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How to Make Jello Shots

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All About Jello Shots

Jello shots are an old favorite and a guaranteed hit at parties. With just a few ingredients and a delicate bit of chemistry, you can make a novelty treat that tastes great and gives your guests a great buzz.

Singer Tom Lehrer is sometimes credited with inventing the gelatin shot while in the Army. He tells a story about making "vodka Jello" to get around the ban on alcoholic beverages on base. However, alcoholic gelatin has probably been around since people first began making desserts with gelatin. The first known recipe was published in the 1860s. It was an elaborate Victorian dessert known as punch jelly. It had lemon juice, cognac and rum, and must have had quite a kick.

Gelatin, of course, has many hundreds of uses and took many hours to prepare, since gelatin comes from the bones and feet of animals. The animal parts had to be boiled for hours and the gelatin left to sit for another day or so before it could be used. This made gelatin very expensive, so gelatin desserts as we think of them were only seen at the dinner parties of the very rich. The fancy moulds appeared as early as the 17th century. They were used to make huge displays, showing off the host's wealth and extravagance.

Powdered gelatin was first invented and patented in 1845. A cough syrup magnate, Pearle Waite, bought the patent in 1897, working with his wife May to improve the formula by adding fruit flavorings and sugar. They marketed this innovation as Jello in 1897, not too long after Charles Knox's unflavored gelatin mix became available. Strangely enough, nobody wanted to buy it, and the Waites sold off the patent to the Pure Food Company. Pure Foods instituted an aggressive marketing strategy for Jello involving traveling salesmen and free cookbooks.

More History on Jello Shots

Meanwhile, Knox died and his wife May took over the company, producing even more cookbooks with thousands of recipes. Although Mrs. Knox probably never said anything about it either in her books or her popular newspaper column, housewives and cooks probably caught on pretty early to the idea of adding a bit of "zing" to the stuff!

Promotion for both products was enormous and went on for decades. The idea was to get ordinary people used to the idea that this formerly sky-high expensive dessert was now affordable and available at the corner grocery. Gelatin even figured importantly in a 1936 screwball murder mystery, "The Ex-Mrs. Bradford." At one point Jean Arthur is shown serving William Powell a luxurious dinner, each and every course made entirely out of gelatin. That would have been a bit much even in the olden times!

Both Knox and Jello brands can be used for gelatin shots. Knox gelatin is colorless and unflavored, so you'll have to provide both, plus a little sugar depending on what kind of interesting concoction you are making.

Any cocktail can be made into a gelatin shot by using the right proportion of ingredients. Be careful not to sample your wares while you're making them, and remind your guests to go easy on them, especially before dinner. Gelatin shots are so delicious that you can easily forget how much alcohol you're getting in each one. Then they can come up from behind and kick you in the head when you least expect it. As that old Victorian punch jelly recipe says, this stuff may make you unfit for waltzing or quadrilling afterward!

What You Need

Let's start with some test shots. The simplest gelatin shot can be made with plain vodka. So, get a three-ounce (small) box of your favorite Jello flavor, a two-quart pot, one cup of plain water, one cup of your favorite vodka, a turkey baster, and some shot cups. Put your vodka in the freezer or refrigerator, as you will want it well chilled. Never try to substitute alcohol for the hot water you will use. Gelatin requires hot water to break it down. Alcohol alone, even heated, cannot do the job.

You can buy shot cups in the liquor store when you're buying the vodka. Be sure you understand what you're getting. The least expensive shot cups are made of stiff folded white paper. They look almost exactly like the little pleated paper cups you put ketchup in at the A&W, or got a few bits of candy corn in back at the second grade Halloween party, except they're a bit smaller. The main disadvantage of paper cups for gelatin shots is that they tend to leak. Some people also report that it's harder to get all the Jello out of them without turning them inside out.

Most professionals recommend plastic shot cups. They're more durable, and since they're top rack dishwasher safe they can be re-used several times before recycling. One type called Twist'n Shot allows you to twist the cup a little to get all the Jello out. Besides all this, plastic shot cups often come with little covers which keep your dizzy delights fresh in the refrigerator before your guests arrive. If you're bringing the goodies for someone else's bash, you can just throw them into the cooler.

Best of all may be the innovative ice cup molds. Just fill them with water and freeze them -- voila! Instant shot glasses made entirely out of ice. Your guests can eat them and you won't have to wash a thing. The only disadvantage of these is that they take up a lot of freezer space.

If you don't have any cups and don't want to hassle with them, use several ordinary ice cube trays or molds. These come in cute party shapes too, but let's keep everything simple for now. And just in case, get a lot of those small plastic spoons, the ones you usually find in ice cream parlors and stores where they're used to give samples.

As always when cooking, start with clean hands, clean tools and a clean kitchen. Have all your tools and ingredients in front of you. Arrange your cups on a large platter or tray. Be sure there is enough room in the refrigerator to store the platter.

Let's Do It!

  • Put one cup of plain water in the pot and bring it to a boil.
  • Stir in the gelatin powder, turn the heat down and keep stirring, making sure it's thoroughly dissolved. This is very important!
  • Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for about five minutes.
  • Now put in your chilled vodka and stir it. What you are doing is substituting vodka for the cold water usually called for in this part of the recipe. Let the mixture cool for another few minutes.

Using the turkey baster, suck up some of the mixture and squeeze it into the cups. Don't fill them too full but leave a slight amount of room at the top. When all the cups are full, put the tray in the freezer and let them chill out for at least four hours. If you put the shots in the refrigerator, they may not jell sufficiently because alcohol needs a lower temperature to chill.

Helpful Hints

One of the first things you will find out in your experiments is that dissolving the powder completely in the boiling water is crucial. Unless this is done, your Jello won't jell. For the same reason, you can only put a certain amount of alcohol into your shots. Too much alcohol and your shots won't set properly and won't taste right. You may even find that one cup of chilled vodka per three-ounce box of Jello is too much. If so, make it 3/4 cup of vodka and 1/4 cup cold water.

jello shot tips

Feel free to experiment with types of liquor, fruit juices, flavors and amounts. If the amounts listed here don't seem to be making well-formed, good-tasting shots, play with increasing or reducing them, especially the alcohol. You want firm, attractive, non-mushy, non-grainy Jello with enough of a kick to it to have a good time, but not so much that your guests turn into Jello themselves!

For parties you'll generally want to use the larger, six-ounce boxes of Jello with two cups of boiling water. Instead of substituting two cups of straight alcohol for the cold water in this recipe, cut it with a certain amount of cold water. Generally the stronger the alcohol you're using, that is the higher the proof, the more water you will want to cut it with.

  • 150-200 proof: 10 ounces cold water, 6 ounces alcohol
  • 80-100 proof: 6 ounces cold water, 10 ounces alcohol
  • 30-50 proof: 3 ounces cold water, 13 ounces alcohol

You can see what is meant by a "delicate bit of chemistry"!

You can also cut the alcohol with fruit juice instead of water. This will make interesting flavor combinations. Just keep in mind that for a three-ounce package, the cold liquid has to be one cup's worth, and for a six-ounce package, two cups' worth.

This is where your confections really turn into cocktails. You can turn just about any drink into a gelatin shot.

There are plenty of simple recipes for margarita and daiquiri shots on line. Jello even makes a margarita flavored gelatin now, along with pina colada and strawberry daiquiri. But these are a bit rare and only available in the summer, so you'll have to stock up or make your own if you run out.

Easy Daiquiri Shot

  • 1 6-ounce box lime Jello
  • (Or substitute strawberry Jello and add a touch of lime juice for a strawberry daiquiri)
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 ounces each triple sec, dark rum and light rum
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water

Easy Margarita Shot

  • 1 6-ounce box lime Jello
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 6 ounces tequila
  • 2 ounces triple sec
  • 1 ounce Lime Juice
  • 1 ounce chilled water

Here are a few more unusual ones.

Cosmo Bites

This recipe comes right off the official Jello website.

  • 1-1/2 cups boiling cranberry juice cocktail
  • 3 small packages raspberry Jello
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • To make virgin Cosmos, substitute cold water for vodka.

In Watermelon Sugar Shot

  • 1 large package watermelon Jello
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 ounces whiskey
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 3/4 cup water

Here's a couple of shots for tiki parties.

Pearl Diver Shot

  • 1 large package pineapple Jello
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup coconut rum
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup melon liqueur
  • 3/4 cup water

Pina Colada Shot

  • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups pineapple juice -- you'll boil this instead of water.
  • 12 ounces coconut rum
  • 1 ounce amaretto, or try Frangelico
  • 4 ounces coconut cream

Champagne Shot

For elegant parties, holiday gatherings and wedding feasts.

  • 1 large package grape Jello
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups chilled champagne

Put this in fancy glasses rather than plastic shot cups. Add a few leaves of mint.

Here are some shots that require unflavored gelatin.

Kahlua Shot

  • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup strong hot coffee
  • 1/3 cup cold vodka
  • 1/3 cup cold Kahlua
  • 1/3 cup iced coffee
Stir gelatin into the hot coffee, make sure it's dissolved. Now stir in the alcohol. To make this a Sombrero Shot, pour in a bit of milk or whipping cream on top.

Milk, whipping cream and cream liquors such as Bailey's are fine with unflavored gelatin, but don't use any of these with flavored Jello. They'll have a bad reaction with the citric acid. Use a non-dairy whipped topping instead.

Vodka Blush Shot

  • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup chilled vodka
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • Grenadine syrup -- just enough to make the shots a very pale pink.

Old Fashioned Shot

The Old Fashioned is one of the oldest kinds of cocktail. This one is a bit more complicated, but worth it. It's especially appropriate during the winter holiday season.

You'll need to prepare some syrup ahead of time. Mix 1 1/2 cups water with 1 cup granulated sugar and 9 tablespoons Angostura bitters in a small saucepan or butter melter. Heat over medium heat stirring constantly until it begins to boil. Remove from heat and let cool.

  • 2/3 cup soda water
  • 2/3 cup syrup
  • 2 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice
  • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2/3 cup bourbon or scotch

Combine soda water, cherry juice and syrup in saucepan and stir in gelatin. Heat on low for five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in whiskey. Let cool, put in cups and refrigerate. Try putting little pieces of candied fruit on top.


Pudding shots are another wonderful way for your guests to get a glow on, especially if they like Kahlua or chocolate liqueur. Use instant pudding for this, and be sure to have those little spoons on hand.

jello shot variations

Instant pudding packages are 4 ounces, and for one package you need 1 cup of cold milk. You'll also need a blender or a hand-held mixer of some kind.

Chocolate Irish Shot

  • 1 package instant chocolate pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream

Mix instant pudding and milk, then add alcohol and mix well again. Stir whipping cream in gently and spoon into cups.

Vanilla Russian Shot

  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup vanilla vodka
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream

Key Lime Martini Shot

  • 1 package instant lemon pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup vanilla vodka
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream

Pink Squirrel Shot

  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup creme de noyaux
  • 1/2 cup creme de cacao
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream

Mud Slide Shot

  • 1 package instant chocolate pudding
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1/4 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
  • 1/2 cup Kahlua
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream

Fallen Angel Shot

  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1 cup Frangelico
  • Dash of almond extract
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream

You can also make Fallen Angel Jello shots with unflavored gelatin, Frangelico, and a splash of almond extract, topped with whipped cream.

If you have a bit of time, you can make your own pudding instead of using instant mixes. A good New Year's pudding shot might have dark or even bittersweet chocolate pudding, vodka, and whipped cream with rum-soaked maraschino cherries on top.

Virgin Shots

Make some virgin shots substituting cold water for alcohol. These are useful if you start sampling your own treats before the party. You can enjoy the flavor without losing your grip. Offer them to your designated drivers and to guests who don't care to drink, so that they can feel included and like they're joining in the fun. Be careful to label them clearly, and/or use differently colored Jello for the non-alcohol shots.

For ginger ale shots, stir in 1 1/2 cups of chilled ginger ale to a six-ounce package of mixed fruit flavor Jello, after the gelatin is completely dissolved in the hot water. A "Shirley Temple" type shot calls for cherry gelatin, appropriately enough, and substitutes 7-up for water. Another good virgin recipe uses strawberry gelatin with 1/4 cup cold lemon or lime juice and 3/4 cup cold water. Try using pineapple gelatin, with coconut water instead of plain water, for a pina colada effect. Or use boiling and chilled coconut water, mix it with lime gelatin and put on your Harry Nilsson records.

There's Always Room for Alternatives

You can make all of these shots with sugar-free Jello. It works exactly the same way as the regular kind.

Vegetarian, or serving vegetarian guests? No problem! Vegetarian gelatin works just as well. It's made out of plants like seaweed. Guar gum and xanthan gum are commonly used types of vegetarian gelatin. Any health food store can point you in the right direction. You might even be able to find what you're looking for in a normal grocery store, especially one that has a lot of products from India. Look on line for "vegetarian jelly", or the "Natural Desserts" brand. Keep in mind that after one or two of these little beauties, your guests won't be able to tell the difference.

If you have observant Jewish guests, be sure that whatever gelatin you use says "kosher" on the package.

Tips And Tricks

Some people recommend spraying the cups or molds very lightly with a cooking spray to make sure the Jello won't stick. Be careful about doing this as these cooking oils have a flavor and texture of their own.

Besides the special cups mentioned above, there are many entertaining ways to deliver gelatin shots, and many supply companies providing them online and off. It's almost as if there is a whole gelatin shot culture out there, just waiting for you and your party guests to join in the fun.

One of the most popular gelatin shot toys is the syringe or injector. You may have seen these at your favorite night club or bar, or at a friend's party. They come in one-ounce and two-ounce sizes, to be filled with your jazzy jelly and chilled before the festivities. And, just as with regular gelatin molds, there are "jiggler" molds in all kinds of crazy shapes, including hilarious X-rated ones. Try "Suck and Blow" tubes for more silly, sexy fun. For more great ideas, check your local liquor store.

Take a little extra time to make wild and crazy colored shots by preparing two or three different flavored layers. Fill cups one-third of the way with the first flavor, chill until firm, then put in your next flavor and chill again, and so on. Each flavor could have a different liquor in it. Try strawberry and berry blue for patriotic holidays, lime and cherry for Christmas, and so on.

Mai Tai Shots

This is also a good way to make a snazzy Mai Tai shot. Many Mai Tai shot recipes call for Tropical Fusion Jello, but you may not always be able to get the Fusion flavors. Layers of pineapple, lime and melon flavor with dark and light rum should work fine.

Drop fruit bits in right after putting the gelatin in the cups. Sugar the rims of margarita cups.

You can learn more about the history of Jello and Knox gelatin on the respective companies' websites. You can also learn about the amazing Rose Knox, who took over the Knox company after her husband's death and became one of the "six greatest American women" of her time. Ask your grandmother about the "Mrs. Knox Says..." newspaper columns!

Gelatin Shots

Gelatin shots can be extremely smooth, especially when made with vodka, which has almost no taste. Remember that each time you have one of these treats, you are taking an alcoholic drink similar to a strong cocktail. Be sure not to eat too many shots at a time. Don't drive after having even part of one, and remind your guests not to drive after partaking, even if they feel fine. Make enough virgin shots for your designated drivers. Always have some cash on hand for people who need taxi rides after your party.

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This page was last modified on 3 August 2013, at 17:58.
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