Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into margarita glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lime wheel
~My personal favorite, adapted from several classic recipes
You've probably had a margarita. Some sources say it's the most-ordered drink in the world, and whether that's actually true or not, its enduring popularity can't be denied. Like many classic drinks, its origins are disputed (there's at least two credible stories on how it came about) but that's not the important thing. The important thing is knowing how to make one.
A margarita is easy to make, but also easy to screw up. I'm going to offer a few pointers to help you make a good one. The margarita is simply a combination of tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice, so if you stick to that blueprint, you're already off to a good start. But let's explore things in a little more detail...
First: No mixes! We've all seen those plastic jugs full of neon green who-knows-what labeled "margarita mix." Leave 'em on the shelf. Whatever scant seconds you save by using them aren't worth the loss in flavor.
Tequila: Choosing a tequila is a pretty simple affair. Look for ones made with 100% agave (somewhere on the bottle it will say "tequila 100% de agave" or "tequila 100% puro de agave"). The age of the tequila isn't crucial, but as a general guide, blanco (sometimes called "white," "plata," or "platinum") is preferred. The two older styles (reposado and anejo) also can be used, but some of their subtler characteristics may be lost.
Orange Liqueur: This is pretty much a personal preference. Popular options include Cointreau, Grand Marnier, curacao (there are several brands available), and triple sec (again, there are a variety of brands to choose from). They range from very sweet to quite dry, so sample as many as you can and experiment to find which one(s) you like best.
Lime juice: As with any cocktail, always use fresh-squeezed juice. Nothing matches fresh juice for giving your drink the bright, tart zing that complements the other ingredients.
Glass: You can use the traditional margarita glass (my personal favorite), as well as a rocks glass or standard cocktail glass, if you're serving the drink straight up. Your choice may be also be influenced by what type of ice (if any) you'll be using. Speaking of which...
Ice: Most people usually go for either regular ice cubes or crushed ice. It's really up to you. I like crushed ice, but if you want to use one big chunk (unorthodox, but who cares) or none at all, knock yourself out. You might even be one of those people who insist on using a blender to make the whole thing into a grown-up slushie. No harm, no foul.
Garnish: A lime wheel perched on the rim of the glass is traditional, but there's no law that says you can't use something else.
Salt: If you like salt, put some on the rim. If you don't like salt, leave it out. Not everything is complicated.
Other Stuff: If you've been to a bar or restaurant any time over the last few decades, you've noticed how many versions of the margarita exist. Some are faithful to the original, making only slight changes. Others stray drastically from the template, almost transforming the drink into something else entirely. Feel free to experiment with fruit, herbs, syrups etc., but realize that simpler is often better.
Thanks for drinking!