Easy Caramelized Onions (Oil-Free!)

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Bowl of perfectly browned caramelized onions

Caramelized onions without the oil? Friends, we tried it and it’s more than possible! These tender, caramelized bites of goodness are incredibly versatile and perfect for adding sweet-savory flavor to a variety of dishes.

Just 1 pan and 1 ingredient required. Let us show you how it’s done!

Thinly sliced onions next to a small bowl of salt

First, let’s talk about the science of caramelized onions. The process of cooking the onions for a long time breaks down and releases the natural sugars from the onion. This causes browning and increases their sweetness.

Oil is usually added to jumpstart the browning process, but we found it’s not essential (which is great for those of you looking to reduce or omit oil from your cooking!).

Thinly sliced onions in a non-stick pan

The secrets to oil-free caramelized onions?

  • Add a little water at a time
  • Keep the pan covered (this helps them cook more evenly and brown!)
  • Have a little patience (that goes for traditional recipes with oil, too)!

Soon you’ll have perfectly caramelized onions. And since they don’t need much babysitting, you can use the time to make other recipes or check out our guide on How to Cook with Less Oil.

A pan of caramelized onions made without oil

We hope you LOVE these caramelized onions! They’re:

Sweet
Savory
Comforting
Quick & easy
Versatile
& Delicious!

They’re perfect for any time you want a little natural sweetness in a savory dish, such as on salads, sandwiches, wraps, bowls, and more! Or try in our Vegan Caramelized Onion Mac n Cheese, Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Pizza, Creamy Eggplant & Caramelized Onion Dip, or Simple French Onion Soup.

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!

Non-stick pan with caramelized onions

Easy Caramelized Onions (Oil-Free!)

Easy caramelized onions made without oil! Perfect for adding sweet-savory flavor to a variety of dishes. Just 1 pan and 1 ingredient required!
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Wooden bowl of oil-free caramelized onions
5 from 7 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4 (3-Tbsp servings)
Course Helpful How-to, Side
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Vegan
Freezer Friendly 1 month
Does it keep? 3-4 Days

Ingredients

  • 1 large yellow or white onion, sliced into thin rounds (for evenly sliced, thinner onions, use a mandolin)
  • 3-4 Tbsp water (plus more as needed)
  • 1 pinch sea salt (optional)

Instructions

  • Heat a rimmed stainless steel or nonstick pan (like the Always Pan) over medium heat (it should be large enough to easily accommodate your onions in a semi-even layer — the slices shouldn’t be piled high in the pan, or they’ll take longer to caramelize).
  • Add a little water to the pan — start with 3 Tbsp (as original recipe is written).
  • Add sliced onions and stir. Then cover.
  • Cook for a total of 30-40 minutes, opening the lid and stirring every 5 minutes. Be sure to cover again with lid after stirring — this helps them cook more evenly without the use of oil. Add 1 Tbsp (15 ml) water more at a time as needed to prevent sticking/ burning.
  • Once they start browning slightly, turn heat to low. How long you cook them depends on how deeply you want them caramelized. We found 30 minutes to produce a light golden brown color and sweet flavor, and 35-40 minutes to yield a deeper brown color and richer caramelized flavor. Be careful not to burn by keeping heat on low and adding more water only as needed to prevent sticking. NOTE: For reference, we added 1.5 Tbsp water and turned to medium/low at 9 minutes, added 1 more Tbsp water at 12 minutes (they were already golden brown), and turned heat to low. And we added 1/2 Tbsp more water and a pinch of sea salt at 21 minutes. Our onions cooked for a total of 35 minutes.
  • Near the end of cooking, add a pinch of salt and stir to enhance the sweet, caramelized flavor (optional). Stir, taste, and add more to taste as needed.
  • Use immediately on salads, sandwiches, wraps, bowls, and more! We include a few ideas above. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator up to 3-4 days (though best when fresh). If storing for later, freeze into ice cube molds. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe container and store for up to 1 month (sometimes longer).

Video

Notes

*We tested this recipe in a stainless steel skillet and the non-stick Always Pan (see our Always Pan review here). Both worked well, but we slightly preferred how the Always Pan was easy to work with, yielded perfectly browned onions, and naturally prevented sticking.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated without optional ingredients.

Nutrition (1 of 4 servings)

Serving: 3 tablespoons Calories: 60 Carbohydrates: 14 g Protein: 1.7 g Fat: 0.2 g Saturated Fat: 0.1 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.03 g Monounsaturated Fat: 0.02 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 6 mg Potassium: 219 mg Fiber: 2.2 g Sugar: 6.4 g Vitamin A: 3 IU Vitamin C: 11.1 mg Calcium: 34.5 mg Iron: 0.32 mg

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  1. Melissa K. says

    This is an excellent idea. I also want to point out that I can make a huge amount of caramelized onions at the same time in my electric multi cooker. Pretty much the same way: sliced onions, some water, and TIME! I slow cook overnight on low, and when the onions have cooked down I turn the temp to high and then check it periodically until it is as dark as I want it. The best part is the amount and the hands off process. For those like me who use these onions a lot, it’s great.

  2. Joëlle says

    Did it yesterday! Actually, it didn’t take longer than with oil or butter. It was delicious! I added at the end soy sauce for the colour and the taste. No fat at all, that’s just perfect. Thank you!!

  3. S. J. Pajonas says

    Water has been my trick for caramelized onions for years! They’re so yummy, I can’t go without them. :)

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Nick! Where were you trying to subscribe? To the blog or to comments on this post? We’d love to help troubleshoot.

  4. June says

    I’ve been trying so hard to eliminate oil so this will be great practice for me. Thanks so much for posting. More like this, please!

  5. Urvi Dalal says

    I love carmelized onions, they add a delicious dimension to simple foods.
    Thank you for sharing a new way to make them.

  6. Renee says

    Oh my word!! I was wondering *this morning* how to make caramelized onions without oil! I feel like this is my day!! I’m so excited!! Thank you! Making these right now!!!