like it belongs in a science class, but adding a few drops of saline solution (which is just a fancy way of saying salt water) will bring a hint of salinity that will enhance the other flavors in your beverage. This is ideal for people who don't like salt on the rim since it's less in-your-face-salty, but still does a great job of balancing flavors.

Just mix up some salt water (we like a ratio of two parts water to one part salt) and put it in an eyedropper. Add a few drops of the solution to the rest of your margarita ingredients before you shake it, and be prepared to taste a subtle but delicious difference.

A little goes a long way here, so don't get overzealous when you're playing the role of chemist-turned-mixologist. You can always add more saline to the finished product, but you can't take it out — so proceed with caution.

Have fun with it

There are plenty of cases in which upgrading your margarita can look like using better ingredients, more advanced techniques, or more intricate recipes. However, sometimes the best way to make your margarita better is to just have fun with it!

You can interpret this tip however you please. You can add a dose of visual interest by adding bright pink edible glitter (yes, it's a thing, and yes, it's a lot of fun) or by using blue curacao instead of triple sec, which will result in a bright blue beverage. Better yet, combine these two ideas for something truly memorable. We promise it's almost impossible to feel anything other than joy when you're slurping down a boozy, sparkly, purple margarita.

Making your margarita more fun can also look like enjoying it with people you love, in a beautiful location, or alongside your favorite chips and guac. No matter what you do, the best margaritas are always the ones you drink with a smile.