Caramelized onions add a rich and sweet flavor to a variety of dishes. The slow cooking process transforms their natural sweetness and results in a rich flavor that elevates any dish they are added to. But what’s the best way to turn an onion into these beautiful gems. There are three main ways to caramelize onions, find the one that works best for you.
What are Caramelized Onions?
Caramelized onions are onions that are cooked slowly over low heat allowing the sugars in the onions to caramelize and turn sweet and golden brown.
The Best Way to Caramelize Onions
Caramelized onions are heavenly bits of flavor, but the traditional cooking method takes about an hour. The good thing is that they freeze well, so you can make a large batch and have some when you want some extra flavor in your recipe.
Not only does the caramelization process take an hour, but you need to be around to stir them occasionally to get even cooking. Is it worth it?
What is the best way to caramelize onions
How you caramelize onions can depend on how you want to use them. If you are just going for flavor and the texture and color doesn’t matter, than you can save some time and use an Instant Pot.
If you are using them in a dip, where you only want the flavor that they add, then a slow cooker can save you some effort.
But if you want that beautiful deep brown color and the texture of perfectly caramelized onions, I’m sorry to say, you’re going to have devote about an hour to the project, the best caramelized onions are done on the stovetop. Just do two pans at once and freeze them for later.
Pro tip: To speed up the process of caramelizing onions, try to slice onions as thin as you can. Use a mandolin or slice them as thin as your knife skills will allow.
How to Caramelize Onion – What you need
- Onions – use a sweet onion like Vidalias, add in some shallots for a mixture of flavor. If adding shallots, make sure you slice them the same thickness as the sweet onions or they will burn.
- Salt – you need to salt the onions when you start. This helps the water evaporate quicker.
- Butter – you can also use vegetable oil, but I think butter adds more flavor.
Best Onions for Caramelizing
Regardless of how you caramelize onions, the best type of onion to use is a sweet variety such as Vidalia onions grown mostly in Georgia. These onions have a higher sugar content which help them caramelize and develop a deep rich flavor.
You can caramelize other types of onions, in fact I like to some add shallots to the Vidalias when I caramelize them to add to the flavor mix.
You can caramelize white onions and red onions, but the flavor will be sharper and not as sweet.
How to Caramelize Onions Quickly on the stovetop
You need to start with a large skillet, this gives you more cooking surface and will speed things up. This is going to take an hour.
Step 1 – slice the onions
You want to slice them as thin as you can. Cut the onion in half and slice into half moon slices.
Step 2 – start to cook the onions
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add onions and salt them.
Stir them occasionally and cook for about 20 minutes until they have started to soften and are starting to turn brown.
Step 3 – turn down the heat
Turn the heat to low and let them cook stirring occasionally until they are a deep caramel color but not black, about 40 more minutes. If the onions start to stick to the surface of the skillet, you can add a splash of water.
Instant Pot caramelized onions
You can quickly caramelize onions in an Instant pot. It will save you time and they will get brown, just not as brown as on the stove top and they will be a little mushy. These are fine for adding to dips or soup.
Step 1 – slice the onions
This is the same as on the stove top.
Step 2 – add to the Instant Pot
Add sliced onions, butter and salt to the Instant pot. Secure the lid and put the vent to seal. Cook for 5 minutes on high pressure. Immediately release the pressure valve and carefully remove the lid.
Step 3 – saute
Stir the onions and place in a strainer over the sink and remove as much liquid as you can. Return them to the Instant Pot and cook on the “Saute” setting stirring until the extra liquid is removed about 3-5 minutes.
Using the Crock Pot to Caramelize Onions
This was my least favorite method but it does take minimal effort. The onions are going to be mushy as the onions will retain more liquid, they will not turn golden brown, but they do have a good flavor. You these for soups or dips.
Step 1 – slice the onions
This is the same as for the stovetop method.
Step 2 – add to the slow cooker
Add sliced onions, butter and salt to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Stir and set the lid ajar and cook an additional 2-4 hours until they are brown. Strain the excess liquid.
How can you use caramelized onions
There are so many things to do with caramelized onions, here are just a few ideas.
- Sour cream onion dip – mix caramelized onions with sour cream and get a dip so much better than the boxed version.
- Appetizers – use them in French onion crostinis or make some puff pastry bites. They’re great combined with pears in pizzettes.
- Burgers – add them to the top of your burger or to a grilled cheese.
- Pizza – adding to a pizza can add a sweet and savory flavor.
- Pasta – mix some in to any pasta dish for a boost of flavor.
- Quiche and omelettes – try my favorite quiche with caramelized onions or add them to your favorite egg dish.
- Rice – stir some caramelized onions into rice for added flavor.
- Soup – you can add them into your favorite chicken soup for a little sweetness.
- French onion soup – it’s all about the caramelized onions.
How to store caramelized onions
You can store caramelized onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week or two. They also freeze well. Try freezing them in small Souper Cubes or ice cube trays and pull out the amount you need. They will stay fresh in the freezer for 3-6 months depending on whether you vacuum seal them or freeze in an airtight container.
Can you freeze caramelized onions?
Caramelized onions freeze great, just let them cool and freeze in an airtight container.
Caramelizing Onions FAQs
You can caramelize onions in either or both. I prefer the flavor that the butter adds.
When caramelizing onions you want to add salt to them at the beginning of the cooking process. Onions won’t caramelize until the water has evaporated and salt will speed up that process.
Yes, you should stir the onions occasionally while caramelizing to make sure they are cooking evenly. Otherwise, some will burn before the others have caramelized.
A cast iron skillet or stainless steel pans work best for caramelizing onions, but you can also use non-stick skillets. Cast iron retains heat better which will save you a little time.
Favorite recipes with caramelized onions
If you loved this recipe, give it a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating! Also, snap a picture of your finished dish and share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag #butterandbaggage and tagging me @butterandbaggage.
- 2 lbs vidalia onions thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions have started to soften and turn slightly brown, about 20 minutes.
- Turn the heat down to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally so that they cook evenly. Continue to cook until they are a dark brown but not black, about 40 minutes.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- 2 pounds of onions will give you about a cup of caramelized onions.
- Try to cut the onions as thin as you can.
- Make sure you add salt at the. beginning.
- A cast iron skillet will retain heat better and decrease the cooking time.
- Don’t forget to stir occasionally so they cook evenly.