How to Caramelize Onions Like a Professional Chef

Everyone loves the flavor that caramelized onions add to meals cooked on the stove top or in slow cookers alike—that sweet, rich, savory flavor! There’s a fine line between warm, caramelized, and burnt onions and just  a few quick tips can help you walk it without any trouble at all!

Caramelizing Like a Pro

When you start out to caramelize your onions, you need to start making consideration for you final product immediately. This starts with how you are slicing the onion. After that, you need to pay attention to the type of oil you’ll be using—this can impact flavor and timing. After that, you’ll want to spread things evenly, use the right pan, use the right heat don’t cook them too long—OK, these quick tips are starting to sound a bit cumbersome! To help simplify things, consider what Bonappetit has to say on the matter:

1. Slicing Them Too Thinly

Thinly sliced onions will burn faster and stick to the bottom of your pan. Aim to slice your onions 1/8″ thick—their heft will prevent them from drying out.

2. Using Just Butter

You definitely want the flavor of butter in your onions—but butter has the tendency to burn. For insurance, use a combination of butter and oil, which has a higher smoking point. But how much do you use? Depending on the consistency you want your onions, you can use more or less fat. Just cover the bottom of your pan for jammy, soft caramelized onions, or add a little more for more structured, slightly charred caramelized onions. The more fat in the pan, the more the onions will fry rather than soften. (Okay, you can fry them a little.) You can use just oil, or a combination of butter and oil—the choice is yours!

3. Crowding the Pan

If you pack too many onions into your pan, they’ll steam and produce water. Eventually, they will caramelize—but it will take much longer to get them there. In a 12″ pan, you’ll ideally be able to cook 2 large onions (we like yellow or Spanish onions) without encountering any steaming problems.

4. Cranking the Heat

You’re not sautéing your onions—you’re trying to slowly coax flavor out of them. It takes time, probably a solid 45 minutes, for the onions’ sugars to caramelize. If your heat is too high, the onions will burn. Heat your pan over medium-low, then add your onions. Keep it on that temp for the whole process. No cheating!

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