It’s easy: whatever you do, don’t get a varnished wood muddler. A surprising number of the muddlers I see in stores and online are made like this. I even see them in bars.
I made this mistake a few years ago, and it wasn’t until I read something from a professional bartender that I realized what a bad idea this was: where do you think that varnish goes? It’s in your cocktail.
You’ll notice the wear on the cocktail muddler below. Varnish came off the muddling surface and around the middle where it rubbed against the edge of my short steel mixing cup. You may also notice that I had been using this muddler upside down. To me, it was shaped like a baseball bat, but what looked like a handle was actually the muddling end. Oops. But that flat muddling end didn’t have the waffled texture that these other two muddlers have.
So when you’re looking for a cocktail muddler, choose either stainless steel (with or without the plastic tip) or natural, untreated wood.
Here’s another lesson here about muddling: don’t go nuts. When you’re dealing with mint leaves for instance, as in a mojito or a whiskey smash, you really don’t need to pulverize the bejesus out of the leaves. Nor the citrus. A gentle muddle will release the oils in both the mint leaves and the lemon or lime peels.