best margaritas ever (freshly squeezed!)

Growing up, my family had several traditions varying from reading The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve to eating pizza and renting a movie every Friday night. Now that my sister and I have grown up and moved out, the big tradition is going to one of our two favorite Mexican restaurants (they’re actually owned by the same people and have the exact same menu) and getting a pitcher of frozen margaritas. It’s pretty much a given that if my sister and I are both in DC at the same time (which frankly, doesn’t happen nearly enough), we will all go out to Cactus Cantina or Lauriol Plaza and enjoy a nice salt-rimmed glass or two of ice cold margaritas.

Fresh Margarita

My brother-in-law gave me his super simple and tasty recipe for margaritas and up until a few months ago, it was my go-to recipe for when I was craving a margarita. But I’ve always wondered: what would a margarita made completely from scratch taste like? Well, when I saw that Cook’s Illustrated had a recipe for fresh margaritas, I didn’t have to wonder any more. If the fine folks at Cook’s Illustrated had a recipe they were going to stand behind, well, I had to try it.

Their recipe uses fresh lemon and lime juice, zest, sugar, salt, triple sec, and of course tequila, and that’s it. Completely natural. And so totally delicious. To make sure the drink is packed with enough citrus flavor, they have you steep the lemon and lime juice with both lemon and lime zest for up to 24 hours.

Best Margaritas Ever

Now, I have to admit, sometimes the need for a margarita strikes before you have time to steep the juices for a full 24 hours. It’s ok, you don’t have to. Honestly, I have yet to have enough foresight to start it that early, but I look forward to the day that I do. Letting it steep for even just a few hours, this recipe makes an extremely satisfying and refreshing margarita. Even if you decide you need to have margaritas right now or else, you can still enjoy these margaritas and just skip the steeping step altogether.

Best Margarita Ever

Trust me, these are worth the extra effort. And as an added bonus, since they’re made with a smaller amount of crushed ice, no brain freeze to temper your margarita bliss. So save some money this Cinco de Mayo and just make a few pitchers of margaritas at home, invite some friends over and impress them with your mad margarita skills. Just be forewarned – they may start inviting themselves over more often.

Best Margaritas Ever

Yield: Makes about 1 quart, serves 4

From Cook's Illustrated

The longer you steep the zest and juice mixture, the more developed the citrus flavor, but if you're anything like me, you'll have trouble thinking that far in advance. It's still great if you can only steep it for four hours and you can skip that step altogether and leave out the zest if you need margaritas ASAP.

Because the recipe uses crushed ice, you technically don't need to have a blender to make these if you buy crushed ice or have one of those fridges that makes crushed ice. I just crush ice in my blender and go from there.


  • 4 teaspoons grated lime zest
  • 1/2 cup lime juice from 2 to 3 medium limes
  • 4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice from 2 to 3 medium lemons
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • pinch table salt
  • 2 cups crushed ice
  • 1 cup 100 percent agave tequila , preferably Reposado
  • 1 cup Triple Sec


  1. Combine the lime zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, sugar, and salt in large liquid measuring cup; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until flavors meld, 4 to 24 hours.
  2. Divide 1 cup crushed ice between 4 margarita or double old-fashioned glasses. Strain juice mixture into 1-quart pitcher or cocktail shaker. Add tequila, Triple Sec, and remaining crushed ice; stir or shake until thoroughly combined and chilled, 20 to 60 seconds. Strain into ice-filled glasses; serve immediately.


6 Responses to “best margaritas ever (freshly squeezed!)”

  • Fran Says:

    These look amazing! We were planning on trying the Cooks Illustrated version this weekend anyway, but with your advice, my excitement is enhanced!! Thanks for posting. Any mint julep ideas on the way? The Kentucky Derby is the same day as Cinco de Mayo!

  • Kristen Says:

    I hope you enjoy them! I actually do have a mint julep recipe from last year…I’ll see if I can get it posted by tomorrow!

  • LP @dishclips Says:

    This looks great! So refreshing and crisp looking.

  • julia Says:

    I had been looking for a good margarita recipe for New years eve and I wanted fresh, no mixer! This one looks great!!! I will let you know how they are after I make them, I am going to try the 24 hr thing!!!

  • John Says:

    Triple Sec is nowhere near natural…

    “Their recipe uses fresh lemon and lime juice, zest, sugar, salt, triple sec, and of course tequila, and that’s it. Completely natural.”

    Sub fresh squeezed oranges and Agave nectar

    • Kristen Says:

      Tripel Sec is an orange-flavored liqueur made from the dried peels of bitter and sweet orange. Subbing fresh orange juice and agave nectar won’t produce the same result.

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