The Top Tip You Need For Caramelized Onions

There are hacks for just about everything when it comes to cooking — from making the perfect chocolate chip cookie and baking a memorable chocolate cake to cooking steak to perfection and roasting the perfect chicken. But cooking hacks for getting the ideal caramelized onions are few and far between. Lucky for you, we have a secret that'll help your onions caramelize perfectly, but it might not be the cooking trick that you'd expect.

It's important to understand the chemical processes involved in turning a firm, solid, smelly onion into a sweet, browned, melty mass over heat. Per Serious Eats, there are two related chemical events that occur when caramelizing onions. Per the process's namesake, the first is caramelization. This occurs when sugar is exposed to heat and "break[s] down into hundreds of new molecules." The second is the Maillard reaction occurs when a protein and a sugar are heated, resulting in the creation of new flavor and texture molecules. 

If you're wondering how long it takes for this to happen and if there's a way to fast-track the process if short on time, we've got you covered.

Caramelized onions cannot be rushed

In an article published on Slate entitled "Layers of Deceit," writer Tom Scocca examines that there is a shortcut to making caramelized onions. He calls out one piece that promises "soft, dark onions in five minutes." Scocca says, "That is a lie. Fully caramelized onions in five minutes...Also a lie." 

Scocca, frustrated over the amount of misinformation doled out about cooking caramelized onions, says he only knows of one writer to give the actual amount of time it takes to make caramelized onions — Julia Child. He quotes her, saying: "[C]ook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, frequently stirring until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes" — or a minimum of 35 to 40 minutes.

Bon Appétit has a thorough step-by-step tutorial teaching readers how to make caramelized onions. It takes about the same amount of time for onions to go through various color-changing stages — from solid to translucent, translucent to yellow, and from yellow to brown. As writer Margaret Eby puts it: "The number one thing that goes wrong with caramelized onions is impatience," per MyRecipes. Make time and patience allies when cooking your next batch of caramelized onions because there are just some things you can't rush.