Handpicked: The 8 Best Muddlers, According to Pros
If you’ve ever ordered mojitos, caipirinhas or mint juleps at a bar, you likely saw the bartender break out a tool that looked like a miniature baseball bat. Perhaps that bartender proceeded to use it to gently crush herbs at the bottom of a mixing tin, using a tapping or light twisting movement.
It’s a practice called muddling, and it’s important to making a wide array of cocktails. But what exactly is a muddler? And why take the time to muddle, anyway? Here, we break down everything you need to know about the practice and the best muddlers to buy according to the pros.
What Is a Muddler?
In brief, it’s a bar tool used to gently crush, or “muddle” ingredients intended for cocktails. Usually, muddlers are long and narrow so that they can fit easily within the dimensions of a cocktail tin or mixing glass.
What Is Muddling?
Muddling is the action of using the tool to apply pressure to ingredients intended to mix into cocktails. That might mean gently tamping down herbs like mint just enough to release their aromatics into a mojito or mint julep. Or it could mean more forcefully grinding fruit to exude juice and/or aromatic oils, such as breaking down berries to flavor a variation on a blackberry smash.
To be clear, muddling is a gentler technique than grinding ingredients like spices or coffee beans. It’s not about pulverizing cocktail ingredients to smithereens. Muddling is intended to extract aromas, flavors and/or liquid from ingredients, or break down solids just enough so they can be incorporated into a cocktail more easily.
How Do You Muddle?
That depends on what you’re muddling, the pros say. Muddling delicate ingredients like herbs generally requires a gentle tapping motion, while excising juice and pith out of citrus calls for more force. For that reason, some bartenders opt for multiple muddlers—or know when to use more or less vigor in their muddling technique.
But while a wide variety of muddlers exist, that doesn’t mean home bartenders need to invest in multiple tools.
In fact, you can bootstrap a muddler if you’re so inclined, says Kelley Fitzsimonds, bartender and manager at Asadolife in St. Augustine, Florida.
“I’d like to refer to Jeffrey Morganthaler’s The Bar Book, where he suggests cutting a French rolling pin in half, so you have a two-sided muddler—one end narrow for fine-muddling herbs, and one end beefy to really smash larger items like lime slices.”
That said, if you’re not inclined to MacGyver your muddler, we asked the pros to recommend their favorite crushers.
The Best Muddlers, According to the Pros
The Best Heavy-Duty Muddler:
Cocktail Kingdom Bad Ass Muddler
Hands-down the bartender favorite, this sleek black muddler is made from food-safe plastic. Barware purveyor Cocktail Kingdom bills it as “the strongest muddler ever,” though some pros suggested that it’s too powerful to use for more delicate jobs.
It’s “heavy as hell, so you barely have to use any effort,” says Travis Tober, co-owner of Austin’s Nickel City. As an added bonus, “the ends have fine ridges to help extract essential oils.”
“I really only like it for caipirinhas [cocktails],” notes Fitzsimonds. “Anything that needs finesse, like herbs, it will destroy.”
Althea Codamon, general manager and beverage director at Aita in Brooklyn, New York, jokes that she’s dubbed this muddler “The Sergeant,” for its ability to crank out drinks quickly. “It’s good for breaking down fresh fruit like watermelon cubes, guava, apple, pineapple and other hardy fruits due to its weight.” However, “it’s too powerful for fine, fresh herbs—it just obliterates them.”
The Most Durable Muddler:
Another pro favorite, this angular wooden muddler resembles a baseball bat, and is handmade in New York state by craftsman Chris Gallagher.
“I have owned a Pug Muddler for the last 13 years, and it is the most beautiful and one of the more effective muddlers I have ever held,” says Frederic Yarm, Boston-based bartender and author. “The craftsmanship, ergonomics and aesthetics are well thought-out, with a tapered handle that is very comfortable to grip and [it has] a wide working end.”
The Most Ergonomic Muddler:
Made in Portland with local Oregon black walnut, what sets this muddler apart are the “perfectly carved hand grips,” explains Laura Unterberg, of Nashville’s The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, which means it’s easier to grip from the side or from the top. “It’s dense enough to stand up to your toughest lime wedges—I see you, caipirinha! Yet [it’s] gentle for bruising more delicate botanicals.”
“To say I’m obsessed is a massive understatement,” Unterberg continues. “I’ve given no fewer than eight as gifts to friends in the industry.”
Bull In China
The Best Muddler for Delicate Jobs:
OXO Steal Muddler
Made of stainless steel and bearing a silicone hand grip, some bartenders prefer this slender muddler for its lighter weight and precision.
“It’s just an overall well-designed muddler,” says Katie Schanz, a Chicago-based bartender. “It feels stable in my hand. It has a nice length, so it reaches all the way into whatever vessel you’re using without scraping your hand on the edge. The muddling end is a soft silicone-like material, so it presses and expresses delicate herbs without mashing them.”
Meanwhile, Paula Lukas, head bartender at Bowery Road in New York City, praises OXO “because it’s sturdy, easy to clean and has a contoured handle with a soft, comfortable grip and a grooved nylon head that doesn’t scratch.”
The Most Versatile Muddler:
Crafthouse by Fortessa Wood Muddler
Amba Lamb, Cayman Islands-based brand ambassador for Jacques Scott Wine & Spirits, cites this walnut muddler as her favorite. The tool is part of a line-up of barware designed by Chicago bartender Charles Joly.
“It is great for muddling rather than just squashing things, the flat bottom gives it lots of surface area and the weighting of it is just right,” says Lamb. That means it works for ingredients that need a little more oomph, as well as those that require some finesse.
Sur la Table
The Best Budget Muddler:
Stainless Steel Muddler by HQY
In addition to being one of the only recommended muddlers under $10, this dishwasher-safe tool “gives more control over how much pressure to apply, so you can gently break down produce and release the oils slowly,” says Codamon.
The Most Fashionable Muddler:
Billy Reid Muddler
Part of an exclusive barware collab between home goods retailer Williams Sonoma and fashion designer Billy Reid, this double-sided acacia muddler features a wooden end for herbs and a copper-plated steel end for fruit. It’s one you’ll want to keep on display, says Kelly Giro Schmidt, assistant director of beverage at Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain in Walland, Tennessee. “It’s pretty slick,” she notes. “If you’re not muddling in style, you’re not doing it right.”
The Best Muddler for Mojitos:
Bamber Extra Long Wood Cocktail Mojito Muddler
Yes, “mojito” is right in the name—that’s because it has pointed teeth, making it great for mint. But it’s also ideal for breaking down fruit, according to Nich Detrich, proprietor of Small Favors in Bloomington, Indiana. Bonus: “It’s one piece of wood, so it doesn’t snap apart like the plastic and metal ones do.”