HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Caramelized Onions - what's the best way to make them

I would like to know the best way of making caramelized onions.
I love the flavor in dishes when I eat out but don't know how to make them at home.
I've made sauteed onions onion, but caramelized onions are different.
Ideally I would like to make a large batch and store them in the freezer or fridge for use in recipes including omelletes and burgers.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. here's a great recipe (it just takes a while to make!)

    1. So easy in a slow-cooker: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

      Here's a nice video too: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Carameliz...

      And though I don't generally refer people to her often, Rachael Ray has a pretty straight-forward version here: http://www.rachaelraymag.com/Recipes/...

      1. Make these all the time for burgers, brats, pasta, and white bean soup with kielbasa. You really can't go wrong, as long as you have plenty of patience. I will say that Cook's Illustrated recently recommended caramelizing in the oven. Tried it and it worked well, although I had better luck at 350 (and a longer cooking time, obviously) than 400. Nothing terribly different in the end product, but nice to be able to walk away from the kitchen more easily.


        3 Replies
        1. re: eight_inch_pestle

          I use the the method in the Cooks Illustrated "Perfect Vegetables" book. I'll try to come back and post it here soon. Although, I can say, I worked at a chain once that did their caramelized onions in the oven and I thought they were mighty fine. Perhaps that is the way to go?

          1. re: eight_inch_pestle

            Big advocate of the oven method here. Especially good for doing a large quantity.

            1. re: JoanN

              JoanN, i took your idea from that thread years ago and have never looked back, we would never have onion soup as often if it weren't for your tip, makes all the difference in the doability

          2. I add sugar to quite a few dishes, so I'm definitely not a sugar phobe, but adding sugar to caramelized onions is, imo, the height of laziness. Cooked properly a caramelized onion should require absolutely no sugar.

            I'm not sure when and where the practice of adding sugar to onions started (about 15 years ago?) but I find it about as offensive as diet coke or pop tarts.

            1 Reply
            1. re: scott123

              More than 15 years ago, more like 40.
              IIRC the first time I saw the addition of sugar was in Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking French Onion Soup recipe (which I still love.)

            2. Slice up onions

              Heat up some evoo in a cast iron skillet

              Put the onions in the skillet and reduce heat to low, or a slow simmer

              Stir onions to prevent burning and add salt to release some of the moisture

              Deglaze the skillet with some vinegar

              VoilĂ . Caramelized onions.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                that's how I do it, minus the vinegar.

                I slice the onions into rings, add oil and salt, turn the burner on the lowest setting, stir, and walk away. Every so often I come back and stir. I like the end product to be very dark brown in color. I carmelize 4-5 medium onions to top 2 servings of rice & lentils.

              2. I like the oven method. I put sliced or diced onion (from Smart and Final) in a large roaster, sprinkle with some oil, cover and let go at 325 - 350 for several hours, stir once in a while. If you are going to be around you can leave uncover and stir a little more often. Don't have to watch and doesn't catch on the bottom.

                1. set aside 2-3 hours, yup 2-3 hours.

                  Cut onions (jfood likes eith semi circles or quarter circles) and place in large pot (jfood does 8-10 pounds at a time). Cook over medium-low heat. During the first hour you will see lots of water that will evaporate, stir every 5-10 minutes. The second hour you will begin to see some good color, stir every 5 minutes (keep an eye on the heat so as not to burn). The third hour is when they get soft as a baby's behind. stir every 3-5 minutes (keep heat low and watch real carefully since the sugars are starting to brown big time and somewhat fast). Remove from heat and place in another bowl to cool.

                  Then place in "circles" the size of a burger on a baking sheet and freeze for 3 hours or so. Wrap each "circle" in saran wrap and then into a freezer bag. Then when you want some perfect onions on a burger, out of the freezer, into some foil and onto the grill with the burgers to defrost. Absolutely fantastic.

                  Word of warning though. When they are frozen in the freezer, they resemble chocolate chip cookies, so make sure you tell the family.

                  BTW - adding sugar to onions to caramelize is the same, in jfood's opinion, is the wrong way to go.

                  1. They need to evaporate while they soften, so I wouldn't try a slow cooker the first time out. I did that once, in a round, deep crockpot and they stewed to the point of disintegration before becoming brown. Use the stovetop or oven method and keep tabs on the pan until you get a feel for the technique.

                    Also, if you slice the onions in half from pole to pole, then lay each half on the flat side, trim off the ends and slice 1/4" thick from pole to pole, your slices will retain their shape better than if you slice latitudinally into rings or half-moons. Do not use vidalias or other sweet salad onions - the caramelized onions will be too candy-like, without any pungency. Plain yellow onions work fine but you can use red ones as long as they have a little bite.

                    1. To clarify, for those using the oven method--do you cover the pot?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: erica

                        No, I don't. No need to since I'm stirring about every half hour anyway and you want those juices to bubble away--not have the onions just sit and cook in them.

                        1. re: erica

                          JoanN's method uses a sheet pan - so no cover. Stovetop cooks usually start with the pot covered until the onions are translucent, then uncovered. The CI recipe from the Jan/Feb 2008 issue starts in a 400 degree oven with a covered Dutch oven for an hour, then with the lid ajar for another 1-1/2 hrs, then on the stovetop to evenly brown while stirring and deglazing.

                        2. I use regular ole' yellow onions. Sweet onions are just too sweet after they have been carmelized for my tastes.

                          Do have a look at JoanN's oven method for the onions. Works perfectly every single time.

                          1. Cut a yellow onion in half lengthwise.
                            Slice the onion halves into relatively thin slices.
                            Put the onion slices in a pan with salt and a little bit of olive oil or butter (need not be melted).
                            Cook covered on very low heat for an hour or so. You don't need to stir much if at all. The onions will break down into a soft, sweet, translucent mass. I consider them caramelized at this point.

                            From there, if you like, you can turn up the heat to medium/medium-high and cook uncovered until golden or deep brown. I consider this "browning," not caramelizing, but I think it's what many people mean by caramelized onions. It probably takes 20-30 minutes to reach a deep brown.

                            There may be faster or more efficient ways to achieve the same result. I don't know. All I know is that the result from this method is excellent.

                            1. Kenji's article on speeding up the process is interesting, but I haven't tried it yet - http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/01/th...

                              As mentioned: olive oil heated, in goes your onions and heat reduced, then monitoring for the next few hours until they're perfectly caramelised. And your house smells of onions :P

                              1. One more vote for the oven method. I like that it's off the stovetop and out of my face.

                                1. Bumping this post up a bit -- has anyone used convection for oven caramelization? If so, how did it work?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                    I have with the cooks illustrated in oven way, i lowered the temp by 25degrees and just checked more often towards the end- worked great!