Caramelized onions are something I like to prep because they add amazing flavor to any recipe. I like to make them while I’m preparing other meals. The benefits are many! Caramelized onions smell incredible—think cozy day with the family while the house fills with the delicious scent of home cooking—and they are versatile for adding flavor to any menu.
Caramelized onions are not quick, but they are worth it. I’m in favor of kitchen tips and tricks, but I don’t think this one can be rushed. I find it typically takes about 40 to 50 minutes to caramelize onions just the way I like them. I like to cook them on low heat, and the slower it takes to caramelize them the better. There is a sweetness that comes with the caramelization, and this flavor will leave you wishing you had more. I made them once this week, and I am already thinking of making more!
There are many different types of onions, and many caramelize nicely. Here is a short list of onions with some helpful information about each variety:
- Vidalia onions: The official state vegetable of Georgia, this onion is sweet, flavorful, and versatile.
- Walla Walla onions: The official state vegetable of Washington, this onion is mild and sweet.
- Yellow onions: An all-purpose onion that becomes sweeter with cooking.
- Spanish onions: A type of yellow onion that is sweet and mild.
- Cipolline onions: Grown in Italy, this onion is sweet and mild.
- Maui onions: Grown on the island of Maui, this onion is sweet and mild.
- Shallots: Part of the onion family with delicate sweet flavor.
Sweet onions contain more sugar than other varieties of onions. The sugar is what caramelizes during cooking, which creates a golden brown color and rich, deep flavor. You can caramelize shallots and yellow, red, and white onions. Sweet onions, such as Vidalia, Walla Walla, or Spanish onions, are recommended for this recipe because of their sweetness; however, I typically use yellow onions.
I often caramelize yellow onions for this recipe because it is what I frequently have on hand and because it is a popular all-purpose onion that many people have in their refrigerator or pantry. If you have another type of onion, don’t despair! You can still caramelize them because I include a small amount of sugar in my recipe to help with caramelization. These onions are delicious!
How to Caramelize Onions
Once you have selected your onions, peel and cut them into thin slices. Coat your pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter on low heat and add the onion slices. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt, and 1/3 cup of water over the onions. Stir the onions to evenly coat in oil, butter, salt, and water.
Use a spatula to stir the onions and to scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan while cooking. Be sure to scrape the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan with your spatula. I stir and scrape about every 3 to 5 minutes or so while cooking. After about 20 to 30 minutes of cooking, I add 1 tablespoon of water every 10 minutes and deglaze the pan while continuing to stir the onions. When I reach the 40-minute mark, I add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes (continuing to deglaze as needed) until I have reached the desired caramelization. This process yields golden-brown, flavorful caramelized onions.
My Best Tips
I have a few tips that I find helpful when I caramelize onions, and I’m sharing them here with you. This is what works for me, your mileage may vary.
- Cut your onion slices 1/4″ to 1/8″ in thickness
- Use light brown or dark brown sugar
- Cook on the lowest heat, the slower the better
- Butter adds additional flavor
- Consider doubling the recipe to maximize yield for your time
- Freeze unused portions to be used in recipes later
- Food prep a batch to enhance meals all week long
If you are vegan and would like to make this recipe, you will want to omit the butter and replace it with an additional tablespoon of olive oil. Additionally, you will want to use sugar that is vegan certified.
Delicious Ideas for Caramelized Onions
Caramelized onions are versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. We love them in our house! Here are some delicious ways to use caramelized onions:
- Baked potatoes
- Potatoes Au Gratin (Recipe coming soon to Hope, Love, Food!)
- Macaroni and cheese
- Grilled cheese, burgers, and sandwiches
- Galettes (Try my Pear and Gorgonzola Galette with Caramelized Onions!)
Once prepared, you’ll want to use them in everything!
I store any unused portion of caramelized onions in a glass container with a secure, tightly fitted lid in the refrigerator. You can also freeze them! Store your caramelized onions in a freezer-safe container for use at another time.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
- Nonstick skillet or pan
- Measuring spoons
- Measuring cups
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
- 2 large yellow onions (sliced, 1/8-inch thickness)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- On low heat, coat your skillet with olive oil and butter and add the onions. Sprinkle sea salt over onions. Stir in 1/3 cup water.
- Stir the onions and scrape the caramelized bits off the pan every 3 to 5 minutes. At 20 to 30 minutes, add 1 tablespoon of water and deglaze the pan. Repeat every ten minutes as needed.
- At 40 minutes add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and stir thoroughly into the onions. Continue to cook for about 10 to 15 additional minutes or until the onions have reached desired caramelization. Best served warm, enjoy!