Ask Your Bartender: What’s Crackin’?

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Hey Bartender,

Ever since I started making my own drinks at home I’ve been eyeing all my bartenders like a hawk. I’ve noticed a lot of them use the crack-open-the-boston-shaker straining technique.

What are your thoughts on this? I’m not a huge fan of it because it allows bits of ice to get into the drink and that’s just not very appetizing or pretty 😉


Hey Dan

I tried to find a video of this for those who don’t understand what we’re talking about here, but I can’t seem to find one. If any of you have your Cocktail DVD handy, Tom Cruise pulls this move when he makes the Turquoise Blue for Gina Gershon. Anyway.

I don’t really have much of an opinion on this. I’ve asked a lot of other bartenders what they thought, and they were also fairly ambivalent. Personally, I’m so used to using a strainer that this particular flair move just slows me down. I agree with your concern that it allows bits of ice to land in what should be a non-chunky drink, but I’d be interested in hearing what others have to say.

So what do you think, internet friends? Strainer or crack?

68 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: What’s Crackin’?”

  • Todd Appel says:

    bad form and inefficient to crack it..

    please at least use a Hawthorne strainer!

  • Brock says:

    I use the crack method most of the time…not because it looks cool, but because once you become proficient, it’s quick and it’s one less item I have to wash when I’m done. If I’m making drinks with sugared or salted rims I usually strain if making more than one. Straining seems to preserve the rim better on multiple drinks.

    I guess this proves I am not a “real pro.” Whatever. When did bartending attract so many pseudo-authorities?

    I’ve never broken a glass in the shaker either..knock on wood.

  • Mike says:

    Straining seems more of a professional technique and the shards tend to take away from the appearance of cocktails like martinis. I have had a fair share of customers asking for the seasoned ice as a back to keep the drink cold, so I see how customers would like the shards. Mg.

  • Benny says:

    Well, since this one has been resurrected a few times, why not one more? And this is a subject that interests me.

    First, as others have said, cracking is a flair move. And like all flair moves, it looks great and impresses customers when DONE RIGHT, and in the RIGHT VENUE. When not done right, or in the wrong venue, it’s cheap and sloppy.

    Second, I can crack way faster than straining and without a sliver of ice. But I practice it a lot. If you aren’t already great at it, practice at home before you even think about trying it at the bar.

    And even if you’re a pro, cracking should be reserved for speed bars and popular drinks. High end clientele and classic drinks both call for the strainer. Always. When I see a bartender cracking a martini at a hotel (and I have), I just want to smack them.

  • Johnny says:

    At my bar we have 4-6 shaker tins at each station (6 stations total) and probably 4 strainers in the whole place.
    I’ve never thought of cracking as a flair move. its just faster. One less step from tin to glass.

  • Jeffrey

    Major props for the Alton Brown reference, Good Eats is basically my favorite show on TV (even if only in rerun form).

    The only time I use the break method is when I am trying to control amount of foam going into the drink (the thought being foam floats so better to effectively pour from the bottom bottom instead of the top). Otherwise I just use the strainer in the top of my shaker.

    -Martin Coates IV

    P.S. I am an Engineer not a bartender, but I love throwing cocktail parties on my beach.

    P.P.S. I love your blog. Sorry if I keep asking the sub question, but I have a few friends that are forbidden from sugar so always looking for cocktails with low GI for diabetics.

  • Cache says:

    Anyone who claims cracking is for speed simply doesn’t know how to actually combine speed and accuracy, as one is simply no damn good without the other, no matter how shitty your bars standards, or your patrons.

    I recently got to take part in a speed competition at a friends bar setup simply to decide whether cracking or straining was faster. Each bartender made a Cosmo, two chilled shots of vodka(in one shaker) and a Woo-woo.

    A pair of bartenders, four rounds, where they switched each round, and we combined the times for a total completed time for the crack only station, and the strain only station(hawthornes). It was a fun time during an otherwise slow afternoon, and we got to drink all the finished drinks between us.

    The strain only station had a faster time by over 1 1/2 minutes, and the spill mat under the crack station had a shitload more in it.

    Cracking is for amateurs, and folks who don’t have the right tools, because they don’t understand that tools make the job easier.

  • Matthew T Williams says:

    I’ve been tending bar in craft cocktail bars for a couple of years now and the first time I saw someone cracking I thought “What is this, amateur hour?”

    If I’m straining out of the tin, I use a hawthorne and tea strainer because the chances are that I’ve shaken it. And yes, hawthornes can let a lot of ice through, so the tea strainer also helps remove any tiny bits of pulp that sly snuck through when I first strained the citrus (if the drink contains citrus).

    If I’m pouring out of a glass, I use a julep strainer because I only pour out of a glass if I’ve stirred, so ice isn’t an issue.

    I’m telling you, after practise, you can use the hawthorne + tea strainer just as quickly as you can crack, and rinse them off quickly in the sink.

    Plus, when it hits the strainer it aerates the cocktail some and looks like you’re putting extra care and attention into it (which, of course, you are).

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