Sipping an icy cold, refreshing margarita is one of the best ways to finish the workday and ease into happy hour. Whether you like your margarita with a salted rim, served straight up, or poured over rocks, this classic drink is just as delicious as a five o’clock sipper as it is served with a bowl of chips and guacamole. And with National Margarita Day on February 22, you have the perfect excuse to grab the ingredients you need to craft this cocktail at home. (Not that you needed one.)
Spicy Margarita | Kitchn Showdowns
While endless versions of margaritas abound, The Original Margarita is made with Cointreau, tequila, and fresh lime juice. Distilled since 1849 from an aromatic and balanced blend of sweet and bitter orange peels, Cointreau is the not-too-sweet spirit that adds just the right notes of citrus and sweetness into a margarita. It’s an essential element for any home bar and can be used in countless other cocktails, including a fun riff on the classic margarita, The Spicy Margarita.
For those who like a little kick, The Spicy Margarita (recipe below) offers all the flavors you love in a margarita, plus some zing and pep from jalapeños and cilantro. These additions are easy to incorporate into the drink: Shake sliced fresh jalapeño slices and sprigs of cilantro up with the Cointreau, tequila, and lime juice, and serve over ice. But does this simple method yield the best-tasting spicy margarita? We tested a few other methods of getting spicy jalapeño heat into a margarita to find the happy hour winner.
How We Tested Each of These Methods
Kitchn’s studio food editor Jesse Szewczyk took on the task of mixing up a few rounds of these spicy, refreshing cocktails to see which method yielded the tastiest spicy margarita. The method of delivering heat was different in each one, but all the margaritas contained the same amounts of Cointreau, tequila, lime juice, and cilantro. Here’s how Jesse tested each method and what he thought of the spicy margarita it produced.
The Spiciest Method: Muddled and Stirred
The first method was a common technique used in cocktails with fresh ingredients: muddling, or crushing ingredients to release some of their oils and juices first. The jalapeño slices and cilantro sprigs were gently crushed before being stirred (not shaken) together with the Cointreau, tequila, and lime juice, leading to a less aerated margarita with strong, spicy flavors.
Jesse’s notes: “Muddling the peppers made the drink a tad too intense. The heat was aggressive and a bit overpowering. If you love heat, this method might be good for you — but it was just too intense for me.”
The Time-Consuming Option: Spicy Rim
The next method tested was the most labor-intensive and geared toward those who love a salted rim on their margaritas. Instead of spiciness coming from jalapeños in the drink itself, a homemade spicy jalapeño salt was pressed onto the rim of the glass for heat. Made by drying out fresh jalapeño slices and processing them with salt, the jalapeño salt (which makes a large amount that will keep for a long time) would provide strong, upfront heat for every sip. The margarita itself was not spicy and was made by shaking up Cointreau, tequila, cilantro, and lime juice together.
Jesse’s notes: “This method is fun (and also pretty), but it’s a lot of effort to make the salt. If you can find a store-bought variety of jalapeño salt, that could save you time and make this method a bit easier. The heat also hits you all at once as you take a sip and doesn’t translate much into the drink itself.”
The Easiest Method: Shaken
Next came the easiest method: shaking. Shaking aerates the drink and melds flavors together, and is commonly used in citrus-based drinks. Here, the jalapeños were shaken with the Cointreau, tequila, lime juice, and cilantro before being strained into a glass filled with fresh ice.
Jesse’s notes: “This method is also pretty easy. Slightly more effort than the infused (and you don’t get the added perk of having pre-infused tequila on hand) but still easy. Shaking does infuse the drink with the spice of the peppers, but it’s not a knock-your-socks-off kind of heat like the muddled version.”
The Winner: Infused Tequila
The last method, infusing, was the most fun. It’s great for planning ahead or making spicy margaritas in big batches. Two jalapeños were halved lengthwise and added to a bottle of tequila. This infused tequila sat at room temperature for 12 hours before the jalapeños were strained out, then the infused tequila was used in the recipe below (but without any additional jalapeño slices shaken in). Infusing was easy and gave the tequila both heat and a bright floral flavor. This jalapeño-infused tequila could be stored for several months, meaning a spicy margarita could be made without the need for fresh peppers.
Jesse’s notes: “This method is mostly hands-off, so it’s super easy. The infused tequila lasts for several months, so you can keep it on hand and make a spicy margarita anytime. It also seemed to highlight more of the jalapeños’ nuanced flavors, not just the spice.”
While infusing tequila with jalapeños is the preferred method of delivering balanced heat, it’s fun to see that there are other great options available depending on how much time and effort you want to put into your drink-making. You could even replicate our tests at home to choose for yourself since honestly, any ice-cold spicy margarita in your hand is a winner in our book!
1 ounce Cointreau
2 ounces blanco tequila
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
2 slices jalapeño pepper, plus 2 for garnish
2 sprigs fresh cilantro