Caramelized onions are amazingly easy! I give you a few tips and my simple technique to perfectly beautiful caramelized onions every time.
Caramelized onions bring whatever you top with it to the next level. But unless you know the little tricks to making them, you could end up with some crazy mess. Trust me, I’ve been there.
I used stainless steel pans, the baking soda trick, the sugar trick, the salt trick, all of the tricks and I usually ended up with either burnt, nasty onions or some goopy, chemical mess. For while, all my attempts were a disaster!
But no more! No more experiments! I took my nonstick skillet (since steel made it stick and burn) and threw in giant quantities of onion, butter with light olive oil (so that wouldn’t burn), some salt, and eyeballed that sucka. And boom. It all made sense.
I present to you the 20-84-5 rule:
For twenty minutes, I had my heat on medium-low while watching the onions turn colors and become translucent. At first I was like, “Maybe I’m wrong in using the non-stick?” because the onions were just not doing much. No fond, not really changing color, nothing. But then there was a tiny bit of fond at the bottom after I stirred it at the twenty minute mark.
After that, I’d leave the onions alone for eight minutes on a slightly lower temperature (it was at a ‘4’ out of 8, a medium-low flame. So I then turned it to 3.) and stirred up the fond that would occur at the bottom into the onions. I then did that 3 more times, every 8 minutes. Hence the ’84”. Eight, four times.
Then on an incredibly low heat (not the lowest setting, but one step above it) I left the onions alone, returning every five minutes to stir up the fond and onions until they are the color I want, a nice amber brown.
This took about an hour to an hour and ten minutes. Yeah. When I see people say ‘It took about 40 mins’ they usually have a side note saying they did one or two onions. For a group, for a good few servings, maybe 5-8, you’ll need about 3-4 very large onions or 6 medium ones. They cook down so much that if you just do a couple, you are going to stare at this tablespoon of delicious caramelized onions thinking, “I worked an hour for this?!”
Here are some tips to make your life easier:
Slice the onions in half length-wise before slicing them.
Use yellow or sweet onions as they have more natural sugars than other types, though any onion can be caramelized.
If you aren’t using sweet onions, sprinkle in a 1/4 tsp sugar to help caramelize the onions quicker.
- 3-4 large, 5-6 medium sweet onions, sliced thinly
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp light olive oil
- In a large non-stick skillet, turn flame to medium/medium-low heat. Pour in oil and then place butter onto the oil. Let melt, then add onion slices and salt to the pan. Stir with a large spoon to coat onions in the fat. Stir every few minutes, but leave alone for most of the next twenty minutes.
- After 20 minutes, you should notice fond (browned bits) on the pan. Scrape it up with your wooden spoon and mix it into your onions. They shouldn't really have developed much, if any color yet.
- Turn the flame to the next-step lower heat setting, then every 8 minutes stir up the fond into the onions and mix the onions so the onions on top can get more time in the fat on the bottom to brown up. Do this 3 more times, every 8 minutes.
- Now you should have a good little bit of color on your onions. Turn heat to the second-lowest setting, and stir up every 5 minutes until the lovely amber color you want is created.
- The caramelized onions will last a week and are freezer friendly!
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.