Which Method is Best for Caramelizing Onions?

Love to caramelize Vidalia onions but don’t know which method is best? Have no fear, we tried out four different methods, from pressure cooking to the classic stovetop to help you decide which method is best! This series is sponsored by the Vidalia Onion Committee. Vidalia Onions are America’s Favorite Sweet Onion, but you can only get them for a limited time each year! Learn more about the hard-working Georgia growers who bring these onions to life and what makes Vidalias so special at www.vidaliaonion.org.

Four Methods for Caramelizing Onions, with instructions and comparison

We all know that caramelized onions make pretty much everything better, from burgers to pizza to quesadillas. But is it really necessary to hover around the stove for an hour to get perfectly soft, deep brown, sweet and savory onions? We put four methods to the test to see how you can get the best caramelized onions, hopefully without the need to play onion guardian.

Stovetop Onions
Method 1: Classic Stovetop

This tried and true method will yield you perfect caramelized onions. It gives you a lot of control, since you can stop when the onions are light blonde or keep on cooking for a deeper color and flavor. The downside is it takes a lot of time (45-75 minutes) of hovering over a stove with a watchful eye.

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2-3 sweet Vidalia onions cut in half lengthwise, then sliced ⅛- to ¼-inch thick
  • ¼ cup red or white wine, beer, broth, balsamic vinegar, or water for deglazing
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions:
  1. In a large stainless or cast iron skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and stir to coat them with oil. Stir the onions every 10 minutes for the first 30-40 minutes.
  2. Once the onions start to deepen in color, stir them more frequently to ensure no onions burn at the bottom. Somewhere between the 40 and 75 minute marks, your onions will achieve a deep brown color and will be fully caramelized.
  3. Once they are browned and have achieved a flavor you like (yes, taste testing is recommended!), add your deglazing liquid and quickly scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper.

Pressure Cooker Vidalia Onions Method 2: Pressure Cooker

Developed by Kenji at Serious Eats, this pressure cooker method has an advantage because it cuts the cook time in half. However, the resulting onions have a less complex flavor than true caramelized onions and are more jam-like in consistency.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2-3 sweet Vidalia onions, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced ⅛- to ¼-inch thick
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda (optional, for extra browning)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Add oil, onions, and baking soda (if using) to an electric or stovetop pressure cooker and stir to combine. Cook the onions for 3-5 minutes, until they soften slightly. (You can do this on the stove over high heat, or use the sauté/browning feature of your electric pressure cooker.)
  2. Seal your pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Vent the pressure cooker to release the pressure, then remove the lid. The onions will have released quite a bit of liquid, so return the pressure cooker to high heat on the stove or use the sauté function to cook off the excess liquid, another 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper.

Caramelized Onions in the Oven

Method 3: Baking Sheet

While this technique is commonly seen on the internet as an “easy” way to caramelize onions, the results are pretty disappointing. The onions require frequent stirring and still take 45 minutes to obtain a good color. The onions dry out very quickly and have a tendency to burn at the edges. The onions range from tasting burnt to bland, and don’t have the sweetness of caramelized onions.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Vidalia onions cut in half lengthwise, then sliced ⅛- to ¼-inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the sliced onions evenly onto the baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper, then toss the onions to coat.
  2. Spread the onions back out and place the baking sheet into the oven. Cook the onions for 30-45 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove the onions once they are translucent and golden brown. A longer baking will result in more deeply flavored onions, but the edges will become charred.
  3. Remove from the oven, and fold the foil inward to create a sealed packet. Rest for 5-10 minutes to steam the onions before serving.

Caramelized Vidalia Onions in a Dutch Oven

Method 4: Dutch Oven

These onions were nearly indistinguishable from the stovetop onions in both appearance and flavor, and also required less babysitting. They still take about 45 minutes to cook, but they only need stirred every 15 minutes. This is our winner for alternative methods!

Because it’s the best method, here’s a printable of the instructions for you.

Dutch Oven Caramelized Vidalia Onions

Yield: 2 cups

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2-3 sweet onions, such as Vidalias, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced ⅛- to ¼-inch thick
  • ¼ cup red or white wine, beer, broth, balsamic vinegar, or water for deglazing
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Combine the oil and onions in a nonstick Dutch oven. Cover the Dutch oven with a lid. Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the onions are deep brown in color.
  2. Remove the pan from the oven, add the deglazing liquid, and quickly scrape up the fond from the bottom and sides of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the Vidalia Onion Committee. All opinions are ours and honest.

Maria Siriano

Somewhere among the towers of batter-smeared mixing bowls, you'll find a flour-covered Maria making unique seasonal desserts for her blog, Sift and Whisk. Although she never quite got the hang of the clean-as-you-go technique, she has still managed to elevate her baking skills far beyond “add oil, water, and eggs.” She makes a killer pie, if she does say so herself.