Margarita Recipe from Scratch


This has been my go-to margarita recipe ever since I scribbled it down on the cooking notes for my nachos. The flavors are well-balanced with just a hint of sweetness from the orange juice and agave. After finding key limes at the Santa Monica Farmers Market a few weeks ago, I knew it was time to break out the cocktails. Clementine oranges also happen to be in season so I switched things up a little and subbed them in for Valencias. Delicious.

As Tom and Donna would say, "Treat yo' self."

Clementines at Polito Family Farms - Santa Monica Farmers Market

Useless Facts

  • Traditional margaritas do not have salt on the rim. Why ruin such a beautiful cocktail with a mouthful of sodium? My guess is that the salted rim evolved from the tequila shot/lime/salt game, but I'm not certain. (Writing that last bit gave me a hangover.)
  • Margarita recipes often call for an orange-flavored liqueur such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or triple sec. To oversimplify things, Grand Marnier is a premium brand of Curaçao and Cointreau is a premium brand of triple sec. Let's break things down further. This was a rabbit hole of Googling and my conclusion is that the internet is confused by booze. I did my best.


  • Curaçao (no it's not always blue) is the granddaddy of these orange-flavored liqueurs. "Real" Curaçao is made from the laraha fruit that only grows in Curacao. When Valencia orange trees failed to flourish in Curaçao, they eventually morphed into the laraha fruit - inedibly bitter on the inside but the skins work for making liqueur. I don't recommend Curaçao for margaritas as the sweetness can ruin your cocktail. UPDATE: A reader pointed out that not all Curaçao is saccharine and mentioned Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao as an example.
  • The consensus seems to be that Curaçao or Orange Curaçao should be brandy-based.

Grand Marnier

  • Grand Marnier is a premium Curaçao and has a brandy base. It uses only bitter orange peels.
  • A Cadillac Margarita has both Cointreau and Grand Marnier.
  • Of the four liqueurs mentioned here, Grand Marnier is considered to be the "highest quality".

Triple Sec

  • "Sec" means dry, but Triple Sec is quite sweet and the Internets has too many theories when it comes to the name's origin. Since triple sec has a neutral-alcohol base, I'm going to guess it means triple distilled as some have suggested.
  • This liqueur is made with sweet and bitter orange rinds. Though more "refined" than Curaçao, low-end brands are often too sweet so it's worth investing in a quality bottle if you're going to use it for cocktails.


  • Cointreau is a premium triple sec and is less sweet than other brands.
  • The neutral-alcohol base gives this liqueur a lighter and balanced flavor.

Recipe Tip

If you're having a party, simply juice the fruit an hour or two in advance and refrigerate in an airtight container. Easy enough to add agave and alcohol when the guests arrive.


  • Chef'n Lime Juicer - I love this tool. Squeezes (just about) every bit of juice out of the fruit and is easy to clean.
  • Mini Measuring Cup - I’ve purchased five of these little guys for home and the Airstream. They’re handy for everything from the ubiquitous "2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan" to margaritas.
  • Plunger Mini Measuring Cup - Very handy for measuring sticky substances such as molasses, honey, and agave.
  • Large Cube Ice Tray - One of our favorite restaurants serves their margaritas with large ice cubes and it makes sense. The large cube keeps the drink very cold, melts slowly, and looks great. I bought the linked trays and can confirm that they work well. One note is to hand wash the trays or use an unscented dishwasher soap. I find that detergents with a strong smell can add an odor to silicone tools.
  • Cocktail Shaker

Ingredients (This makes two margaritas.)

  • 3 ounces quality tequila
  • 2 ounces Cointreau Note: I've started using a 50/50 mix of Grand Marnier and Cointreau but if you only have Cointreau that will work great.
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice Note: Key limes are preferred if available.
  • 1/2 ounce agave or mild-favored honey Note: Since posting the recipe, I reduced the agave from 3/4 ounce to 1/2 ounce. You don't need much additional sweetness if you're using quality tequila and fruit. Another tip is that I ran out of agave one weekend and ended up trying honey - it worked well.
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce fresh orange juice Note: I use a Valencia orange or Clementine when in season.
  • Lime slices for serving
  • Ice


  • Combine all of your ingredients in the shaker.
  • Fill with ice and shake, shake, shake.
  • Strain the margaritas evenly into two glasses before adding the ice (to keep it even-steven).
  • Add ice, lime wheels, and enjoy.

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