For many home cooks, pickled onions might be an unusual, complicated ingredient. They mysteriously pop up on a hearty club sandwich or crispy fish tacos, bringing a surprising kick of bright and vibrant flavor. However, this sweet, sour and slightly acidic topping is easier to make than you’d think. (It’s almost easier than making refrigerator pickles!) We’re here to teach you how to pickle onions, with a few pantry staples that you already have on hand.
Which Onions Make the Best Pickled Onions?
Feel free to use either red or white onions, but we think red onions are best because they have vibrant tang and a beautiful, cherry pink color. (Why are most pickled onions pink, you wonder? They start with red onions!)
How to Make Pickled Onions
- 2 small onions
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Pickling spices of your choosing
Step 1: Prep the Onions
Slice the onions into thin rounds and separate the layers with your fingers. Set aside in a glass bowl.
Step 2: Make the Pickling Liquid
Using a small pot, bring the vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. At this stage, you can also add any spices or flavorings to the pickling liquid. For a hearty pickle, I like to add mustard seeds and peppercorns. For a sweet and spicy pickle, I add anise seeds, cloves and nutmeg. You can use our homemade pickling spice recipe to get started. The flavor combinations are endless, so get creative!
Test Kitchen tip: It’s important to use white vinegar because it’s clear, colorless and relatively flavorless. Unlike other vinegar, white vinegar won’t affect the flavor of your onions.
Step 3: Pack ‘er Up
Next, pour the pickling liquid over the onions in the glass bowl. Set aside and let cool completely. Transfer the onions and their liquid to mason jars so that they are completely submerged. Tightly seal the jar lids and refrigerate. (Need room in the fridge? Here’s how to get things organized.)
These zesty veggies can be enjoyed as soon as an hour or two after pickling, or can last for up to a month in the refrigerator.
Step 4: Use ’em Up
We’ve got so many ideas for you! Try ’em on top of these chicken salad sandwiches or as a garnish on traditional meat loaf. Pickled onions add a bit of zesty acidity to ordinary foods, like our top-rated grilled cheese, which helps elevate flavor and make the sandwich more complex. This combo of salty, sour and sweet is also a great add-on to our spicy grilled fajitas, main dish salads or basic avocado toast.
With this skill in your culinary toolkit you’ll be pickling like a pro in no time. Tangy!