How to Make Lemonade That'll Blow Away Any Store-Bought Mix

Learn how to make lemonade without the mix. Our Test Kitchen provides a helpful guide with expert tips to making summer's most refreshing drink.

By Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor and James Schend, Food Editor

three full pitchers of lemonade sitting together surrounded by filled glasses

Why make lemonade from scratch when the mix is so easy, and serviceably tasty on a scorching day?

One sip and you'll know why it's worth a little effort. Real lemonade is so much better than that thin or syrupy drink you choke down at a roadside stand. Our fresh-squeezed recipe makes a thirst-quenching, tangy-sweet cup you'll want to take to cookouts and store by the bucketful in the fridge. It may even tempt you more than a cold beer or a carbonated soft drink!

Without further ado, here's our easy guide to making the best lemonade ever.

You'll need:

2 to 2-1/2 cups sugar

5 cups water, divided

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1-3/4 cups lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

Large saucepan

Lots of thirsty friends

Makes: About 2 quarts

person rolling a lemon against a wood counter with their hand

Step 1: Juice those lemons

You can certainly use store-bought lemon juice, but juicing fresh lemons by hand is such a satisfying task. (Plus—it makes the kitchen smell amazing!) We swear by these two simple tricks to get the most from your citrus:

  • Firmly roll each lemon on the counter, using the palm of your hand.
  • Microwave the lemons on high 10-20 seconds just before cutting.
person using a squeezer to empty the juice from a lemon and into a bowl

Then, cut the lemons in half and use a juicer—or a spoon and your hand—to squeeze the juice from about a half-dozen lemons; set aside.

Test Kitchen tip: Substitute limes for lemons to make limeade. It's just as refreshing.

Step 2: Zest, zest, zest!

Zesting was an awkward task for me until I picked up a microplane grater. This nifty gadget will give you the finest lemon zest without any of the bitter white stuff from the lemon peel. Just grate that colored layer off the fruit.

sauce pan heating up with the lemonade inside

Step 3:Cook it down

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, 1 cup water and lemon peel. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes.

Test Kitchen tip: On its own, this step makes a useful lemon-flavored simple syrup. It goes great in drinks, like this Strawberry Basil Cocktail, or you can freeze it in an ice cube tray to make single-serve lemonade on-demand.

Another Test Kitchen tip: Play with flavors by adding fresh herbs, such as rosemary or basil, to the sugar syrup. Just be sure to strain the mixture once it cools.

person adding more water and lemon juice mixture to the cooling lemonade

Step 4: Cool and serve

Remove your simmering saucepan from the heat. Stir in the fresh lemon juice and remaining water. Then, pop it into the fridge until it's cold. It's best served over ice.

person pouring water over lemon slices in an ice cube tray

Test Kitchen Tip: You can freeze extra lemon slices in ice cube trays. They'll look beautiful and cool your drink without diluting it. They also taste delicious in a glass of cola.

large glass pitcher half full of lemonade with slices of lime floating on top

The big bonus of making homemade lemonade? You can vary the flavor endlessly for fresh new taste sensations. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Lavender Lemonade: Add 1 tablespoon dried lavender with the lemon peel in the syrup. Strain after cooling.
  • Ginger-Mint Lemonade: Add 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger and 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves with the lemon peel in the syrup. Strain after cooling.
  • Berry Lemonade: Substitute 1 cup pureed, strained fresh strawberries or raspberries for 1 cup water when making the simple syrup.
  • Grown-up Lemonade: Add 1 oz. bourbon or vodka to a tall glass of lemonade for an adult beverage.

Looking to get even more lemon in your life? Check out these 84 Lemon Recipes from Tart to Sweet.