the perfect margarita

This week many of us are coming up on the anniversary of all sorts of things we had little idea would define the year ahead. I remember saying things like “these masks are really expensive but they’re all that’s available, should I buy them?” (yes, Deb, and also some flour) and “they can’t cancel school, can they?” and “we can still plan a summer vacation because things should normalize by then, right?” and I’m sure I’m not alone in these one year-ago reminders throwing me for a big emo loop. It’s also been delightfully almost spring-like in NYC after a consistently wintery winter and I haven’t been able to stay inside, inventing as many reasons as I can come up with for taking walks, which is bad for productivity but doing wonders to counteract all of those heavy moods. At the end of one yesterday, I swung by the grocery store to get ingredients for crisp black bean tacos and because I cannot make this up, you must believe me: a bird pooped on me in the store. Is it still luck if it happens while you’re inspecting cabbages, hoping to find an apartment-sized one?

salt and tajín rimfresh lime juicelime juicepour it over ice

Pretty much the only thing I craved for the first six months of “quar” was tacos, usually vegetable because everything felt so heavy, I wanted food that felt light — black bean, cauliflower, sweet potato, heaped with avocado and crunchy slaws. In the background of this, this provided many, many excuses to finetune our house margarita. We’ve adjusted formulas a few times over the years [the 2007 Tart Marg tracks more closely with the International Bartenders Association (IBA) formula] but it was all in service of this, our forever margarita: tart but balanced, just barely sweet. If you can make it happen, fresh lime juice is my favorite part. A mixture of kosher salt and Tajín on the rim makes me feel like I’m on one of those vacations we missed. Tequila and your choice of triple sec or Cointreau round it out, but if you want a more clear lime flavor, you should know about Tommy’s margarita, which nixes the liqueur in favor of a couple spoonfuls of agave nectar. I hope the sun stays out where you are too, and this sets your weekend off cheerfully.

the perfect margarita



6 months ago: Dulce de Leche Chocoflan
1 year ago: Sweet Potato Salad with Pepita Dressing
2 year ago: Cauliflower and Tomato Masala with Peas
3 years ago: Quick, Essential Stovetop Mac-and-Cheese
4 years ago: Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes and Pomegranate Grapefruit Paloma
5 years ago: Belgian Brownie Cakelets, Broccoli Melts, and White Russian
6 years ago: Perfect Corn Muffins and Spaghetti Pangrattato with Crispy Fried Eggs
7 years ago: Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt and Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew and Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel
8 years ago: Blood Orange Margaritas
9 years ago: Double Coconut Muffins and Fried Egg Sandwich with Bacon and Blue Cheese
10 years ago: Green Bean Salad with Pickled Red Onions and Fried Almonds and Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil
11 years ago: Walnut Jam Cake, Ginger Fried Rice and Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes with Mint Cream
12 years ago: Whole Lemon Tart, Alex’s Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage and Toasted Coconut Shortbread
13 years ago: Pasta Puttanesca and Pear and Almond Tart
14 years ago: Fusilli with Baked Tomato Sauce and Aloo Gobi.


The Perfect Margarita

  • Servings: 2
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

I use a 3:2:2 formula here, which is helpful to know for some future date when we resume having parties: this is so much fun to batch up. A 750-ml bottle of tequila holds just over 3 cups; add 2 cups each of lime juice and orange liqueur and ice for a pitcher. Tajín is a mixture of chili powder, lime, and salt that you should always buy two of (we put it on everything from tacos to this soup and these salads to hard-boiled eggs); you’ll be glad you did. I’m using Jose Cuervo (gold) tequila here, which is a good basic one. Shown here are two 11-ounce glasses.

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (I’m using Diamond)
  • 1 teaspoon Tajín or 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3 lime wedges
  • Ice
  • 4 1/2 ounces (9 tablespoons) tequila
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) Cointreau, Triple Sec, or Grand Marnier
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine salt and chili powder on a small rimmed plate. Swipe the rim of two glasses with the first lime wedge and dip it in the salt mixture. Fill glasses two-thirds of the way with ice. Combine tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice. If you’d like, you can shake it up in a cocktail shaker or jar with a few large ice cubes until the jar/shaker feels too cold to hold, or that’s my rule. Pour (strain if coming from a shaker) over ice in glasses, being careful not to rinse off the salt rim. Garnish each with remaining lime wedges.

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99 comments on the perfect margarita

  1. Perfect timing for these as we head into the weekend. It’s sunny in Chicago – I’ll sit by the window as I drink this and pretend there’s a sunny beach right outside.

  2. Fahreen

    We are invited to a friend’s house tonight for a Mexican themed evening and I am in charge of bringing the “craft cocktail”. I am a great mixologist (can I say that? LOL) and this is my go-to ingredient list for a classic margarita! The Trader Joe’s Chili Lime seasoning is wonderful in the salt mixture for the rim. I mix things up sometimes with throwing in some sliced jalapenos in the shaker for a lil kick, grapefruit juice, meyer lemon/lime juice combo (trust me, it rocks!), cilantro leaves in the shaker …. these all add a spin to the cocktail. Always making sure that only FRESH INGREDIENTS are used – that is the key! Salud!

  3. Tyler

    Just feeling the blues today, and wanted to say thank you; looking through these webpages, it feels like hanging with an old friend, and I feel some sense of inspiration and even excitement peaking back through! Thank you for showing up enthusiastically in this space all these years, for your charming/thoughtful recipe takes, for your hilarious and honest writing. You have helped me turn around more than one bad day. You’re the d#&n best and I am so grateful!

      1. Anna K

        Agree so much with this. I come here looking for inspiration for whatever is lurking in the fridge but more importantly I come here for your positivity, your humour, and your commitment to making cooking accessible to everyone. It means more to more people than you’ll ever know. I hope our next years are brighter, Deb.

        1. Liz

          I was just thinking something similar. I’m not a big cocktail drinker and don’t particularly like margaritas so I was going to scroll by, but the writing drew me in and then I’m off down a rabbit warren of links to old recipes. Lovely.

          1. Julienne

            I adore margaritas and all your recipes, which never fail me, but mostly come to your blog for the same reason as these commenters. Thank you for the delightful writing, which always gives me a lift. That is no mean feat this year.

              1. RQ

                Agree with all the above. Also, I’m sorry you got pooped on by a bird inside the store Deb, but it is giving me the giggles right now.

          2. Sally

            Agreed! I came here this morning for an egg recipe and now I am dreaming of a margarita with friends!

            Going down rabbit trails on the internet usually makes me feel as though I have wasted time, but getting drawn in to your lovely, honest, and funny writing makes me feel better about the world.

            Thanks for nurturing and nourishing us through such a tough year!

  4. Caitlin

    How do you ALWAYS KNOW what I’m most interested in consuming?? It’s uncanny, and you are a treasure. Thank you, and cheers from Victoria, B.C.!

  5. Carrie Spencer

    I second Tyler’s comment! Deb- I can’t tell you how often I’ve turned to your recipes for inspiration, including from your cookbooks, during this pandemic. It’s been tough, but we know it’s been tough for you too of course. So, thanks for always being there for us & coming up with just the antidote at just the right time, to help us chase away the blues and feed hungry bellies too. We ❤️ you. And now I will be making a couple of your margaritas. 🙃

  6. Renae Rosencrans

    I have made many many batches of your former recipe (2:1:1 ratio) and I always mention your comment “If you like your memories few and far between….” 😆😆

  7. LitProf

    Deb, agreeing with other folks here. You’ve gotten us through this year in so many ways. You’re creative, compassionate, funny, and righteous. And every recipe I’ve made from this site has become part of my family life. Thank you for everything.

  8. Hadilly

    Deb, I can’t stand tequila so don’t think I will be making this. But! I have been using your pickled onion recipe to make slaw. I always keep a big mason jar of your pickled onions in the fridge (a triple recipe fills it right up), and then take out a good amount along with some of the pickling liquid and mix it with finely sliced cabbage. It’s even better if it can sit a bit, but so delicious!

    Thank you for all the amazing recipes and I hope you have a great Purim.

    1. Alex

      I too hated tequila, but then I learned that was because all I knew of tequila was the mixtos (only 51% agave, like Jose) that I was exposed to in college.

      I was persuaded to try a 100% agave tequila – Espolon Blanco – and much to my surprise I really liked it. If you ever feel like giving tequila another shot, try a 100% agave like Espolon and maybe you’ll discover you actually like good tequila.

    1. Alex

      You want 100% pure agave, so skip the mixtos (only 51% agave, like Jose).

      I recommend Espolon Blanco – it’s delicious, widely available, and only $20-23 a bottle.

  9. Cy

    OMG! I had no idea Tommy’s was so famous outside of SF. I have been going there for ever and it changed my idea of what a margarita could be. We are lucky enough to have Eureka, Meyer lemons and Ranjpur limes in abundance at my dad’s house and the combo makes the best margarita. I have been known to use honey, if out of agave. I often make lime or lemon simple syrup and use that. I have also used Torani lime syrup, but it is hard to find. Also need to use our abundant citrus. Thanks for the marg update, looking forward to trying your tips

  10. Sara

    Wow–this is so weird because margaritas (and paper planes!) also got us through the first six months of the pandemic. In Toronto this week we finally had some sunny, “warmer” weather, and I was just thinking it’s time to make margaritas again.

    1. Lindsay

      Paper planes! I had one in a local restaurant (Knoxville, TN) a couple of years ago, assumed it was the bartender’s concoction, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s a real drink after lots of googling. Few down here have heard of it (trust me, I’ve asked) so we’ve taken to making our own, since we aren’t going anywhere anyway. So happy to hear/read of another fan. Cheers!

    2. Katie

      And here I thought you were making paper planes while consuming margaritas. The clarifying comment has got me curious to look into this beveragw

      1. Tim

        Barging in here, but I just had to share it’s honestly one of the best drinks! Given it’s reasonable to have aperol and bourbon on hand already, the only “out there” ingredient is the amaro nonino, but it’s shelf life is forever and there’s not really a good substitute — it is 1000% worth getting, trust me.

  11. My Dad taught me to make margaritas when I was about 12. His proportions were the same as yours but his citrus of choice was lemon and frozen in ice cube trays. Everything was blended, then served in chilled coupes. I was glad to drink 7Up rather than the puckery cocktail.
    Fifty years later, I’m with you right to the Tajin on the rim. So delicious.
    Thanks for the laugh about the bird poop!
    Glad you folks a thawing out!

  12. Gwen

    We grow lime and lemon trees… and often have margarita Thursdays. I agree with your recipe 100%! Would love to know the type of electric juicer you are using!

  13. Not only has Taco Tuesday become such an established part of the “quar” for us, but margaritas have been my jam as of late. I personally had fantasies about sitting on a warm beach somewhere and drinking icy margaritas and have followed my bliss. I’ve been using the frozen berries meant for smoothies for something extra – like a red raspberry margarita on Valentine’s Day. Had it with a big bowl of guacamole. Hit the spot. Rich picked me up Tesaro tequila which has been tasty. Cheers! L’chaim! Salut!

  14. L

    I feel moved to comment today Deb – your writing is so beautiful – I love your honesty, your gentle way with words, and your humour… I laughed out loud about the bird! What a sense of connection you evoke with your words. And yum, the enlivening refreshment of a balanced margarita!! Thank you.

  15. Shara

    I love Margaritas but they aren’t a drink I can have on a regular night and still, you know, actually parent. So I came up with the concept of a margarita mixer. Half strength margarita with tonic water. Delicious. My husband calls them Shargaritas.
    Will have to find Tajin in Australia, sounds yum.

  16. Lillian

    I agree with Tyler and the others above ^^ thank you so much for helping to get me through the last year! I’ve relied so hard on your archives for good recipes and good cheer. Here’s to a better year ahead for all of us!!

  17. Ellen Alyce Merrill

    So sorry about the bird pooping on your head. I think it was wise of you to make a margarita; that makes everything better

  18. Jennifer

    I’m hesitant to add this, given the name of the recipe, but have you ever tried the Cooks Illustrated margarita recipe? I think the best part is that you zest the limes (and lemons in that recipe), and let the zest soak in the juice for 4 to 24 hours. Just smelling those margaritas drives the winter blahs away. Based on the soaking time, it’s not a last minute recipe, but they are so good and fresh. I imagine any margarita recipe involving fresh squeezed juice could benefit from this.

  19. Anne

    These remind me of a surf trip to Sayulita (spring 2019) that now feels like it was a different lifetime ago. Thank you for this spark of sunlight during this dark week, and for your honest writing throughout the last year. I’ll be raising a glass with this one tonight

  20. Nicole

    I’m never quite sure what is meant when a recipe calls for “Chili Powder”, although, does the use of the ‘I’ ending indicate the American spice blend, as opposed to some powdered chilies?
    Thank for the recipe, might not be able to wait until March 13 (the day it all went to heck here)

  21. Meghan

    We have crocuses popping up already in Boston! The seasons are changing and the vaccines give me so much hope- best wishes for the sunniest of Springs and lots of tacos either way. I love to read your posts and make your food.

    Have you listened to the audio version of ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’? It is the best audiobook I have ever heard with an amazing cast, headlined by David Sedaris and Nick Offerman. Knocked my socks right off!

  22. Bethany

    My dad gave me a bottle of Tajin months ago and I’ve never used it, but I will next time I make a marg!

    Also, does it matter that Cointreau and Triple Sec have different alcohol contents?

    1. deb

      Both will work here, but if you prefer one or the other you can use it. It’s a pretty boozy drink regardless; don’t forget to add a lot of ice!

  23. Mickey2942

    This is why I love your website. No fancy recipe, with 1,000 ingredients, nothing new I have to cook and eat. This, is something I can make my husband, with chips and salsa, and we are on a trip to Cancún, in the living room. Thank you. Bless you. And Gracias, muy Bueno!

  24. Erin

    Today was the one year anniversary of when we woke up sick…thankfully we both recovered but what a year. Yes, as usual you are right there with us in spirit, lol.

  25. Michellers

    Used grand marnier but the recipe was too tart for me and my socially distanced backyard guests this weekend. Love the strong lime flavor but we had to add sweetener. Fortunately I bought some of the agave syrup to try the Tommy’s Margarita version, so we added that and the margaritas were perfect.

  26. Sallie Altman

    That must be some Covid style ventilation going on, to get pooped on by a bird in a store! I got pooped on by a seagull at the seashore once, if you can believe that. While all dressed and ready for a day of exploring tourist places in the harbor. It did NOT feel like good luck, and OMG the quantity and the smell! Anyway would like to echo the prevailing sentiment being expressed here. I have made a LOT of your recipes, and been pleased with most of them…but its the writing that draws me in as much as anything. It is so nice to have something pleasant and uplifting to get interested in, especially lately. Ive learned a ton, travelled vicariously, enjoyed hearing about your experiences, and eaten all kinds of good food, both literally and figuratively, thanks to you. You are a positive force even in bad times.

  27. Steve

    Looks good, I’m generally a fan of the 2:1:1 because it’s easier to remember…

    Squeeze all the limes you have, double that with triple sec, double that with tequila, add a squeeze of simple syrup if the limes are too sour for your significant other.

  28. I can’t tell you how delicious this looks! Why is it only Wednesday?! After a hard week, it’s so nice to kick back with a sweet cocktail to take the edges off! Thanks for this recipe!

  29. SK

    Hello Deb,

    I’ve been having problems printing out recipes from your website from various browsers such as SAFARI, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.
    When I go to PRINT, I receive the message that the images are loading and it is stuck in that mode forever.
    Is anyone else having this problem?

    1. deb

      Thanks for letting me know. We are aware of the issue with Safari, but you’re the first to report it with other browsers. The bad news is they haven’t been able to fix it yet, but are working on it. The good news is that the print functionality for the site still works, just not the button itself, so you should still be able to print a recipe from the site in one of a few ways:

      CTRL + P or ⌘ + P
      File > Print on a Mac
      From the share button (the one that looks like an up-arrow coming out of a box) at the bottom of the Safari browser on iOS

      I hope this helps and the button should be working again in no time.

  30. Debby Patterson

    For some reason, in defiance of the calendar indicating St. Patrick’s Day is soon and corned beef is in abundance, the cabbages in my grocery store are unusually tiny, so I introduced my complaining customers to the “apartment-size” concept. Their amusement almost made them forget they were having to buy three cabbages!

  31. Ohhh yes Deb! I remember wondering if the shut down could possibly last until the end of the school year. It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? But I like how you think and I think this margarita will be made this weekend :) Thanks for the idea. And tacos too!!

  32. Lorraine

    Tequila, check. Limes, check. Tajín, check. I sadly don’t have Cointreau nor Triple Sec on hand though…but do have Solerno blood orange liquor. Wondering if that might work?. This will be my first time making margaritas, so I’d rather not screw it up and waste the tequila. Any insight anyone could provide would be awesome!

    1. Alex

      If you don’t have Cointreau or another Triple Sec, leave it out and replace it with agave syrup/nectar or simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water) to make a Tommy’s Margarita.

      To match this ratio:
      1.5 oz tequila
      1 oz lime juice
      0.5 oz agave syrup or 1 oz simple syrup

      I prefer more tequila flavour, so I like:
      2 oz tequila
      1 oz lime juice
      0.5 oz agave or 1 oz simple syrup

      And for a delicious and stunning variation, make a Devil’s Margarita by making it with simple syrup and then floating 0.5-1 oz red wine (such as Pinot Noir) on top.

  33. Suzanne Wells

    Never thought I’d see the day when restaurants in Virginia were allowed to sell “to go” alcoholic beverages, but here we are still! We got take-out from our fave local Mexican place yesterday and you guessed it, we got a margarita to go. I drank half of it last night, stuck the rest in the freezer, and had just gotten it out to finish off when I opened your webpage. I’d call this serendipity! Thanks for giving me years of good food and great humor. I’m sipping and enjoying.

    1. Sarah

      Sounds divine! The warmer weather has me craving all the cocktails and Chardonnay. Oh but I’m 5 months pregnant! Maybe I’ll try a heavily limed glass of seltzer with a salted rim? :)

  34. Carol

    Is there anything a good margarita won’t fix? We think not. We use a tad more tequila (we love the Cazadores Reposado for the rooty flavor), skip the salt but never the lime swipe, and shake that thing ’til my hands feel in danger of frost bite. We rarely have just one. But don’t do three. There will be regrets.
    So sorry about the poop. Bird crap–the worst. That watery bit! Ugh!

    You’re a gem. Thanks for all the good cheer.

  35. karen garber

    Making this tonight! The weather in MA is spectacular for a change. What a treat to follow your blog and to read the many comments. It looks like we are all in good company. Feels like a sisterhood (hope that’s ok to say) of amazing people coming together to enjoy good food and chat. Thanks again!

  36. Kathy Sullivan

    This was absolutely perfect. Just the right way to end a long work week. But where are you. I can’t be the only one missing you- I hope all is well and will be waiting for your next post/recipe

    1. deb

      Thank you. I’m sorry; I hate being away. I was under the weather (not Covid! not pregnancy! just an annoying bug and no appetite) and getting back to it. I’m currently restocking the content cache with the holidays and spring in mind and will be back hopefully tomorrow. xo

  37. Macy

    Oh Deb I love your writing and that you had the misfortune of having a bird poop on you inside of a store. Yours are the only food blog posts that I don’t rush to skip to get to the recipe!

    1. deb

      By the way, I told a neighbor this and she was surprised I didn’t know there’s been a bird hanging out over the produce section, which is somehow even funnier to me, that this is a Known Issue.

  38. JJ Dutton

    I’ve been living in Mexico for several years, in a beach town close to Puerto Vallarta. If a Margarita using that recipe were presented to someone here, it would be sent back immediately, as it is entirely too sour!

    The recipe used by most bartenders anywhere I have been in Mexico is as follows:

    1 cup Tequila
    1/3 cup orange liqueur (Cointreau OR Controy)
    1/4 cup lime juice
    2 TBsp of Agave syrup OR sugar syrup

    They are more often served “frozen” (made in a blender) than on the rocks, although that is a personal preference and 90% are made with simply plain sea salt on the rim.

    Frozen: Fill up the blender about 3/4 full with ice. Add the above ingredients and blend it for quite a while. Add more ice, blend again until it’s like a slushie. Taste for sweetness/tartness.

    JJ Dutton

  39. Ingrid Phillips

    My son & his wife bought a fanciful butter dish with the top of an orange & white cat who has a long tail which is nice to hold to remove the top. I don’t see butter dishes featured on your website. :(

  40. Laura Tosto

    Made these last night and they were spectacular! My sisters and I loved them, slightly tart, but smooth and mellow at once. Will definitely make a gain.

  41. Alex

    Deb, I think you and your margaritas deserve a better tequila to make them truly perfect. :)

    I really like Espolon Blanco because it’s delicious and inexpensive, but if you prefer a reposado I’ve heard great things about Casadores, Chamucos, and especially Casa Noble Reposados.

    1. Chris

      Espolon Blanco is perfect for margaritas! It is usually my go to. If I’m feeling fancy, I will splurge on Casamigos.

  42. Geekgirl

    Thursday evening, just after 6pm and it’s 71 degrees here on my back deck just outside Portland, Oregon. The nicest day of the year so far! I’m enjoying this marvelous margarita while listening to Hawaiian music and daydreaming of surf and sand. It’s been a tough week (and not yet the end of my work week) and this is just the getaway I need. Thank you for the recipe. Reading your writing, both on this blog and in your cookbooks, never fails to lift my spirits.

  43. Kendra

    Made a double batch of these last night and they were fantastic! My limes were kind of dry, and I had to get more; the market had sweet limes, which I decided to try. Great decision. Used half “regular” limes and half “sweet” limes. So tasty. Making another batch tonight!

  44. Chris

    This recipe makes one really great margarita! I’ve been faithful to the standard 2:1:1 recipe for so long, but I really like how this 3:2:2 ratio brings the citrus notes forward. I always use half fresh lemon/lime juice in my margaritas, instead of just like juice. I find the lemon adds a nice brightness to the drink. I think this recipe would also be great frozen with a few frozen strawberries throw into the mix.

  45. Laura

    A perfect margarita indeed! I’ve tried a couple of others before, and had a well meaning neighbor drop-off her version, but we were disappointed. Indeed, my daughter was concerned that with a lack of simple syrup it would be too sour for her. But it was great – we all enjoyed it – and very glad we weren’t driving! ;-)! Perfect pairing with our Peruvian chicken and pork carnitas for a post Cinco de Maya feast!

  46. Shawn

    This is disgusting. Please remove this from the internet and wash your computer with strong detergent. I gave it a chance and made this exactly. Just awful.

  47. David

    I like this marg, but I highly recommend that you try mandarin Napoleon liquor as the orange , subbing for any of the other you mention. Promise to try it. Another level marg.
    Great site, and following you on instagram

  48. Mary Jane Harvey

    Jimmy Buffett passed away last night and I felt compelled to make these in his honor. What a fitting tribute! Great margaritas and we live in Mexico!