We Tested 9 Muddlers to See Which Ones Were Best for Making Cocktails
Posted in Serious Eats
August 25, 2022

We Tested 9 Muddlers to See Which Ones Were Best for Making Cocktails

a number of muddlers oriented vertically on a marble countertop
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There’s nothing like aromatics to amp up a cocktail. And a muddler is an essential tool for breaking down ingredients directly in the shaker or mixing or serving glass. “If you are making mojitos, smashes, caipirinhas, and variations of those cocktails, then you would definitely need a muddler,” says Lynnette Marrero, head of education for Bar Convent Brooklyn. “Most at-home ice is not strong enough to break up the herbs by shaking alone.”

You might think that a muddler is just a blunt cylinder, that all of them are similar citrus-smashing sticks. But, as we found out after testing 9 popular models, not all muddlers are equal. Some look cool but fail. Others don’t look cool and also fail. And some are too large, while others aren’t large enough. The best muddlers are ergonomic and efficient—capable of extracting oils and juices without embittering drinks.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Best Muddler: Barfly Muddler

Made of nearly indestructible composite material, this 12-inch muddler was tall enough to muddle ingredients at the bottom of even the most massive mixing glass. Its tapered design allowed it to fit any size of hand. And its ever-so-slightly convex head sporting gently beveled edges rocked and rolled against ingredients, efficiently extracting—but not over-extracting—their flavorful contents.

The Best Wooden Muddler: Cocktail Kingdom Cato Muddler

Cocktail history buffs will enjoy the backstory of this muddler: It was designed by drinks historian David Wondrich in homage to the ‘toddy stick’ used by famed 19th-century mixologist Cato Alexander. Though it’s handsome, on first glance, the muddler might look too thin and short. But, as it turns out, when you’re muddling a drink in a highball glass or other serving glass, it’s just the right size. In testing, its tapered head worked within the walls of the vessel to muddle limes and massage plenty of aromatic oils from the mint to result in a balanced mojito.

The Best Muddler with a Textured Head: OXO SteeL Muddler

“I prefer a stainless steel muddler,” says Manhattan-based bartender and beverage consultant Paula Lukas. “They tend to be sturdy and easy to clean. I look for a muddler that’s easy to grip with a bit of weight to it and a grooved head.” That, as we discovered, perfectly described the OXO, of which Lukas is a fan. The contoured, nylon grip provided a comfortable fit and leverage. The large, blunt grooves on its wide head quickly worked juice out of fruit and broke down delicate leaves without destroying them.

The Tests

Three muddlers on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez
  • Citrus Test: With each muddler, we muddled two lime wedges to see how well the muddler crushed and juiced.
  • Herb Test: With each muddler, we muddled six mint leaves to see how well the muddler extracted oils from the herbs and how they were broken down.
  • Cocktail Test: With each muddler, we made one mojito to see how every model worked when building a cocktail in a glass, and how it affected the muddled ingredients in a cocktail.
  • Usability Tests: Throughout testing, we evaluated how comfortable the muddlers were to hold and use.
  • Cleanup and Care Tests: After each test, we cleaned the muddlers by hand. At the end of testing, we ran each dishwasher-safe muddler through the dishwasher to see how well it held up. We also treated each wooden muddler with food-grade mineral oil, as per manufacturer instructions, to see how well it cured.

What We Learned

A Muddler’s Head Shape Made All the Difference

An overhead look at a muddler muddling mint leaves in a glass
Our favorite model, shown here, had a slightly convex head, which allowed it to muddle ingredients efficiently and properly.Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Citrus, as it turned out, was like Goldilocks when you’re muddling it. You can over-muddle or under-muddle it with the wrong tool. The right model muddles it just right, so you don’t end up with too much of the bitter oils of the pith in your cocktail.

Some of the muddlers we tested had a blunt, flat heads, which made muddling citrus more difficult and resulted in us pressing too hard on the lime wedge and, therefore, extract too much bitter juice. Flat-headed muddlers also did nothing to break down mint leaves; they simply pushed the flat leaves down into the bottom of the glass without coaxing out their oil. For smooth heads, tapered, convex, or beveled designs worked better. They muddled the juice and oils from the ingredients in a much more efficient, organic way.

There Was Such a Thing as Too Much Texture in a Muddler Head

A front-on look at two textured muddler heads
The larger OXO model (right) had teeth that were duller and wider, which meant it didn’t tear the mint.Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Muddlers such as the ones from Hiware and OXO have toothy grids in their heads. This textured pattern is designed to make it easier to breakdown ingredients. But the sharper or denser the texture, the less finesse the tool has. “I am not a fan of the ones that have teeth,” Marrero says. “These are usually more rigid, and the spikes on the bottom are hard to clean and are too aggressive.” We found her remarks rang true for muddlers with smaller heads full of sharp, tight teeth. They forced bitter oils out of the citrus, overwhelming the mint in the mojito, and left the mint in bits and pieces that stuck to the muddler and floated unpleasantly in the drink. The OXO muddler, on the other hand, had a broader head with larger teeth that were less sharp. Its texture helped, rather than hindered, in making a balanced drink because it didn’t tear up the ingredients too much; it just made the muddling more efficient.

We Had Some Gripes with Some of the Grips

The OXO SteeL muddler on a marble countertop
The contours and grip of one our favorite muddlers (shown here) made it incredibly comfortable to hold and twist.Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As testing showed, there were two considerations with the grip of a muddler. One was length. “A longer muddler tends to be more comfortable, and you don’t need to use much pressure to muddle your ingredients,” Lukas says. “You’re also keeping your hands farther away from the rim of the glass.” A 12-inch muddler like the Barfly made working in a pint glass or cocktail tin easy because it cleared the top of the vessel. Though there were shorter muddlers we liked, the leverage that a long-handled muddler provided helped save our wrists.

The second consideration was shape. “I like to look for a tool that is also ergonomic and allows me the comfort to switch from gently muddling fine herbs to also apply core pressure to release oils and juice from muddled citrus,” Marrero says. We found a handlebar-like contouring fit a clenched hand in perfect ergonomic fashion. A tapered grip was also good, as it accommodated different hand sizes.

Practice Makes Perfect

A GIF of a muddler muddling mint leaves in a tall cocktail glass
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Even with the best muddler, learning proper muddling technique is key. “Place your ingredients in the bottom of your shaker or mixing glass. Grip the muddler in the palm of your hand. Be gentle. Press, turn and release. You want to bring out the flavors of the fruit and herbs or mix the sugar into your cocktail,” Lukas says. “Over muddling will release bitter flavors into your cocktail and not in a good way.” 

The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great Muddler

A muddler on a marble countertop with text points around it
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez / Grace Kelly

The best muddlers have ergonomic handles suitable for a variety of hand sizes. Their heads are either gently textured, or they’re smooth and somewhat convex. Both head types help coax juices out of fruit and oils out of mint leaves and other ingredients without ripping them up or over-extracting. 

The Best Muddler: Barfly Muddler

What we liked: Made out of a tough, dishwasher-safe composite material, this muddler is practically indestructible. It won’t wear down with use or cleaning. Its size, shape, and weight just worked. Big but not heavy with a 12-inch, tapered grip that you could clench just about anywhere along its length, this muddler was incredibly easy to use. Its head was slightly convex and beveled so it massaged the right amount of juices and oils out of ingredients. The mojitos we made with it were perfect.

What we didn’t like: It’s big. You need to hold onto smaller glasses so they’re not overwhelmed by it and tip over.

Key Specs

  • Length: 12 inches
  • Width of grip: 1-inch
  • Width of head: 1.5 inches
  • Weight: 7.72 ounces
  • Material: Composite
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe
The Barfly Muddler sitting vertically on a kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Best Wooden Muddler: Cocktail Kingdom Cato Muddler

What we liked: Let’s face it; cocktails are sometimes best when mixed with a bit of romantic nostalgia, and this muddler, with its cool backstory, definitely brings it. With its old-timey appearance, it’s handsome, too, so it looks good on your bar. During testing, we found its petite size and shape to be helpful. Some bigger muddlers were so huge, they felt like they’d break a serving glass. This muddler worked with the glass: its tapered head pushing ingredients down and against the sides of the vessel to extract just the right amounts.

What we didn’t like: Like all wooden muddlers, it’s fussy. Manufacturer instructions task you with rubbing it down with mineral oil twice over the course of two days before use and then periodically afterwards to keep it in fighting shape. Wooden muddlers also must be hand-washed. Finally, it requires care while using. Though Marrero is a fan of wooden muddlers, she says: “If using a wood muddler DO NOT TAP on the side of a metal tin because you run the risk of getting ‘splinters’ into your cocktail.”

Key Specs

  • Length: 7.5 inches
  • Width of Grip: 1-inch
  • Width of Head: 1.25 inches
  • Weight: 2.9 ounces
  • Material: Ipe (Brazilian hardwood)
  • Care: Hand wash-only; cure with mineral oil
The wooden Cato muddler on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Best Muddler with a Textured Head: OXO SteeL Muddler

What we liked: This muddler had the smartest grip of any we tested. Contoured like some motorcycle handlebars, its rubber-like, nylon grip was seriously ergonomic. When you’re twisting, it gave you wrist comfort and support. It’s made out of sturdy materials that are dishwasher-safe, and its head had just the right amount of texture to muddle, not destroy. Plus, it was thin enough to fit into slender glasses. 

What we didn’t like: You really have to be a fan of textured heads to like this one. They take some getting used to because if you tend to press or twist too hard, even with a better-designed pattern of teeth like this one has, you’ll do too much damage to ingredients.

Key Specs

  • Length: 9 inches
  • Width of Grip: 1.75 inches
  • Width of Head: 1.75 inches
  • Weight: 3.88 ounces
  • Material: Stainless steel and nylon
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe
the OXO muddler on a marble kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Competition

Plastic, Nylon, and Stainless Steel Models

  • Cocktail Kingdom "Bad Ass" Muddler: The giant among muddlers, Cocktail Kingdom’s "Bad Ass" Muddler clocked in at almost 15 ounces. It was too heavy and with its flat head, is was surprisingly ineffectual for its size.
  • A Bar Above Black Cocktail Muddler: This model had a flat head and didn’t finesse the fruit so much as smash it and over-muddle it. The large, bulbous grip can also be awkward for smaller hands.
  • Hiware 10 Inch Stainless Steel Cocktail Muddler and Mixing Spoon Home Bar Tool Set: This had such a deep-grooved, intensely textured head that it over-muddled citrus and delicate mint leaves, leading to a bitter, herb-flecked drink. 
  • Rabbit Springing Muddler: The Rabbit Springing Muddler proved that it was actually possible to over-engineer a tool as straightforward as a muddler. The “springload” action was far too gentle to muddle anything, and cleaning this one involved disassembly and the possibility of losing small internal parts.

Wooden Models

  • Fletchers’ Mill Muddler: Handsome in smooth, blonde maple wood, Fletchers’ Mill Muddler had a flat head that took a while to get going on the fruit, and that made the balance hard to control. You ended up pressing too hard and over-muddling citrus.
  • Twine Acacia Wood Muddler: You can’t be blamed if you’re worried you might get a splinter from the Twine Acacia Wood Muddler. The wood, even when treated, didn’t seem to hold its integrity. The muddler itself felt too lightweight for the job, and its shape made it difficult to tell which way was up.


Do you really need a muddler for cocktails?

If you are making drinks that call for mascerating citrus with sugar, smashing berries, massaging herbs, or any other application where you need to extract the essential flavors in a non-liquid ingredient, a muddler is key.

Can you use a muddler for anything else besides cocktails?

If you think of a muddler as what it is—a kind-of pestle without the mortar—it’s a grinding, smashing, and massaging tool. So, you could probably use it to roughly grind spices or smash garlic in a pinch (just be sure to wash it really well afterwards).

Betsy Andrews August 25, 2022 at 09:37PM

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