Caramelizing Onions vs. Browning Onions

JustinAll Recipes, Culinary Tips & Techniques 2 Comments

How to Brown & Caramelize Onions

Ah, those lovely sweet & salty onions that gloriously top burgers and steaks. There are a couple ways to get there: browning & caramelization. Culinary sticklers may cry foul, because I’m also not sure if this is an actual distinction or if I just pulled this from thin air. (Probably the latter.)

Browning is a relatively quick process that uses a high-temp oil and medium-high heat to color the edges of onion.

How to Brown Onions


Heat some high-temp oil (such as canola) on medium-high. When the oil begins to smoke, add sliced onions. Stir often, to avoid burning, for about 15 minutes.


The onions are done when the edges of most of them are nice and brown. Salt and pepper to taste.

Caramelizing is the slower process of sautéing onions in olive oil on medium to medium-low heat over a period of about an hour until the onions are completely browned. If you’ve got the time, go for caramelization. In terms of flavor, I think it’s clearly superior to browning. The result is softer, sweeter, and saltier.

How To Caramelize Onions


Heat a wide pan or Dutch oven on medium-high. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add sliced onions.


Lower the heat to medium. Cook for 20-30 minutes before stirring. Essentially, you want to brown the entire layer of onions first.

Flip or stir the onions. The objective is to keep them browning evenly. You’ll need to flip or stir a few more times to get uniform color.

If necessary, add a couple tablespoons of water to avoid burning and release the fond (the browned bits on the bottom of the pan).

Within an hour, your onions should be perfectly browned. Salt & pepper to taste.