The Appliance Alton Brown Uses To Avoid Tears When Chopping Onions

Cooking with onions doesn't come without risk. Peeling, cutting, and chopping the flavorful vegetable typically results in a tear or two. This isn't the result of released emotion but rather comes down to chemistry; according to NPR, onion-induced tears stem from the release of a chemical irritant known as syn-propanethial-S-oxide. When you cut into an onion, the chemical enters the air and ultimately reaches the eye of the onion's beholder.

This phenomenon may explain why so many people dislike peeling onions more than peeling any other food. Not only does peeling and cutting an onion impact your eyes, but it also influences flavor; slicing your onion end-to-end will yield a milder flavor than if you slice the vegetable through the center. This rationale is, yet again, thanks to chemistry, proving that onion-slicing is a science, as well as an art.

Unfortunately for your eyes, cutting onions is often a necessary task. Onions are a staple in all kinds of dishes, so any home cook should really learn how to manage their onion tears. It might seem like a futile task, but there are a few techniques that work to varying degrees. Celebrity chef Alton Brown recommends one particular strategy that will hopefully bring a bit of fresh air into your kitchen and grant you some relief.

Turn on a fan to combat all those onion tears

This trick is all about the fans — not fans of onions but the fans you keep in the house. In a Tweet, Alton Brown said, "Culinary truth: The best way to cut onions is with a fan," posting a photo of himself alongside a stack of sliced onions and, yes, a household fan.

For Brown's suggestion to work, position yourself and your onions in line with air blowing away from your face. By turning on a fan and getting right in front of it, you can blow away the chemicals — that syn-propanethial-S-oxide — that circulate through the air, says All Recipes

While this technique may sound surprisingly simple, it's actually incredibly effective. It's likely to yield a higher success rate and fewer tears than other creative recommendations, like the use of safety goggles. According to NPR, safety goggles not only look ridiculous, but they also don't work. They may keep chemicals from reaching your eyes, but they do little to protect your nose or mouth. 

So plug in your fan and get the air going. A few tears may still escape you, but no method is foolproof. With enough practice, you'll soon become an avid fan of the fan technique.