We all know this situation. You’re about to start cooking dinner. You look deep into your produce drawer or reach into your bowl of garlic and onions only to find your last few onions have gone south - they are soft and have dark spots. Yup, you’ve waited too long to use them. But if you had caramelized those onions, you would have an amazingly, delicious weapon to deploy in your kitchen, in all kinds of recipes.

Don't let these onions go to waste!  Photo: Orion6729|iStock|Getty Images Plus

Many recipes call for caramelizing onions as a part of the process. However if you know how long it really takes to caramelize onions, you know that most recipes underestimate the time which can throw off your recipe and results in underdone onions. How do you avoid this? Well, one workaround is to caramelize a large batch of onions in advance, then keep them on hand for quick weeknight recipes. You can even freeze caramelized onions for the future. Let’s get started.

Add onions a couple of handfuls at time to start browning before adding more.  Photo: jatrax|iStock|Getty Images Plus

While you can use any amount of onions when you caramelize ahead, you need to know that onions cook down quite a lot when you cook them as long as you need to for true carmelization. Plan to get about 1/4 cup out of each large onion. Since this is a longish (but simple) process, it makes sense to do a big batch. Think about starting with at least two pounds of onions.

Here are some recipes that include caramelized onions to get you cooking: Balsamic Caramelized Onion Pizza with Arugula and Maple Drizzle, Caramelized Onion Dip with Feta, Spinach and Walnuts, Stifado with Beef and Caramelized Onions, Caramelized Onion Frittatta with Artichoke Hearts, Zucchini and Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onion Dip


Go for gold! Keep onions from browning too quickly by adjusting heat and adding liquid.  Photo: jatrax|iStock|Getty Images Plus


  • 2 lbs yellow (preferred) or white onions [about four medium onions]

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt

  • sugar (if needed for browning)


1. Peel onions and cut out the root ends. Slice into fairly thin strips.

2. Heat oil and butter over medium - low heat in a large deep-sided skillet or Dutch oven

3. Add a couple of handfuls of onions at a time and stir to begin lightly browning, about 1-2 minutes.Take care not to burn!

4. Adjust the heat as you need to to keep them gently cooking but do not let them deeply brown. You want golden here, like a light colored beer. Keep adding the onions until all of them are in the pan and season generously with salt. The salt helps pull out the moisture which is what bubbles away and gently cooks the onion. Cook for about 20 minutes or until they are uniformly the color brown you want. If you find they are not browning, add a sprinkle of sugar to the pot which will get the color happening a bit faster.

5. Use immediately or store in fridge up to 5 days. You can also freeze up to three months.

Photo: jatrax|iStock|Getty Images Plus