Caramelized Onions

On the blog we have several recipes that use caramelized onions: Onion Soup, Apple Butternut Tartlets, and Potato Latkes with Caramelized Onion Sour Cream. But how do you caramelize onions?

Chopped or sliced onions and sautéed onions are the base for many a flavorful meal. But so many recipes underestimate how long this process takes. It’s always made me feel like a slow and less than adequate cook. So I was delighted to read Layers of Deceit on Slate concerning this very subject. The author contends that the only way to cut the time to caramelize (and even merely properly cook) onions is to overcompensate with time spent stirring. Better to make them ahead, either on the stove or in a crockpot, and save yourself the trouble.

I decided to test crockpot and stove against each other and see which I preferred. I had quite a few containers of cooked onions in my fridge. They had varying levels of doneness and texture, including a batch that was more like fried onions. They were yummy! I had added too much butter to those onions and let them dry out a little. I recommend them, but they were not traditional caramelized onions, per se.


I was getting kind of discouraged. Bon Appetit came to my rescue. After reading common mistakes I cut my onions thicker, and I added water to the skillet when needed.

After several attempts on the stove I found that making them in the crockpot was easiest. Unfortunately my house did not smell like caramelizing onions, but like cabbage cooking! In the end I decided to work with the stove option, but covered the pan for the first 30-45 minutes of the process, then uncovered to brown and reduce the liquid. Perfect! Or at least it was the best batch of onions with the least stress.

Yummy browned goodness! Photo by Heather Cross

Yummy browned goodness! Photo by Heather Cross

Caramelized Onions

Crockpot method:

1 tablespoon butter per

1 pound of onions

(use an amount of onion that makes sense for you and fills your crockpot at least halfway)

  1. Cut onions in half, top to bottom, then in half moon slices, not too thin (⅛-¼”).

  2. Put onions and butter in crockpot, sprinkle onions with salt.

  3. Cook on low for approximately 12 hours, uncovering at the end. Stir once the butter has melted. Stir near the end of cooking as needed.

  4. Optional: start the cooker on high to get things going a little faster. ~ an hour. Turn cooker to high at the end if needed to brown the onions.

Stovetop method:

  1. Follow proportions above but add onions and butter to a skillet, stir. You may need a little more butter in an iron skillet.

  2. Cook for approximately 45 minutes, stirring as little as possible (at the beginning to combine, near the end to evenly cook). Add water as needed to the pan to prevent sticking and burning.

  3. Optional: cover for the first 30 minutes or so.