The Surprising Secret to Making the Best Margarita From Scratch

Spoiler alert: It's not in a mix.

For tequila fans, there are few things more satisfying on a hot day (or night) than a frosty, tangy, salt-dusted margarita. Grocery and liquor store shelves are lined with name-brand margarita mixes that make claims like "just add tequila!" But tequila and a splash of neon-yellow sweetness does not a margarita make.

The Secret Is in the Juice

That means freshly squeezed lime juice (not the bottled stuff) and—here's the real secret—a splash of fresh OJ. That's right. Fresh-squeezed juice from an *actual* orange, NOT orange-flavored liqueur, is the secret to a cleaner tasting, more refreshing margarita.

Here's Why

Triple Sec, an orange-flavored liqueur commonly used in margaritas, is made by macerating orange peels with sugar and alcohol. Using a sweetened liqueur like this to make your drink means you can't adjust the cocktail to your liking (sweeter, say, or boozier) without adding more orange flavor and/or alcohol on top of it.

Say Goodbye to Triple Sec

Instead of using Triple Sec or something similar, I like to start with a mixture of equal parts tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice, about 2 ounces each for a single serving. Then, if I have some in the fridge, I add sweetness in the form of simple syrup. Agave works well too, because its neutral sweetness won't overpower the flavors of the citrus and tequila and is a great substitute for simple syrup in most recipes, not just cocktails. Start with about a tablespoon of sweetness per cocktail—you can always add more, but you can't take it away. Add a splash (or two) of fresh orange juice and lots of ice.

Next, give it a big shake. You made this in a cocktail shaker right? It's OK if you didn't—just give it a confident stir. Alternatively, you can use a mason jar. Run a lime wedge along the rim of a rocks glass, and dip in coarse salt if that's your thing. Fill the glass with more ice—all the way to the top—and pour your perfect personalized margarita over the top. Serve with an extra lime wedge for squeezing. All you need now is a bag of limes, a couple of oranges, and a sunny spot to drink up. ¡Salud!

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