How to Use a Cocktail Shaker the Correct Way

Karen Frazier
Man using a cocktail shaker at a party

While you sometimes hear people call it a martini shaker, the piece of equipment most commonly used for making mixed drinks is actually called a cocktail shaker. If you plan to make alcoholic beverages, it's important to understand how to use the cocktail shaker effectively.

Purpose of Using a Cocktail Shaker

Cocktail shakers are used to chill and mix drinks. Shaking cocktails with ice aerates, mixes, dilutes, and chills the drink. If you're using egg whites or dairy, it also adds a nice foam on top of the cocktails. You can also use the tumbler side of the mixer as a mixing cup or glass to create stirred drinks.

When to Use a Cocktail Shaker Versus a Mixing Glass

Contrary to what James Bond wanted, you do not use a cocktail shaker to shake, mix, and chill a traditional martini - or any other drink that is made from pure spirits. Instead, you use a cocktail shaker to shake and mix drinks containing alcohol, juices, and syrups, which won't mix together as well with stirring. However, you can use the mixing tumbler part of the cocktail shaker to build and stir martinis and other cocktails. Here are some simple guidelines for when to shake or stir.

When to Shake Cocktails

  • It contains juice and alcohol.
  • It contains cream, eggs, or dairy ingredients.

When to Stir Cocktails

  • It contains only spirits, such as a martini that has gin or vodka and vermouth, or an old-fashioned, which contains sugar, bitters, water, and whiskey.
  • You add sparkling ingredients, such as soda or ginger beer. In this case, you typically shake alcohol and juice elements with ice first, strain into a glass with ice, add the sparkling ingredients, and stir.

How to Use a Cocktail Shaker for Shaken Drinks

Using a cocktail shaker to mix drinks doesn't require any flashy moves or choreography. It's a straightforward process.

1. If a Drink Has Muddled Ingredients, Muddle First

Cocktails like mojitos and mint juleps as well as some cocktails with fruit call for muddling. Always muddle first, right in the cocktail shaker.

Wooden cocktail muddler

To muddle:

  1. Put the ingredients to muddle in the tumbler portion of the cocktail shaker.
  2. Add the sweet element. This is usually simple syrup, superfine sugar, something syrupy like grenadine, or a sweet liqueur such as Cointreau.
  3. Use a long handled muddler and press in a downward slightly circular pattern.
    • For mint and herbs, you only need to muddle lightly for a few presses to release the flavor. Muddling more may impart bitter flavors.
    • For fruits, you need to press harder and muddle for longer - maybe 10 to 20 seconds - to really break up the fruit and allow the juices to mix with the syrup.
  4. After muddling, add other ingredients.

2. Measure Ingredients

Measure your ingredients into an empty shaker or right on top of the ingredient you've muddled. To do this, you'll need to use a jigger. Most jiggers are double sided with measurements such as ½ ounce/1 ounce, ¾ ounce/1½ ounce, and 1 ounce/2 ounce. Learn to distinguish your jiggers by size so you don't need to look every time you pour.

Cocktail jigger
  • In this step, add juices, mixers, bitters, syrups, spirits, liqueurs, and egg whites or dairy ingredients.
  • When using a jigger, measure right up to the rim.
  • It's best when you're starting out not to time or count your pour; measuring is more precise and results in a balanced cocktail.
  • If you do time your pour instead of measuring, use a cocktail shaker with a clear tumbler so you can also eyeball the ingredients as you pour them.

3. If Egg Whites Are Included in the Cocktail, Dry Shake

You only need to use this step if the cocktail includes egg whites. Dry shaking, or shaking without ice, allows the egg whites to foam, which is their purpose in cocktails such as a pisco sour.

  1. After you've added your ingredients and egg whites, put the lid on the shaker. Give it a tap on top with the heel of your hand to make sure it's firmly in place.
  2. Hold the top of the shaker in one hand and the bottom of the shaker in the other.
  3. Turn the shaker so the lid faces you (this keeps drinks from being splashed on your guests if the shaker comes undone).
  4. Shake vigorously back and forth for about 15 seconds.

4. Add Ice and Shake

Whether the shaker uses eggs or not, your next step is to add ice. Cubes are always your best bet (as opposed to crushed ice) for chilling cocktails because they don't melt as quickly and therefore chill with less dilution.

  1. Using an ice scoop, fill the shaker ½ to ¾ full with ice, adding it right on top of the ingredients.
  2. Put the lid on the shaker and give it a firm tap with the heel of your hand to make sure it's in place.
  3. Hold the top of the cocktail shaker in one hand and the bottom of the cocktail shaker in the other. Turn the top of the shaker to face you so it doesn't splash anyone if the lid comes off.
  4. Shake vigorously for a slow count of 15 (15 seconds).
  5. Set the shaker back on the bar with the tumbler side down.
  6. If you're using a Boston shaker, give the side of the shaker a good rap or two with the heel of your hand to release any vacuum pressure that has been built up and remove the lid. If you're using an all-in-one shaker, then simply remove the cap that covers the strainer.

5. Strain the Cocktail

Your next step is to strain the cocktail. How you do this will depend on the type of cocktail shaker you're using. If you're using a cobbler shaker, you can simply remove the lid and strain right through the holes in the top while holding the lid firmly in place. If you're using a Boston shaker, you'll need to use a Hawthorn or julep strainer to strain the cocktail into the glass.

To use a Hawthorne strainer:

Hawthorne cocktail strainer
  1. With the spring side facing the open top of the cocktail shaker, insert the strainer into the shaker. The spring will hold it tight in the strainer.
  2. Use your index finger to hold the Hawthorne strainer in place and tip the shaker tumbler over your prepared cocktail glass. Strain the drink into it, using your index finger to control how quickly the liquid pours through the edges of the strainer.

To use a julep strainer:

  1. Place the strainer directly in the shaker's tumbler over the ice.
  2. Hold it in place and tilt the tumbler to strain your drink into the glass.

6. Add Your Fizzy Element and Stir

If the drink has a fizzy element such as club soda or ginger beer, add the fizzy element to the strained cocktail and stir with a bar spoon a few times just to mix.

How to Use a Cocktail Shaker for Stirred Drinks

Using a cocktail shaker for stirred drink is very simple.

1. Measure Your Ingredients

Measure your ingredients into the tumbler portion of the cocktail shaker using a jigger.

2. Add Ice

Fill the tumbler portion of the cocktail shaker ½ to ¾ full with ice.

3. Stir With a Bar Spoon

Use a long-handled bar spoon to stir the drink for 1 to 2 minutes.

Long-handled bar spoon
  • Keep the back of the spoon up against the wall of the glass.
  • Use a push-pull motion to move the spoon around the edges of the glass in a smooth motion.

4. Strain the Drink

Use your strainer to strain the drink into a chilled glass.

Types of Cocktail Shakers

You'll find three primary types of cocktail shakers.

Cobbler Shakers

The cobbler cocktail shaker is the most common type you'll find for home use because it's very easy to manage. It is a three part shaker consisting of the tumbler, the lid with strainer, and the strainer cap. This is the easiest shaker for beginners to use because it comes with its own strainer.

Cobbler cocktail shaker

To use a cobbler shaker:

  1. Add ingredients and ice to the tumbler as outlined above.
  2. Put the strainer on and cap the strainer.
  3. Tap the top of the cap a few times with the heel of your hand to ensure the strainer and lid are firmly in place.
  4. Hold the lid in place with one hand and hold the base of the shaker in place with the other. Face the lid towards you.
  5. Shake vigorously for a slow count of 15.
  6. Remove the cap and strain into the glass.

Boston Shaker

The Boston shaker is the type most commonly used by bartenders. It consists of two pieces - the mixing tumbler (the smaller part) and the tin (the bigger part). Often, the mixing tumbler is a pint glass, but it can also be made of the same material as the tin. It does take some practice to learn to use this type of shaker.

Boston shaker
  1. Add ingredients to the mixing tumbler as outlined above.
  2. Scoop in your ice about halfway full. Turn the tin upside down over the mixing tumbler and place it on the tumbler at a slight angle.
  3. Tap the top of the tin firmly with the heel of your hand to seal the lid into place. You should be able to lift the shaker lid with one hand and not have the bottom fall off.
  4. Turn the tumbler end pointing towards you. Hold one hand on each part of the shaker and shake vigorously for a slow count of 15.
  5. Set the shaker on the bar with the tin down. Use the heel of your hand to rap where the tumbler and tin meet to release the vacuum seal. If it doesn't release, turn a quarter of a turn and rap again with the heel of your hand.
  6. Remove the tumbler or pint glass and strain into your prepared cocktail glass.

French Shaker

The French shaker is a hybrid of the Boston shaker and the cobbler shaker. It has two parts - the mixing tumbler and the lid, which has no strainer.

French Cocktail Shaker

To use a French shaker:

  1. Mix your drink in the mixing tumbler.
  2. Add ice.
  3. Put the lid on. Tap the lid to set it in place.
  4. Hold the lid in one hand and the tumbler in the other.
  5. Shake vigorously with the lid facing you.
  6. Set it on the bar with the tumbler down.
  7. Give the side of the shaker a firm rap with the heel of your hand to break the vacuum seal.
  8. Remove the lid and strain using a julep or Hawthorne strainer.

Shake Like a Pro

Once you get a little practice, you'll find it's easy to use any type of cocktail shaker to make mixed drinks. If you wish to develop your skills, then practice measuring, mixing, and straining using water until you've got it down. Then, you can easily mix perfect drinks.

How to Use a Cocktail Shaker the Correct Way