Sweet & Sticky Caramelized Onions (The True Way to Caramelize Onions)

Caramelized Onions

True caramelized onions are luscious, jammy and have the perfect balance of super-sweet and savory. They are good for more than just French onion soup. Caramelized onions are great spread over crusty baguettes, tucked into grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers, spooned over mashed potatoes or mac and cheese, or even used to fill savory bread rolls and crispy, chewy Scallion Pancakes with Caramelized Onions!

And all it takes to get luscious, jammy, sweet caramelized onions is a little time.

caramelized onions in a bowl


Makes about 1 1/3 cups caramelized onions.


  • large onions (about 1.2 kg)
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
  • A good pinch saltpepper and MSG*
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) water or broth – OPTIONAL

*MSG really enhances savory flavors. But if you do not like to use MSG, it can be omitted.


1. Peel and slice or chop the onions to your desired size.

  • Try to keep the pieces small or thin and uniform for even cooking.
sliced onion wide

2. Pour the oil in a large, wide skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.

  • A wide skillet will release the water from the onions faster for better browning and caramelizing.
wide skillet for caramelized onions

3. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until fully caramelized, about 45 minutes to an hour.

– Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour or until the onions are deep, dark brown throughout and have a sticky, jammy texture.

  • Stir only occasionally to allow the onions to pick up some color.
  • If the onions are getting too dark in spots or are beginning to crisp at the edges, turn down the heat to medium-low.

5. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, pepper and MSG. Stir for another 3 to 5 minutes.

  • Season your onions to taste after they have finished caramelizing as flavors will continue to intensify during cooking.

6. Use the water to de-glaze the pan, if needed.

– If using a cast-iron or stainless steel pan (anything but non-stick), de-glaze the pan by pouring in the water or broth and scraping up all the flavor bits stuck to the bottom of pan and stirring it into the onions.

  • This shouldn’t be necessary if using non-stick.

– Use the caramelized onions any way you wish – in burgers or sandwiches, casseroles, soups, baked into bread rolls or quiches, and on and on….

– Keep completely cooled caramelized onions refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.
– Or freeze in Ziploc-style freezer bags for up to 3 months.

caramelized onions in a bowl
caramelized onion burger
Hoisin-glazed turkey burger with caramelized onions

About this recipe

The secret to the best caramelized onions that are savory, sweet, intense and absolutely delicious on almost everything? Time and patience.

Don’t be fooled into cooking your onions at higher temperatures or adding sugar. They may have the right color. But they will lack the depth that only time can produce.

Lastly, caramelized onions may take a long time to cook, but they freeze well. So make an extra big batch and freeze some for later uses!

wooden spoonful of caramelized onions


Here are 4 helpful tips:

1) It takes a lot of onions….

– Each large onion will only make about 1/3 cup caramelized onions. (A large onion is usually about 300 g or 2/3 lb each.) Keep that in mind when you are planning out how much you will need.

  • The volume will really reduce!

2) Cook with vegetable oil.

– If you want buttery onions, use vegetable oil along with your butter. Your caramelized onions will be on the stove for a long time and you don’t want your butter to burn. The same goes for extra virgin olive oil.

3) Be patient and take your time. Do not turn up the heat.

– Low and slow is the only way to draw out the sugars for proper caramelization and intense flavor. So be patient.
– Don’t stir your onions constantly. Let the onions sit long enough to get some color and then stir occasionally just to color the onions evenly.

  • If you wish, you could take a little extra time and reduce your caramelized onions even further for more intense flavor. The onions will also be more jammy in texture, too.
  • On the other hand, if you wish for your onions to have more body and bite, cook for less time.

4) Make sure to de-glaze your pan. Or use a non-stick pan.

– If you are using a stainless steel or cast iron pan (or any pan that is not non-stick), a lot of flavor will stick to the bottom of your skillet. Pick up all those flavor bits by de-glazing your pan with a little water or broth and stirring it into your onions.

– If you need drier caramelized onions, for example, if you are using them in a batch of Scallion Pancakes with Caramelized Onions or baking them into savory dinner rolls, use a non-stick pan so that you will not need to use any water for de-glazing. Just be sure to scrape up any sticky flavor bits.

caramelized onions

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Caramelized onions get their deep savory-sweet flavor from the Maillaird reaction. Learn about the Maillard reaction:



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