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how to caramelize onions

Caramelizing onions releases the natural sugars in the onion and creates an entirely different flavor.  They are a wonderful topping for steaks, in gravies, and, of course, French Onion Soup!  

The onions will reduce a lot when cooking.  If you look at the photo above and the one at the bottom of this page, you can see what we started with and what we had once the caramelization was complete.

Caramelized Onion Recipe
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
40 mins

Five onions will reduce down to about 2 cups of caramelized onions when the cooking is complete.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: French
Keyword: caramelized onions
Servings: 2 cups
  • Several medium or large onions yellow, white, or red
  • Olive oil
  • Butter optional
  • Salt
  • Balsamic vinegar optional
  1. Cut the ends off of the onions, slice in half, then into thin slices.

  2. Using a wide, thick-bottomed sauté pan, coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, or a mixture of olive oil and butter (about 1 teaspoon per onion). Heat the pan on medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat the onions with the oil. Spread the onions out evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally. (See notes)

  3. Reduce heat if necessary if they are drying out too fast. One trick to keeping the onions from drying out as they cook is to add a little water to the pan.

  4. After 10 minutes, sprinkle some salt over the onions.

  5. Let cook for 30 minutes or longer, stirring every few minutes. Do not stir constantly, allow them to brown then stir and repeat as needed.  If you stir constantly they will never brown and caramelize.

  6. Once the cooking is complete you can add a dash of balsamic vinegar to add a bit of flavor and help deglaze the pan.

Recipe Notes

The trick to this recipe is to allow the onions to brown before stirring.  In the beginning longer times will be needed before stirring them up, but as they cook you will have to stir more frequently to prevent burning.

These are the onions we started with. We added a little bit more after they cooked down enough to fit. We transferred the onions into a similar pan to photograph the caramelized onions (so the pan would look clean)