Skip the Fancy Barware: 6 Hacks for Cocktail Equipment

November 19, 2015

I may own a distillery and work with cocktails for a living, but I don’t own a cocktail shaker at home.

Even though cocktail technique can make the difference between a so-so cocktail and a fantastic cocktail, not everyone wants to spend a bunch of money on fancy barware—especially if they only make cocktails on occasion.

Lots of fancy barware that you probably want but do not need. Photo by Alpha Smoot

Luckily, on the occasions when you decide you do want to concoct cocktails for yourself or friends, whether it’s weekly or just once a year, many pieces of barware can be substituted with kitchen implements you already have.

Here are some solutions to missing pieces of equipment for the home mixologist.

1. You don’t have a jigger.

This is absolutely fine. I’m a huge advocate of always measuring your cocktail ingredients because it guarantees consistency and small changes in the volume of a cocktail ingredient can often make a big difference in the final cocktail.

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A jigger is simply a way of measuring volumes, and there are lots of other ways of measuring volume—like the measuring spoons and cups you already have in your kitchen. Just know that one ounce is two tablespoons, and you’re pretty set to figure anything else out from there.

Make-shift cocktail shaker. Photo by Emily Vikre

2. The recipe calls for shaking, but you don’t have a shaker.

Don’t just mix the ingredients together in a glass and add ice. Shaking is actually an important part of cocktail making in the recipes that call for it. It properly incorporates ingredients of different viscosities—spirits, fruit juices, sometimes dairy or egg—and aerates the cocktail for a lovely frothy texture. And lastly, it chills and dilutes the cocktail to the proper drinking strength. If you just serve ingredients over ice, eventually the drink will get chilled and diluted as the ice melts, but its flavor and strength will change from first sip to last, and your cocktail won’t have the proper texture.

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Top Comment:
“Thanks for both the hacks and the explanations of why bartenders (pros and amateurs at home) need to do certain things, like shake over ice or strain two times. Would you recommend any different tools or methods if one were making a pitcher or punch-bowl full of cocktails...”
— Nancy

So if you don’t have a shaker, use virtually any strong container with a lid that seals instead. My preferred shaker hack uses a mason jar. Measure your ingredients into the jar, fill the jar three-quarters full with ice, screw on the lid, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds.

Straining from a mason jar. Photo by Emily Vikre

3. The recipe calls for straining, but you don’t have a strainer.

Nearly all cocktail recipes that are shaken or stirred call for straining in order to separate the drink from the used ice in the shaker/stirring glass so that you can serve the cocktail up (or over bigger pieces of ice so that the drink doesn’t over-dilute).

If you’ve used a mason jar for shaking, you can use the flat part of the lid as your strainer. Take off the ring part, offset the flat jar lid so there is a crack that will let liquid through as you pour while holding back the ice. Really any barrier that will hold back the ice while allowing you to pour out the liquid will do.

Proper cocktail strainers (a Hawthorne strainer for shaken drinks and a julep strainer for stirred drinks) will absolutely give you a bit better final texture in the drink (frothy for shaken, silken for stirred), but nobody is going to turn down the excellent cocktail that you’ve just strained with a jar lid because it’s a little less aerated.

Straining from a pint glass using a jar lid. Photo by Emily Vikre

4. The recipe calls for double straining and you think, “What?!”

Double straining is used when you’ve made a drink that has something like fruit or herbs muddled in it or an egg white shaken into it—any drink where there will be little pieces that could escape into the drink through your regular strainer. When you double strain a cocktail, you are literally straining it through two strainers. You pour it out of your shaker (or jar) via your regular cocktail strainer (or jar lid) through a fine mesh strainer that you’re holding directly above your cocktail glass.

The strainers that bars use for double straining are conical shaped to direct the liquid right into your glass, but if you don’t have one, you can use a tea strainer or another small fine mesh strainer; as long as it is smaller in diameter than the cocktail glass you’re using, you should be alright.

Double-straining using a fine mesh sieve. Photo by Emily Vikre

5. Oh, you don’t have a muddler either?

Use the handle of a wooden spoon, preferably one that's pretty heavy. And, when you muddle, always remember that you're pressing the ingredients gently with just enough force to release their juices or flavorful oils. Muddling is not another word for pulverizing.

6. The recipe calls for stirring and you don’t have one of those long, pretty cocktail spoons.

This is definitely no problem! Stirring is usually used to incorporate, chill, and properly dilute cocktails comprised of all booze (i.e. no fruit juices or other non-clear ingredients). A cocktail stirring spoon is long and balanced; this allows you to nimbly rotate the handle in tiny circles between your fingers while the bowl of the spoon travels smoothly around the edge inside the glass, mixing the ingredients and ice together without aerating the cocktail.

But the same thing can be accomplished with virtually any long narrow, mostly flat object. A lot of people recommend using a chopstick; I actually prefer to use a knife. I like the slightly greater width and weight a knife has for balancing between my fingers while stirring.

Stirring a cocktail using a knife. Photo by Emily Vikre

Does lack of proper cocktail equipment keep you from making drinks? Share with us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • healthierkitchen
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
  • Nancy
  • Kenzi Wilbur
    Kenzi Wilbur
  • Bella B
    Bella B
I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.


healthierkitchen December 1, 2015
Do you have advice for when your shaker seals closed once cold? I'm thinking that i will switch to a Mason jar!
Sarah J. November 20, 2015
I never even try to make cocktails at home because I have 0 fancy drink things, but your article has given me new hope!!!
Nancy November 20, 2015
Thanks for both the hacks and the explanations of why bartenders (pros and amateurs at home) need to do certain things, like shake over ice or strain two times.
Would you recommend any different tools or methods if one were making a pitcher or punch-bowl full of cocktails...
fiveandspice November 20, 2015
Stirred cocktails work well for pitchers. You can actually dilute the prebatched drink ahead of time - stirring usually adds about 25% extra volume in water - stir everything together well in the pitcher and then chill the whole pitcher before serving it. Then your drink is already chilled and diluted and just needs to be poured into glasses or over the ice cubes you want to serve with. For punches, I recommend shaking the ingredients together with ice before adding them to the punch bowl - which then usually has a big ice block/ring in it - but you'll probably need to shake it up in batches depending on how big of a bowl of punch you're making, maybe a quarter or a sixth of the recipe at a time.
Nancy November 20, 2015
Thanks for this extra info on pitcher and punch-bowl mixing. I'm guessing if you do the punch in parts (one quarter or one sixth), you can start with a few parts, and top it up as the party goes on...
Kenzi W. November 19, 2015
Yes! Thank you for helping to spread the gospel. Good cocktails for everyone.
Bella B. November 19, 2015
They all look so good!!