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How to Saute Onions

Sauteed onions can make or break a meal. But where do you begin when learning to sautee onions properly?

What’s the proper technique? Can you saute any kind of onion? How is a sauteed onion different from a caramelized onion? We’ve got the answer to these questions and more!

Read on to learn how to saute onions and how to serve them for your next meal!

Closeup of a skillet of sauteed onions. How to Saute Onions.

The Difference Between Saute and Caramelize

Before you learn how to saute onions, you’ll need to know the difference between sauteeing and caramelizing onions. What’s the difference? It comes down to timing.

The process of slicing and prepping onions for sauteeing and caramelizing onions is the same. The difference is the temperature and the amount of time you cook your onions, which will change the final product’s flavor palette.

For a rich and savory-tasting onion, you’ll want to sautee your onions. Your onions will usually cook in under 10 minutes over medium heat. They’ll hold their shape, although they will be soft. They should appear translucent with slight browning on the outside. They will still taste like a traditional onion.

Caramelizing an onion will create an Intensely sweet flavored onion. This process can take anywhere from 45-60 minutes and will be done over low heat. The finished product will be a dark brown, very soft, and mushy onion. It will taste less oniony and sweeter in flavor.

Tips For The Best Sauteed Onions

Here are a few things you’ll need to know before you learn how to saute onions!

Whole yellow onions with papery skins still on them.

1. While any variety of onions will work, start with a yellow or Vidalia onion first. These will both cook with a pleasant flavor that doesn’t have too strong of an onion bite.

2. You can choose to use either butter or extra virgin olive oil when sauteeing onions. However, butter usually gives a better, overall pleasing flavor that works with most meals.

3. Be sure to keep your heat medium to medium-high. Sauteeing onions on any higher heat will lead them to burn quickly!

4. Sautee your onions until they’re a lightly browned color. They should be tender and translucent in appearance.

5. Don’t cover the pan with a lid while you’re sauteeing onions. This will only add moisture to the skillet, which you don’t want. Keeping the lid off will allow you to keep an eye on them, as well, assuring they don’t burn or get too dark brown.

6. Note that you’ll end up with approximately two-thirds to half the volume of onions that you began with. As the onions soften and cook down, they will yield less than what you measured when they were raw. Take this into consideration when planning how much to saute for your recipe.

Closeup of sliced onions.

How to Saute Onions

1. Begin by grabbing 2-3 medium-sized onions of your choice. Yellow or Vidalia onions are suggested for the best flavor for most ways you’ll serve these, but any onion will do.

2. Next, you’ll cut off the root and stem ends of the onion. Pull the peel from the outside so there’s no excess skin left. Cut the onion in half, from stem to root.

3. Lay half the onion flat side down on the cutting board. Following the curve of the onion—from root to stem—slice ⅛ inch thin slices. Repeat this step with the remaining halves of the onion.

French cut onions on a cutting board.

4. Set a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil until melted.

Melting butter in a skillet.

5. Add the onions, assuring they’re separated from one another. Evenly distribute them throughout the pan. Toss them so they are covered in butter or oil.

Onions added to the skillet, beginning to brown.

6. Cook them for 4 minutes, occasionally stirring with a wooden spoon. Add salt and paper to taste. Cook them for an additional 4 minutes or until the onions are lightly golden brown and see-through.

Finished sauteed onions.

Cutting the Onion Variations

The above-mentioned way of cutting the onions is the French Cut version of cutting onions. However, the cut of the onion won’t affect the taste of the end product. You may choose to dice your onions or cut them into larger wedge shapes, depending on how you plan to use them in your meal.

The only caution to take is how quickly or slowly they may cook if you cut them differently. The smaller the cut, the quicker they will cook. Keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn.

Diced onions on a cutting board.
Diced onions.


Looking to add a bit of flavor to your onions? Add a splash of balsamic vinegar or red wine when you add your salt and pepper. Add just enough to add some color to the skillet and this will be enough for an adequate amount of flavor to pop through!

Make your sauteed onions even more flavorful with some other vegetables! Add some mushrooms or sliced bell peppers to your skillet at the same time you add the onions. This combination is fantastic for topping a burger or adding to your scrambled eggs!

How to Serve Sauteed Onions

There are endless ways you can serve sauteed onions. They make a great variation for any recipe or meal that calls for raw onions. Here are a few ideas to get you started with how to serve sauteed onions.

A plated burger topped with sauteed onions.

1. Mix things up by serving these Grilled Cheese with Sauteed Onions and Bell Pepper Sandwiches! You can still dip it in your favorite tomato soup!

2. Sauteed onions also make a great side dish by themselves. They will taste great served alongside a slice of steak or your favorite bowl of pasta!

3. Don’t forget taco night! These will make an amazing topping to spice up your tacos. Simply add or replace these sauteed onions with your other vegetables to add an unbeatable flavor. Or, drop the meat and go vegetarian with these Sauteed Pepper and Onion Tacos!

4. Looking for something simple? Try topping your bruschetta or crostini appetizers with a dollop of sauteed onions at your next party!

5. Burger night will never be the same once you introduce sauteed onions as your new topping! Whether you pile on a little or a lot, the onions will add a smoky bite that will leave you wanting more. Try this yummy Cheeseburger with Onions Sauteed in Wine recipe for your next burger night!

6. Try something new with a quick and easy potato bar! Add these sauteed onions to the line-up of toppings for your potatoes to impress even the pickiest of eaters.

7. Omelets are filling and satisfying whether served for breakfast or supper! Try delicious weekend omelets with sauteed onions as an ingredient to please your tastebuds.

That’s All You Need to Know About How to Saute Onions!

Closeup of sauteed onions topping a burger.

That’s everything you need to know about sauteeing onions so they turn out great every time! Now that you know how to perfectly saute onions, how will you serve them for your next meal?

For more information about the versatile and mighty onion, visit our Onions Page!