How To: Caramelize Onions

CATEGORIES: How To..., Vegetables
One of my most favorite meals in the whole world is a grilled steak (like a really really great steak) topped high with a pile of sweet caramelized onions.  Oh I’m thinking about it now, at 11pm, wishing I had one in front of me.  I have issues.  I should go get in bed, not eat steak.

Onions, especially the “sweet” varieties are full of natural sugars.  Cooking them slowly over an extended period of time draws out those sugars and basically turns them to caramel.  The result is an amazingly flavorful, sweet, onion that you can’t get any other way.  Caramelized onions are fantastic on burgers, pizza, topping a grilled steak, added to dips, and more.  In fact- oh my gosh I can’t believe I haven’t posted one of my most favorite dips of all time.  Writing that out just gave me a flashback!  Okay, that’s coming soon.  Back to the subject at hand- let’s do it.

Start by slicing your onions.  They can be thicker or thinner, it’s just important that they’re a uniform size so they cook evenly.  You can caramelize any onion variety, but the sweet ones are especially fantastic: Walla Walla, Mayan, Texas Sweet, Oso Sweet, Vidalia, Mayan Sweet, Maui, etc.  Keep in mind that the onions will greatly reduce in size as they cook.  I usually estimate a half an onion per person if I’m topping a burger or steak.  They’ll shrink to about half of the original volume.

Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat.  You’ll want a pan large enough that your onions can spread out and have contact with the bottom of the pan.  I like to use a combo of butter and olive oil.  I use about 1/2 – 1 tablespoon (of butter and olive oil combined) per onion. Add the butter and oil to the pan and let the butter melt.  It should melt and sizzle a bit, but you don’t want your butter to brown so if that happens, your pan is too hot.

Add your sliced onions and toss them around so they’re all nicely coated with the oil/butter mixture.  They should sizzle a bit.

At this point you may want to turn your pan down a little.  The trick to caramelizing onions is doing it low and slow.  It definitely takes patience.  You don’t want them to burn or get brown right off the bat.  I add a sprinkle of kosher salt at this point.  The onions should slowly soften.  This is after about 5-10 minutes:

You need to stir them every few minutes so they cook evenly and don’t burn.  After 10-20 minutes they should be quite soft and starting to become golden.  Add extra butter or oil as you go if needed so they aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan:

After 20-30 the brown color increases, but don’t stop yet!  I think sometimes people stop too early.  you want them to be a rich amber color, these ones below aren’t ready yet.  If you want to enhance the sweetness even more, add a little sprinkle of sugar at this point.  Either brown or white will work and it does wonders for the flavor!

This is more like it.  And I could have even cooked these for a bit longer if I wasn’t so impatient.  They should be incredibly soft, sweet, and golden brown.  Also, they should taste amazing. Check, check, and check.

I put this batch on a chicken burger.  I wish I still had the package to these chicken burgers so I could tell you about them because I love them- found them at Costco and they actually have caramelized onions and roasted red peppers inside.  They’re super lean and super delicious.  Also love those sandwich thins, I use them for burger buns all the time!



  1. Okay, this is one of those things I have been DYING to learn how to do. I have tried it before and the results were a little disastrous (I'm a trial and error cook, what can I say?). Thank you for posting great pictures and tips on how to make yummy delicious goodness, also known as Carmalized Onions.

    I cannot WAIT for all the crafty goodness this weekend!

  2. We like to add a tiny bit of brown sugar and a couple of dashes of hot sauce. It gives them a nice sweet and spicy flavor that is amazing 🙂 Thanks for the tutorial, I always love seeing how others do things too!

  3. Yumm!! Looks fantastic! I have some chicken that I wanted to turn into burgers. Adding carmelized onions to the mix sounds like a great idea! Thanks and have a great day! BTW, love your blog, you food looks wonderful!

  4. I LOVE Caramelized Walla Walla Onions. For me they are the best of the best 🙂 I have 2 small raised garden beds FULL of just Walla Walla Onions. I like to add a little red wine during the cooking too. I am going to look for those chicken patties at Costco and I love those thin buns too.

  5. I saw your post on Facebook asking how we like to use caramelized onions, and the first thing that came to my mind was on top of steaks! I guess great minds think alike…
    I love making these with steak because they're an easy, CHEAP way to dress up a steak. I definitely prefer having something (blue cheese, potatoes, etc) with my steak…and these onion are perfect!

    The thing that I have to make sure I don't do when making caramelized onions is move them around the pan too much. I guess I "babysit" the pan too much and don't let them get brown fast enough.

  6. I have those same Costco burgers and the bread, I will be making some caramelized onions to go on my burger Saturday. thanks, I realize I never cook mine longer enough.

  7. I just stumbled across your blog. I cannot wait to make these recipes! I am definitely going to continue to follow… looks like I am going to need to figure out the new ww points system… 🙂

    Anyway, I love your guys' sense of humor… can't wait to see that else you guys post!

  8. This isn't related to onions, but the chicken patties. They are amazing! Another way I've used them is cut up in pieces and added to pasta and sauce. Yum and fast – my favorite!

  9. I try to stay away from Caramelizing Onions since the last time I did this, I stood at the stove like a pink pig and ate half of the ones I cooked right out of the skillet!! My mouth drooled just looking at the picture you showed of them! And I do have a Costco card and I do love the chicken patties you showed! Lordy, I am so hungry!

  10. We don't like to add too much oil or butter to our onions after the initial pat and pour. When the onions begin to stick, but are not ready, we splash in a little water to deglaze.

  11. I love them on pizza too…
    spread olive oil on your pizza crust, add a generous layer of caramelized onions, top it with a feta cheese and bake until crust is done! Pizza doesn't get any better 😛

  12. I know just which chicken burgers you're talking about…I've got some in my freezer!! And I love caramelized onions!! I know what's going on next week's menu!!!

    In case anyone's looking for them… Burgers by Amylu- sweet caramelized onion chicken burgers with red bell peppers and gouda cheese…and they're fully cooked so they're just heat and serve!! Yay and Yum!!! 😀

  13. I never would have known to let the onions cook that long!! I definitely need to be more patient in the kitchen! Thanks!!

  14. I tried finding the chicken burgers on costco's website but my search came up empty. Which costcos are you finding these at? Anyone in Utah bought these recently?

  15. Paula- I *think* you can, but I've never tried it!

    Miranda- I'm in Idaho, but I bet they have them in Utah too. Costco's webite doesn't always have everything on it that's in the stores- especially food. They are in the refrigerated section- over by the prepared meats. Just take a peek next time you're there!

  16. Hey! I just happened across your blog and am amazed at the sleuth of delicious recipes here. I already have a list of ones to try 🙂
    Like those who posted before me, I, too, love caramelized onions! When I cook them, a few minutes before they’re done, I add a splash of balsamic vinegar (just a tablespoon or two or three…love that stuff!).

  17. I just made these tonight. First carmelized onions I ever made. My kitchen smells sooooo good! I used them to top a garlic chicken alfredo pizza (your dough recipe and alfredo recipe). Mmmmmmmm. You guys make me look like I know what I’m doing in the kitchen! Thanks 🙂

  18. Used these tonight to go on grilled pizza! Also used some leftover pulled pork, some sweet BBQ sauce and monterey jack cheese. The onions really sent it over the top….YUM!! Thanks!

  19. Hi
    I’m so glad I saw this, I know so many people who have their onions browned in a few minutes and they give me weird looks or comments if I tell them it takes me an hour for the same task. They just taste so much better that way. Now I know I’m in the right.. hehe 🙂
    Have a happy Thanksgiving this week

  20. I have searched long and hard for a recipe for caramelized onions. I am cooking burgers for 50 tomorrow and wanted something authentic but relatively simple. Your recipe has done the trick and I am delighted. I have added some Worcester Sauce which gives your recipe a bit of an edge. Hope you are not too offended. Thank you form Sunny London UK. Terry

  21. I have made browned onions before, but I suppose I never have truly caramelized them. I had NO idea they should cook that long! But the results speak for themselves…they were so good!! I caramelized them quite long to make the cheesy hot french onion dip recipe and they were perfect in that (took almost an hour). However if they are going on top of something (steak, burger) I think I would pull them a bit earlier as I do like them to still have the tiniest bit of crunch/bite to them. Thank you for opening my eyes to this!

  22. You need to teach the chain restaurants this recipes. I was told I don’t know what I’m talking about when I complained about the seared raw onions presented to me as “caramelized” by a chain named A#######s.

  23. thanks- so many sites and cooks give faster cook times- down to 10 minutes, some at 20 minutes. No wonder I’ve never managed to cook these properly. I’m going to try your method, but I’ll try the slow cooker method first – it’s after midnight so something to look forward to tomorrow!
    Thanks again!

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