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Don't laugh: best strategy for chopping onions

Okay, go ahead and laugh, but I've gotten way more onions than I can use from my CSA. Unfortunately, they have big thick, green stalks and I understand they won't store well. So, I'm going to chop them up (in various ways--diced, sliced, chopped etc.) and freeze them in 1/2 cup-sized portions so I can use them in cooking all year long.

Here's the question part that I don't want you to laugh at:

if I wore swimming goggles while chopping them, would that prevent the tears? I'm so sensitive to onions to begin with, these onions are super hot, and I'm going to be working with such a huge quanity that I fear it will take me all day if I have to take constant and frequent breaks due to crying. (I'm clumsy with a knife to begin with...) I can use the food processor for some, but not all, chopping, I suppose.

I did some reading on chowhound and there are folks who swear that wearing contacts while chopping onions prevents the tears. Since I don't have/wear contacts, that's not an option. I also read someone who said if you put a fan next to you, that will blow away the fumes. So, I'm going to try that, in addition to the goggles.

Or, is that just stupid?

~TDQ

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  1. Here are some ideas that I think will help...Cold onions are easier on the eyes...It does not hurt to wear your goggles...(just make sure that there is no one with a camera nearby!LOL)I usually have my glasses on, and it never hurts...Breathe through you mouth, not through your nose...I would chop them with the food processor, or go buy myself one of those food choppers to do a lot of onions...

    1. My family has pictures of my brother and I chopping onions wearing goggles when we were Jr. High age. Think they definitely work. I have contacts now and they are great. I think having the onions in the fridge before you start is helpful. I've found that when I chop onions in the processor it's easy to go too far and make them way to strong for cooking.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Allfrog68

        Rachael Ray showed everyone on her show how to chop onions and it is so easy and
        fast that you won`t get tears. she showed that she cut off both ends then in half, then
        she peeled them and chopped one half at a time, then she would take a half and slice
        it 2-3 times one way then turn and do it the other way, it only took seconds to do that
        and she was done.

      2. As a contact lens wearer, I can confirm that they do significantly reduce tears. And, goggles will help -- at least based on a hilarious experience from years ago in a communal cooking effort, when one of our friends donned ski goggles to reduce the tears.

        5 Replies
        1. re: masha

          Hi everyone, thanks for your tips. I can say, I just successfully chopped 16 cups of onions without a single tear. (I'm posting in the middle of the thread because this are the recommendations I had at the point I started chopping.) Unfortunately I can't say which strategy worked because I tried them all! I put the onions in the freezer to cool them down before I chopped them, I work googles, breathed through my mouth, turned the fan on, and used bigjimbray's cutting technique. I also follow really careful cutting hygiene--I threw away the "ends" as soon as I cut them off and kept the onion halves I wasn't actively cutting big side down on a cutting board on the other side of the kitchen sink.

          I'll have to try some of the other techniques next time, although, now that I have 32 little half cup tubs of onions in my deep freeze, I'm not really sure how many more I'll need! But, I'm sure there will be more CSA onions next week...

          Thanks again!

          And, on to the next project: harvesting and chopping the basil from my garden. I'm going to chop it and freeze it with some olive oil.

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Wonderful! I light a candle and place it above the cutting board and have cold water running in the sink. Also, I am careful to toss everything asap in a bag that I twist at the top and rinse the knife and cutting board every so often!! ;-) They sure are a pain!

          2. re: masha

            I wear contacts and never have a problem. Took me a long time to realize it must be the contacts. A few weeks ago, I was at the kitchen table, cutting loads of onions. My mom, neice, and SIL all were tearing up, and I had no tears. DUH- that's when it hit me. I have beenn wearing contacts for 30+ years, so never really gave it a though!

            1. re: macca

              Me too - never had a clue how much contacts protected my eyes from the onion fumes. I just thought I was lucky, and cutting onions didn't bother me. : )

              Then I got LASIK. The first time I chopped an onion after that, I was surprised when my eyes were burning and tearing up. Now I turn a gas burner on, and chop onions up on a cutting board next to it...

              1. re: Rubee

                Will have to try some of these tricks when I am prepping with others in the kitchen.- Will have to ask my friends who have had LASIK if they noticed the change.

          3. I haven't tried this, but I have heard many times that lighting a candle next to your work area will burn off the offensive fumes. I suppose that wouldn't work too well if you're planning to try the fan trick, but maybe you can take one for the team and try/report on a few different strategies, since you have so many onions to chop. <grin>

            1. Chop your onions near the flame of your range top (if you don't have a gas stove, you could try a candle). It works!

              1. Couple of other tricks...

                Chop them under water

                Don't sever the end that has the "butt," the brown bushy thing

                1 Reply
                1. re: Emme

                  I like the water idea -- I find that even running water nearby helps me cry less.

                2. Can't recall where I heard this from, but wear a pair of glasses and hat. The hat prevents the mist from the onion juice from falling into your eyes.

                  1. My mom always put a piece of bread in her mouth (with part of it sticking out) and she never cried.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: AriB

                      I lol'd.

                      I'll have to give this one a shot some time!

                    2. Chill the onions well, and use a very sharp knife. The biggest tip is not to cut the root end off until you have to. The mass just above the roots at the bottom of the bulb contains most of the sulfuric compounds that induce tears.
                      The proper way to chop any ball-shaped veggie is to make horizontal cuts and then make vertical cut before you make the final chop.

                      1. if you chop them in small-batches and remove the chopped onions as they're finished it should help a lot. putting them in something with a tight fitting lid and closing the lid between batches would help as well.

                        Also, if you're not already doing it this way, I think the standard french technique of slicing partially through the onion in two directions, then finishing with a chop on the third direction is faster so there's less time to cry. Pepin's la technique and a number of other technique books explain the process.

                        1. I've got to say, I'm against all the advice that tells you to avoid crying. Next time you get a huge batch of onions, just cut them up. Sure, maybe you'll cry a little. But you can get used to cutting onions and stop crying from them. It worked for me. Then again, I was cutting hundreds of pounds of onions in a commercial kitchen. That was years ago, though, and I still don't cry from onions.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: nerdgoggles

                            I gotta say that I have never found that to be true. I've worked in a commercial kitchen, and do plenty of cooking at home, and whether I'm working my way through a 50 lb bag, or just chopping half an onion, I still cry. I think chances are you were just not too sensitive to onions to begin with...for someone like the OP who is really sensitive I doubt this would be useful advice.

                            1. re: nerdgoggles

                              I would have to disagree. I nearly took my finger off in a commercial kitchen years ago trying to work through a huge batch of onions when I couldn't see from the tears. Fortunately, I only got 4 stitches.

                            2. pour a little (1/4 cup, say) white vinegar on your cutting board before you start. spread it over the board then chop the onions and you won't feel it at all. the vinegar doesn't affect the taste of the onions, either. if you're working for an extended period of time, you may need to reapply!

                              1. The best way to chop onions IMHO is to "Throw out your back" haha and get your SO to do the chopping.

                                1. I keep my onions in the refrigerator. For all but the strongest onions this works well enough that I can chop them before the fumes get to me even when I don't have my contacts in. I also chop them pretty quickly.

                                  1. I have the #1 solution. Ive heard them all also and none work until now.

                                    I believe this will work at home also. Try cutting them under the hood system. Either put directly on the range with the pilots out or pull up a prep table. This, in my 16 years in the business is the only thing that has worked

                                    1. Refrigerate your onions until they are well chilled, and it will reduce if not totally eliminate the tears. This was one of the very first tips I learned from chowhound years ago, and it remains one of my favorite kitchen tricks, because it absolutely works.

                                      1. My mother always put a book of matches, open, open side down in her mouth and said it worked...she was a smoker...well, I've tried that when I've had matches around and it helps! But I think for a long bout of onion chopping the range hood on high works best ... and gloves for the hands!

                                        1. I used to work for a food magazine and they did some testing on this topic. Surprisingly, goggles were the best way to avoid the tears! I keep meaning to get a pair for the kitchen, but just never get to it.

                                          1. Onions bother my eyes horribly, but I turn my head and rely on my knife skills for speed for individual dishes. For that amount you have? The other posters are better informed (contacts, candles, the like...not tried most.).

                                            What I'll share is a tip my aunt gave me, and this is more humor than anything (unless I am missing a really good tip!). My aunt is bothered by onion fumes, and uses a paper plate held between her teeth to shield herself from the fumes. Aunt spends much time in the prep kitchen for her church, and has all of her compatriots doing the same. For some reason, it takes a loooooong time for the crew to chop onions. Could it be that they can't see due to the paper plates?

                                            (I've tried this. It's like driving blind..)

                                            But! I may be missing something. TDQ, if your knife skills excel by touch, go ahead and try the ol' paper plate between the teeth!