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Greetings. Today is National Tequila Day. This means many of you will hit a happy hour tonight, at which you’ll be confronted with cheap margs. I am not here to dissuade you from drinking those cheap, and probably unsatisfying, margs (though please, be responsible). What I am here to to is dissuade you from making dissatisfying margs.

To be clear, making a really good margarita can be as complicated as you want it to be. It can also be expensive, depending on how fancy you’re going. Making a bad margarita can also be as complicated as you want it to be. But making a passable margarita, the kind of marg you wouldn’t be embarrassed to pour for someone, but also wouldn’t want to brag about, is really simple. It involves two important rules plus a subsequent judgment call.

  • A passable margarita can be made with lousy mix, or lousy tequila, but not both.
  • You need ice and limes, and cannot achieve a truly passable margarita without both.

Today, if you set out to make yourself a marg, maybe a pitcher o’ margs, stick with those two principles and I can promise you something that’s absolutely tolerable.

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The judgment call referenced above relates to rule number one, so before you do anything else, decide if you want to cough up a little extra for a nice reposado, or put in the work to make sure everything else is tasty. I’m not arguing that you have to buy something super expensive and small-batch, but it has to be 100 percent agave, so none of that Cuervo bullshit for you. You can absolutely get a good-not-great bottle of tequila for under $40. Then hell, you want to use a margarita mix right out of the bottle? Go for it. Just make sure to use it very sparingly, to dress it up with actual lime juice, and to shake it all vigorously with ice.

But say that, in the spirit of National Tequila Day, you want to get fucked up on the cheap. Then you’re going to be putting in some effort. Do still try to find something that’s 100 percent agave—anything else is likely to be half sugarcane spirit, no thanks—but if what you’ve got is kinda burn-y, that’s fine. Just arm yourself with the following:

  • Agave nectar/syrup or simple syrup. The former isn’t super expensive, the latter is really easy to make—equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan, heat until dissolved, add a flavor if you want, simmer for a bit, cool for at least an hour. Throw some sliced jalapeños in there if you want. You’re fancy. That’s going past passable, but what the hell, it’s a holiday.
  • Limes. You need fresh-ass lime juice for the drink, plus a little more for the salt rim.
  • Salt. Kosher salt. Hell, go nuts, get some smoked salt.
  • Ice.

If you’ve got a nice orange liqueur at home, you can swap that out for the agave or simple, but use it sparingly. That’s true of all of this stuff. If you’re using 2 oz. of tequila per drink, I’d start with 1/2 oz. of both lime juice and your sweet syrup of choice, then keep tasting until the balance is right for you.

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Then get that ice and a cocktail shaker and go to town. Either way, you want that shit to be ice cold.

Congratulations, you’re an acceptable margarita maker. Behave yourself.