Our DIY Margarita Machine

posted Jan 30, 2012, 7:41 PM by Stephen Zenter   [ updated Jan 30, 2012, 8:09 PM ]
My brother, Eric, celebrated his 30th birthday about a week ago.  We celebrated with a fiesta of sorts, complete with fajitas, salsa and cold margaritas.  However, it was the week leading up to the party that was exciting for Eric and myself.  It all goes back to a post-Shuttle flight party I attended about a year and a half ago.  At said party there were Shuttle crew members, flight controllers, and a machine that produced a sweet alcoholic slurry that we know and love.  This margarita machine was not like any other I had seen.  It was constructed from a 5-gallon water cooler and a garbage disposal, all mounted on a wooden base.  From that moment, I have looked for a reason to build my own.  Eric’s party was just the excuse I needed to convince my wife that we needed one of these.

Little did I know that these DIY margarita machines are somewht common… at least here in the state of Texas.  My internet search yielded several plans for them with associated pictures.  Each one is uniquely redneck, some more than others. Sure, each person has incorporated their own design elements – both functional and aesthetic – but they all have the same common goal.  So what’s an engineer to do?  I took the best functional elements from the designs I found, while Eric proudly worked the aesthetics.

Rather than explain the details of design and building your own DIY MM, I point you to the following website: http://www.randystacye.com/diymargaritamachine/diy_margarita_machine.htm.  This guy has the most complete plans and thorough explanation that I could find.  What I will do is show you how ours turned out and a few details of our implementation.  Although I am biased, I do believe ours is the best-looking machine out of those found online.

We’ll start with the basics.  Powering our machine is a ½ horsepower garbage disposal.  These have apparently gone up in price a bit since I replaced ours at home a few years ago.  I used Amazon to my benefit.  One of the top comments on the DIY MM blogs is to use a stainless steel disposal if possible.  Really?  You suggest I throw a few hundred bucks at something I will use (at most) a couple of times a year and attach it to a vessel that costs $30?  So… the $65 disposal works for us.  We also opted for the blue Igloo cooler.  Blue is much more appealing than the orange.

As described in the above-referenced plans, the disposal mounts to the bottom side of the cooler.  Note here that the cooler bottom is much thicker than a kitchen sink, posing some difficulty.  We were able to muscle with the flange enough to get it attached.  This was definitely the hardest part of the build.  Next, the “exit” end of the disposal is fitted with some PVC and piped back up to the top of the cooler.  Some plans have the return line run outside the cooler.  We think the inside return line makes more sense, as it stays insulated.  Just keep in mind that this creates an additional hole in the cooler, which we sealed with a rubber O-ring and a bit of silicone.

Once the disposal and return line are installed, the base can be built.  We went with the plywood box option, using ½”, which is plenty sturdy.  We mounted the cooler to the base using a couple of 2x4’s and some stainless steel hex bolts.  Again,we sealed the bolts on the inside of the cooler using heavy rubber O-rings.

For the electrical components, I exercised a couple of options.  The disposal we used included a pre-installed cord.  So we mounted an electrical box and standard outlet so we could simply plug it in.  For the switch, we used one with an outdoor seal and toggle lever.  We mounted it on the right-hand side facing the cooler.  I also wired the top outlet to the switch while keeping the bottom outlet always hot (this we used later).  All of these things receive the power through a recessed male plug.  This was both a design and function choice.  We don’t have to worry about wrapping up cords, and it makes storage easier.

Eric used some "scrap" sheet aluminum to wrap the base.  We attached the aluminum with pan-head sheet metal screws and added some heavy-duty handles.  To… ahem… wrap it all up, we lit up the machine with some LED rope lights.  The aluminum base really gave us the look we were going for.  This is the final product.

How does it work?  Well, no one complained about the margaritas!  The recipe I used is below.  I found the margaritas a bit too sweet and not quite tart enough, so next time I think I would use a little less of the mix concentrate and maybe add some fresh lime juice.  As for operating this machine, I have included some tips below.  This is not just a huge blender, so it is not as easy as flipping on a switch and watching it go to work.  However, the end result is five gallons of margarita goodness at a similar cost to renting a big machine once.  And you have your own machine to use aver and over again!  I don't have a video of the machine in action because it was kind of dark by the time we got it started.  Hopefully I'll get one on it's next outing.  There are some more pics of the final product (and our enjoyment) in this album.
The recipe:
1 gallon Margarita Mix Concentrate (I only used ¾ of it and still found it too sweet.)
1 liter Triple Sec
2 liters Tequila
Ice (We used about three 10-lb. bags.  We used pellet ice from Sonic, which crushes much easier.)

Tips for using a DIY MM:

Pulse to blend – Garbage disposals are not the same as a blender.  They will overheat rather quickly, so it is important to only use it for short periods of time.  Ours overheated after about 15 minutes of heavy use.  Then we had to wait about 15 for it to cool down enough to reset the thermal switch.  From that point, we were able to keep it going for 30-second intervals every few minutes to keep it from overheating again.

Make them a little early – Obviously, everyone wants to watch your DIY MM go to work.  But due to the above reason, it will take a little time to get the consistency just right.  I would start about 45 minutes to an hour prior to party time.  The cooler will keep the contents cold, so melting should not be an issue.  Also, as the ice is slowly crushed in intervals, the mixture seems to set up a little.  Once we had them made for the party, it seemed the consistency was a little better about 30 to 45 minutes later.

Play with the recipe – I made a half batch to taste a little before going in for the full five gallons.  Now that I have made them once, I am confident with the minor tweaks I have for the recipe.  Of course, what you have available in terms of mixes will play a role here.

Blend and serve – When serving, pulse the mix a second to get it blended again, then open the valve to serve.  If you feel you’ll be doing this frequently, use the assistance of a pitcher.