Caramelized Onions

A pan of caramelized onions

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Total: 50 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Yield: 1 3/4 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
139 Calories
7g Fat
17g Carbs
3g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 139
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 2g 9%
Cholesterol 6mg 2%
Sodium 353mg 15%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 3g
Vitamin C 8mg 40%
Calcium 36mg 3%
Iron 0mg 3%
Potassium 295mg 6%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Caramelized onions are a kitchen workhorse that are made of just 3 things: fat, sliced onions, and patience. Cooking onions gradually breaks down their natural sugars so they brown and become tantalizingly soft, savory, and sweet. The process takes patience and a watchful eye, hurry the process and you’ll wind up with a pan full of bitterness.

What Kind of Pan to Use for Caramelized Onions

A large cast iron skillet will provide constant and even heat, but you can also use a good quality sauté pan. Don’t use a deep pan like a soup pot; the higher sides will inhibit evaporation and you’ll end up stewing instead of browning. The pan will look over-full at first, but as the onions lose moisture they will reduce down to just a cup of caramelized goodness when you’re finished.

How To Make Caramelized Onions

You don’t need to stir constantly, but you should be in the kitchen near the stove to monitor the onions’ progress, stir, and adjust the heat as needed. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the pan frequently where the pan is hottest as small bits tend to burn in these places. Burnt onions equals bitterness in flavor and attitude as there’s no way to save the batch once they’ve burned.  

Once the onions are cooked to a mahogany brown color and jammy consistency, you only need to deglaze them with a bit of water or flavorful liquid of your choice to release every last bit of the flavorful goo on the bottom of the pan. The onions can then be used immediately or stored for future recipes.

How To Use Caramelized Onions

Though cooking onions slowly until they’re deeply caramelized takes patience, you’ll be rewarded for your time with a sweet and savory flavor bomb that can be used in just about a million ways. Most famously, they star in French onion soup, where they form the base of beef broth soup topped with gooey cheese and slices of bread.

They are also the headliner in creamy French onion dip and can be added to quiche. In Indian cuisine, they can be used as a base for curries along with ginger, garlic, and spices. And let’s not forget American comfort food—a burger topped with caramelized onions is one of the great pleasures in life. (Hellooo, patty melts!)

How To Make Caramelized Onions in a Hurry

For caramelized onions in a hurry, cook the onions at medium-high heat until they are browned in places. Then start adding splashes of broth or water frequently to deglaze the pan, letting each addition evaporate before adding the next. The onions may not be as deeply flavored as the traditional version, but they will only take 20 minutes and they’re a fine start to soups and sauces where the onions will be further cooked with other ingredients. 

Tips for Making Caramelized Onions

  • Turn on your exhaust fan — The smell of caramelizing onions tends to linger. 
  • Add herbs for more flavor — Add 1 teaspoon of chopped sturdy fresh herbs when adding the salt to amp up the flavor of the onions. Chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, and oregano all add wonderful flavor.  
  • Listen for a crackling sound towards the end of cooking — This indicates that the onions are nearly done or the pan is getting too hot and the sugars in the onions are beginning to burn. At this point, watch very carefully and add a splash of liquid and scrape the bottom of the pan frequently.
  • Speed it up — One way to speed up the process without resorting to the quick method above is to add all the sliced onions to the pan, then cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Then remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have caramelized. This wilts the onions faster, buying you a little time but still largely sticking to the classic approach.

"Whether you’ve never once made caramelized onions or you’re a seasoned pro you will learn something valuable from this recipe. The instructions and descriptions in the recipe take the guesswork out of an important and valuable cooking technique that you’ll use again and again. Caramelized onions make everything delicious." —Joan Velush

Caramelized Onions
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 2 pounds medium yellow or white onions, about 3

  • 2 tablespoons olive, safflower, or avocado oil

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt, more for seasoning

  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, or sage, optional

  • 1/2 to 1 cup broth, water, wine, beer, or cider

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make caramelized onions

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Cut the top and root end off of the onions and discard the peels. Cut the onions in half from the top through the root end. Place the onion halves cut side down on a cutting board. Cut the onions lengthwise through the root end into thin (1/4-inch wide) slices. Use your fingers to break the onion slices apart, trimming away any root core that may be left on the center-most slices that prevent you from breaking the onions up into individual pieces. 

    Hands thinly cutting onions on a cutting board

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. Heat the oil and butter in a large cast iron skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat until the butter has melted and is sizzling, 2 minutes. 

    Butter and oil bubbling in a cast iron skillet

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  4. Add half the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have wilted slightly, about 4 minutes. 

    Sliced onions cooking in a skillet

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  5. Add the remaining onions, salt, and herbs, if using, and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently and scraping the browned bits from the sides and the bottom of the pan every minute or so, until the onions are pale golden brown, 15 minutes.

    Light brown onion slices cooking in a skillet

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  6. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring and spreading the onions evenly in the pan every few minutes until they are deep, mahogany brown, 20 to 25 minutes. If the onions begin to burn (you will hear crackling coming from the pan, and the bottom of the pan will be gummy when scraped), reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring more frequently, until the onions are very tender and resemble brown marmalade. 

    Deep brown onion slices cooking in a skillet

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  7. Add the broth, water, or wine/beer/cider to the pan in 2 additions and simmer, scraping the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, until the liquid has evaporated, 2 minutes. Add the full cup of liquid for softer, saucier onions, less if you want them to have a bit more texture. 

    A skillet of caramelized onions and broth

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  8. Remove the pan from heat and season the onions to taste with salt and pepper. Use the onions immediately or scrape them into a bowl or glass container and cool them completely. 

    A bowl of caramelized onions

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

How To Store or Freeze Caramelized Onions

The cooled caramelized onions can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week (I recommend glass containers as plastic tends to absorb the oniony smell permanently).

You can also store the onions in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost completely in the refrigerator overnight if using the onions as a garnish or in a dip. If you are using them in a cooked sauce or soup, reheat the onions from frozen in a pan on the stove over low heat or microwave them on high until hot throughout.

Recipe Variation

Shallots can be substituted for the yellow or white onions, but you’ll need to cook them over lower heat as they tend to burn more quickly.

Is Butter or Oil Better for Caramelized Onions?

I use butter and oil to caramelize onions; the butter adds flavor, but butter tends to burn when cooked for a long time. The oil helps bulk up the fat without running the risk of burning.

Should You Stir Onions While Caramelizing?

Yes. Keep an eye on the onions and stir frequently. Do not stir constantly, however. The onions need to make contact with the pan in order to brown, and constant stirring will slow the browning process.