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Caramelized Onions

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How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

As I mentioned in my post about my blogging goals for 2015, I’m hoping to add in more tutorials and resources on how to cook this year, in addition to our usual new recipes about what to cook. So to kick things off on a small scale, I thought I would finally snap some pictures and post a tutorial for one of my favorite techniques that my friends and readers are always asking about: how to caramelize onions!

I have admitted on here before that I am more than a little obsessed with onions. I was actually the weird kid who used to stir-fry an onion for myself as an after-school snack almost every day in high school. In college, I kept a stash of canned French onion soup on hand for dorm room dinners. (And later spent years fine tuning my recipe to make it homemade, which I’ll also be sharing with you this week.)  In my twenties, I became obsessed with making my baked blooming onion for parties. And let’s just say that I may have mastered the art of the ol’ Japanese steakhouse flaming onion volcano too, as a nice little parlor trick for parties. ;)

In summer: I love onions.

So it should probably come as no surprise that caramelized onions are also a staple in my home. I make big batches of them fairly often to toss on pizzas, quesadillas, tacos, omelettes, dips, crosini, or — my favorite use — just eating them plain with a fork. And when I have leftovers — a rare circumstance — my mom gave me the tip years ago to freeze them. Then you can have extras on hand for when you don’t have 40 or so minutes to cook them.

Yes, that is the one thing about caramelized onions. You all know that I love a quick and easy recipe. And while these are certainly easy, there’s no rushing these guys. A batch typically takes between 40-50 minutes to caramelize, depending on the amount of onions you’re using. (Unless you cook them in the slow cooker, a method I’ll also be sharing with you soon.)  But I will assure you, that sweet and savory caramelized goodness is worth every single minute of cooking them on the stove.

So today I thought I would share with you my recipe and method for how to make caramelized onions, as well as a few fail-proof tips to be sure that they come out perfectly. I promise, if you’ve never made them before, you can do this!

Let’s make some together…

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

My first recommendation for making caramelized onions? Ok, this may sound unnecessary, but I totally vote that you put some seriously good music on. I always crank up some tunes when I’m going to be in the kitchen for awhile. And since these onions require at least a good 40 minutes of babysitting, I suggest settling in with some nice-and-relaxing or kitchen-dance-party background music. :)

Seriously, though, all that you really need are:

  • a few onions (you can use white, yellow or red)
  • butter
  • red/white wine or chicken/beef broth (to de-glaze the pan)
  • salt
  • sugar (optional; I never use it)

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

Begin by thinly-slicing up your onions. You can make them as thin as you’d like, but I recommend keeping them between 1/8-1/4-inches wide. They will shrink up considerably while cooking.

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a saute pan. Then add all of those onions, and give them a good stir to coat them in the butter.

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

Next comes the step that you will do again and again for the next 40 or so minutes:

Stir and wait.

Stir and wait.

And stir and wait some more.

I recommend that you give these guys a good stir every 3-5 minutes or so. You want to let them cook untouched for long enough that they start to get a little bit caramelized and golden on the bottom, but not so long that they burn or get too brown. So initially, that may be every 5 minutes, and then as they caramelize, every 3 minutes or so. (Keep in mind that every stove and pan are different, so go with whatever cooking time feels good to you.)

The onions will pass through a stage (above) where they turn translucent and white. Then they will start to become slightly golden.

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

Then they will turn even darker and syrupy, and browned bits will begin to accumulate on the bottom of the pan. Use a spatula to try and scrape up the browned bits when you can. And at this point, I also recommend sprinkling some salt on the onions and stirring it in, although I tend to think that caramelized onions don’t need too much salt.

Finally, once the onions have reached a stage where they are dark golden brown (I like mine very brown), it’s time to make the most of those browned bits and de-glaze the pan. I highly recommend doing this with white or red wine (if you cook with wine), but you can also do so with vegetable or chicken broth. Simply add in a few tablespoons of wine/broth at a time, scraping the bottom of the pan with your spatula, until you have picked up most of those browned bits and they can be stirred into the onions. (I generally use between 2-4 tablespoons wine.)

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

Then your onions are caramelized and ready to go!! Quite the transformation from how they began, eh?

These photos make mine look a little darker than they actually were. As you can see in the spoon, the onions are a deep golden brown, reduced in size considerably, perfectly syrupy and delicious, and they’re good on just about everything.

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

A few extra tips to keep in mind:

  1. More onions require more cook time: Cooking 3 medium-sized yellow onions in a 12-inch usually takes me about 40 minutes. You can add in more onions, but they will require more time. Also, try to avoid a pile of onions that is too high, or else the onions will cook from the steam instead of on the bottom of the pan.
  2. Keep the heat low and slow: Every cook has a different opinion about the proper level of heat for caramelizing onions. I generally keep mine slightly above medium, and have also had success on medium-high, and many others love medium-low (which requires longer cooking time). But the one thing you don’t want to do is crank the heat up to high to speed things up. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
  3. Sugar and salt are optional: I find that caramelized onions are plenty sweet (and usually plenty salty) on their own, but if you want to add extra sugar and salt near the end of the cooking time (just before deglazing), you’re welcome to do so to taste.

Everyone definitely has their preferences for what constitutes a perfectly caramelized onion, so feel free to tweak this recipe to your taste. And be sure to snap a photo and tag it on Instagram if you are making these for the first time so that I can see them!

Happy caramelizing.

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

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Caramelized Onions

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes


Learn how to make caramelized onions with this step-by-step tutorial and delicious recipe.


  • 3 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or high-heat cooking oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed oil)
  • pinch of salt
  • (optional) pinch of granulated sugar or other sweetener
  • 24 tablespoons dry white or red wine (or chicken/beef/veggie stock)


  1. Heat butter in a large saute pan over medium heat until melted.  Add onions, and toss until they are coated in the butter.
  2. Cook the onions for the next 40 minutes or so until they are caramelized, using a spatula to stir the onions and scrape the bottom of the pan every 3-5 minutes.  As the onions begin to caramelize and darken, you may need to scrape the pan more often.
  3. Once the onions reach a deep golden brown color and are nice and syrupy, sprinkle them with a pinch of two of salt (and sugar, if desired).  Stir the stock a tablespoon or two at a time, adding enough so that the browned bits on the bottom of the pan loosen when scraped with a spatula.  Stir the onions for 1 more minute, being sure to stir in the browned bits, then remove from heat.
  4. Serve immediately.  Or let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

How To Make Caramelized Onions -- a step-by-step tutorial |

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44 comments on “Caramelized Onions”

  1. GAH! I can practically smell these babies THROUGH THE SCREEN! 
    Caramelized onions are my favorite, and this is SUCH  a great tutorial! Pinned :)

  2. I make a huge batch of caramelized onions and freeze portions of them in zip bags. Great to use on pizza, whatever. 

  3. I’m drooling over here this morning over these beauties. I do love caramelized onions…I’m hoping you put these into something really good to share! 

  4. LOVE this tutorial! My husband is onion CRAZY, so these will be great on top of just about…anything. Can’t wait to try!

  5. Oh my word! WANT. THAT. NOW.
    I am looking forward to the crock pot version!!! I am SO impatient and every time I start cooking these bad boys I burn the pan because I get sidetracked. Needless to say, a crock pot version would be most helpful since caramelized onions LITERALLY go on everything.

  6. I am picturing these over a steak. Mouth. Watering.

  7. Great tutorial Ali! Love you mom’s idea of freezing them to be available when you need them. 

  8. Great Idea! When I read your post I had an epiphany, I never had thought to freeze them before! I’m always skeptical on what to freeze/what not to freeze but I will keep this one in mind! Thank you for enlightening me today :) 

  9. I’m with you, onions have always been one of my very favorite foods! I caramelized onions a foot high on my Blu cheese bunless burgers! Gorgeous photos!

  10. It’s as though we planned our posts to be timed together today!! <3 

  11. Thank you for the tutorial.  I caramelize onions with some frequency, but tend to get frustrated doing them.  One other thing you can do which makes them really nice is to use a little soy sauce and butter for deglazing the pan.  It makes the onion really rich.  (I learned that reading a cookbook years ago while I was wandering around Barnes & Noble.  I no longer know the proportions the book mentioned, but I’m sure doing it to taste would work.) 

  12. LOVE your tutorials. Your pictures are so incredibly STUNNING, as usual. I literally want to eat an entire bowl of caramelized onions right now! 

  13. Again beautiful photos.  I love caramelized onions, and the smell MMMMMMM!!!

  14. Growing up, this was one of my favorite snacks.  I would get hungry and just go cook an onion.  Love the how to, thanks.

  15. I love caamelized onions.  Mine usually take over an hour because I do them on medium-low (probably an OCD thing).  Have I mentioned your pix are great!

  16. Oh my word! I am drooling!!!

  17. Looks good 

  18. I have always loved caramelized onions but had trouble making them so thanks soooo much for the tutorial. I cannot wait to make them.

  19. Yummy !!!!!  One of my favorites as well. My receipe omits the liquid. Love to add mushrooms!!! Will definitely try this one next time. 

  20. Até que enfim achei alguém como a mim, que ama cebola!!! Quanta delícia, tudo perfeito.

  21. This is my favorite addition to almost any meal. I also once had a bruscetta of carmelized onions and feta cheese on lightly toasted baguette. Holy smokes! Delish!! I like to deglaze my pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Not too much and you have to be very careful because its sugar content will allow it to burn somewhat quickly. I let it cook down a bit watching it closely and then splash in a bit of water. It enhances the sweetness of the onions and adds a bit of acidity. Yummy!

  22. I love caramelized onions! I’m so gonna have to make some soon. Btw, I think your pictures make these onions look gorgeous.

    • Thanks Beck! And yes, definitely try these when you can, we think you’ll enjoy them! :)

  23. wow looks so yum! i have alot of caramelized onions! with literally everything, i haven’t used butter nor wine to make it before, i will give it a try and compare flavors, cheers

  24. I’ve been caramelizing onions for years and never used sugar. I do use a pinch of salt and deglaze with Worchestershire Sauce. I take care with it as the taste can overtake the onions and it’s a bit salty. It’s worked for me. 

  25. Did you ever post a crock pot version of Carmelized Onions? 

  26. Instead of sugar and white wine I use Marsala wine which provides for sweetener and broth. 

  27. Used Marsala wine to deglaze pan – excellent flavor.

  28. We also use spiced rum! Oh so delicious!

  29. I just stumbled upon this recipe and excited to try! How long do they keep in the freezer and how do you suggest to thaw/reheat them?

  30. Just wondering…rather than buy vegetable broth, could you use the water that you drain off cooked veggies or potatoes?

  31. Just made these and put them in my homemade chicken noodle soup! Very good and very easy to maje!

  32. Wow, did I ever make some mistakes this time, and along the way, I learned the answer to the question about why, when the onions are cooled, the butter sometimes separates from the onions. I mean, my onions browned some (not as much as usual), so they caramelized some, but not fully. Why? Well…. I wanted more caramelized onions for my efforts. So…. I experimented with too many onions for *my* current, rather cool running crockpot (at least the crockpot I used this time, though using HIGH heat the whole time with that partucular crockpot might have worked? High heat in that crockpot has worked in the past, since it is a cool running crockpot….. Back then, I followed an old style slow cooker recipe for my old style slow cooker. That recipe called for cooking six large onions in 6 T of oil with no salt, for nine hours on HIGH. I had cut the recipe in half, cuz that’s all the onions I had. And it worked beautifully!!!!) But thus time, when I set out to caramelized onions again, I didn’t even glance at that recipe, cuz I wanted to know how many onions I could caramelize at one time!!!!! I wanted more bang for my buck!!! So I looked online for a well reviewed recipe, and after reading the recipe and reviews here at, I decided on my first experiment, and it was a partial fail. The onions are good, just not amazing…..
    To understand what went wrong this time, ya gotta keep in mind how caramel recipes work: First the butter is melted. Then the sugar is melted into the butter. Then sufficient heat for sufficient time with access to sufficient air is required for a chemical reaction to occur which changes the butter and sugar solution into the sticky, gooey, wondrous concoction it is designed to be. —
    In short, I got greedy with the wrong slow cooker. I put too many onions in *my old styled cool running slow cooker*, too late in the day (though they had cooked ten hours by the time I went to bed). Based on what one reviewer here said about filling her slow cooker so full of onions that the lid didn’t fit at first, I jammed all sorts of onions into my slow cooker, that ugh I did slice my way nions a bit wider this time, cutting them more like they are in the pictures here. —- Then, based on questions and answers about speeding up the process by using the high setting for three hours and then turning the setting down to low, I tried that. —- Well, the juices in the pot were substantial after the first three hours. (Note: since I wanted lots and lots of onions, I did not reference my old recipe, and I forgot that that recipe, written for old slow cookers, does indeed call for cooking the onions on high for nine hours!) So, in spite of all those juices, since I was quite concerned about burning my onions, I cranked down the heat to low while my onions were swimming in liquid. It didn’t take long before I knew I needed to offset the lid to allow the juices to continue to escape. I did so for hours…. until bedtime. But my onions were not finished after roughly ten hours of cooking…. And, no, there was absolutely no caramelizing going on. They were a nice, softened texture, tho not mushy. And they were almost translucent. They would have been lovely on many a sandwich or salad, etc. But there was absolutely no browning/caramelizing going on yet. I thought about freezing them as they were, but one reviewer mentioned accidentally leaving her onions on overnight out on her patio, so…., with the lid fully settled back onto the pot, so they would not dry out and/or burn overnight, I went to bed, hoping they would be caramelized but not burnt in the morning. —- Come morning, the onions were browned a good bit, and the juices were cooking off, were also browned a good bit, and were beginning to thicken quite nicely, but they were not jammy. In theory, running the cooker longer with the lid ajar again might well have finished caramelizing the onions? but…. I was having to leave town and was not sure whether I was even going to be back to my kitchen that day. So….. I bagged up my partly caramelized onions, after roughly eighteen hours, and set them to cool briefly (four separate bags). —- Now, since I left the house before they were fully cooled, I slipped them into the fridge. Sure enough, when I finally got home, the butter had separated from the onions and the fridge solidified that butter at the top. —- Why? Because the conversion from sugar+butter to caramel had not occurred fully, only in part. —- Could all those onions have caramelized in that cool running pot if I had cooked the onions on high the whole time, with the lid ajar after the onions were sufficiently softened and the liquid had sufficiently rendered? Maybe so. — But my next experiment will use that same slow cooker with six large onions, then seven, then eight, etc. until the process stops working fully, or until I have so many onions that the lid won’t set down onto the cooker until the onions cook down.

    Sooo…. My suggestion for this recipe? 1) That it be rewritten with pictures showing the condition of the onions when the lid is set ajar, ….so people can judge whether they should set that lid ajar sooner or later. 2) That the recipe indicate that in older, much cooler running slow cookers, a high setting can work beautifully.

    That said, I love how you recommend keeping an eye on one’s own first efforts with this slow cooker recipe since all slow cookers are different. I wish more recipe developers would do the same…. Awesome job! Not surprisingly well done.

    I have tried some of your recipes in the past and like many others, have come to trust your recipes for great flavor!!!

    Thank you seems a bit dull for the enjoyment you share with the heart of so many homes (The Gran’s Ol’ Kitchen!)! So I just hope this feedback helps you continue to do so with a tad more “experience” impacting your, clearly broad based cooking finesse…..

  33. If I have to be attentive in the kitchen this long, I’m going to also make risotto while the onions caramelize!

  34. I am Ukrainian and spent many hours watching my mom, grandmas, aunts and great aunts spend three days at our house starting at 6:30 am to make pierogis. Of course carmelized onions are a staple to the rogis and I loved to help stir the four pans of onions that the ladies would make. Can’t have snuff onions. The ONLY difference between our recipes is that my grandmas always used salted butter NEVER oil. One and mosey important the taste is richer and two the salted butter meant no extra salt was needed. I’m like you. I always liked a bit of pierogis with my carmelized/fried onions. Thank you for the visuals and walk through. I’m now hungry for onions. Thanks!!