14 Celebrity Chef Secrets For Better Cocktails

The art of crafting cocktails has evolved into much more than just mixing drinks. Cocktails are now essential elements of pre- or after-dinner entertainment, whether it be at a restaurant or a private event at someone's house. Not only does it help guests or patrons break the ice, but it can set the tone for an entire evening — a great cocktail tends to announce a night of good food and libations, while a subpar one might leave a guest feeling underwhelmed. Whether it's a classic martini with nothing but gin and ice or a trendy artisanal concoction with sumac and lavender, each cocktail tells a story and adds a layer of personality to an event.

So, to help you make the most of your next dinner party and set the right tone for the evening, we've compiled some of the best cocktail-making tips celebrity chefs have to offer. Because, after all, mixology is not that different from cooking: Both involve combining ingredients in new and inventive ways to create something delicious. So, whether you're a seasoned mixologist or a budding enthusiast, here are some ideas on how to curate the best possible cocktail menu for your dinner party.

Giada De Laurentiis - freeze the drink instead of using ice cubes

If you make a pitcher of cocktails before your guests arrive for the evening, you're going to need to find a way to keep it cool. Ice might be your first thought, but as we all know, ice melts, watering down any liquid within which it is contained. That will throw off your cocktail ingredient proportions in no time.

Luckily, Giada De Laurentiis has the perfect solution for chilling cocktails without watering them down. She just makes the drink and freezes the whole thing in ice cube trays. For instance, in a 2020 Instagram post, she sprinkled some lemon zest into the bottom of an ice cube tray and poured in her limoncello Arnold Palmer, made with iced tea, sparkling lemonade, and limoncello. She then used these cubes to flavor plain iced tea, but you could just as easily use them to keep a fresh batch of your limoncello Arnold Palmer cool until guests are ready to partake, all without having to worry about the dilution effect.

Ina Garten - garnish a whiskey sour with bourbon-soaked dried cherries

A whiskey sour is a classic drink that has stood the test of time. It's very good as it is, and doesn't necessarily need any tricks for making it "better." But if you're open to it, you can certainly make it a bit more interesting from time to time. Ina Garten, for one, suggests garnishing your whiskey sour with bourbon-soaked dried cherries.

So next time you make this classic frothy whiskey sour cocktail, with egg whites, simple syrup, whiskey, and lemon juice, hold the maraschino or orange peel garnish and start making your upgraded garnish. Microwave the bourbon mixed with dried cherries for 1 minute, then stick your cocktail skewer through them and place it on your glass. Although this hack won't necessarily change the flavor of your cocktail, it will do a lot for the presentation while adding a slight aura of mystery. While your guests might not know what they're getting into at first, after that first sip they'll be in unmistakeable whiskey sour country, if you played your cards right.

Alex Guarnaschelli - add caper brine to martinis

Who doesn't love a dirty martini? The simple, dry martini will never go out of style, but sometimes it's nice to have a bit of color in your drink or something to sink your teeth into. A dirty martini can provide that with its brownish color and brackish flavor, courtesy of the brine from the jar of olives used to garnish this delight.

But we're aware of one person who knows that olives aren't the only tiny green balls that can provide this service. According to Alex Guarnaschelli, caper brine, too, can provide all the benefits of our classic dirty martini ingredient while also giving us a taste of something new. You will find this ingredient especially interesting if you're a big fan of salty things. Capers, which are the pickled, unripened flowers of the caper bush, are brined in salt so that any juice you add to your martini from your caper jar will be equally salty. Garnish your cocktail with skewered capers so your diners know what to expect.

Bobby Flay - strengthen an espresso martini

Espresso martinis are a far cry from the classic version of a martini, but if you're looking for a sweet pick-me-up, it's the perfect poison. This is especially true if you learn how to make Bobby Flay's extra-strength espresso martini. Usually, this drink can be pretty tame, with the sweet coffee flavor dominating the scene. In fact, it's ideal for those who might want a bit of a buzz but don't really appreciate the taste of alcohol.

But suppose you do like the taste of spirits. In that case, Bobby Flay's espresso martini simply calls for a bit more oomph through the use of New Deal coffee liqueur, along with the usual ingredients of vodka, simple syrup, and espresso. This liqueur has a slightly stronger taste than Kahlua, which is typically used to make this cocktail, and in keeping with Bobby Flay's southwestern style, it also provides hints of agave nectar and pepper dust. Indeed, it also has a higher alcohol content, with more than 50 proof compared to Kahlua's usual 40 proof. We told you it was strong.

Giada De Launretiis - spike a Moscow mule with balsamic vinegar

Giada De Laurentiis' affinity with Italian food and ingredients is well documented, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that De Laurentiis likes to put balsamic vinegar in her Moscow mules. The only surprise might be that she doesn't use balsamic vinegar in absolutely everything.

And for a bit of extra tang and color, you, too, can add balsamic vinegar to your Moscow mule. Start with the classic recipe, which involves mixing together a mint simple syrup with vodka, ginger beer, and lime. But instead of using all the lime the recipe calls for, half it and fill the rest in with cherry balsamic vinegar. Since this ingredient replaces some of the lime, it won't cause the cocktail to become too sour, as citrus and vinegar can actually be interchangeable in many culinary and mixology scenarios. Plus, the cherry flavoring of this particular type of vinegar will give the cocktail a welcome fruitiness.

Ina Garten - calculate the proper ratio with cocktail batches

When you're having a group of friends over for dinner, the last thing you want to do is spend the evening in the kitchen by yourself, talking to no one. This could happen if you haven't done enough food prep or if you have to keep making single cocktails for everyone. Ina Garten's solution for this is to just make a batch of cocktails all at once and store it in a pitcher. This way, you just have to grab some ice, put it in someone's glass, and pour the cocktail without having to prepare it from scratch every time.

All this seems good, but for this trick to succeed, you have to get your proportions right, and they might not be the same exact ones as what you would have put in the single-glass cocktail. Ina Garten's batch of cosmopolitans, for example, calls for 2 cups of vodka, 1 cup of orange liqueur, 1 cup of cranberry juice, and ½ a cup of lime juice. The ratio here is mostly 1:1, while you might notice that in a classic cosmopolitan single-service recipe, it's 2: ¾ of an ounce. This makes it much easier to scale the cocktail recipe to the right proportions without doing complex math.

Jose Andres - make a pickleback Turkish

Jose Andres' Turkish version of a pickleback doesn't really have anything to do with a pickleback at all. If you're unfamiliar with this drink, the pickleback is relatively new, having come into being in Brooklyn in 2006 when a local bartender got the idea to serve a shot of whiskey alongside a pickle juice chase. Although this combination is nothing groundbreaking, as it's not too different from a centuries-old Russian tradition of drinking vodka with pickle juice, it took hold nonetheless, so here we are. Enter the Turkish version of the pickleback. The only thing the two drinks have in common is the presentation and perhaps a bit of pickling, though in this case, we're talking about pickled turnip.

And presentation is the key to elevating the experience. Jose Andres takes care of this by directing the mixologist to place, in this order, the raki, an anise-flavored spirit, an ice cube, and the pickled turnip juice in adjacent Turkish tea glasses set on an ornate tray or serving plate. Consume each item in this order, and your experience will be complete.

Michael Symon - repurpose your fruit scraps

While this list is mostly concerned with tips that can help you make better cocktails, better doesn't have to only refer to flavor or presentation. It can also mean better for the environment. To this end, Michael Symon has the ideal piece of advice: Save fruit scraps, such as orange or apple peels, and use them to flavor your cocktail.

Of course, you can use these peels as garnishes or in any other way your imagination suggests, but Michael Symon, for one, turns these fruit peels into a concoction known as oleo-saccharum, a sweet oil created by dousing fruit scraps in sugar. Make this yourself at home by combining the two ingredients and letting them sit for up to 24 hours before extracting the now-sweetened oils. From here, you can use this new ingredient to flavor all sorts of cocktails, including any type of punch or fruity tropical drink. All while feeling good about this sustainable, zero-waste practice.

Alton Brown - don't skip the peaty Scotch

A distinctive peaty flavor is important when making a Penicillin cocktail, at least according to Alton Brown, and we tend to agree. Although Scottish whiskeys, in general, are known for having a smokey flavor, certain Scotches also have a peaty or mossy undertone, which is essential to the whole Penicillin vibe. The antibiotic was initially obtained from mold, so it only makes sense that a mossy Scotch would fill in for this substance in the cocktail. We wouldn't recommend adding actual, live mold to your drink.

In particular, Alton Brown mentions Islay Scotch for this recipe. This Scotch differs from many others of its ilk because of its extreme peatiness, which gives any drink it's used in a distinctive flavor. This is why skipping this ingredient might turn your penicillin cocktail into a bland, generic drink. So, in short, don't just mix any old whiskeys and call it a day. Make sure you're using Islay.

Giada De Laurentiis - brighten a hot toddy with limoncello

If you follow Giada De Laurentiis at all and know anything about her cooking style, you'll have noticed just how much lemon she uses in her cooking. Her lemon ricotta cookies are the stuff of legend, while her chicken noodle soup would be nothing without those dashes of lemon juice at the end.

As it turns out, Giada extends her use of lemons to her cocktail recipes as well. In this case, though, we're not talking about straight-up, freshly squeezed lemon juice. De Laurentiis' secret is to add limoncello to her hot toddies, giving them an Italian spin. To prepare this adaptation, you can follow our warm and cozy hot toddy recipe and combine whiskey, honey, and lemon with boiling water in a cup. Then add some limoncello along with a lemon wedge for garnish. It is such a simple addition, but it goes a long way. And if you like the result, you can also try Giada's other trick when making this cocktail: substitute candied ginger for the honey. This gives the drink an extra bite and added spiciness, which can be further enhanced with a cinnamon stick garnish. It doesn't get much warmer or cozier than that.

Ina Garten - include grated onion in a bloody mary

One of the best parts about bloody marys is that you can dump almost the entire produce section into them, and they'll still turn out great, as long as you include the list of tried and true bloody mary ingredients, which are vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco sauce. So when Ina Garten adds grated onion to her Bloody Mary, she isn't fundamentally changing the composition of the drink. She's just adding a new ingredient for extra flavor without altering the basic experience.

To make this version, as published on the Food Network, you'll want to grab a large shopping bag and actually head to the produce section because you're going to need it to hold your celery (with leaves), horseradish, onions, and lemons. Throw these into a food processor with Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, kosher salt, and Tabasco before combining the puree with tomato juice and vodka. Chill the drink before serving, and garnish it with more celery. Who needs vegetables when you can have a Bloody Mary?

Michael Symon - spice up a bloody mary with horseradish

While Bloody Marys can easily incorporate many ingredients without changing their basic structure, especially vegetables, it's ultimately up to the individual whether they want their drink to be mild or spicy. We sit firmly in the spicy camp, which is why we think the addition of horseradish can only make a bloody mary better.

Michael Symon seems to agree because he adds freshly grated horseradish to his Bloody Marys. This is not for the faint of heart. Although the jarred stuff preserved in vinegar can be pretty spicy, it doesn't hold a candle to what fresh horseradish can do. Add this to the Tabasco sauce, and you'll have a drink that means business. Stock up on good quality, fresh horseradish by looking out for strong, solid roots –- softness and sponginess are absolute red flags. And as with anything, steer clear of specimens that have mold or sprouts growing out of them. This may be fine for cheese but not so good for horseradish.

Jamie Oliver - amp up a Negroni with coffee

A Negroni, traditionally made with three alcoholic beverages and no mixer, is a pretty powerful drink. You might think it's the last thing that needs to be further amped up. Yet this coffee Negroni cocktail devised by Jamie Oliver works, and if you try it, you'll see why. The combination of coffee with gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and limoncello might not seem like an obvious one, but the coffee helps balance out some of the tang and bitterness provided by the Campari and lemon while giving the drink a further kick.

Just make sure that you don't brew the coffee with water when you prepare this drink. Water is definitely not part of this recipe, and any addition of it will only serve to dilute the cocktail. Instead, in a 2021 Instagram post, Jamie Oliver uses the negroni itself to brew the coffee, dumping it into a filter and letting it flow through the freshly ground coffee. This allows the coffee to enter the equation without any additional brewing steps or extraneous ingredients.

Alton Brown - make your own brine

A good brine is essential to any dirty martini, but you don't have to stick to olive brine or even caper brine. As Alton Brown will tell you, you can make your own flavor-packed concoction that will take your dirty martini to the next level. Of course, you can feel free to play around with ingredients that will make up your dream brine, but if you're not handy in this department, we recommend using Alton Brown's recipe as a starting point: Just mix olives, brine, water, salt, anchovies, and some hot pepper together in a blender. Then add this to your drink during your daily martini hour.

To make this trick work even better, Brown recommends skipping the gin on this one and reaching for the vodka since the flavor of the spirit isn't supposed to come through as much in a dirty martini. Be sure to choose a vodka with a slight salinity of its own, such as SKYY, which can nicely complement your brine.