Lemonade basics - with a few funky twists
July 3rd, 2011
03:00 AM ET
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Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Mixing up a refreshing batch of classic lemonade is as cinchy as opening a carton, stirring in some powder or thawing out some concentrate, right?

Well, those may be decent options in a pinch, but no pre-packaged product comes close to the magical meld of freshly-juiced lemons, simple sugar syrup and water. It may take a little extra time and effort, but the result is a wickedly delicious elixir that will spoil you for all other citrus-flavored sugar waters for many summers to come.

Once you master the basic method below, stir things up a bit by adding in your favorite fruits, liquors, and even a hint of wood smoke. Read on.

What you'll need:

12-24 lemons, 2 cups of sugar, water

Here's how:

First, squeeze 12-24 lemons until you have one cup of juice. The amount of juice in any given lemon varies wildly (hence the wide range), but you can maximize the yield and release the oils in the rind by rolling the fruit between your palm and a countertop or microwaving it on high for 10-15 seconds.

Once that's done, slice the lemons in half along the equator and either use an electric juicer or prick the open sides with the fork tines a few times, and then twist the fork against the sides in a circular motion until you've squeezed out every last drop.

You've got to balance the sweet and the sour, and while it seems like common sense to stir in plain old sugar at this point (or agave nectar if that's your thing), there's actually a better option: simple syrup. It's an extra step or two, to be sure, but it blends into drinks smoothly and thoroughly, and you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

To make simple syrup, stir two cups sugar and one cup water in a small saucepan, and bring the mixture a gentle boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer it until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove it from the heat (carefully - sugar burns are serious business), and let it cool. The syrup can be stored in a clean, sealed jar in the refrigerator until it's needed.

Once it's cooled, pour the cup of lemon juice into a pitcher, and then add 3/4 cup of the simple syrup and take a small taste. Is it too sour? Add a bit more of the syrup (you'll have plenty - and in fact, you'll have enough on hand for another batch or two, or for sweetening your iced tea or cocktails) until you're happy with the balance.

Next add two cups of water. Taste, taking into account that you'll likely be adding ice cubes that will dilute the finished product. Add water to taste, chill, pour over ice and serve with a sweet "aw shucks, it wasn't much trouble" smile to your delighted guests.

Feeling a bit frisky? Squeeze up even more fun by subbing in seltzer for water, mixing the lemonade half and half with iced tea for a classic Arnold Palmer, trading lemons for limes, or adding a dash of hot sauce.

Spike it with your favorite spirit or smash in-season fruits, vegetables and herbs like cherries, peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes (see the recipe below), mint or thyme at the bottom of the pitcher or glass. Freeze lemonade in a regular ice tray to add an unexpected kick to cocktails and soft drinks or just go right ahead and sip the straight-up taste of summer.

Smoked Lemonade

12-24 lemons, halved
Bourbon or rye (optional)

Place the lemons in foil pans, half face up and half face down, indirectly from the heat source in your smoker or grill. Soak a handful of hickory, mesquite or fruit wood chunks or chips in water or beer for at least 30 minutes before use. Place these soaked chips on top of hot, ashed-over coals, and lower the lid, leaving the side and top vents open.

After 30 minutes at around 225 degrees, open the lid to make sure that the juice is not evaporating. If the rinds are softened and have begun to brown significantly, remove them from the heat. If they haven't, leave them in for at least another 30 minutes before removing.

While the lemons are smoking, make a batch of the simple syrup as shown above, and let it cool.

Place the lemon halves in a pitcher, and press down on them with a wooden spoon until they've released most of their juice. Remove some of the rinds from the pitcher, but leave a few in there. Stir in the sugar syrup, tasting as you go. Once you've achieved sour and sweet balance, store the syrup in the fridge for later use.

Pour cold water into the pitcher, tasting as you go. Serve.

Brown liquor, smoke and lemonade work reeeeaaaaallllly well together. Hold back on some of the water and pour in a bit of bourbon or rye to taste.

Heirloom Tomato Lemonocracy

2 large heirloom tomatoes
12 large lemons
Simple syrup
Rye whiskey (optional)

Halve two large heirloom tomatoes (yellow varieties such as Wapsipinicon Peach and Gold Medal work especially well) and place in a large pitcher. Muddle with a wooden spoon until thoroughly pulped.

Juice the lemons and measure the liquid before adding to the pitcher. Measure the same amount of simple syrup and stir into the pitcher, tasting as you go.

Once the sweet and sour flavors are balanced, stir in 4 cups of water. Strain into an ice-filled pint glass and serve. A shot (or two!) of rye whiskey makes it reminiscent of a wonderfully tipsy deli sandwich.

See all our best grilling advice at Grilling 101

soundoff (39 Responses)


    6 cups cold water
    3” piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
    6 green tea bags
    1 cup fresh mint leaves
    ½ cup honey
    Juice from 2 lemons, strained

    Add ginger to water; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and
    add mint leaves and tea bags; cover. Steep (off heat) for ½ hour.
    Strain liquid into a pitcher; add honey and lemon juice.

    Chill well.

    July 3, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • MaddyB

      Oh, now that sounds good! Thank you9 for the recipe.

      July 4, 2014 at 9:24 am |
  2. I want da gold!

    I make lemonade many times a day. I make it even more when I drink lots of beer. It gets more and more diluted though...

    July 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  3. ohsnap

    Who the heck doesn't know how to make lemonade? And spiking it with liquor is new? Geez, this generation is sad.

    July 4, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  4. overed

    Basil or Rosemary lemonade. Put in a big sprig when you simmer the simple syrup and let it infuse. A big hit.

    July 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  5. Tailliure

    Jalapeno lemonade: A refreshing smooth cool spice.

    July 4, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  6. Tailliure

    Jalapeno lemonade

    July 4, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  7. dst05cincy

    This is the first time I have actually read replies to an article and I must say that I've enjoyed reading the variations of lemonade recipes out there. Pretty neat! I will definitely try adding ginger to my next pitcher. Thanks for sharing! Happy 4th!

    July 4, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  8. American meth-head in Ogden,ut

    Put a little bit of meth in the picture when lemonade is still fresh / pour your glasses for your guests sit back and ENJOY !! Meth works great with every thing "I just put it in a salt shaker and sprinkle it on every thing " it works great !!!

    July 3, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  9. Patrick

    I'm lucky enough to live in California and have a lime tree. These taste almost identical to lemons and I can make a gallon of drink with 2 limes – if I include the rind. Use a small of amount of stevia to sweeten. Adding watermelon or just the rind (with the green skin cut off) adds a nice twist.

    July 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  10. Kat Kinsman

    Prophylactic Surprise sounds like the awesomest garage band EVER.

    July 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Eduardo

    Spike it with some goat milk for a prophylactic surprise.

    July 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. Yum!

    It may not be as pretty, but dark brown sugar adds a lot of complexity to plain old lemonade. Made the sub once when I realized I was out of plain white sugar one afternoon. Now it's the only sugar I use for lemonade.

    July 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  13. Sean Kizhnerman

    Try adding a teaspoon or two of fresh-grated ginger to your homemade lemonade. It brings a subtle tang of "je ne sais quois" to your beverage without being overpowering.

    July 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Oh heck yeah! Sounds amazing. I've smoked ginger before and make smoked ginger beer but haven't tried in lemonade.

      July 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Inquiring minds want to know-Did you use a Bong,a pipe or papers to smoke Ginger? I prefer MaryAnn myself. Have a safe and Happy 4th Kat!

        July 4, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  14. Jenjen

    You should try it with limes, or even grapefruits. I live in Utah and a fresh lime is the best thing on a hot day if you don't like lemons. The best way to make it is by using the same recipe as your lemonade. But its usually made by mixing fresh limes with sprite. but if you use grapefruits instead its way yummie to.

    July 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  15. Charles

    Lemons cost $.54cents each around here, that is $13 right there to start, seems like expensive lemonade.

    July 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Mike

      There's lemon juice and then there are chemical mixes that simulate lemon flavor. Generally it's chemical flavoring that is used to make "inexpensive" lemonade.

      July 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  16. "Behind" the scenes

    Gallon jug of ice cold spring water (In FL, Publix generic best of all for 75cents),
    one whole lemon thoroughly washed,
    two 2qt sleeves of Crystal Light Natural lemonade

    Pour off and drink four ounces of spring water
    tear top off powder sleeves and pour in
    Recap, shake vigorously
    cut tips off lemons, then slice into six or eight wedges (just slightly larger than jug orifice) lengthwise, make perpendicular slicing cuts in the wedges, stuff into the jug, recap, shake again.
    The wedges will rest in the neck when pouring and add fresh juice, eventually drop through into glass for eye appeal.
    This provides a zero calorie drink with just the right sweetness as basic CL is too sweet.
    For a great orange drink (better than summer camp "bug juice" anyway), use CL "Sunrise Classic Orange" powder tubes, remove your 4oz H2o from gallon jug and pour that into dog's bowl, tear tops off and add tubes, recap, shake, then without shaking IT, open a new 1.75L jug of Simply Orange "Grove Made HIGH Pulp" OJ. Best there is. Pour off 4 oz of the concentrated pulp floating on top into the water/CL jug. Shake. Just that much pulp gives the drink an amazing OJ authenticity, takes the edge off the exces sweetness of base CL, and essentially no additional calories per glass, I have lost over four hundred pounds in ten years using these two recipes. OK, that's BS... but have not gained any.

    July 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  17. Harry Nilsson

    Lemonade is best, imo, sweetened with maple syrup. The slightly more heavy sweetness of maple adds such a great contrast to the tangy lemon.

    July 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Doctor

      To cure your bellyache, you put the LIME in the coconut

      July 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
      • I want da gold!

        ...and shake it all up.

        July 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  18. TedTurner

    What a bunch of BS!

    July 3, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • "Behind" the scenes

      I don't think you're really Ted Turner. If you want to prove you are, list the names of the first ten CNN news women you "juiced" during their audition phase in the early CNN years (pre-Fonda) when the size of their lemons was more important to you than their enunciation or education.

      July 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
      • BobInIrvine

        Ah, but those T&A hiring managers have all moved to FauxNewz and have perfected their practices.

        July 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • I want da gold!

      What's real BS is the almost 50% of respondents to the survey claiming they make lemonade from scratch. I call 100% BS! I bet 15% actually do...if that.

      July 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  19. Mike

    Sorry, but anyone who use 12-24 lemons to yield ONE cup of Lemon Juice needs to go back to LEMONADE SCHOOL!

    July 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      There are some truly, truly sad lemons out there – at least where I live. Sometimes, plenty of juice. Others, barely a thimble.

      July 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Mike

      Speaking of Lemonade School ... we were experimenting with an updated formula for anyone objecting to refined white sugar - to each his own I say. There is a certain amount of promise in using pure cane juice as a sweetener instead of sugar. We found it fresh-squeezed and frozen, thawed it, poured it into ice cube trays, and then use 1/2 to one "cube" sweetener per glass of lemonade, depending on taste.

      July 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        Where do you get your cane juice? I tried pulping cane last year and it was a massive amount of work. Any guidance would be awesome.

        July 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
      • Patrick

        Use stevia to sweeten. In my lemonade the lemon rind goes in – I guess this is not common? The oils in the rind add a nice bite.

        July 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
      • Mike (again)

        I'm in southern California where the choices are many. I happened on the cane juice at a tiny place called the Locali Conscious Convenience store, just north of the Sunday morning Hollywood Farmers' market. They had the cane juice in the freezer because it's a raw food. Maybe that gives you some clues on where to search in Brooklyn and in all the places the readers may be looking.

        Made here:
        [sugar cane juice dot org]


        July 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  20. Deedee

    I've never heard of "smoked" lemonade. Sounds delicious!!

    July 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I started making it a few years ago and it's really distinctive and delicious. It also works nicely just with grilled lemons.

      July 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  21. 420man

    Smoked lemonade makes me feel like quagmire. GIGGITY!!!!!

    July 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  22. RichardHead

    I squeeze my girlfriends "lemons" and she likes it!!

    July 3, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Newyorker

      Is your first name Dick, then, Mr. Head?

      July 3, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
      • Jerv

        Fuking genius.

        July 5, 2011 at 7:04 am |
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