The Secret Ingredient Ina Garten Always Adds To Margaritas

There are dozens upon dozens of ways to make a margarita, but for the most part, they all include one essential ingredient (and we don't mean tequila). Lime juice is the perfect acidic component to wake up all the other elements that go into this classic cocktail. Naturally, when Ina Garten whips up a pitcher of margs, she uses plenty of freshly-squeezed limes, but there's another citrus she reaches for, as well.

On an episode of her show, "The Barefoot Contessa," Garten revealed that the secret to her blended margaritas is the juice of one lemon (about two tablespoons). She says that it gives the drink more depth of flavor. Aside from the lemon juice, her recipe includes traditional ingredients: tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and ice. For extra glam, she serves these drinks in martini glasses with salted rims.

Garten's recipe makes four to six servings, so one lemon's worth of juice is enough for a pitcher of margaritas. You'll want to adjust the amount according to your recipe quantity. Whether you're blending even more drinks than Garten is or just making a marg for one, the lemon juice addition is well worth a try.

How much difference could lemon juice make?

Lemon juice in a margarita might sound like a little much. After all, you already have a very sour, slightly bitter element with the lime juice, so wouldn't an extra boost of citrus make for an overly tart drink? In reality, Ina Garten's secret ingredient strikes a balance of flavors, which really is what a great cocktail is all about. Yes, these two citrus fruits will both make your mouth pucker and your eyes squint, but they aren't necessarily interchangeable and definitely offer different nuances. 

Limes are often described as bitter, while lemons are sweeter by comparison. When you put the two together, you get a balance of sweet, tart, and pleasantly bitter components. It's pure heaven for citrus lovers and might even evoke a cold lemonade on a hot day, though the drink is still a marg through and through. It's worth mentioning that Garten's recipe calls for blending the liquid ingredients with ice, which is naturally going to water the cocktail down a bit, mellowing the punch of both citrus juices.

If you prefer your margaritas simply shaken with ice and strained, or served on the rocks, you may have to play around with the quantities of lemon and lime. Try adding just a squeeze of fresh lemon to your usual recipe. You might be surprised at how it adds more brightness and complexity to the drink.

Margarita flavors are virtually limitless

Margaritas are one of the most flexible drinks in the cocktail atmosphere. While Ina Garten's lemon juice addition will amplify traditional margaritas, there are many other ingredients that can alter the flavor altogether. The author and television host also has recipes for margaritas with blood orange juice and pink grapefruit juice. For a sweeter lemon factor, try using Meyer lemon juice. This varietal is noticeably more mellow and sweet than other types of lemons, and will give you a unique cocktail that tastes great with a sugar and salt mix on the rim.

When it comes to the tequila, Garten admittedly is a fan of using inexpensive silver brands versus top-shelf booze. However, if you do want to make your margs taste expensive, start by using a quality reposado or añejo, along with name-brand curaçao or Grand Marnier for the orange liqueur. You can even make margaritas spicy by using chili peppers, adding an extra taste sensation to the drink. Combined with tart lemon or lime, the slight savoriness of the peppers really shines. Adding lemon juice to any kind of margarita, whether it's spicy, fruity, or classic, will take it to a new level of deliciousness.