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A frat party favorite, gateway shot of teenage girls through generations, and instant party starter, Jell-O shots have grown up with you. But how do you make them? And where do they come from?

Depending on what vibes you’re going for, you can create classic Jell-O shots in little plastic cups. A swankier take might have you constructing elegant squares with more refined flavors.

Vodka may be the most popular type of alcohol for Jell-O shots, but rum, whiskey, flavored liquors, grain alcohol, and even wine are all fair game, and they allow for maximum creativity with minimum effort.

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What are Jell-O shots?

A Jell-O shot (or Jello shot) is made with the branded gelatin dessert, and you can easily spot them due to their neon hues.

Jell-O shots are most commonly served in small, white Dixie cups — round plastic cups with lids like you might pump condiments into at a fast food joint. Some people serve them straight out of ice cube trays at parties (cheap and easy cleanup FTW).

What are jelly shots?

You make jelly shots from plain, unflavored gelatin (not specifically Jell-O).

Using unflavored gelatin

  • leaves a lot of room for more nuanced flavor pairings
  • often lends itself to less rainbow-bright shades
  • results in a higher quality shot that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve at an adult party

Jelly shots are more commonly made in baking pans or casserole dishes and cut into neat little squares for serving.

But you can still create fruity, brightly-colored jelly shots if you want to — you just have more flexibility when it comes to flavors and colors.

To make Jell-O Shots, all you need is the alcohol of your choice, boiling water, and a packet of Jell-O. In our standard, no-frills Jell-O shot recipe, you’ll find the basics.

For 10 shots, you’ll need

  • 1 packet Jell-O flavored gelatin
  • 6 ounces boiling water
  • 6 ounces vodka, gin, or whichever spirit you prefer

Here’s how to put them together

  1. Pour the gelatin into a bowl.
  2. Add the boiling water, and stir until the gelatin dissolves.
  3. Add the vodka, stir, and pour into an ice cube tray or molds of your choice.
  4. Refrigerate until set.

Of course, every imaginable twist on Jell-O shots is available. We’ve broken down eight of our favorites below.

When it comes to Jell-O shots, the sky’s the limit. You can mix and match any flavors you can think of and even get creative, cutting them into shapes (Jell-O jiggler style) or serving them layered in clear shot glasses.

1. Hurricane jelly shots

Named after the popular New Orleans Mardi Gras cocktail, these shots require prep in advance to make the two layers, as well as dark and light rums. A hurricane is a fruity, boozy rum drink made popular by Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter, party central of New Orleans, Louisiana.

For the first layer, you’ll need

  • 1 cup dark rum, such as Cruzan Black Strap or Myers’s
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 (1/4-ounce) packets unflavored gelatin
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 (13- to 14-ounce) jar maraschino cherries, drained, stemmed, and finely chopped

For the second layer, you’ll need

  • 1 1/2 cups white rum
  • 6 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups passion fruit juice
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 15 medium limes)
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 5 medium oranges)
  • 1/4 cup grenadine
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 10 drops red food coloring

Get our hurricane jelly shots recipe.

2. Ramos gin fizz jelly shot

This 1880s vintage cocktail made famous by New Orleans, Louisiana bartender Henry Ramos gets a makeover. The recipe is delicious, with orange blossom water and all.

For the first layer, you’ll need

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • 1/4 cup orange blossom water
  • 2 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups club soda
  • Finely grated zest of 1 medium orange

For the second layer

  • 1 1/2 cups gin
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons simple syrup
  • 3 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed (from about 2 medium lemons)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed (from about 4 medium limes)

Get our Ramos gin fizz jelly shots recipe.

3. Sazerac jelly shots

One more jiggly take on the classic New Orleans, Louisiana cocktail, this one has Peychaud’s bitters, Angostura bitters, absinthe, and rye, plus a little red food coloring for a ruby tint and sanding sugar on top for sparkle.

For the jelly, you’ll need

  • 3 cups water
  • 8 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 medium lemons
  • 3 cups rye whiskey
  • 10 drops red food coloring

For the topping, you’ll need

  • 1 teaspoon Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1/2 teaspoon Angostura bitters
  • 1/2 teaspoon absinthe
  • 1/4 cup white sanding sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon

Get our Sazerac jelly shots recipe.

4. Pimm’s cup jelly shots

Make Pimm’s cup jelly shots in a loaf pan and garnish them with tons of fresh ingredients: strawberries, orange slices, mint, and cucumber. This recipe uses ginger ale and lemon syrup for added flavor, and unflavored gelatin preserves the integrity of the fresh ingredients.

You’ll need

  • 4 strawberries
  • 1 orange slice, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 (1-inch) piece cucumber, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Pimm’s No. 1
  • 6 ice cubes
  • 2/3 cup ginger ale
  • 2/3 cup lemon syrup
  • 2 envelopes Knox gelatin
  • Slivers of cucumber, strawberry, orange, and mint for garnish to taste

And for the lemon syrup

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 medium lemons cut into 8 wedges each

Try the Pimm’s cup jelly shots recipe.

5. Ruby red Jello shots

Lemon peel ruby red Jello shots are especially cute for serving — fresh grapefruit juice imparts a ton of flavor, and you pour the mixture into hollowed-out lemon halves. Cut in quarters to serve.

You’ll need

  • 3 to 5 large grapefruits
  • 1.5 or 2 packets Knox unflavored gelatin (adjust amount according to how much firmness you need)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cherry Jell-O or 1 drop pink food coloring (for pink color)
  • 3/4 cup vodka (if you have a grapefruit variety, all the better!)
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Try the ruby red Jello shots recipe.

6. Pink lemonade Jello shots

Pink lemonade gets a new lease on life in this recipe for Jell-O shots, made with vodka, fresh lemons, sugar, gelatin, and some food coloring. Their portable nature makes them great for afternoon barbecues or taking on a picnic.

You’ll need

  • 12 organic lemons, rinsed and stickers removed
  • 1.5 cups vodka, chilled
  • 4 packets gelatin (4 ounces total)
  • 1 to 2 cups sugar
  • 2 to 3 drops red food coloring

Try the pink lemonade Jello shots recipe.

7. Manischewitz red wine Jell-O shots

You can use fancier wine if you want to, but this kosher classic gets the job done (especially if you replace half of it with vodka). And a sprinkle of edible luster dust adds a festive touch.

You’ll need

  • 1 3-ounce package orange Jell-O
  • 1 3-ounce package lemon Jell-O
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups Manischewitz or 1 cup Manischewitz and 1 cup vodka

Get the Manischewitz red wine Jell-O shots recipe.

8. Champagne Jell-O shots

If you want to really class up the joint, the choice is clear: Make champagne Jell-O shots! Sparkling wine, sparkling lemonade or cider, vodka, and gelatin make for a bubbly little French 75-inspired shot. We think a little gold leaf garnish would be just the thing to finish these off.

Then again, it might be wasted on the… well, wasted. So, use your best judgment.

  • 1 cup sparkling cider or sparkling lemonade
  • 2 packets gelatin (.5 ounces total)
  • 3/4 cup sparkling wine (like champagne or prosecco)
  • 1/4 cup vodka (or flavored vodka)
  • 2 tablespoons sanding sugar (see note)

Get the champagne Jell-O shots recipe.

While these recipes are fancy and fun, you can easily customize them for any occasion.

Start with the basics, then experiment with flavor combinations like spiced rum and pineapple Jell-O for a taste of the tropics, or a chocolate vodka and black cherry Jell-O take on Black Forest cake. Always write down your favorite alcohol and flavor combos so you don’t forget.

But above all, don’t wait for an excuse to try them out at your next get-together. As they say, “There’s always room for Jell-O.” When making your own custom jelly shots with plain gelatin, food coloring, flavoring, and more, keep these tips in mind:

  • You can experiment with how solid you’d like your Jell-O shots and vary the ratio of Jell-O to alcohol. General guidelines are to use a 1-to-1 water-to-alcohol ratio. If you use more, you’ll get some very potent Jell-O shots that might provide a rough time for your guests.
  • Try infusing your alcohol with herbs, spices, citrus zest, or other flavor agents before mixing it into your gelatin.
  • To make layered Jell-O shots, pour the first layer in and refrigerate until solid. Once set, add a new color or flavor on top of the first layer, and so on til you’re done.
  • Beware fresh pineapple juice. It sounds dreamy, but the enzymes in it will interfere with the gelatin’s setting power. This is one case where canned is best. (We got this tip from a Polyjuice Potion Jello shot recipe for all us grown-up “Harry Potter” fans!)

Michelle Palm, author of “The Jelly Shot Test Kitchen: Jell-ing Classic Cocktails — One Drink at a Time,” has some great tips for Jell-O shot best practices:

  • Don’t cut up your Jell-O shots more than an hour before serving, or they may start to melt.
  • A boning knife (with a long, thin blade) is the best kind of knife for cutting clean lines in your Jell-O shots. Don’t use a serrated knife, as you’ll see tiny zigzags wherever you’ve used the blade. When using a rectangular pan, it might also be a good idea to remove the entire jelly block before cutting it for neater lines.
  • If you’re using a fancy mold, use cooking spray to prevent the shots from sticking. For example, you can make one giant Jello shot in a Bundt pan, as long as you grease it up first.
  • If you’re serving Jell-O shots at a party and made a big batch that won’t be served in individual containers, add a half-envelope more gelatin to keep them extra firm.
  • Make deconstructed Jell-O shot versions of your favorite cocktails. For example, a margarita Jell-O shot could have one layer of tequila, one layer of lime, and one layer of orange (using triple sec or Cointreau) that you can garnish with sea salt. Or just make rainbow Jello shots!)

Jell-O shots became popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But comedic singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer claims to have invented them back in the 1950s as a way to get around rules against alcohol on the naval base where he was stationed at the time.

He may well have done that — Jell-O was certainly having a heyday in 1950s America, so it would’ve made sense. But like so many great ideas, it had already been done before. In fact, the very first cocktail manual ever published, in 1862, included a recipe for “Punch Jelly” that is basically one big 19th-century Jell-O shot.

One major difference between the Jerry Thomas punch jelly recipe and modern-day Jell-O shots? Instead of using Jell-O (or even powdered gelatin, which was definitely around at the time), it relied on fish bladders for the jiggly effect.

(And if you instinctively recoil at the idea, you should know that lots of modern beers are still filtered using isinglass — aka, fish bladders. This is why many beers are not suitable for strict vegetarians.)

Anyway, there was definitely some historical precedent for wiggly, jiggly, semisolid booze, and using fruity flavors of Jell-O as an alcohol delivery system was certainly an improvement on the 1950s-era gelatin salads with their suspended chunks of tomatoes and olives.