Good cooking requires quality tools, and so does good mixology. Shakers, strainers, jiggers, and glasses are all crucial parts of the home bar, and so is the humble muddler. This unassuming tool will help you mash your way to mojitos, caipirinhas, and more, as well as incorporate all manners of fruits, herbs, and other spices into your drinks.
Muddlers come in a range of styles, sizes, materials, and, of course, prices, but they're all made to do pretty much the same set of jobs. You can find beautiful carved wood ones, sleek and modern metal models, and budget-plastic options. But which one is best for your home bar? We asked a slate of professional bartenders for their top choices (and their advice on proper muddling technique).
OXO Good Grips Steel Muddler
Soft, comfortable grip
Scratch-proof material & design
OXO is highly regarded for its top-quality kitchen gadgets, and its muddler does not disappoint, with two nice extras. Its rounded handle offers a soft, nonslip grip, and its wide head is made of nylon that's hard enough to crush herbs, sugar cubes, or citrus easily but too soft to scratch or crack glassware. And when the party's over, you can toss it right in the dishwasher for cleanup. It's a bit longer and wider than others, which is great to reach the bottom of a large shaker, but could be an issue with really narrow highball glasses. You do pay for all the features with this muddler, as it costs more than twice as much as a perfectly serviceable budget model.
Price at time of publish: $17
Materials: Zinc, nylon | Dimensions: 9 x 1.8 inches | Weight: 1.6 ounces | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
“I would say the best tip I have for muddling is to always press your muddler down and give a little twist as you make contact with whatever you're muddling,” says Rochelle Tougas, General Manager of the FM Kitchen & Bar in Houston. “I tend to also keep it going in a full circle when I muddle, by which I mean I go around the clock as I pick up the muddler to macerate more, rather than macerating in the center over and over.”
HQY 8-Inch Stainless Steel Cocktail Muddler
Small muddling teeth
There's nothing flashy about this muddler, but it gets the job done, and for quite a bit less than it would cost to buy even a single julep or mojito at your neighborhood watering hole. The HQY's rounded stainless steel handle gives it some weight for crushing, but the nylon head won't scratch glasses.
The main complaint users have is that it's quite short. You might not be able to reach the bottom of a pitcher or large shaker while keeping a grip on it. The teeth on the end are also pretty small—less teeth than bumps—and could have trouble breaking up citrus, berries, or other tougher ingredients. On the other hand, they clean off easily, especially since this muddler is dishwasher-safe.
Price at time of publish: $7
Materials: Stainless steel, nylon | Dimensions: 8 x 1.3 inches | Weight: 3.5 ounces | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
“I like to muddle into my syrup rather than muddle ingredients on their own,” says Amber Pollock of Backward Distilling Company in Casper, Wyoming. “Also, your muddling technique should change based on what you're muddling. Be gentle with fragile ingredients, like mint or basil. No need to destroy them. A light press will do.”
Cocktail Kingdom Natural Wood Muddler
No varnish, paint, or stain
“My favorite muddler is any muddler that has some heft to it, fits well in my hand, and isn’t varnished or spiked at the end.” says Amber Pollock from Backward Distilling Company in Casper, Wyoming. Her favorite is this solid wooden muddler from Cocktail Kingdom, made of smooth natural wood without any kind of stain, paint, or coating that could come off in your drinks. Its flat bottom is also great for lightly crushing herbs without completely mashing them into a paste; too-aggressive muddling releases more bitter flavors from herbs that can overtake their delicate notes.
Rochelle Tougas, general manager of the FM Kitchen & Bar in Houston, also loves this model. “I've had the same muddler at my home for the last 8 years and it is one of those staples! I find it so amusing to hear a guest or non-bartender ask about the 'mini baseball bat'.”
Cocktail Kingdom works with bartenders and cocktail writers to create ergonomically-driven products, so it's no surprise that the brand's muddler is a favorite of many pros. It's inexpensive, comfortable to hold, and will last a long time—if you care for it properly. The unvarnished wood should never go in the dishwasher, and you should carefully dry it off after hand-washing. The wood swells if it soaks up water, which can lead to cracking and splitting when it dries.
Price at time of publish: $11
Materials: Wood | Dimensions: 9.8 x 1.3 inches | Dishwasher Safe: No
“Avoid painted, stained, or lacquered wooden muddlers,” advises H. Joseph Ehrmann, co-founder of Fresh Victor mixers and proprietor of Elixir in San Francisco. “It eventually all comes off...in your drink.”
A Bar Above Ergonomic Drink Muddler
Too large for some glasses
If you're going to muddling more than a handful of cocktails at a time, you need a serious tool that can stand up to a lot of abuse. A Bar Above has a full line of cocktail equipment designed for bartenders, by bartenders, and its durable muddler is made for multiple mojitos. At more than a foot in length, this muddler is one of the longest on the market, which ensures you'll never smash your knuckles on the edge of a glass or mixing tin. The end is mostly flat, allowing you control over the pressure, whether you want to give a mint leaf just the lightest of bruising or mash some raspberries with more force.
This muddler's ergonomic design is comfortable to hold onto for hours, and the smooth single piece of plastic can go through the dishwasher over and over without risk of seams wearing out and coming apart. The only problem some users complain of is that it's so long that it's awkward to use in smaller rocks or old fashioned glasses.
Price at time of publish: $16
Materials: Polypropylene | Dimensions: 12.5 x 1.8 inches | Weight: 8.8 ounces | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
“Remember that muddling does not mean pulverizing,” says Catrina Franzoi of WindsorEats in Windsor, Ontario. “This is not an area to let out aggression—save that for the shaking. When the smell of what you're muddling hits you, stop.”
Best for Mint Juleps
Barillio Big-Shot Hard Maple Muddler Mallet and Lewis Ice Bag Kit
Includes ice-crushing bag
Won't rip or tear mint leaves
Too large for many glasses
Besides gently muddled mint, the other most crucial part of a mint julep is ice crushed to the texture of fine snow. Besides keeping the drink super-cold as an antidote to the Kentucky sun, the ice also dilutes the powerful cocktail, whose traditional recipe includes only mint, sugar, and a good slug of straight whiskey.
This all-in-one kit includes a hefty maple muddler along with a Lewis bag, a canvas bag that's an old-fashioned method for making crushed ice. Add a handful of large cubes (the bag will hold up to 14 ounces of ice) and go to town, using the muddler as a mallet. The bag absorbs liquid, keeping your crushed ice dry and clump-free, and mallet-based crushing gives you control over the final texture. You can create anything from julep-style fluff to lightly cracked bits for a mojito.
The muddler is bulky enough to crush ice, while also makes it bulky overall. It's huge, and probably better used in a shaker tin or larger pitcher than a delicate glass. Some buyers also complain about theirs cracking after short use; as with any wooden muddler, you need to hand-wash this one and shouldn't let it sit in liquid. It might also be good to give it a coating of mineral oil once in a while to keep the wood conditioned.
Price at time of publish: $20
Materials: Wood, canvas | Dimensions: 13.8 x 1.8 inches | Dishwasher Safe: No | Includes: 14-ounce ice-crushing bag
A nonslip grip, extra height, and durable construction make the OXO Good Grips Steel Muddler our overall favorite. For a more traditional wooden muddler, bartenders swear by Cocktail Kingdom's Natural Wood Muddler.
What to Look for When Buying a Cocktail Muddler
The most traditional type of muddler is made of wood. Some wooden models are coated with paint, lacquer, or other finish, but these can chip off over time and we'd recommend an unvarnished wooden muddler, which is unfortunately not dishwasher-safe. Metal (usually stainless steel) makes for a durable and dishwasher-safe muddler, but it can scratch glasses. Some metal muddlers solve this problem by attaching a hard plastic head that won't damage glass. Other models—often the lowest-priced ones—are made entirely of plastic.
Size and Shape
In order to work properly, a muddler has to reach the bottom of a shaker or glass to crush the herbs, fruit, and spices inside. You need one that's long enough to muddle while still holding it comfortably. Width comes into play, too: A girthier muddler can crush more mint at once but won't be able to fit into the narrow highball glasses often used for a drink like the mojito.
Grip design comes into play as well, especially if you're going to be doing a lot of muddling for, say, a mint julep Derby party. Look for a muddler with an ergonomic handle design and and heavier weight, making it less stressful on your muscles to grind down herbs, spices, and fruits.
If you purchase a wooden muddler, it needs proper care to keep from cracking or splitting. Always wash a wood muddler by hand, and be sure to dry it well when you're done; soaking up water and then drying out is bad for any kind of wooden tool. Just like you would a wooden cutting board, oil the muddler periodically with grapeseed or olive oil to prevent it from drying out. With metal or plastic muddlers, there's generally less to worry about, as they're typically dishwasher-safe
What is muddling?
In cocktail terms, muddling means lightly crushing herbs, fruit, or spices. Muddling is not the same as grinding or pureeing; the goal is to release the ingredients flavors without breaking them up so much that bits end up in the finished drink. With fresh herbs, it's especially important not to over-muddle: Mashing up the leaves releases a lot of bitter chlorophyll, which can overpower herbs' delicate flavor notes.
How do you muddle a cocktail?
Muddling is usually the first step of a cocktail recipe. Place the herbs, fruit, or spices in a shaker or glass, and then gently press down and twist a few times. With whole spices like cloves, peppercorn, or cardamom, you need to press hard enough to crack them open, but you don't want to crush them to powder. That's really all there is to it. If you can smell what you're muddling, you're doing it right. Mint-based recipes often call for muddling the leaves with granulated sugar, which acts as a light abrasive in addition to sweetening the drink. After that, add the remaining cocktail ingredients and shake or stir as the recipe recommends.
Which cocktails need to be muddled?
The classic muddled cocktails are mint juleps, caipirinhas, and mojitos, which muddle mint, mint and lime, and lime, respectively. That said, any cocktail that requires the addition of herbs and spices, like the raspberry lemon or ginger tea cocktail, could benefit from a muddle to more fully express the flavors of the ingredients.
What else can you do with a muddler?
If you don't own a mortar and pestle, you can use a muddler and a sturdy bowl as a reasonable substitute. It's good for crushing a small amount of spices or smashing garlic into a paste. Heck, making pesto is basically over-muddling basil with pine nuts and Parmesan!
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Kate Dingwall is a seasoned spirits and wine writer, working bartender, and sommelier. She is based in Toronto and holds a Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level III qualification. She has also written about the best cocktail shakers and margarita mixes for The Spruce Eats.
The Spruce Eats commerce writer Jason Horn updated this roundup. He wrote a "Whiskey 101" story as a 21-year-old intern and has spent most of the nearly 20 years since writing about drinks and food. He's a former editor at Liquor.com and spirits columnist for Playboy.