How to Rim a Glass

Ever wondered how to rim a glass properly? Here’s how to do it, step-by-step, to get the perfect salt rim or sugar rim every single time. You’ll need this before your next margarita night!

frozen margaritas with tajin rims

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Cocktails are so much prettier and delicious with flavorful salt, sugar or even sprinkles on the rim! Let’s talk about how to rim a glass properly.

Why do we rim glasses?

This is such a good question. The answer has everything to do with human anatomy.

The tongue has five receptors of taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory (AKA umami).

Most cocktails — like the classic margarita — hit on sweet and sour, sometimes even bitter flavor from the alcohol.

A salty rim helps to round out more of the tongue’s taste buds and cuts both the sourness and sweetness. The result is a brighter cocktail with flavors that pop.

As we talked about in this post on cocktail garnishes, there’s more to a cocktail than just taste.

The texture of the salt on the rim also helps to liven up the drinking experience. A flavored rim, like cinnamon sugar, will also add in some fragrance for the nose to take in.

Plus, a decorative flourish is always more appealing to the eye than a plain drink, making us want to imbibe right away.

All of these subtly contribute to a better cocktail, whether the drinker realizes it or not.

6 types of salt: smoked, table, sea, himalayan, black lava and chile lime

Sugar vs. Salt

Different cocktails call for different types of rims. Let’s talk about a few of the different styles out there:

Salt rims

Margaritas are known for their salt rim! There are a number of types of salt on the market, but the kind of salt you use matters. There’s one type you want to stay away from!

  • Table salt — When people think of salt, this is usually what comes to mind. This salt is produced by mining or by evaporation. After that, it’s purified of trace minerals, then potassium iodide and caking agents are added to prevent clumping.
  • Kosher salt — This is the one you see in baking recipes a lot. Its name comes from the fact that it’s used to cure meats in Jewish delis. It doesn’t contain additives, so it tastes purer and pairs well with other ingredients. Its crystals are larger and dissolve easily, but not as quickly as table salt.
  • Sea salt — Sea salt is produced by the evaporation of seawater. Its mineral makeup depends widely based on the geographical area where the salt is produced. Sometimes it comes in larger grains (like what you’d find in body scrubs) or flakes/flecks called fleur de sel (like you’d sprinkle on top of chocolate chip cookies.

When it comes to a salt rim, choose either kosher salt or sea salt. Table salt it makes for a terrible salt rim. The iodide and other additives in it give the rim of your glass too much salty flavor. Plus, it dissolves easily when it meets liquid, like the lime juice you’ll need to get the salt to stick.

My favorite margarita salt recipe is a mixture of lime zest and either sea salt or kosher salt.

cinnamon sugar on the rim of a pumpkin beer

Sugar rims

Most servers and bartenders will ask if you’d like a sugar rim on a margarita.

Why? Some people are sensitive to the salty flavor and prefer a sweeter rim. And sometimes the recipe just works better with sugar!

These strawberry basil margaritas are an example of a recipe that works better with sugar. It’s sweet and the basil simple syrup within stands out better when matched with sugar.

You should stay away from brown sugar, however. When met with liquid, which you will need to adhere the sugar to the rim, it will be quick to dissolve.

Colored sugars are another option you can consider, but do make sure the glass is totally dry. Once liquid meets these sugars, they can start to run and they might color the drinker’s hand!

Cinnamon sugar (pictured above) is a popular one for fall and winter drinks, like this pumpkin spice White Russian or this Christmas margarita.

closeup of garnishes and rim salt on a Bloody Mary

Flavored rims

There are so many types of flavored rims out there, and it can really depend on the cocktail! Here are a few fun ways to dress up your cocktail rims:

  • A Bloody Mary works best with a mixture of celery salt, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. If this sounds up your alley, check out my Bloody Mary rim salt recipe. You can make it a spicy rim by adding cayenne pepper.
  • On my frozen margaritas, I like to use chili lime seasoning called Tajìn. It has so much flavor and pairs so well with these pure lime drinks. Spice lovers will appreciate this one!
  • For a smoky mezcal margarita or a spicy margarita, you might try a salt and pepper rim to add a bit more peppery flavor. Add ½ teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper to ¼ cup salt.
  • Some bars will put cinnamon sugar on the rim of a pumpkin beer or Christmas ale.
  • For a floral cocktail, it could be fun to add a lavender sugar rim.
  • A chocolate martini pairs well with a cocoa powder rim.
  • For a fun twist on a champagne drink, add a pop rocks rim.
  • Coconut flakes are extra fun on the rim of a cocktail like this Jack Frost mimosa.
a candy cane cookie garnishing a sugar cookie martini next to baked and frosted sugar cookies and a cocktail shaker

Dessert rims

If you are in the mood for a dessert drink, you may want to use cookie crumbs or sprinkles to dress up your drink.

However, they are heavier and usually need something stronger than lime juice to adhere the grains to the drinks.

For example, this sugar cookie martini is one of my favorites at the holidays. It features a rim of festive homemade sprinkles and uses sugar cookie frosting to adhere them to the glass.

This birthday cake white Russian uses nonpareils (the small, ball-shaped sprinkles) for a colorful garnish.

In the summer, I love to make this s’mores white Russian, which uses chocolate sauce to affix graham cracker crumbs to the rim of the glass.

a margarita glass garnished with a lime wheel

Types of cocktail rims

It’s important to note there are two types of rims.

Depending on how you’re serving your drink, you should decide if you want to make a lip rim or a banded rim.

Another idea is to just rim half of the glass instead of the entire rim. Restaurants do this all the time because it gives the guest a choice between sweet and salty sips.

1. The Lip

For a rim on the lip, the salt is balanced in a fine layer on the very tip-top of the glass rim.

This one is best for drinks served without ice cubes, as when ice is added, the salt can very easily make its way into the inside of the glass (and affect the taste of the drink in the process).

You’ll want to hold the glass upside down and rotate it gently in the salt to coat the lip.

2. The Band

For a banded rim, the salt is added in a thick belt around the outer edge of the glass.

This one is best for drinks that are served on the rocks (AKA with ice).

You’ll want to hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and roll the outer edge in the salt. This creates a band rim look on the outside of your margarita glass.

Bloody Mary rim salt on a black plate, ready to rim cocktails

How to rim a glass

You’ve probably seen those three-tier plastic rimmers that bartenders use. There’s a layer for a sponge that’s soaked with lime juice (and probably never cleaned). The other tiers are for sugar and salt.

That way is not only a bit gross but also a shortcut! The way I’m about to teach you is much better.

The instructions may seem more complicated, but it’s actually the easiest, most perfect way to a great rim. Once you know it, you’ll never go back.

Here’s how to rim a cocktail:

  1. Pour your salt onto a small plate or shallow, small bowl. Shake it so that forms an even layer.
  2. Hold a lime wedge or lemon wedge in one hand and your glass in the other. Use the lime wedge to moisten the top and outer lip of the glass. A thin layer of fresh lime juice is all you need.
  3. Then, we’ll either dip (for a lip rim) or roll (for a band rim) the rim of each glass in salt or sugar. (See above section called Types of Cocktail Rims for the explanations of band vs. lip rims.)
  4. Tap the glass to dislodge any excess.

Pour in your drink and enjoy!

sprinkles rimming a birthday cake white Russian

Tips for success

Here are a few dos and don’ts for rimming your cocktails:

  • Use freshly cut citrus to wet the rim of the glass. Lime is best for margaritas, but lemon or orange work too. The fresh juices are sticky and help the sugar and salt adhere to the rims of the glasses without dissolving right away. Don’t use a shallow bowl of water, like some might suggest.
  • Don’t use brown sugar for sugar rims OR table salt for salt rims. These are too fine and will dissolve too quickly when met with liquid.
  • Only use chocolate syrup, honey or simple syrup for sweet cocktails, like ones with cookie crumbs or crushed candy on the rim. Use your finger or a food-grade paint brush to paint them on lightly; otherwise, they will drip.
  • Make sure your glassware is dry before rimming it. Any leftover moisture can pick up extra flecks of salt and sugar.
  • Be precise when applying the citrus wedge. Any areas touched by the moisture will get coated in salt and sugar; any areas not coated will be devoid of it.
  • Do your best to keep salt and sugar away from the interior of the cocktail glass. A proper rim should have the grains on the top lip of the glass or a band on the outside of the glass.

Margarita recipes

If you’re looking for a margarita recipe to try out these rimmers with, check out these cocktail recipes below. Make them for Taco Tuesday, girls’ night, Cinco de Mayo or any time you’re craving a delicious margarita!

margaritas on a white background

How to Rim a Glass

Yield: 1 cocktail
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Active Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $5

Once you know how to rim a glass properly, the ideas for decorating your drinks will be limitless.

Materials

for a salt rim

  • lime wedge
  • kosher or sea salt

for a sugar rim

  • lime wedge
  • granulated sugar

for a sprinkle rim

  • honey, chocolate syrup, maple syrup or frosting
  • sprinkles

Tools

  • small plate or shallow bowl
  • glassware

Instructions

For salt & sugar rims

  1. Pour the salt or sugar onto a small plate. (A shallow, small bowl also works.) Shake it gently so that it forms an even layer.
  2. Hold a lime wedge or lemon wedge in one hand and your glass in the other. Use the lime wedge to moisten the top and outer lip of the glass. A thin layer of fresh lime juice is all you need.
  3. For a lip rim: Dip the rim of each glass in salt or sugar.
  4. For a band rim: Roll the rim of each glass in salt or sugar.
  5. Tap the glass to dislodge any excess.
  6. For sprinkle rims

  1. Pour the sprinkles onto a small plate. (A shallow, small bowl also works.) Shake it gently so that it forms an even layer.
  2. Use your finger or a food-safe paintbrush to paint on the honey, syrup or frosting.
  3. Roll in sprinkles.
  4. You can also use this method for cookie crumbs, crushed candy and other sweet rims.
  5. Tap the glass to dislodge any excess.

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