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How to Caramelize Onions (Perfectly!)

How to Caramelize Onions (Perfectly!)

How to Caramelize Onions (Perfectly!)
If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I include caramelized onions in a lot of my meals and recipes. Maybe they’re a bit of a crutch for me, cooking-wise–if I make a meal and it’s lacking a little something, nine times out of ten, I end up adding caramelized onions. But hey, they’re delicious! So why not add them to everything, right?

Over the years, I’ve read lots of different methods for caramelizing onions. Some call for a little bit of sugar; others are made in slow-cookers. They have varying times and temperatures. My biggest problem when it comes to caramelizing onions is trying to speed up the process–it just doesn’t work! If you cook them at a high temperature, they end up sautéing instead of caramelizing. And don’t get me wrong, sauteed onions are still good. But they’re not caramelized!

The secret to caramelizing onions is have patience. Lots and lots of patience. Because good things come to those who wait and if you cook them low and slow, you will be rewarded with perfect caramelized onions in a little over an hour. Yes, I said over an hour! But let’s go back to the beginning. Here’s how to caramelize onions, step-by-step.

Thinly sliced onionsThinly slice your onions. They should be pretty uniform in size.

Oil Heating in SkilletHeat oil in a skillet on low heat. Low! Not medium-low, low-low! For every large onion you’re caramelizing, add one tablespoon of oil and a pinch of kosher salt to your skillet. I’m doing two large onions here and I’m using two tablespoon of olive oil. Adjust the size of your skillet based on the amount of onions being cooked.

How to Caramelize Onions - The secret is patience!Here’s where the patience comes in. Your onions won’t do much for a while. As you can see, after cooking for 15 minutes, the onions are hardly even softened. This is the point where you’ll say to yourself, “Kiersten is completely nuts. I’m turning up the heat!” Don’t do it! I implore you! And when 30 minutes rolls around and your onions still haven’t done much, resist that urge and keep the heat on low. Stir your onions every five minutes or so, and more often once they start to brown (that will start happening after about 45 minutes).

Caramelized OnionsYou were patient and now you have yummy caramelized onions! This picture was taken exactly an hour and thirty minutes after the onions were put in the skillet. Although they were caramelized after an hour and fifteen minutes, I like them really caramelized, so I let them go a little longer. Season with additional salt if needed and pepper.

Some things to note: I have an electric range and I’ve heard from people using gas ranges that it doesn’t take them nearly as long to caramelize onions. So keep an eye on the onions and be aware that different types of stoves can make the cooking time vary. You can store your caramelized onions in a refrigerator for about a week or even make a big batch to freeze.

How to Caramelize Onions
Here are some ideas for using your caramelized onions:

Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Flatbread
Caramelized Onion & Eggplant Puff Pastry Tart
French Onion Soup Sandwiches
Mediterranean-Style Rotini with Toasted Garlic Panko
Sweet Potato Pizza with Kale & Caramelized Onions

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61 Comments

  • Reply
    Jason
    October 14, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    We just had a 90th Birthday Party for my grandmother, with a sandwich bar for the lunch. I took home the 8 extra unused onions that we’re perfectly sliced – to caramelize them! I’m 15 minutes into it and they are looking good… Low low low! Thanks for the pictures.

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      October 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Happy Birthday to your grandmother! 🙂 I love making big batches of caramelized onions to keep on hand too–they freeze really well!

  • Reply
    Ramona
    November 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I made the penne with kale and butternut squash last night, and I made caramelized onions for the first time. My stove is super efficient, and I only took 30 minutes. I kept turning it to simmer (great stove!) and that wasn’t enough. Turning it to low had it all done in 30. Tastes great nonetheless! Making the apple cheddar pizza with caramelized onions tonight!

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      November 10, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      I wish my stove was more efficient! 😉 I hope you enjoyed the pizza!

  • Reply
    Courtney
    November 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Is it okay to cover the skillet while cooking? Its driving me crazy just looking at the onions just sitting there. lol.

    • Reply
      Kiersten
      November 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Well, you can, but the onions might steam instead of caramelize.

  • Reply
    Kristen
    September 5, 2014 at 10:55 am

    These onions come out perfect every time! My only issue is that it usually takes me closer to 2 and a half hours than 90 minutes. Any suggestions?

    • Reply
      Kiersten Frase
      September 7, 2014 at 9:34 am

      The cooking time seems to vary so much! I hear from other people who say it takes them 30 minutes. I think it really depends on your stove and your pan. The best suggestion I have if it takes a long time for you is to make your caramelized onions in big batches and freeze them – then when you need them, you won’t have to wait 2 and a half hours for them to be finished! 🙂 That’s what I’ve started doing.

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