Making burgers at home can be a fun and delicious experience. While there are many toppings and ingredients that go into a great burger, the onion is a classic choice that adds tremendous flavor. When onions are cut and prepared properly, they can take your burger to the next level.
In this article, we will walk through the entire process of selecting, preparing, and cutting onions for burgers step-by-step. By the end, you’ll be an expert at knowing exactly how to cut onions for the best tasting burger possible!
Select the Right Onion
The first step is choosing the right type of onion. There are a few different varieties that work well for burgers:
- Yellow Onions – These are the most common onions you’ll find at the grocery store. They have a nice balanced flavor that’s not too overpowering. This makes them a great all-purpose onion for burgers.
- Red Onions – If you want a slightly sweeter onion, go for red. The red color comes from higher levels of quercetin, which makes them taste less pungent.
- White Onions – White onions are the mildest. If you or your guests don’t like a strong onion flavor, use white.
- Shallots – Shallots are small, elongated onions with a subtle flavor. Substitute shallots when you want a more delicate onion taste.
No matter which you choose, make sure your onions are fresh and firm with no soft or brown spots. Avoid onions that feel mushy or look wilted.
Prep the Onion
Once you’ve got your onion, it’s time to start prepping:
- Cut off the stem and root ends. Use a sharp knife to slice about 1⁄4 inch off each end. Discard the ends.
- Peel off the papery outer layers. Peel off any thick, crinkly brown skin, working your way from the outside in until you reach the slick interior layers.
- Cut the onion in half from root to stem. Slice the onion straight down the middle all the way from the top to bottom.
- Place each half flat side down on the cutting board. With the flat broad surfaces down on your cutting board, the onion will be stable and ready for the next steps.
Cut the Onion
Now for the fun part – cutting the onion! There are a few techniques you can use depending on the type of burger you’re making:
If you want small, evenly chopped onion pieces that will be distributed throughout the burger, go for a classic dice:
- Make horizontal slices. Hold the onion firmly by the root end. Make thin, parallel slices from one side to the other, but don’t cut all the way through to the root end.
- Make vertical slices. Rotate the onion 90 degrees. Again hold the root end securely and make thin slices across the onion, perpendicular to your first cuts.
- Chop finely. Hold your knife horizontal to the cutting board. Place the knife tip on the cutting board, then rock the knife up and down while making tiny vertical cuts to finely chop the onion.
- Separate the diced pieces. Gather the diced onions together and separate any larger pieces to achieve a uniform consistency.
The end result should be a pile of tiny, evenly diced onion pieces ready for your burger!
If you prefer bigger slices of onion on your burger, here’s how to slice instead of dice:
- Peel the onion. Remove the papery outer skins, but leave the root end intact. This will help hold the onion together.
- Slice top to bottom. Place the onion on its side. Make thin vertical slices from the top down to the root end. Go slow and be careful to not cut through the root.
- Cut slices in half. Lay the intact slices flat on the cutting board. Cut them in half horizontally for shorter pieces.
- Separate the slices. Carefully break apart the slices while keeping their shape intact.
These evenly sliced strips of onion will add delicious bursts of flavor when bitten into.
For a fun twist, try battering and frying thin onion rings to top your burger:
- Cut crosswise slices. Cut the peeled onion widthwise into very thin round slices, about 1⁄4 inch thick.
- Separate the rings. Gently separate the individual rings, taking care not to break them.
- Coat in batter. Dip each ring in your favorite onion ring batter. Let any excess drip off.
- Fry until golden. Fry the battered rings in oil at 350°F until lightly golden, about 1-2 minutes per side.
- Drain on paper towels. Transfer the crispy fried rings to paper towels to drain any excess grease.
These crispy onion rings add fantastic texture and flavor when stacked on your burger!
No matter which cutting technique you use, resist the urge to rush. Take your time and slice carefully. Ragged, uneven pieces won’t have the same nice appearance or taste.
Avoid Crying While Cutting Onions
A common problem when working with onions is crying! Onions produce a sulfur compound called syn-propanethial-S-oxide that wafts into the air when their cells are damaged, like when cutting. This gas interacts with the water in your eyes to form a diluted sulfuric acid, which irritates the eyes and causes stinging and tears.
Here are some tips to reduce crying while cutting onions:
- Chill the onion beforehand – Place the onion in the freezer for 15-30 minutes before cutting. The cold temperature reduces the amount of the tear-inducing compound that is released.
- Use a super sharp knife – A sharp knife damages fewer cells, so less of the irritating gas is released. Be sure your knife is freshly sharpened before cutting.
- Cut under running water – Running cool water over the onion while you cut it will wash away the volatile gases before they reach your eyes.
- Cut away from your face – Position the onion so any vapors released are directed away from your eyes, not towards them.
- Wear safety goggles – For maximum eye protection, put on a pair of safety goggles to create a barrier between your eyes and onion vapors.
- Use a fan – Have a fan nearby blowing the onion gases away from you as you cut. Make sure it doesn’t blow toward anyone else!
With practice, you’ll be able to chop onions for burgers without shedding a tear. These tricks help take the sting out of cutting onions.
Cook the Onions
Once your onions are prepped, it’s time to cook them before adding them to your burger. Raw onion can be overpowering, but cooking mellows and caramelizes the flavor.
For fast cooking, try sautéing:
- Heat oil in a pan – Coat the bottom of a skillet with about 1 Tbsp oil or butter. Heat over medium.
- Add onions. When oil is hot, add diced or sliced onions. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Lower heat, cook until softened – Reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking 5-10 more minutes until onions are softened and lightly browned.
For maximum flavor, caramelize your onions:
- Cook low and slow – Add onions to hot oil or butter. Cook on medium-low heat up to 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Time allows the sugars to caramelize.
- Optionally add brown sugar – For extra caramelization, sprinkle onions with a little brown sugar while cooking.
- Deglaze with balsamic vinegar – When onions are deeply browned, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and stir. This adds a tangy flavor boost.
- Cook until jammy – Cook down until onions are very soft, jammy, and deeply caramelized.
To take caramelized onions a step further, turn them into a flavor packed onion jam:
- Cook caramelized onions – Follow steps above to deeply caramelize onions.
- Add apple cider vinegar – When onions are caramelized, stir in 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar.
- Season with spices – Add desired spices like garlic powder, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, etc.
- Simmer until jammy – Let mixture simmer uncovered on low heat 30-60 minutes until very thick and spreadable.
- Cool completely before using – Chill onion jam in the fridge until cold. It will firm up to the perfect texture.
This sweet and tangy onion jam takes the flavor to the next level!
No matter which cooking method you use, let onions cool before assembling burgers so they don’t wilt the bun.
Callie Stevenson is an inspiring chef and restaurant owner on a mission to create delicious cuisine that delights her customers with every bite. With a passion for crafting unique flavor combinations, Callie is wildly inventive when it comes to designing menus that balance classic favorites with creative new dishes. Her expansive knowledge of cooking techniques and ingredients gives her the ability to put together unforgettable plates full of tantalizing textures. In addition to creating memorable meals, Callie also takes great pride in offering excellent hospitality at her establishment. From the welcoming atmosphere to the attentive service, Eugene’s Diner stands out as an inviting destination for foodies and families alike.