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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

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