How To Caramelize Onions

4 Sep

Okay, this seems really obvious, but it took me forever to learn how to do it properly.

Caramelized Onions


  • Sweet onions (any kind, really, but if they’re labeled “sweet” they’re probably a cut above the rest)
  • 1 T olive oil (or please-don’t-burn-stir-fry grease of choice)
  • Salt


Cut the onions* however you like. I love onions, so I do a lot of onion here. I like big red onions. Not only are larger onions a little sweeter than their smaller brethren, red onions are just plain prettier. YMMV.

Get out a large pan with tall sides. You want as much surface area as you can wrangle, so the onions cook more evenly. Heat pan over medium/low heat. (I’m talking 3, assuming 5 is your medium). The key is LOW heat, here. We are not frying these onions.

Add oil to warm pan. Allow oil to warm if you’re patient, or squish the first three steps into one if you’re me.

Add onions to pan.

Lid the pan, stirring frequently until onions not only turn into something that looks like it could be used as a prop on a slimy alien horror movie, but it’s also starting to turn a little golden/brown in color.

This should take anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes. If you hear SIZZLE, it’s too hot. Steam without sizzle is the key.

What can you DO with caramelized onions?

My favorite is to mix it in with some rough-mashed potatoes (a mixture of the little golden taters and the waxier little red taters). Salt, pepper, and onions is all you need and it’s GORGEOUS.

Carmelized onions are ALSO awesome on sandwiches. I see it paired with beef pretty often, and if you’ve got a little RockNRolla Gorgonzola cheese to add, so much the better.

They’re good in omelets or salads.

They are ALSO amazing right out of the pan, but not everyone loves onion as much as I do.

*Bonus How To Cut An Onion

I didn’t know how to do this for AGES, so apologies to everyone looking at this and privately judging me for thinking this was blog-worthy. SOME of us were raised on frozen pizza and macaroni and cheese, and had to pick up vegetable-related skills as an adult.

Right, onion cutting.

  • First thing I do is cut the onion in half, from stem to stern (in other words, not around the belly).
  • Next, lay each half flat-side down on the cutting board and dock the “tail” back to the bell of the onion. Discard cut off bits.
  • Peel the outermost layers off the onion. If it’s rubbery or papery, it’s no good. Sometimes I get lazy and peel off one layer of GOOD onion and discard that along with the rest. (I use BIG onions, so it’s no like I’m losing much here, Judgey McJudgersons!)
  • Next is the fun part. If you are cutting STRIPS of onion, just turn the onion so that the flat area where the tail used to be is parallel with your knife, and cut thin slabs out of the face of the onion until you reach the stubby core on the other side. Separate the strips by hand.
  • If you are dicing or chopping the onion, turn the onion the other way (with the stubby core on top) and cut guidelines from core to flat area, making sure to leave the core portion of the cut still attached (kind of like your fingers are attached to your hand).  After that, turn the onion sideways and cut in the strips method above. The result will be that each “strip” is pre-cut along the diagonal already, netting you neat little cubes of onion based on the distance between your cuts.

This method is SUPER FAST and gives really great results.

It would also look better if I took pictures and posted them, but this is why my career as a food blogger never quite got off the ground.

I love to cook, but I don’t love to stop and arrange well-lit pictures OR upload said pictures for use later.

Also, don’t cut your fingers when dicing your onion. And you might want to wear protective headgear because onions are the most tragic of all the vegetables.

If you plan ahead, you can put the onion in the freezer for like ten minutes before you plan on chopping it, thus negating most of the tear-gas effect of fresh-cut onions. If you are me, you never really plan ahead, you just make with the chopping and the sobbing.


2 Responses to “How To Caramelize Onions”

  1. falconesse September 4, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    I always remember the put-the-onion-in-the-freezer trick about two minutes after I’ve started cutting. >.<

    • Tami September 6, 2011 at 8:25 am #

      *sigh* TELL me about it. I think I’ve managed to remember in time … once. One time. It worked, but clearly not well enough to teach me to think ahead.

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