Pickled Red Onion – Great Burger Toppings or BBQ Sides

Last Updated December 16, 2021
GoShindig is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

An amazingly quick and easy recipe for pickled red onions. If you’re looking for a super tasty burger topping or BBQ side then this is for you.

Pickled Red Onions Recipe

[mv_create key=”11″ type=”recipe” title=”Pickled Red Onions” thumbnail=”https://goshindig.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Pickled-Red-Onions.jpg”]

Equipment Used

Butane Stove – I’m using a single burner butane stove. I’m sure many of you have BBQs with side burners that will work equally as well or better or will even prefer to do this great BBQ side in your kitchen. But for those of you that just have a stick burner like a kettle grill in your backyard a butane stove makes for a great budget addition to your outdoor grilling setup.

Pyrex Mixing bowls – Most people will be able to skip having these bowls as you’ll be making your pickled red onions indoors. This means you’ll likely just throw your onions into the pan and then drain with a sieve over the kitchen sink.

However, for this blog, I like to make my videos outside using equipment available to the average backyard griller. So having some pyrex mixing bowls to dump food and water is a must. Plus they help show you what’s happening in the videos better.

Of course, when using glass bowls be mindful of thermal shock. Don’t take bowls from the freezer or off an extremely hot grill and then pour water into them

Ball Jars – These are the most popular brand of mason jars and have been tried and tested by millions of happy customers. But you can use a cheaper competitor if you wish and I even have friends that clean old jam jars or use Tupperware for their pickled onions.

Ball Regular Mouth Mason Jars

Buy from Amazon

Chopping Board – I have written a whole article on chopping boards where you can get some good ideas on which to buy. However, this recipe is so simple, only needing to cut a few onions, I am sure any chopping board will be adequate. In the video, I am using the OXO Good Grips cutting board.

Chefs Knife – Some people can argue all day long about the best knife for cooking, different steels, styles, cutting edge, weight, and balance all get knife enthusiasts excited. I have written an article for the best types of knives for grillers and given some recommendations. For this recipe I have used the Dalstrong Chefs Knife.

Dalstrong Chef Knife Japanese Steel

Buy from Amazon

Tongs – I am using a pair of Weber tongs that are specially made for people that love to grill. These have long arms and can pick up a decent weight with no trouble. They are by far the best tongs I have used and would recommend you buy them if you need a pair. Obviously, for small bits of onion, any tongs can be used. Be sure to do like all professional BBQers and click the tongs twice to check they are working before using them.

Mesh Sieve – I use a mesh sieve simply because the holes are very small and I will not lose any of my thinly sliced onions. You can of course use a colander if that is all you have, you will not lose many slices of onion – if any. And if you don’t have a sieve or colander you can use the last resort of scoping out the onions with your tongs or other utensils.

Pan – Pretty much any pan will do for this recipe. But if you plan to make this tasty burger topping / BBQ side on a regular basis then I’d recommend getting a pan with a pouring spout. The Ball jars do have a wide mouth opening, so you have plenty of room for error, however it is much safer to have the right tool for the job.

Mandoline Slicer – Not used in this video but a great tool for anyone that isn’t comfortable thinly slicing onions with a very sharp knife. Also, using a mandoline slicer means all your onion slices should be the same thickness and soften equally when soaked in the hot water.

Adjustable Mandoline Slicer

Buy from Amazon

Pickled Red Onion Basics

Pickled Red Onion Ingredients

When pickling any vegetable you only need salt, vinegar, and water. For this recipe I have added maple syrup and some peppercorns, but this is for my personal taste and isn’t necessary to pickle red onions – So feel free to remove these or add other extras as you see fit.

The ratio of 50% water to 50% vinegar is also a personal choice and you can play around with these amounts so suit how strong or weak you want the pickled taste to be.

If you’ve looked at several other recipes on pickling red onions you’ll likely have noticed that many of them will have skipped the step where I soak the onions for a minute in hot water. So why do I soak onions before pickling them? I do this to soften the onions up a little bit and to dissipate the sulfur compounds that give onions that harsh biting taste.

If you don’t want to soften the onions you can soak them in cold water to lessen the harsh taste, or of course, you can skip the soak altogether if this harsh raw onion taste is something you like. Just be aware if you are adding unsoaked onions to burgers or tacos this harsh taste will likely override any of the other flavors of your burger. Red onions done this way are best served as a stand-alone BBQ side dish.

Do you need to boil your pickling liquid?

The short answer to do you need to boil your pickling liquid, brine or mixture is no! But not doing so will slightly affect the taste of your pickled food. As boiling the brine will dissolve any salt and sugar into the liquid giving a more consistent taste throughout your vegetables.

Some people will state that boiling your pickling liquid makes it safer as it will kill any microbial life. I don’t think this is an issue for this recipe and will be for people looking to do long-term canning. For this recipe, we will be storing the pickled red onions in the fridge and consuming them within 1-2 weeks. So the vinegar, salt, and sugar content of the brine will keep you safe, boiled or not.

Do you need pickling salt to pickle?

In an ideal world you’d use pickling salt for all your pickling needs (you may also see pickling salt called canning salt or preserving salt). Why? Because it is much finer, so dissolves into your brine easier. And it doesn’t have any added additives or anti-caking ingredients, which can make your liquid cloudy or change the color of your vegetables.

Of course we don’t live in an ideal world and often need to use what is at hand for our recipes. This will normally mean we have table salt, kosher salt, or coarse sea salt readily available. All three of these are perfectly safe to use as an alternative to pickling salt. I’d recommend going for kosher salt first, then sea salt, and using table salt as a last resort. This is because my choice for salt to pickle with would firstly be pure salt, then one with just anti-caking ingredients (this normally just makes the liquid cloudy), and lastly a salt with added additives. These additives could affect the quality of the vegetables.

Vinegar – Different kinds of vinegar for pickling

Most articles on vinegar and pickling are geared towards the more long-term canning people that will be storing their pickles on shelves (not refrigerated). So you’ll often see rules like make sure the vinegar has at least 5% acidity, and don’t mix with water. But this recipe isn’t for the long-term canners – it’s for backyard BBQ’ers that will store their pickled red onions in the fridge and most likely eat the coming weekend with friends and family on a juicy burger.

So the standard canning and pickling rules don’t really apply. You can basically use any vinegar, but your choice will affect the flavor and look of your pickled veg. From my experience, I’d recommend using distilled white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, and rice vinegar. I’d also recommend you don’t use balsamic vinegar or malt vinegar.

Alcohol in vinegar. I’m not going to pretend I know all the reasons or rules why some people can’t have alcohol, but I do know it’s an issue to many. And it’s not just wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar that is an issue. All types of vinegar are made from alcohol. The word itself, vinegar, is derived from the french word for sour wine. Vinegar is alcohol that has gone through a chemical process and reached a point it is no longer alcoholic in nature.

The only way a vinegar will still have alcohol in it after being made is if it is added to it after. And as we boil our brine before using it even this alcohol will be cooked off. Now you have the information I’ll leave it to you to do decide if this is ok with your situation or beliefs.

Honey Alternatives

One alternative to adding honey to your pickling brine is to simply remove it. Replacing it with nothing. Pickling liquids do not need sweeteners such as honey to be called a pickling liquid, but you will likely find the final product is a little too sour for most people’s taste buds without it.

So what are the replacement alternatives? The most common alternatives used and probably the cheapest option is to use sugar. Some other common ingredients you might have already in your kitchens that are great for pickling are maple syrup, agave nectar, and corn syrup

If you are looking to remove the honey for dietary reasons, as honey and the alternatives listed above are all basically forms of sugar, you could also try a sugar replacement like Splenda. Can you use any sugar replacement? I don’t know, I have only tried Splenda, and that works fine. I have seen other people say other sweeteners leave a bitter taste. So I’d only recommend Splenda. But let us know if you have tried anything else with success in the comments.

What is the best water for pickled red onions?

Soft water is the best water for pickling.

Hard water is water that has high calcium and magnesium levels and above-average calcium levels can shrink your vegetables. So it’s best to use soft, distilled, or filtered water when you can. If you want to know what type of water you have you can follow the guide on homewater101.com

Pickled Red Onion Additions

Whole books have been written on pickling receipts and what you can pickle, and all these ideas can be added to your pickled onions. And needless to say, there are far too many to mention in this section. But I will run through the top ideas that I think go well with onions.

Herbs and spices – when using herbs to give a little extra flavor I’d recommend you try using fresh herbs and not dried. Although both can be used I find I get better results with fresh herbs. A common herb many people like to add to their pickling solution is dill.

We have already added spice to our pickling brine with the addition of peppercorns. But I am a man that loves a little kick to my food so I’d definitely not talk you out of adding more spice. I have had good results with ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. And when I want a really big kick to the mixture I add some chili flakes.

Another vegetable – Probably the most common vegetable to add to your pickling liquid is one that most people think of more as falling into the herbs and spices category. Garlic. When I add garlic I don’t intend on eating it, it’s just added for flavor, so I just chuck in a few whole bulbs so I can easily find them and discard them when serving.

Of course, you can add a little of any vegetable you want, but for me, when it comes to pickled red onions I’d only ever want to add a few slices of chili. My goto is definitely jalapenos.

Lime Juice – Often if I am making these pickled red onions for tacos I’ll replace part of the water used with lime juice. Obviously, lime goes really well with Mexican food, but if you are an adventurous cook don’t be held back by just using lime juice, you can try many other juices for different tastes.

About Brian Hamilton

Brian Hamilton is a BBQ grilling enthusiast and has the expertise and knowledge to have created GoShindig.com. Brian specializes in all methods of grilling and bbq equipment and is a self-proclaimed backyard Pitmaster. Qualified at degree level he gained a BEng Degree in Engineering in the United Kingdom. Brian is a well-traveled and cultured individual and has lived and worked in several countries in Europe and has gained quite a reputation amongst peers for his skills and commitment on the grilling circuit.

Pickled Red Onion – Great Burger Toppings or BBQ Sides

Leave a Comment