Getting Salty with a Margarita

The age-old question of to salt or not to salt?
A salted margarita
Some patrons prefer salt, some don't. It's kind of the same way with bartenders. (Photo: /Shutterstock)

To salt the rim or not salt the rim ... that can be a good question to ask when making a margarita.

While salting the rim has been the traditional way of presenting a margarita, some bartenders prefer to add it to the drink itself instead of putting it on the rim.

For chef — and yes, that’s executive chef, not bartender — Nathaniel Cayer-Myette of I/O rooftop bar and Dolce Italian restaurant at the Godfrey Hotel in Chicago, salt is a must. But he doesn’t like it on the rim. The bar’s signature drinks are all made in the chef’s kitchen, and the margarita is topped with a salt foam, which is made with special equipment in the kitchen.

“Salt is a must,” Cayer-Myette says. “If you ask any chef, you put salt on everything. We are definitely pro salt.”

But the reason for not salting the rim is that when the salt is whipped into a foam, it gently melts into the cocktail itself as you sip the drink. “The idea behind the salt foam is that as it breaks down, the drink becomes a little more salty, and the drink changes as you sip it,” Cayer-Myette says.

The important thing with salt, says Carlos E. Cuarta, a Midwest mixologist and consultant, is getting the right balance with a margarita. “It is a combination of great ingredients and balance, and then how you execute the cocktail,” he says. “A really traditional Mexican drink combines saltiness and spiciness in a good way. To me, the best expression [of a margarita] is the Tommy margarita.”

For Cuarta, a good margarita should not be made with any orange liqueur. Instead, it should have a fine blanco tequila or a blend of blanco and añejo tequilas, and then it should be made with a combination of agave syrup and cane syrup. The Tommy margarita, he said, should be made with 1 ¾ oz. tequila, ¾ oz. fresh lime juice, and ½ oz. agave and cane syrup blend (equal parts agave syrup and water, then blended equally with cane syrup).

The rim is salted, but only half the rim, and the salt should only be on the outside of the glass, never on the inside. “If the salt is on the inside, it becomes too salty,” Cuarta says.

By salting only half of the outside of the glass, drinkers can choose when they want the salt and when they want to taste the clear, delicious drink itself. “Because sometimes you want salt, and sometimes you don’t want salt,” he says.

“For me, I like the salt, but as a bartender, you need to be flexible, and if people do not want the salt, then you need to hold the salt,” Cuarta adds.

Danny Nally, manager and mixologist of the Tiny Tavern in Chicago, leaves the salt off only if the customer requests it. “I think you should always salt a margarita,” he says. “Tequila is a sweet spirit, and we use agave nectar in our margarita so the salt needs to be there to balance out the sweetness.”

Nally also firmly believes in salting the rim, not the drink itself. “Sometimes you want salt, and sometimes you don’t, and if it’s on the rim, then you can choose whether to have salt in your sip,” Nally says. “If you add salt directly to the drink, then you always have salt, whether someone wants it or not.”

Jeanette Hurt is the author of Drink Like a Woman and is an award-winning writer focused on spirits, food and travel.

From our partners