What seemed a simple question, what is the best onion for burgers, lead me on a merry path of recalling all my favorite burgers. Because for me, it’s unlikely a burger will make my top ten without onions somewhere in the burger. And it turns out, picking the best onion for hamburgers wasn’t that simple.
If you don’t want to read the whole article I think I have settled on sweet onions, raw and sliced as the winning combination. But with so many different types of onion and styles of adding it to a burger, you’re best off reading this guide to work out what would be your favorite onion.
- 1 Best Onions for Burgers – Types
- 2 Best Onion for Burgers – Styles
- 3 One last tip on onions
Best Onions for Burgers – Types
Burger recipes hardly ever tell you what onion to use. The recipe just says add onions. For other recipes, like beef bourguignon it will say add shallots or for salads it will say add spring onion but this is rarely the case with burger recipes. So what are the options, and when are they best for burgers
Yellow Onions – Also called Brown Onions
The most popular and all-purpose onion is the yellow onion. This is the safest onion to buy when you haven’t decided how you’re going to use it yet. It’s good for burgers, for pasta, for everything really, hence it being known as an all-purpose onion.
Yellow onions have white flesh and yellow to brown skin, which is why some people call them brown onions. They have a very sharp taste when raw. So I’d not recommend this onion if you plan to put raw onions on your burger. This sharpness mellows out when cooked and the high levels of sugar make them great for caramelizing.
While yellow onions are the safest onion to buy if you don’t know what you are cooking, sweet onions are the safest if you know they will be for burgers but not sure how you’ll cook them.
They have thick layers which means they slice nicely and can be used for onion rings. The flavor profile isn’t too sharp or pungent, so are all great if you want raw onions on your burger. And to top it off, sweet onions are also amazing grilled or fried and have high sugar content for making caramelized onions. Sweet onions are hands down the best onions for burgers
The most distinctive of all the onions is the red onion due to its purple skin. This obviously makes it a great choice if you want to bring a little color to your burger. This is my second favorite onion for burgers, it has a very mild taste and no pungent smell. Making it perfect to add raw on burgers.
I’d normally use a red onion sliced and pickled. But it’s also great diced and added to guacamole or a raw salsa. All of which are amazing on hamburgers. These onions also grill very well.
White onions are most commonly found in Mexican cooking. They are renowned for there sharp taste and crunchy texture. People like to use them in salsa and chutney, but for me, these onions are best fried. So if you like fried onions on your burger give these a try.
Spring onion isn’t an onion you’d normally associate with burgers. But they do have a great taste. So if you are putting a mixed salad on your burger I’d say chuck in a bit of spring onion, you’ll not regrate it.
Best Onion for Burgers – Styles
If you could have only one topping for a burger for the rest of your life it would make sense you pick onions. It is so diverse and it’s sweetness combines so well with the meaty flavor of beef. Here is my rundown on my favorite ways to add onions to my burger.
Your first decision when deciding to add onions to your burger is weather to have them cooked or raw. Of course, if you are a massive fan of onions you can have a little bit of both.
We’ll cover several cooked options a little further down in this article. So let’s first look at the raw options.
Sliced – For something so simple, a lot of thought has gone into the perfect slicing of onions for burgers. The most classic slice, as it looks the best and makes for a great Instagram picture, is a sliced onion ring. But for burger connoisseurs this method isn’t the best, although it’d never be a deal-breaker.
Slicing your onion into rings is the most difficult and most dangerous way to cut an onion. But this isn’t why burger fans prefer other slicing styles, as you can get around this by using a deli slicer. It’s more to do with stacking them on the burger. You have to lay them over each other which results in areas having lots of onion and generally the middle not having any. So it’s more to do with having an uneven surface of onion.
Cutting onion into an arc shape is normally deemed the best. Easier to cut and easier to stack. But for this you also have one more consideration to make. To cut horizontally or vertically (in relation to how the onion grows).
This is where some sciency stuff comes into play. But basically you want to cut with the grain of the onion in order on the release (or release as little as possible) of the compound that is responsible for making your tear-up. This isn’t because I don’t want to see you cry, it makes a difference in the flavor also. So cut vertically not horizontally.
Diced – Diced onions are very popular for burgers, but they can become a bit messy as you have loads of small cubes that can easily fall out the burger – both when stacking the burger and eating it. My advice if you want diced onions is to add them to a sauce, this way the sauce holds all the little cubed goodness in place.
Grated – Another option is to grate onions, buy adding grated onions straight on a burger is a bit too liquidy for me. So I advise to only add grated onions to a sauce. You can also add grated onions to the meat mix, or on the griddle and place the burger on top to be steamed in the onion flavors. But neither of these methods would you consider the onions to be raw.
Picked food is always contentious, you either love it or hate it. I love it and would have pickled jalapenos down as my top burger topping. So needless to say, pickled onion is also a great option for a burger topping (or a burger side).
Pickled onion is easy to make, I’d recommend you used sliced red onion, apple cider vinegar, warm water, and a little sugar and salt. Add the liquids together with the salt and sugar. Wait for salt and sugar to dissolve and pour over the onions. Then add to the fridge for an hour. The great thing is this dish will keep for ages, and I’m sure you’ll have eaten it all before it has time to go bad.
The backyard grillers staple for burgers is grilled onions. These are normally onion rings grilled for several minutes. The reason people normally grill rings is because they are less likely to fall through the grill grates. As mentioned already, arc-shaped slices are better, so I’d recommend you buy a grill mat to do grilled onions.
You’ll most likely to see onion rings as a side dish, however, I do often see them in burgers or on top of burgers at gourmet burger joints. Although they are simple to make, you dip an onion ring in batter or bread crumbs and deep fry, they become far trickier when you attempt them on your grill. I’d only recommend trying the bread crumb onion ring on the grill.
Bacon-wrapped Onion Rings
The answer to many of life’s problems is bacon. And backyard grillers had the problem that they loved onion rings on their burger but frying them is hard and dangerous on a grill. So the answer was simple – bacon.
Instead of using a batter mix to coat the onion you now simple wrap an onion ring with bacon and place it on the grill. You might need a pin or cocktail stick to hold the bacon in place.
If I reminisce about hamburgers as a kid then fried onions are the taste I’d remember. They are a classic on burgers. But as we already mentioned, fried food on a grill isn’t easy. If you have a side burner stove or an outdoor deep fat fryer then you can give these a go. You can either do fried onions in a frying pan un till they soften up and become a little sweeter or deep fry them to become crispy.
Caramelized onions sound fancy but it is a simple burger topping. To caramelize any food you simply cook slowly until the sugar turns to caramel. Thankfully onions are rich in natural sugar so all you need to do is place onions in a pan and put it over a low to medium heat.
You keep stirring the onions until they release their sugars and turn a lovely brown color. To get the best nutty caramel flavor you should also add a little olive oil and salt.
Onion Jam & Chutney
Last, but certainly not least, in my best onion for burgers guide is onion jam and chutneys. Onions done this way can add a powerful punch of flavor to a burger. The difference between an onion jam and chutney is the way it is preserved. Jam just uses sugar whereas a chutney uses sugar and vinegar.
It’d be good for you to learn how to make your own jams and chutney and save in jars for when needed as you can customize it the sweetness levels you like. You could also add extra ingredients like maple syrup to the mix. There are plenty of great recipes online. But I’d also say store-bought jams and chutneys are a great option.
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One last tip on onions
You can’t control how pungent an onion is going to be, and smelling it in the store isn’t going to help unless you have the nose of a bloodhound. So on the odd occasion you cut an onion open and the smell is too much and would ruin your burger there is one simple trick to dampen down the smell.
Slice up the onion as you would normally and then place them in a colander. Then place the onions under warm running water for several minutes. Now all you have to do is tell me your favorite onions for burgers in the comments section.